Music, and the Relationship Between Fantasy and Reality

26 October, 2019
The act of imagining fantasies is subject to a reward function.
Music radically alters that reward function.

What is a Fantasy?

A fantasy is a hypothetical scenario that a person imagines, as if they are perceiving a real scenario, except actually it is not real.

One way to explain the likely function of fantasy is that fantasies are experimental versions of reality.

Assumptions and Conclusions

Typically a fantasy will differ from reality in certain ways, but in other ways it will be realistic.

We can consider a fantasy to be something like a simple mathematical proof of the implication A -> B:

  1. Assume A to be true.
  2. Under the hypothesis that A is true, prove that B is true.
  3. Discharge the hypothesis A, thereby proving the implication A -> B.

Most fantasies relate to the achievement of goals.

So we can re-interpret the above steps of logical deduction as an imaginative fantasy, where B represents a goal that a person wants to achieve:

  1. Imagine that A is true.
  2. Within the fantasy, realise that this results in B being true.
  3. Learn that if A can somehow be made to happen, then B will be achieved.

Humans are motivated to have imaginative fantasies.

This implies that a reward function is associated with fantasies.

If a person, within their fantasy, assumes A, and derives B, then the happiness the person feels will be a result of their desire to achieve B, ie as if B had actually been achieved.

But actually B hasn't been achieved, because A is not actually true (at least not yet).

So we would expect that the reward from imagining that B has been achieved would have to be qualified in some sense, to take account of the fact that there is still a dependence on A being true.

We would expect this qualification to take the form of a reduction in reward, depending on:

The overall consequence of this qualified reward function is that the person doing the imagining will be motivated to have fantasies where the happy consequence B is the most rewarding, and where the required assumption A has maximum probability, minimum cost and minimum possible downside.

A Hypothesis about Music

Music appears to alter the reward function that applies to the act of imagining a fantasy.

When the music is really strong, the alteration is more of a full replacement, ie music defines a reward function for imagination which is quite different to the default reward function (DRF).

Based on my own experiences of music, how music interacts with lyrics, how music video content is scripted and filmed, and how music is applied in film scores, this is my own current best estimate of what this music-defined reward function (MRF) is:

Assumptions Rewarded by the MRF

With the default reward function, all things being equal, the less that the imaginative assumptions deviate from reality, the better. This is logical, because a scenario that starts off with something not too different from what is already known to be possible, and which has a happy conclusion, is a scenario that is providing useful information about how one might act in the future.

The music-defined reward function is very different. It is so different that I would tentatively conclude that music is not about coming up with specific plans for future action.

A music-driven fantasy often feels like a version of reality where a number of things have been omitted altogether, resulting in a reality that is strangely simplified.

So, what sort of things get left out?

At this point I will confess that my analysis is very subjective.

The following is a hypothesis that seems to explain many interactions between music and associated content, such as lyrics, or video:

Here I am using the word "objection" is a very general sense, referring to any complaint that someone might have with regard to a particular scenario, such as:

Different Meanings of Different Musical Items

So far I have talked about the meaning of music, per se.

However different items of music "work" with different associated content.

That is, you can't match any song lyrics to any tune. And when you are scoring a film, you have to choose the right music for different parts of the film, depending on what is happening, and depending on what characters in the film might be thinking about, or trying to do.

In the context of the hypotheses I have state here, there are two major variables which correspond to variations between different musical items, in particular: