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Reflections on the Musical Mind: An Evolutionary Perspective

Jay Schulkin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Reflections on the Musical Mind
    Book Description:

    What's so special about music? We experience it internally, yet at the same time it is highly social. Music engages our cognitive/affective and sensory systems. We use music to communicate with one another--and even with other species--the things that we cannot express through language. Music is both ancient and ever evolving. Without music, our world is missing something essential.

    In Reflections on the Musical Mind, Jay Schulkin offers a social and behavioral neuroscientific explanation of why music matters. His aim is not to provide a grand, unifying theory. Instead the book guides the reader through the relevant scientific evidence that links neuroscience, music, and meaning. Schulkin considers how music evolved in humans and birds, how music is experienced in relation to aesthetics and mathematics, the role of memory in musical expression, the role of music in child and social development, and the embodied experience of music through dance. He concludes with reflections on music and well-being. Reflections on the Musical Mind is a unique and valuable tour through the current research on the neuroscience of music.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4903-1
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Robert O. Gjerdingen

    When scientific breakthroughs lead to a new level of understanding, some of the scientists involved may, from their improved vantage point, begin to see familiar things in a different light. Music can be one of those familiar things. The tremendous strides made in the nineteenth century in the study of waves and vibration, for example, enabled the great physiologist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821–1894) to see that the ear is constructed like an extremely sensitive frequency analyzer, and that musical consonance and dissonance could be linked to the interactions of the many frequencies registered in the inner ear. Musicians found...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-17)

    All of us link music to memory, to motivation and to human social contact. Only a handful of individuals may play music, but all can at least sing some, and do so. Music is like breathing—all-pervasive.

    Creative expression, such as music, arises from core capabilities within increasing ecological/cultural opportunities.¹ With expanding environments there is a greater diversity of expression. Music is a core human experience and generative processes reflect cognitive capabilities.

    Underlying the behavior of what we might call a basic proclivity to sing and to express music are appetitive urges, consummatory expression, drive, and satisfaction.² The expression is...

  6. CHAPTER 1 Music and the Brain An Evolutionary Context
    (pp. 18-36)

    We are a species bound by evolution and diverse forms of change, both symbolic and social. Language and music are as much a part of our evolutionary development as the tool making and the cognitive skills that we traditionally focus on when we think about evolution.

    As social animals, we are oriented toward sundry expressions of our conspecifics that ground us in the social world,¹ a world of acceptance and rejection, approach and avoidance, that features objects rich with significance and meaning.² Music inherently procures the detection of intention and emotion, as well as whether to approach or avoid.³


  7. CHAPTER 2 Bird Brains, Social Contact, and Song
    (pp. 37-61)

    Song and music have their origins in biology and adaptation. Environmentally opportunistic events led to long-term viability; function predominated amid form.

    Different calls serve diverse roles in varying species, but they are almost always rooted in social function.¹ The ambiance of birdsong is rich in meaning and behavioral expression; diverse animals come prepared to discern prelinguistic meaning. The range of cephalic capabilities is reflected in the richness and flexibility of semiotic expression. Evolution favored both specific local adaptations and broader, endless semiotic expression in our species, something Peirce adumbrated but did not fully engage. Semiotic capabilities, or interpreting signs, are...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Human Song Dopamine, Syntax, and Morphology
    (pp. 62-86)

    Rhythmic beats are literally at the heart of us. The syncopated heartbeats of the mother and the infant are routinely in rhythm with each other. The rhythmic babble of the infant turns to formed speech; the syntax (structured movement into predicted sequences) underlying movement is initiated and sustained by internal generators coupled with events from the external world.¹

    A number of cephalic adaptive systems underlie the orientation to song and music, but they are for the most part not specific to song. Oliver Sacks, a clinical neurologist and musician himself, has famously described the role of music and song in...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Musical Expectations, Probability, and Aesthetics
    (pp. 87-118)

    John Dewey, in his ground-breaking book The Quest for Certainty, demythologized human knowing by highlighting real world problem solving within a framework of endless uncertainty. We seek to secure the stable and hold it while we grapple with endless uncertainty. We make our peace with the uncertain as we forage within inquiry and infuse “. . . objects of sense which are also objects which satisfy, reward and feed intelligence . . . through ideas that are experimental and operative.”¹

    Grappling with uncertainty is a commonplace occurrence across diverse species. Music is lodged within the familiar to us and amid...

  10. CHAPTER 5 Musical Expression, Memory, and the Brain
    (pp. 119-139)

    Music is a universal feature of the human condition. All human cultures are rich in song and instrument. Along with this, dance is equally universal. Music is rich in content and expresses a shared sense of the world. The amazing thing remains the vastness of our arsenal of expression, both through music and other forms of communication, in our efforts to create social cohesion and to make sense of the world around us. Music is also one vehicle to enhance memory.

    The generative auditory/song processes produce such awe-inspiring or sublime displays, to evoke an eighteenth-century western conception familiar from Coleridge...

  11. CHAPTER 6 Development, Music, and Social Contact
    (pp. 140-155)

    A sense of music begins very early in infancy. In fact, the discrimination of pitch and other perceptual capabilities are expressed within the first year of life, events believed to be fundamentally linked to social capabilities. It is the social world, gaining a foothold in the life of others, which makes this knowledge essential. Rhythmic engagement also begins in infancy, generating movement.¹ This musical expression is linked to affective needs and diverse forms of social contact.²

    Affective appraisal is inherent in the organization of action. Some events are more affectively salient than others, and the same is true of music;...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Music and Dance
    (pp. 156-171)

    The concept of dance might have been a new and startling innovation to the penguins in the movie Happy Feet, but song and movement go together in every human society: music to my feet, as it were. The human condition is linked to music and dance, and the range of human emotional expression is fundamental in this regard.

    Susanne Langer was a professor of philosophy, during the middle of the twentieth century, at Connecticut College, a school with a significant dance program.¹ Many well-known modern dancers have contributed to and participated in this program (e.g., Martha Graham). Langer understood that...

  13. Conclusion Music and Well-Being
    (pp. 172-178)

    We are a social species. Vocal capability expanded that fact in the form of social competence. Music reinforced our social instincts, and then, coupled with the development of instruments for touching each other through sound, our social expression continued to swell. With the evolution of culture and memory coded into external artifacts, music became a core resource.

    Music evolved in the context of social contact and meaning. Music allows us to reach out to others and expand our human experience toward and with others. This process began with song and was expanded through instruments and dance.

    A series of steps...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 179-200)
  15. References
    (pp. 201-248)
  16. Index
    (pp. 249-256)