Music, cognition, culture, and evolution

We seem able to define the biological foundations for our musicality within a clear and unitary framework, yet music itself does not appear so clearly definable. Music is different things and does different things in different cultures; the bundles of elements and functions that are music for any given culture may overlap minimally with those of another culture, even for those cultures where “music” constitutes a discrete and identifiable category of human activity in its own right. The dynamics of culture, of music as cultural praxis, are neither necessarily reducible, nor easily relatable, to the dynamics of our biologies. Yet music appears to be a universal human competence. Recent evolutionary theory, however, affords a means for exploring things biological and cultural within a framework in which they are at least commensurable. The adoption of this perspective shifts the focus of the search for the foundations of music away from the mature and particular expression of music within a specific culture or situation and on to the human capacity for musicality. This paper will survey recent research that examines that capacity and its evolutionary origins in the light of a definition of music that embraces music’s multifariousness. It will be suggested that music, like speech, is a product of both our biologies and our social interactions; that music is a necessary and integral dimension of human development; and that music may have played a central role in the evolution of the modern human mind.


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Without it no music: cognition, biology and evolution of musicality

Musicality can be defined as a natural, spontaneously developing trait based on and constrained by biology and cognition. Music, by contrast, can be defined as a social and cultural construct based on that very musicality. One critical challenge is to delineate the constituent elements of musicality. What biological and cognitive mechanisms are essential for perceiving, appreciating and making music? Progress in understanding the evolution of music cognition depends upon adequate characterization of the constituent mechanisms of musicality and the extent to which they are present in non-human species. We argue for the importance of identifying these mechanisms and delineating their functions and developmental course, as well as suggesting effective means of studying them in human and non-human animals. It is virtually impossible to underpin the evolutionary role of musicality as a whole, but a multicomponent perspective on musicality that emphasizes its constituent capacities, development and neural cognitive specificity is an excellent starting point for a research programme aimed at illuminating the origins and evolution of musical behaviour as an autonomous trait.


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How to use music to fine tune your child for school

Can music actually make us smarter? Research suggests that from as early as 16 weeks of pregnancy, when auditory function is forming, babies begin their musical development. Their early adaptive exposure to sounds, including those familiar sounds of parents’ voices, enhance extraordinary processing skills.

Neuroscience teaches us that a child’s brain is plastic. By this, we mean it is malleable and has the ability to change. The first year of life, more than any other year, will see the most rapid change in brain size and function as all the sensory receptors activate. Intriguingly, neuro-imaging shows that music alone turns on large sectors of a child’s brain, opening crucial neural pathways that will become the highways and byways for every piece of information the process.


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Paul Gauguin

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Upper Paleolithic Figurines Showing Women with Obesity may Represent Survival Symbols of Climatic Change

Figurines of women with obesity or who are pregnant (“Venus figurines”) from Upper Paleolithic Europe rank among the earliest art and endured from 38,000 to 14,000 BP (before present), one of the most arduous climatic periods in human history. We propose that the Venus representation relates to human adaptation to climate change. During this period, humans faced advancing glaciers and falling temperatures that led to nutritional stress, regional extinctions, and a reduction in the population. We analyzed Paleolithic figurines of women with obesity to test whether the more obese figurines are from sites during the height of the glacial advance and closer to the glacial fronts. Figurines are less obese as distance from the glaciers increases. Because survival required sufficient nutrition for child‐bearing women, we hypothesize that the overnourished woman became an ideal symbol of survival and beauty during episodes of starvation and climate change in Paleolithic Europe.


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Beauty in Science and Art

In this fascinating discussion on Forum for Philosophy, Adrian Holme, Milena Ivanova and Jonathan Birch discussed questions surrounding the nature of beauty, and the role of beauty in the relationship between science and art.

Jonathan Birch, the host, started the discussion by posing the following questions: We know that nature inspires art, but can abstract science inspire art? What counts as beautiful science? What’s the significance of beauty in science? Is beauty a guide to truth?


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Success and failure of the sociology of culture? Bringing the arts back

This articles brings up the most recent, internal discussions among researchers in the field of the sociology of arts, more precisely the thiking of experts who participated in a forum of culture organized in 2001. In her writing, Vera Zolberg accentuates, overall, the need for sociology of art to retain both its humanistic and scientific roots. She reminds that sociology of culture has developed from the sociology of art in recent decades. Next, she summarizes the tendencies and interests of researchers in the forum, by showing the fluidity of its possibilities and creative capacities. She mentions the most recent production in the field, proving that aesthetic elements play a crucial part in the sociological studies about the arts. According to Vera Zolberg, it is time to bring the arts back.


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Group Music Training and Children’s Prosocial Skills

We investigated if group music training in childhood is associated with prosocial skills. Children in 3rd or 4th grade who attended 10 months of music lessons taught in groups were compared to a control group of children matched for socio-economic status. All children were administered tests of prosocial skills near the beginning and end of the 10-month period. Compared to the control group, children in the music group had larger increases in sympathy and prosocial behavior, but this effect was limited to children who had poor prosocial skills before the lessons began. The effect was evident even when the lessons were compulsory, which minimized the role of self-selection. The results suggest that group music training facilitates the development of prosocial skills.


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