What is the "World"?
In this article, the "world" is not Planet Earth, or any other planet.
Sometimes, in a song, someone might say something like "My world has changed".
That is the kind of world that this article about – the personal "world" of an individual person.
To emphasize the specific meaning I am giving to the word "world", I will use quotes throughout.
The Personal "World"
The "world" is the situation and environment that a person lives in, and it is of a semi-permanent nature.
It consists of things like:
- Where the person lives, including the physical and biological environment
- What the person's place is in society
- The person's current romantic partner, if any
- The person's friends and family
The "World" as a Set of Rules
A more abstract way to describe the nature of a personal "world" is that it consists of a set of rules about the person's situation and environment:
- Rules about what things can exist in the "world"
- Rules about what events can occur in the "world"
- Rules about cause and effect
The Fundamental Dichotomy
In as much as the "world" exists as a thing, it exists inside the brain and mind of the person in question.
Everything that a person observes can be categorised according to whether or not it fits into the current "world":
- Things that can exist and things that can happen according to the rules of the "world"
- Things which, if they exist or happen, imply that the "world" is different in some way from the person's current understanding of what the "world" is, or was.
When a change occurs to the "world", this can be for one of various reasons, for example:
- The "world" is actually different in some way from what the person thought it was.
- The "world" has changed, as a result of actual events and/or the passage of time.
- The person has travelled to a different location, and the "world" at the new location is significantly different to the "world" where the person used to live.
Music and Dreams
In my previous article, A Unified Theory of Music and Dreaming, I observed that music and dreams are similar in that they both involve emotional responses to situations and events that are not real, but, at the same time, they are different from each other in various ways.
Some of these differences can be restated in terms of the "world" concept, in particular:
- In dreams, all things and events observed are responded to as though they are within the world. Even though the "dream world" is often bizarrely different from the waking "world", any perception or awareness of this is completely suppressed.
- With music, emotions are intensified most strongly when considering imagined situations where the "world" has changed in some way.
We can explain why this dichotomy between dreams and music has evolved, as follows:
- Awareness of the strangeness of the dream world will lead the dreamer to realize that they are indeed dreaming, and this realization undermines the function of dreams, where this function depends on the dreamer responding to everything that happens in their dreams as if it was really happening.
- To prevent this awareness, the brain's dreaming function has evolved so that all ability to detect "world change" is suppressed during dreaming.
- As a result, the functionality of dreaming cannot be applied to situations where a person would perceive world change.
- Therefore, music has evolved as a separate way of applying that functionality to situations where world change is (or should be) perceived.
How does Music Achieve Its Effect?
So far I have explained why something like music has evolved to have the effect that it has on our emotions when imagining situations involving "world change".
But how does music achieve this effect?
And why does music have all the specific features that it has, like notes and scales and rhythm and harmony?
In as much as music is like anything else that exists, it appears to be a stylized discretized form of human speech, or at least of the melodic and rhythmic aspects of speech.
A plausible hypothesis is that music somehow causes an interaction between the mechanisms involved in the perception of speech rhythm and melody, and the mechanisms involved in the perception of "world change".
One observation that can be made about music is that some of the basic rules of music can be specified in terms of things that don't occur:
- Pitch values between notes in the scale do not occur.
- The only regular beats that occur in a musical item are those defined by the note and bar lengths and a few simple multiples of those lengths. All other possible beat frequencies are non-existent.
Additionally, both melody and rhythm perception are invariant under pitch translation and time scaling respectively (which may have something to do with what is going on).
When considering spoken language, the identifications of the "world" and the things happening within the "world" seem straightforward:
- The person's native language constitutes the "world", with the rules consisting of all the usual rules of pronunciation and grammar and intonation, as well as the body of vocabulary.
- Individual utterances are events happening within the "world".
In the case of music, we might consider that music as a whole is the "world", and musical items are things that happen within the "world".
However, there is no single set of rules that apply to all items of music, and each item of music has its own set of rules that define it.
Also, subjectively, any strong item of music feels like it is one definite thing with its own strong unique subjective quality.
These observations lead me to the following hypothesis:
- Every distinct item of music represents a distinct "world", and the components of the musical item, ie all the notes and other sounds, are the things that happen within that "world".
If we want to take this one step further, and explain what it is about music that causes such an intense feeling of "world change", we can suppose that:
- Each musical item is a super-stimulus for "world perception".
In other words, the characteristics of music cause each musical item to be perceived extra strongly as a distinct "world", and it is this strong perception that creates the strong feelings of "world change" that music gives us. These feelings, for some reason (possibly related to the above-mentioned invariances), are loosely bound to the music, and they can be rebound to something else that the music listener is thinking about.
My Previous "Super-Stimulus" Theory
Elsewhere on this website you may have found reference to my book "What is Music? Solving a Scientific Mystery" which I wrote to describe my theory of music as a super-stimulus for some aspect of speech perception.
That theory, which I have large abandoned, is a different theory from the one that I am proposing here, and it was a theory about a different kind of super-stimulus (ie a super-stimulus for speech perception, not a super-stimulus for "world" perception).