Emotions, and Music
In our lives, at different times, we experience different emotional states.
Music, in some manner, interacts with and enhances our emotions, and it interacts more strongly when those emotions are about something that is not real.
In our everyday lives, we experience a range of different emotions at different times.
Most of the time, these emotions are not so extreme.
For the purposes of this article, I will ignore the actual complexities of emotional state and the dimensionality of such emotional state, and I will present diagrams which show emotional states located within the possible space of emotional states represented as a 2-dimensional space (where the two dimensions are not assigned any specific meaning).
The following diagram shows a bunch of everyday emotional states experienced by a person, in the possible space of emotional states.
Because everyday life is not so extreme, the emotional states experienced only fill a small central portion of the total space of possible emotional states.
A new emotional state occurs
On some occasion, this person might experience an emotional state different to what they have previously experienced.
This is shown as a red dot in the following diagram.
Although this new emotional state is different to all the previous emotional states, it is within the region bounded by those previous emotional states, and the person's brain will be able to interpolate a response to the new emotional state, and this interpolation will be close to optimal.
A new more intense emotional state occurs
On some occasion, some significant event may occur, affecting the circumstances of the person, which causes them to experience an intense emotional state which is considerably different to any emotional state that they have previously experienced.
This is shown as the red dot in the following diagram.
In this case the new emotional state is not within the region bounded by all previous emotional states, and the person's brain will have to extrapolate a response to the new emotional state. This extrapolated response may be somewhat sub-optimal.
Listening to music
Now let us suppose that the person enjoys listening to music.
Music enables the person to feel very strong emotions that lie outside the range of their normal everyday emotions.
Music lets a person feel these emotions, almost, but not quite, as if those emotions were real.
This is shown in the following diagram where the emotional states resulting from listening to music are shown as blue dots.
A new more intense emotional state occurs, version 2
We can now reconsider the situation where a person experiences a new intense emotional state, where that person has previously listened to music.
This is shown in the following diagram, where the new emotional state is shown as a red dot, and the music-induced emotional states are shown as blue dots.
We can see that, this time, the new more intense emotional state lies within the region bounded by the music-induced emotional states, and the person will be able to interpolate their response to the new emotional state by interpolating from the responses that they previously had to the music-induced emotional states.
This interpolated response will be more optimal than the response that would have been made in the case where it had to be extrapolated entirely from the person's responses to their previously experienced everyday emotional states.
Why do Emotions need to be "Practiced"?
Underlying the hypothesis presented here is the assumption that a person can benefit from "practicing" experiencing emotional states, before actually experiencing them.
Why do emotions need to be "practiced"? What does practice involve? Aren't emotions just something that we have, and when we have them, they inform our behaviour at the time that we have them?
I will confess that I don't (yet) know the answers to these questions.
The most I can do, at the moment, is consider them, and speculate as to what the answers might be.
This will be the topic of a future article.
This hypothesis, and the reasoning leading up to it, can be summarized as follows:
- Music allows people to experience emotions that lie outside their normally experienced emotions.
- Under extreme circumstances, where sudden change has occurred to a person's situation, that person may feel real emotions not disimilar to some of the emotions that they have previously experienced from music.
- The previous musical experience of those emotions may help the person to respond optimally to the same strong emotions when they occur in a real situation.
Emotions, Circumstances and the Nature of Human Existence
Change: The Good, the Bad and the Different
We can list the various different types of sudden change of circumstance that may result in a person having strong emotions:
- A new opportunity may suddenly arise for a person. To maximise long-term reproductive success, that person needs to optimally respond to the emotions that result from the sudden appearance of that opportunity.
- Things may take a turn for the worse. This may require a person to quickly decide how to make the best of a bad situation.
- Things may just suddenly change to be very different, requiring a response to the differentness, which will be about discovering and then taking advantage of new opportunitities, and also discovering and then avoiding new dangers.
The Nature of Human Existence
These types of changes are, most of the time, for most people, infrequent.
If music does indeed exist as a form of preparation to deal with such changes, then, given the amount of effort generally involved and creating a listening to music, we would have to conclude that the benefits of such preparation are considerable.
This suggests that the ability to deal with infrequent but major changes in circumstances has always been an important aspect of human nature.
In other words, for much of the history and pre-history of the human species, most people have lived lives that are mostly routine and everyday. But, those same people have had to be constantly prepared to deal with the possibility of sudden changes in their circumstances that require a rapid and optimal response, and those changes have happened often enough that it was worth the effort put into that preparation.