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Hearing as adaptation

post #1 of 6
Thread Starter 
Is anyone aware of any papers, articles, or head-fi posts which discuss music listening in terms of evolutionary adaptation?

Our hearing is an adaptation allowing us to detect the sound of large predators, and to decode human speech. It occurs in an organ that also controls balance and at some distant point in our ancestry probably had some respiratory function.

Are our ears particularly well-suited (or ill-suited) for music listening? How does the ability to enjoy music help me survive on the savanna and propagate my genes?
post #2 of 6
I've seen some, but I don't have any direct links on hand. Try searching for words like: binaural, hearing, evolution, etc. There were a few that popped up on google right away.
post #3 of 6
Originally Posted by terriblepaulz View Post
How does the ability to enjoy music help me survive on the savanna and propagate my genes?
"Survival of the fittest" isn't all about brawn.

Survival of the harmonious - The Boston Globe
post #4 of 6
The first thinker to try to find a place for music in the Darwinian order was Charles Darwin. In his 1871 book ``The Descent of Man," he argued, ``musical notes and rhythm were first acquired by the male or female progenitors of mankind for the sake of charming the opposite sex." Darwin's model was bird song. In many bird species, males sing to impress females. Depending on the species, females will tend toward the males with the broadest repertoire or the most complex or unique songs.

The foremost defender of that model today is Geoffrey Miller, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of New Mexico. Miller argues that in prehistoric communities, singing and dancing might have worked-as they do today in some Native American cultures-as proxies for hunting and warfare. The ability to come up with imaginative melodies and rhythms would connote intelligence and creativity, and the long, arduous dances would be proof of one's endurance-the sort of traits that a choosy female would like to see in her offspring.

Even today, Miller argues, music retains some of its old procreative roots. Looking at 6,000 recent jazz, rock, and classical albums, Miller found that 90 percent were produced by men, and that those male musicians tended to reach their peak musical production around age 30, which he notes, is also the peak of male sexual activity.
Yeah, baby.
post #5 of 6
Music theory books often talk about music in relation to human evolution, but I don't advise reading them unless you really are interested in such topics, it's very confusing imo.

What do you mean if our ears are well-suited or not? Are you asking if some music can fail to convey ideas properly? If that's the question the answer is yes, just like someone making a din is pointless. But some songs convey ideas as well as normal language does, which depends not on the evolution of your ears but of your brain. How well music works depends on the musicians, his instruments, and the listeners. And with modern technology it will also depend on recording and reproduction, but if this is what you're asking, it is not any different from our ears' suitability to human speech given the same treatment. But if you're asking if our ears are well-suited to whatever newfangled instrument, well, if a musician chooses his instruments wrong he goes the way of the dodobird, self-solving problem.

I don't think the primary role of music (or songmaking) is sexual selection, I think it is primarily a method of communicating ideas when more conventional methods of communication aren't suitable. People think they are being entertained or that they are admiring music when music is playing, but what really happens is they are being receptive and exposed to an idea they would otherwise never give the time of day to. Music is used in rallies, funerals, festivities, commercials, mind-numbing droning at the supermarket, and propaganda. Considering the use of music in all kinds of cultural and political upheavals in the past 100 years, I don't think music helps you to survive and procreate very much, instead it helps politicians.
post #6 of 6
Originally Posted by terriblepaulz View Post
How does the ability to enjoy music help me survive on the savanna and propagate my genes?
Tell me about it, being able to sing and play guitar hasn't gotten me any closer to getting laid.

And if our ancestors had been smart enough to sing operatically, maybe we could have evolved with a higher threshold for hearing damage?
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