Music is essential for being human.
Scientists are learning a lot about how music effects the brain, how it changes our cognition (see blog posts Better Brains and Brain Imaging). But that’s not the whole story. There’s something much deeper going on with music. It is central to every culture across the world and across history. Music is enjoyed by people of all classes, gender, and age. Those who do not play an instrument still love listening to music.
Leonid Perlovsky, visiting scholar at Harvard University, writes
Billions of people enjoy music; many feel that they can’t live without it.
It’s a question that has puzzled scientists and philosophers for centuries. 2,400 years ago Aristotle wondered, “Why does music, being just sounds, remind us of the states of our soul?”
In the 19th century Darwin tried to decipher if our ability to create music evolved by natural selection. Of all human faculties, only music seemed beyond understanding; flummoxed, he came to the conclusion that “music is the greatest mystery.”
Perlovsky has conducted research on the “greatest mystery” and believes the answer is that music helps us resolve cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is psychologist-speak for the emotional discomfort caused by believing two things, despite understanding that they cannot be true at the same time. The classic example is a lawyer who must enter a “not-guilty” plea for a defendant, even though the lawyer knows the person committed the crime. Cognitive dissonance effects us on a deeply emotional level and if not resolved, it can be paralyzing.
Read the whole article here: How Music Helps Resolve Our Deepest Inner Conflicts (https://theconversation.com/how-music-helps-resolve-our-deepest-inner-conflicts-38531)
Tom Barnes writes about Perlovsky’s research in this article:
Science May Finally Have Found Out Why Music Is So Important to Humans (http://mic.com/articles/116300/science-may-finally-have-found-out-why-music-is-so-important-to-humans)
Barnes cites research that implies music has played an essential role in human evolution, especially in the following areas
- Resolving cognitive dissonance (Perlovsky’s conclusion)
- Modulating mood
- Reducing anxiety and stress
- Promoting social cohesion
- Developing language
- Physical healing
I’ve often wondered why so many songs are about love and heartbreak. Revisiting a painful breakup through music somehow feels good, but that doesn’t make any logical sense. I don’t enjoy thinking about the time I suffered from shingles. That was painful too, but I’m not going to write a song about it. The difference, of course, is that love is emotional. Love and heartbreak are two sides of the same coin, as are life and death. At the center of our existential angst is the knowledge that we have to embrace the duality of being human.