The Knowledge Instinct, Cognitive Functions of Music and Cultural Evolution

The Knowledge Instinct, Cognitive Functions of Music and Cultural Evolution

Leonid I. Perlovsky (Northeastern University, USA), Nobuo Masataka (Kyoto University, Japan) and Michel Cabanac (Laval University, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0270-8.ch002
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Evolution of music ability has been considered a mystery from Aristotle to Darwin and as no adaptive purpose has been identified yet, making music is still a puzzle for evolutionary biologists. This chapter considers a new theory of music origin and evolution, identifying a cognitive function of music which helps overcoming cognitive dissonance based on the unification of consciousness that is differentiated by language. According to this theory, music is fundamental for cultural evolution. The reason for music strongly affecting us is that it helps overcoming unpleasant emotions of cognitive contradictions, which are conditions of accumulating knowledge. The chapter considers experimental evidence supporting this theory and the joint evolution of music, culture, and consciousness.
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Why Does Music Affect Us So Strongly?

A few years ago the journal Nature (Editorial, 2008) invited several experts on cognition and evolution to write on music. Why does it strongly affects us, what could be the reason for this ability to evolve and what could be its role in cognition? Answers have been puzzling. Although music is a cross-cultural universal, still “none… has yet been able to answer the fundamental question: why does music have such power over us?” (Editorial 2008). “Music is a human cultural universal that serves no obvious adaptive purpose, making its evolution a puzzle for evolutionary biologists” (Masataka 2008) and for this reason “We might start by accepting that it is fruitless to try to define ‘music’” (Ball 2008). Possibly, the first to recognize that music is a puzzle was Aristotle, when he discussed music along with the questions of the finiteness of the world and the existence of God (Aristotle, IV BCE/1995). Kant (1790) explained that beautiful is related to knowledge, but could not explain music: “music... merely plays with senses”. Darwin (1871) wrote that music is “the most mysterious” of our abilities. Many psychologists have tried to understand the origin and cognitive function of musical emotions (Sloboda & Juslin, 2001). The solution of this mystery has been coming (Perlovsky, 2006c; 2008a; 2010a; 2012b;2012c). Music is necessary for cultural evolution as it helps us accumulate knowledge. Knowledge contains contradictions, which cause us emotional pain. We live in these contradictions, and music helps to tolerate the pain; this is the reason for music strongly affecting us. This chapter presents a summary of that theory.

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