Why we like music remains a mystery

In a comment to an earlier post Treblid linked to an interesting article in Discovery News called ‘Why Music Makes You Happy‘. The article relates a study in which the brain function of a number of people was analysed during the playing of certain loved music. This disclosed that the pleasure centres of the brain received a dopamine hit when the subjects were listening to such music.

As I said, quite interesting.

But it in no way justifies the title. This doesn’t tell us anything much about ‘Why music makes us happy’. What it does is disclose how part of the mechanism by which certain bits of music, previously known to make the listeners happy, works.

Note, I am not saying anything at all about the validity of the substantive claims of the work reported in the article. I don’t know how much dopamine is associated with the things they talk about. So I’m happy to accept it all on face value, tentatively.

But the article doesn’t have anything to say about why some kinds of music prompt this reaction in the first place. Nor why┬áI can get that thrill from Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s ‘Karn Evil 9, Part III’, but never from anything sung by Slim Dusty.

And it certainly has nothing to say about why we like music at all. That remains one of the big unsolved mysteries of the human condition. Why should any music at all ever affect us emotionally? Does it confer some evolutionarily positive survival advantage? Or is it a side-effect of some other selected-for human attribute? Or animal one? Or is it, indeed, just a fluke?

Perhaps, if there were a god, he would have given this to us as a gift.

And, for that matter, does everyone even love (some) music anyway? Are there people in the world to whom all music seems like Slim Dusty does to me? Perhaps love of music isn’t even a defining human characteristic.

Anyway, as is too often the case, the headline of the story promises something other that what the story delivers.

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