Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Origins of human music - two perspectives

Because I wrote an article in Behavioral and Brain Sciences (coauthored with Vadim Arshavsky), that was published in 2010, I receive the journal's calls for commentaries on forthcoming articles. Here I pass on the abstracts of two articles proposing evolutionary rationales for the origins of our human musical abilities.  Because I am a recital pianist I have always been interested in the origins and neuroscience of our musical faculties. In 2015 I agreed to give a lecture on 'Music and the Mind', generated thirty pages of fairly lucid text, became overwhelmed by the complexity of the subject, and backed out of doing the talk.  I'm curious to see whether a careful reading of these articles confirms that decision or inspires me to try again. 

Music as a coevolved system for social bonding
Why do humans make music? Theories of the evolution of musicality have focused mainly on the value of music for specific adaptive contexts such as mate selection, parental care, coalition signaling, and group cohesion. Synthesizing and extending previous proposals, we argue that social bonding is an overarching function that unifies all of these theories, and that musicality enabled social bonding at larger scales than grooming and other bonding mechanisms available in ancestral primate societies. We combine cross-disciplinary evidence from archaeology, anthropology, biology, musicology, psychology, and neuroscience into a unified framework that accounts for the biological and cultural evolution of music. We argue that the evolution of musicality involves gene-culture coevolution, through which proto-musical behaviors that initially arose and spread as cultural inventions had feedback effects on biological evolution due to their impact on social bonding. We emphasize the deep links between production, perception, prediction, and social reward arising from repetition, synchronization, and harmonization of rhythms and pitches, and summarize empirical evidence for these links at the levels of brain networks, physiological mechanisms, and behaviors across cultures and across species. Finally, we address potential criticisms and make testable predictions for future research, including neurobiological bases of musicality and relationships between human music, language, animal song, and other domains. The music and social bonding (MSB) hypothesis provides the most comprehensive theory to date of the biological and cultural evolution of music.
Origins of music in credible signaling
Music comprises a diverse category of cognitive phenomena that likely represent both the effects of psychological adaptations that are specific to music (e.g., rhythmic entrainment) and the effects of adaptations for non-musical functions (e.g., auditory scene analysis). How did music evolve? Here, we show that prevailing views on the evolution of music — that music is a byproduct of other evolved faculties, evolved for social bonding, or evolved to signal mate quality — are incomplete or wrong. We argue instead that music evolved as a credible signal in at least two contexts: coalitional interactions and infant care. Specifically, we propose that (1) the production and reception of coordinated, entrained rhythmic displays is a co-evolved system for credibly signaling coalition strength, size, and coordination ability; and (2) the production and reception of infant-directed song is a co-evolved system for credibly signaling parental attention to secondarily altricial infants. These proposals, supported by interdisciplinary evidence, suggest that basic features of music, such as melody and rhythm, result from adaptations in the proper domain of human music. The adaptations provide a foundation for the cultural evolution of music in its actual domain, yielding the diversity of musical forms and musical behaviors found worldwide.

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