The Goal Achievement Hypothesis
Hypothesis: Music alters the listener's perception of an imagined situation, which involves:
- A protagonist (can be 1st person/3rd person, singular/plural, usually I, we, him/her)
- A goal or goals
- Not necessarily precisely specified
- Usually non-urgent – any required action occurs over an extended period of time
- Considerations which affect belief about certainty, or possibility, of achieving the goal/goals:
- Optimism/pessimism about achieving
- Opportunities exist to achieve goals
- Uncertainty about achieving
- Having power/capability to achieve
- Being dependent on other person/people to achieve
- Not too much effort required to achieve a goal
- Something has changed, or will change, where probably the change is permanent and irreversible, that affects ability to achieve
- The world is very different from what was previously known – in a way that affects what goals can or cannot be achieved
- Can achieve goal/goals, even though other people (can be 2nd or 3rd person) are opposed
- Intention, or lack of intention, to take action
- Persistence of action, which moves steadily towards achievement of goal/goals
- Status of individual, which will favourably affect ability to achieve goals (also status is a goal in itself)
- Can enjoy life in the current moment – external worries etc fail to prevent said enjoyment
- The significance of what is being said, which is telling you (or us) about something that will affect possible achievement of goals
The Meanings of Specific Items of Music
Different items of music have different meanings in as much as they emphasize some of the considerations listed but not others.
The number of dimensions of musical meaning will not be exactly equal to the number of items in the list, for the following reasons:
- Some of the considerations are probably mutually exclusive, such as dependence and opposition, so they are really negative and positive aspects of the same dimension.
- There may be groups of items in the list that are specific examples of a more abstract concept, and the music only directly expresses the abstract concept.
- There may be dimensions of meaning that I have not yet identified.
Taking into account these caveats, we might suppose that the dimensionality of musical meaning is a small finite number, probably at least 3, and unlikely to be much larger than 12.
The Definition of the Imaginary Situation
Music motivates a change in the listener's perception of an imaginary situation, but, for most people, it does not motivate the act of imagining the initial version of the situation.
Therefore, something else has to motivate the listener's imagination.
- Song lyrics
- A scene in a film
- Visual content of a music video
- The listener's existing thought processes, about something in their own personal circumstances
The Self-Referentiality of (Some) Music
The imaginary situation that music acts on will include goals and possible consideration of action taken in order to achieve those goals.
In some cases the action taken is the performance of the music itself.
For example, the lyrics of a song might describe the action taken to achieve a goal, or they might actually be the action taken to achieve a goal.
For a particular song, the goal might be to break up with you, my unsatisfactory lover, and I am telling you, in the lyrics, what it is that makes you so unsatisfactory.
In this case, me telling you what is wrong with you is the action I am taking in order to achieve the goal of breaking up with you.