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How Scientifically Orthodox is the Super-Stimulus Theory?

These days there are many theories about scientific subjects proposed by those outside the mainstream. An immediate problem with most of them is that they ignore or contradict orthodox science.

So I would like to make clear that this is not the case with my super-stimulus theory of music, and, if anything, my theory is even more scientifically orthodox than the attempts of many music scientists to penetrate the mysteries of music.

Orthodox Scientific Theories of Music

This first thing to note is that there is no scientific orthodoxy on the subject of music. There is no consensus about what music is. There is no equivalent to the second law of thermodynamics that one ignores or contradicts at one's peril. So the fact that my theory is somewhat different to all those other theories about music is not in itself any reason to ignore it.

No New Laws of Physics

This seems a silly issue to even consider. But I have to consider it, because it is apparently quite respectable in some quarters to construct new laws of physics (or even just suggest the possibility of constructing new laws of physics), to help explain the mysteries of the human mind. Usually these new laws have something to do with quantum mechanics.

So, for the record, I must state: there are no new laws of physics in the super-stimulus theory of music.

The nearest I come to mixing exotic physics with music is when I consider the symmetries of music, and I suggest that the symmetries of music are important in the same general sort of way that symmetries are important in physics. I even manage to identify symmetries which are "local", "global" and "broken". However, the analogy is only general, and not specific, in that the significance of symmetries in music is different to the significance of symmetries in physics. The somewhat mundane significance of musical symmetries is that we must recognise their existence, and then ask how and why, which are the usual questions you have to ask about anything in biology.

Evolution by Natural Selection

Some music scientists, music researchers and music philosophers suggest that maybe we should take Darwin's theory of evolution into account when analysing music. My view is that we have to take Darwin's theory of evolution into account, because music is an aspect of human behaviour, and human beings are living organisms, so everything about human nature must be explained in terms that are consistent with Darwin's theory of evolution.

What I do manage to avoid is the necessity that music has some adaptive purpose, because I realise that the critical phenomenon to explain is that of music perception. I develop the hypothesis that music perception is really an adaptation for the perception of something else, where the most likely candidate for that something else is some component or aspect of speech.

The Brain is an Information Processing System

Information processing is what happens inside the brain, and that is what the brain is for. Music perception is something that happens inside the brain, which means that music perception must involve the processing of some type of information to generate some other type of information. My theory proposes that the major function of music perception is to perceive the musicality of speech, and that music is the super-stimulus for this perception, i.e. music is pseudo-speech which has been constructed so as to maximise the perceived value of its musicality.

The Neuron is the Major Unit of Information Processing in the Brain

With regard to the functionality of neurons, the scientific orthodoxy is less clearcut, and opinions vary as to how much the analysis of information processing in the brain can be reduced to the analysis of information processing within individual neurons. My theory is fairly consistent with the more reductionist viewpoint, that we can attribute specific meanings and functions to individual neurons and also to groups of neurons within functionally specialised modules in the brain.

In fact, my theory goes so far as to include a hypothesis about the existence of specialised musicality neurons, whose job it is to detect the musicality of speech (and the same neurons detect the musicality of music). According to the theory, these neurons exist as a population spread throughout various cortical maps involved in the generation and perception of speech.


 Copyright © 2005 Philip Dorrell Page last updated 20 July 2005