Culture Rover

#137 - Bad Brains

Dan Levitin's provocative research on the way music affects the brain (see "Music of the Hemispheres," New York Times, 31 December 2006) tries to measure the "true impact of powerful music."

Registering how music stimulates certain parts of the brain or releases dopamine is great. So too is Levitin's use of musical research to discover why people remember melodies so accurately or his effort to pursue insights into the physical properties of brains for children diagnosed with autism.

But why does the "true impact of powerful music" always wind up in some kind of transhistorical, facile evolutionary adaptation argument about men, music, and reproduction? Steve Pinker seems correct to call into question Levitin's claim that music is linked to evolution in such a simplistic relationship.

This claim of evolutionary biology is a good pop hook, but soon one longs for a more complex harmonic framework of reasoning.

2 January 2007

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