What to know about what you don’t know you know. #1: Intuition is very efficient—if you don't overthink it.
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Posted Sep 18, 2013
The pleasure of listening to music
It's too bad music is still being considered in this context. Pinker is unfortunately parsing music out from the communal aspect of our lives as if we can live as individuals separate from community or even the natural world. There are many things we can logically divorce from our lives and convince ourselves that life will go on, but logic has shown to be unreliable. It is a mechanistic view that is currently hitting its limits, especially in light of the failure of the genome project.
It really depends on your belief structure as to whether you take Pinker seriously. Iain McGillchrist offers a different and (according to my belief structure) more balanced/compelling view of music. Music is much more than a stimulation of mental faculties. It permeates the collective in ways that we just don't understand or at least can not explain logically. To me, psychologists need to move beyond their specialization and read the likes of Rupert Sheldrake and how his theories breaks down the current psychological narratives. Even quantum theory flies in the face of Pinker's mechanistic view, but unfortunately biochemists, MDs, and Psychologists continue to forge deeper into the mechanistic view assuring us it's just a matter of time before all is explained. Think about how foolish that sounds...
Pinker's comments can be countered from within a materialist viewpoint. One simply needs to present good arguments/evidence for effects of music on human development, which could include social cognition.
Quantum mechanics has little to nothing to say about the subject, despite what the religiously motivated axe grinders might insist. They also pretend as if there aren't multiple interpretations of QM. Maybe it's just ignorance. I suggest you forge deeper than the wishful thinking assuring us that everything is possible if you just believe. Think about it.
Music has to be more than "auditory cheesecake". One can't survive on cheesecake alone, but music can be the only thing a person needs in life. It can be the alpha and omega, the end all be all. Music is delicious, but it also offers intellectual stimulation. Everyday, when personally, I sing or play I experience thought at the highest level I think possible for myself as a person. When I am making music, I am the highest level of person that is possible for me. And that's got to be more than cheesecake.
Music may not contain spoken or written words like novels, poems, and films do, but to my mind this does not mean that music *objectively* has no deep meaning. Albert Einstein absolutely loved Bach and Mozart, and in his life made some statements that could be construed as implying that classical music was a contributor to his creativity and intuition in the sciences. Furthermore, we are mere humans; there have got to be certain things that we cannot perceive. Just as we have some intellectual abilities that many animals do not, perhaps there are superintelligent extraterrestrial beings who find things in music that we are incapable of finding.
Pinker has terrible taste. Cheesecake is not exquisite, is barely a "confection", and is not crafted to tickle the sensitive spots ... it's a fatty blunt assault.
If music has a biological, and hence, an evolutionary mechanism, then that would be supporting evidence *against* Pinker - not in favor of him. Pinker's statement ("auditory cheesecake") is rightfully portrayed in this article as a by-product (and hence NOT an evolutionary mechanism), but the author then goes on to cite evidence which supports the counter argument. If music was in fact shaped by evolution in terms of natural selection, then that would make Pinker incorrect, not correct - as the title of this article leads one to think. Pinker's view of music is that it did not have an evolutionary competent. That's why he called it a by-product (as opposed to an adaptation).
Henkjan Honing, Ph.D., is Professor in Music Cognition at the University of Amsterdam.
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