The human brain is wired to understand music. Some would think that the practice of music is solely a cultural phenomenon and one of the many things we do that biological affinity is not a prerequisite for. This is incorrect, and this paper’s purpose is to prove why.
A common misconception about music is that it is shaped by culture. Yes, music is influenced by culture, however music has had a greater effect on culture, than culture on music. For example, music aided the civil rights movement by giving minorities a voice in media, all the way up until current day.
At first, folk, then jazz, R&B, Motown, and currently, Rap/Hip-hop. Using these genres as a means of expressing their point of view and exposing the condition of places like the Bronx in the 70’s to the public eye was crucial to their cause. A prime example of this is The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Songs like The Message showed anyone outside of New York City what it was like to live in ghettos dominated by landlords that did not hesitate to burn their homes down for insurance money.
Music produced by people in underrepresented groups was so influential, that it had a positive impact on gang violence in the Bronx. Zulu Nation, a music group founded by the gang Black Spades later contributed to by other gangs, was an organization that hosted musical events such as rap battles, dance battles, parties and other cultural events. It gave gangs a place to squash beef without spilling the blood of New York youths. R&B and Hip-hop eventually made it to TV and radio. Consequentially, West Coast Hip-hop was born. The chain of events goes on. Music permeates culture like a virus. Culture is just the host. However, unlike a virus, it can exist without a culture. (double entendre baby)
It can be argued that music is an entirely learned practice; that it exists because we created it eons ago and decided to continue its practice. This is true to a degree. Similar to the way we have a generally accepted model of the universe based on our observations of physics and particle interactions, we have a model for music based on our observations of harmony and rhythm. You could say that music is simply academia in practice, like a scientific demonstration. This is also true, however there’s a reason for the academia’s existence in the first place. For a model of the universe, it is that the universe exists with certain properties. For music, it is that we exist with certain properties.
The human brain is wired to interpret pitch. Why? The only auditory functions that are necessary for our survival are the ability to interpret tone or voice (different from tonality) – the shape of a soundwave – the ability to determine where a sound comes from in space, and speech recognition. Tone deaf people can understand if a pitch is higher than another or lower. Understanding of speech is the reason we are the dominant species. We could live without the ability to replicate the exact pitch that was heard. Four percent of the population, people affected by tone deafness, live fine without it. Yet, here we are, with the ability to recognize pitch.
Another argument is to put my point of view in a different context.
“If we can taste, is food biological as opposed to cultural?”
Yes. In fact, it is common sense. That is the reason the statement is not as impactful in the context of music. We are taught about our digestive system and our senses at a young age. Music is taught to children, however the anatomical and psychological concepts are not, simply because they are too complex and irrelevant to what a child needs to know growing up.
Food is half the reason for having a tongue, it is a reason for having a nose, it is the reason we avoid bad tasting things and are attracted to good ones. Having this complex system to comprehend taste does not mean our bodies are meant to taste rocks. We think food. It’s the same with pitch recognition, only a portion of our hearing sense. The sound of rocks is a topic that will not often show up in a conversation about music, same as rocks to the conversation of food, even though you can taste a rock and hear a rock moving against something else.
We can use our senses to perceive anything, but there’s a specific reason for having each sense in the first place. For hearing, it is to be aware of things that create sound, and within that, pitch recognition is to listen to or create music. For taste, it is to gage the benefit or danger of whatever we intend to ingest, the ability to taste, say sweet things, is to gather carbohydrates. Each type of flavor exists to quench a nutritional craving or warn us. Consider pitch to be a flavor of sound.
It is possible that humans found social/cultural value in music, same as language. If that is the case, it is no wonder the two functions evolved alongside each other. Music and language comprehension more closely related than one would think. In asking the question of whether tone deafness is hereditary or not, a study found that using genetic speech impediments was the quickest route to discovering the answer.
No matter which way you slice it, music is embedded in us.
Let me know if I could have formatted the essay a bit different. Things like how each idea is separated. Also, almost all of the information is from my own learning, like the whole civil rights bit. This leaves little for me to cite, should I be worried about that?
wrong post, my fault
I like to read Wittgenstein, not because I know what he’s talking about—I rarely do—but because whatever he’s up to he says with bold conviction, and his telling awakens ideas in me that may have very little to do with his concerns but which entertain me. I have good ideas when I’m reading Wittgenstein, but he doesn’t communicate to me. He is the occasion of my own thinking.
I opened Philosophical Grammar to a random page for an example of what I’m describing, and I happened to land on a passage about noise (sort of).
I feel the same way reading that as I feel reading your draft argument here, SillyInternetPerson. It’s intriguing, rich in description, utterly opaque, and functions not to communicate to me but to tweak my own thinking.
I thank you for that. As for rewrites, you’re on your own. I fail to see the connection between your Definition and your Rebuttal arguments so far. Maybe they’ll all come together if we get a Research argument we can follow from beginning to end.