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No Music = No Internet

Posted on April 5, 2006

Provocative title isn’t it? However, new research could actually prove this to be true. Music permeates all human cultures and there is strong evidence that the brain comes prewired with music circuits making it a product of human evolution. The question is: If music is a product of human evolution than what is music for?

Many scientists, including Darwin, wrote music off as a method early man used to try to attract mates. This was a solution that made sense at the time because no scientist was ever able to link music to survival. The thought was that if music couldn’t be linked to survival than it had to be linked to the propagation of the species since a trait will persist generation after generation only if it is linked to one of those two needs. However, Steven Mithen’s new research may indicate that music was, in fact, a survival mechanism for early man (source: Science Journal article).

Here is how Mithen imagines things:

…the small band of Neanderthals gathered 50,000 years ago around the caves of Le Moustier, in what is now the Dordogne region of France, were butchering carcasses, scraping skins, shaping ax heads — and singing.

One of the fur-clad men started it, a rhythmic sound with rising and falling pitch, and others picked it up, indicating their willingness to cooperate both in the moment and in the future, when the group would have to hunt or fend off predators. The music promoted “a sense of we-ness, of being together in the same situation facing the same problems,” suggests Prof. Mithen, an archaeologist at England’s Reading University. Music, he says, creates “a social rather than a merely individual identity.”

Mithen believes that “language may have been built on the neural underpinnings of music” and that, before language, music actually helped man communicate and survive. Recent discoveries that suggest music has a particular place in our brain may back up Mithen’s hypothesis. In fact, Mithen even points out that, because language impairment does not lead to musical impairment, music must have been around longer.

Music, as we all know, is strongly tied to emotions and that is why Mithen believes it helped early man survive. For example, one man could start to “sing” and the others would know how he was feeling from his tone and could then join in to “sympathize” with him. Music can also be used to manipulate peoples emotions so early man could have, for example, used “happy” tunes in order to keep people cooperating and forging ahead on a long day of hunting or gathering.

As a musician (haven’t updated the site in a while), and as a human being, this theory fascinates me. I have been known to say that music is the only universal language but I never really thought about it more than just thinking that notes are written the same way regardless of where one is. I had never really thought of the emotional ties we all have to music because they are so natural and tied to our subconscious. This may be why a song can sometimes express things in a way that words just can’t or why, when a certain tune pops up on the iPod, one immediatley enters into a specific emotional state. Professor Mithen’s research is very interesting and I, for one, will be watching and reading as he moves forward knowing that, if he is correct, there would be no internet without music.

Source Info: I found this article within a weekly e-newsletter I receive from the great folks over at StonePages.com. If you are interested in archaeology and ancient cultures you should absolutely subscribe or at least visit their site frequently. You won’t regret it!

Also: In the spirit of this post I thought I would share some of my Pandora stations so all of you could see some of the new music I am discovering at the moment. Enjoy!

Rock Radio
Depeche Mode Radio
Jazz Radio
Singer/Songwriter Radio

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1 Comment so far
  1. Matt McCall April 8, 2006 11:25 pm

    Very cool stuff. Tight correlation between early music exposure and success in math/sciences (structured things). Probably hard wired back in that era as well. Love to see another Pandora fan.