Reflections on the Musical Mind: An Evolutionary Perspective

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So evolution has honed us to make judgements based on aesthetics, and to find slight deviations from the familiar — especially in music — both interesting and attractive. A few minutes of listening to music allows us to exercise the gamut of our mental machinery, none of which evolved for music itself, says Schulkin. Schulkin claims that because cognitive science has taken such huge strides over recent decades, it is now capable of producing an understanding of music.

That is open to debate, but neuroscience has undoubtedly made enormous progress. This comes not just from using brain-scanning techniques such as fMRI to probe the specific functions of parts of the brain, but also from our enhanced understanding of the role of what Schulkin calls information molecules — chemicals that regulate a vast array of our mental and physical activities.

They are ancient molecules, found in many species, but they play a key role in our relatively recently evolved musical sensibilities. Take dopamine. As such, by affecting the flow of dopamine, music prepares us for intelligent action in the world. Conversely, if our basal ganglia a group of nuclei located at the base of the forebrain and linked with voluntary motor actions are deprived of dopamine, we get worse at discerning rhythms.

The role of oxytocin is equally intriguing. Listening to music releases oxytocin. But the hypersociality associated with Williams syndrome is its most marked feature.

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Source: Levitin, Children with Williams syndrome show a general decrease in brain volume Galaburda et al. Regions of the temporal lobe are, however, actually greater in Williams syndrome than in controls Reiss et al. The amygdala of such children seems to be more reactive than controls to diverse social events Haas et al. Preserved musical sensibility in individuals with Williams syndrome is remarkable. Several studies have shown a greater liking of music in these individuals than age-matched controls Don et al.

Williams patients more readily engage in music than controls, while autistic patients show decreased perception of emotion in music Levitin and Bellugi, ; Bhatara et al. The hyper-social feature overlaps with a tendency toward hyper-musical engagement Huron, ; Levitin et al.

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This engagement includes increased frequency in looking for music, playing music, and expressing emotional responses to music. A sensibility for and a sensitivity to sound seem to be features of these individuals Levitin and Bellugi, The temporal activation to music in controls vs.

Manual Reflections on the Musical Mind: An Evolutionary Perspective

Williams syndrome individuals demonstrates activation of the temporal gyrus and Heschl's gyrus, while also showing a more diverse and diffuse activation that includes the amygdala and cerebellum Levitin et al. Moreover, oxytocin, a prosocial facilitating peptide, may be elevated in Williams syndrome, and like dopamine, may be elevated when listening to music. Individuals with Williams syndrome have also been reported to have an expanded activation of the visual cortex.

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging fMRI to measure brain activity, individuals with Williams syndrome displayed greater visual cortex activation in response to music Thompson et al. In addition, they showed diminished responses to anxiety associated with music Dykins et al. Music is an affectively opulent activity, whether it is being created or consumed. Moreover, music is rich in information processing as we work to appreciate the subtleties of beat, form, melody, and harmony.

The affective and intellectual complexity of the musical experience speaks to the underlying neurological structures in place to ensure human appreciation for, and creation of, novel music.

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  • A depiction of a toolbox as a metaphor for diverse cephalic capacities Schulkin, Gibson suggested that there is direct cephalic access to environmental sources of information and practices in the organization of action. Thus, some questions are: what are the conditions for adaptation and what are the factors in the environment that allow for readily available resources?

    Context helps to facilitate performance, musical and otherwise.

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    Our ways of hearing and responding to music are steeped in the direct ecological exposure to and expectations about sound and meaning, as well as music and context Clarke and Cook, It is this sense of grounding that makes features stand out so easily in music and enables the mutualism between the perception, action, and external events that are quite palpable in music sensibilities Clarke and Cook, The events are always relative to a framework of understanding—a social context rich in practice, style and history. As well as providing a basis for understanding musical expression, context also affords an anchor with which to develop memories and future expectancies about music Donald, ; Noe, The expansion of memory facilitates the wide array of what we do, including music.

    The emphasis is on action and perception knotted together and coupled with musical events. The study of music emphasizes its independence from language while tying it, like all of our cognitive functions, to a diverse set of cognitive capabilities. Moreover, common forms of mental representations underlie action and perception in musical performance and musical sensibility Deutsch, ; Pfordresher, Music is not only linked to cognitive actions, but also to emotional responsivity and memory formation.

    From simple percusives to facile musical instruments, the tools of music represent a small leap for humankind. Bone and ivory flute fragments from the Hohle Fels and Vogelherd caves in southwestern Germany Conard et al. One cognitive adaptation is the capacity for the basic discernment of inanimate objects from animate objects. We represent animate objects, often giving them divine-like status, which infuses them with specific and transcendental meaning. Musical instruments ultimately derive from this expanded cognitive approach to objects.

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    Flint sound tool, known as a lithophone, from the Victorian Era Blake and Cross, While song is the earliest form of music, the cognitive and motor capabilities necessary for the invention of musical instruments are embedded in evolutionary cognitive development over time Cross and Morley, ; Cross, After all, making objects, musical, and otherwise is a cephalic extension of the world beyond ourselves Donald, Perhaps it is tentatively tied in origins to basic functions, but surely one wants to be respectful of these simple origins without being reduced to them.

