Critically evaluate Pinker's claim that music is auditory cheesecake:
Pinker’s metaphorical expression for music was “auditory cheesecake”, explaining that he considered this function “useless[as a biological adaptation]” (Pinker 1997, p.528). Perhaps avid listeners comfort feed their minds with acoustic cheesecake, but musical knowledge presents the impact of such sweetness goes far beyond just licking the spoon. Extracting Pinker’s perspective, this essay will discuss whether music is valuable in the survival of humans. Arguments will be derived from brain imaging findings to examine its biological predisposition, adaptionist view to seek out its evolutionary status and whether the environment is responsible for demoting music.
Patel (2010), mediates the argument between Pinker's provocative claim and ethnomusicologists. Patel (2010) agrees with Pinker, calling it a “human invention”, but disagrees for its lack of importance(Patel 2010, p.2). Interaction with music during ones lifetime allows changes to occur in the neural system, thus accommodating for music, terming it: “Transformative Technology of the Mind(TTM)” (Patel 2010, p.2). In support of TTM, brain imaging studies pinpointed that “Brocas area” is responsible for cognitive hierarchal functions(Koelsch, 2011, p.7). Hierarchal functions govern behaviour that are produced via structural rules. Quite possibly, Gestalts principles (Proximity, Similarity, Closure and Continuation) could be the framework for Hierarchal structure since all features are a fitting template for visual perception. Still, for “musical wholes” it is more selective(Tan, 2010, p.7). Nonetheless, all cognitive functions attempt to achieve a meaningful whole, regardless of the route taken. Many studies found Hierarchy apparent in language, music, action and mathematical ability(Koelsch, 2011). Therefore it is unsurprising researchers find that music enhances “language, attention, auditory scene analysis and so forth”, because all these cognitive functions share the same brain region(Patel 2010, p.21). Consequently, if music is an invention then so must all other cognitive functions, governed by this domain-general region. Pinker's attempt to discredit music backfired onto his own field of linguistic research.
It should be noted, Patel(2010) stated musical changes(in line with TTM) has a warranty of one lifetime. Although infant research contradicts by claiming music is innate, thus a biological adaptation. Infants as young as 4/6 months respond to changes in melody, having a preference for longer consonant over dissonant (Trehub, 2003). Consonant appears to use Gestalt principles to marry in a set of notes, (according to Tan(2010) “tones that are close together in pitch [and] time”); whereas Dissonance breaks off a melody using unexpected notes(Trehub, 2003; Tan, 2010, p.79). An EEG study showed Dissonance grabs attention instantly, even whilst engaged in a secondary task(Hannon and Trainor, 2007). This preference can be explained using Habituation and Sensitization(Passer, Smith, Holt, Bremner, Sutherland, Vleik, 2010). Habituation is when reaction is no longer made because the organism becomes accustomed, assuming the stimuli is not threatening to survival(Passer et al, 2010). Likewise to the response of Consonance, whereby the proximity of notes work together to provide an expected(i.e. accustomed) melody. On the contrary Dissonance strikes an imbalance, startling and making the organism more alert. As a result implying possible threat to survival, which defines Sensitization(Passer et al, 2010). Therefore music validates our environment, making it important for survival. However it can easily be replaced by other sensory functions, e.g. touch, to feel pain. So what is unique about music that allowed it to live on in humans?
Music has been evident on earth for at least 40,000years, denoted by the earliest instrument found(Koelsch, 2011, p.1). If Pinker's claim is correct,...
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