I am a proponent of evolutionary psychology, the school of psychology that believes human behaviour can be explained in terms of survival benefit. It is beneficial for the species, for instance, that we do everything we can to ensure our offspring survive. We deposit infants into the world, completely vulnerable and unable to care for themselves. It makes sense, then, that parents should care for their offspring until the children are able to care for themselves. If you’ve spent much time with infants, you’ll know they don’t exactly ingratiate themselves with you through their behaviour alone. Charming traits like waking you up every two hours to feed and eliminating waste at any place, any time, might have made our neanderthal forebears inclined to toss these screaming tyrants to the wolves. That would never do, of course, so the capacity for love evolved. (I realize this is a severe oversimplification, but you get the point).
But music! No matter how many theories I read on the evolutionary benefit of music, it still feels like an anomaly. Sure, it might be a by-product of the evolution of another behaviour, or it might have evolved as an adaptive mechanism to promote bonding. But none of that explains the way music makes me feel, like an explosion of feeling has gone off in my chest, and sometimes an intensity felt throughout my entire body. None of that explains the complex neuronal light show necessary for musical appreciation. To listen to music uses a multitude of cognitive functions, and our brains must be just like a fireworks display. All of that from an evolutionary by-product? Hard to believe. And there are already several other simpler human behaviours which promote bonding. Why would music ever be necessary?
Yet there music is, in us and around us and in every culture, in every inhabited place in the world. Somehow, the inadequacy of science to explain music to me makes music seem like a mystery unwilling and unable to be solved. And there is nothing wrong with that. As much as I love science — and I really do adore science — there is some small measure of comfort in feeling that there are things science can’t explain, though science may strive to do so.
Today, whether I am sailing down the highway singing along with some classic rock, snapping my fingers to the rhythm of some jazz, or glorying in an operatic aria — today, I am thankful for music. Music has transformed my life, permitting me to leave behind drudgery for a little while and enter a unique and remarkable realm filled with inexplicable feelings and sensations.
How do you experience music?