There’s a belief common to our times that music is a frill. Certain cognitive scientists – based on what I regard as a misapplication of the idea of evolution – believe that music is “auditory cheesecake.” We’re not specifically evolved to love cheesecake, but we are evolved to love fat and sugar; cheesecake is a little pleasurable bonus (and curse) of that evolutionary history. Likewise, music isn’t necessary in evolutionary terms, according to this view; it’s just a pleasing combination of powers crucial for our survival (perhaps the drive for order, the ability to discriminate sounds, etc.). This view of evolutionary psychologists reflects much deeper trends in our society, which are readily seen in how we often treat music as a “special” in education, more about a fun break from learning than crucial to education itself, and how we regard the arts generally as merely “entertainment,” i.e., a break from our labors (where the real value – namely, money – is found and made).
It’s obviously true that music is not food or sex. But I believe that music is crucial for the human organism, at least for most human organisms. My hunch – supported by a longer and, in my view, more profound tradition of philosophy – is that music underlies language and is bound up with the integration of the psyche and human civilization. Moreover, it helps us to cultivate (or perhaps deform) ourselves, particularly in moments of transition and consolidation. The teenage years are an obvious example.
The occasion for these particular reflections is that I just watched this clip – a moving little story – from an organization called Music and Memory.
Music is not food or sex, but it may well be the “food of love.”