    Evolutionary trends are not necessarily unidirectional, as Darwin had suggested and had penned in one of his rather unaesthetic drawings. Evolutionary trends may be more like jumps and starts, punctuated by sudden changes Gould and Eldridge, ; Foley, ; Wood, One view of evolution is the hypothesis that language and speech emerged between 50, and , years ago Lieberman and McCarthy, , and artistic representation can be traced back to 30,—40, years ago Mellars, Music, while frequently considered an art, captures the sciences in its generative process, and draws on human expectations.

    The cognitive architecture, the generative processes, the diverse variation and embodiment of human meaning within almost all spheres of human expression, are rich fields of discovery for both the arts and the sciences Dewey, ; Meyer, ; Premack, ; Schulkin, This development of art and music was an important evolutionary step in forming the communicative scaffolding for social interactions that have become so crucial or our species.

    Art, like science, is embedded in discovery, testing, experimentation, and expansion through technique. There is no divide between the scientific and artistic. They intersect quite readily and naturally as they expand the human experience.

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    Given the key role that music plays in our social world, it is perhaps not surprising that music activates broad neurological systems, and that cognitive structures are in place for receiving, understanding, and producing music. Important biologically derived cognitive systems are not divorced from action or perception, but are endemic to them Peirce, ; Barton, ; Schulkin, Lakoff and Johnson depict relationships between perception and action, which underlie all of music, with thinking, perceiving, communicating, imagining, etc.

    Music is an action, but can also permeate our imagination, whether it is heard by someone, or simply imprints on neural systems. Music is fundamental to humans as a species. Most of the expectations we have may not be explicit, since the vast array of the cognitive systems are not conscious Rozin, ; imagine playing an instrument while being explicitly conscious of all that we have to do.

    Impossible Sloboda, , ! Cognitive systems are vastly unconscious and underlie action as well as music. The inferences, expectations, and prediction of auditory events are not particularly part of our awareness, and certainly the mechanisms are not Helmholtz, ; Temperley, A core anatomy that includes a larynx Lieberman, tied to systems which orchestrate movement featuring statistically related acoustical harmonics and periodicity is responsible for song production.

    These are bound to preferences for ratios and intervals between sounds via the modulation of the larynx Ross et al. Key features in the vocal capability of a chimpanzee center vs.

    Reflections On The Musical Mind An Evolutionary Perspective

    Access to pre-adaptive systems makes a difference in diversity of expression Rozin, ; Fitch, ; Lieberman and McCarthy, More generally, auditory perceptual systems code and structure events for music within contexts of semiotic systems, which then further expand our capabilities for song. The evolving motor cortex, united with cognition and perception, underpin the production and appreciation of song Lieberman, , Music as we know it could not have existed without cognition or the motor skills to create musical sounds.

    In studies that used neuromagnetic methods to measure cortical activity, the primary motor cortex is active both when subjects observed simple movements and when the subjects performed them Hari et al. Importantly, motor imagery is replete with cognitive structure and is reflected in the activation of neural circuitry Rizzolatti and Arbib, , and so auditory imagery is reflected in different regions of the brain, including anticipatory musical imagery Rauschecker and Scott, In another study focusing specifically on sensory events in a fMRI scanner, subjects were presented with spoken words via headphones.

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    Then, in a second experiment the same individuals were asked to identify the words with silent lip-reading Calvert et al. Not surprisingly, many of the same cortical regions were activated. In other words, hearing sounds is like imagining them.

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    • Not surprisingly, hearing music activates many of the regions linked to auditory perception. A neuroimaging scan revealing that even in silence the auditory cortex, pictured here in the posterior portion of the right superior temporal gyrus, is activated Zatorre and Halpern, Thus, despite the difficulty of knowing what people are actually imagining, one can dissociate hearing something from seeing it through diverse regions of the brain.

      Perhaps one is now in a better position to understand the genius of Beethoven; deaf for years, he must have heard music imaginatively to compose the way he did. Think of the cognitive complexity, the richness of the later parts of Beethoven's life. In fact, we now know that musical hallucinations are often a feature of acquired deafness such as Beethoven's Zatorre et al. In addition, the links between audition and premotor cortex functioning mean that there is mutual activation, even in the absence of one or the other sensation Baumann et al.

      Beethoven is one thing, the rest of us quite another. Yet, the recruitment of cortical regions is generic. Dopamine is a central organizer of drives and rewards and is tied to music sensibilities imagined, acted, and expected Zatorre and Salimpoor, The regulation of dopamine is, for behavior, a fundamental event.

      It is an ancient molecule dating back millions of years in evolutionary history and plays a critical role in the motor control of the nervous systems of all vertebrates. Dopamine levels are linked to diverse motivated behaviors Kelley, These links have led a number of investigators to connect dopamine to reward. However, dopamine neurons are activated under a number of conditions, including duress or excitement.