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A neurobiological role of music in social bonding

Creative Commons 'BY' version 3.0 license

Music is regarded in biological terms as originating in the brain, so that most explanations concentrate on the ways in which brains process information.  Recent studies of the nonlinear dynamics of the primary sensory cortices have shown that the patterns that are constructed by chaotic nonlinear dynamics in cortical neuropil replace stimulus driven activity. This finding supports the concept that knowledge in brains is entirely constructed within them without direct transfer of information from outside.  As knowledge increases by learning, brains of individuals grow progressively apart. The separation results from the uniqueness of the knowledge that is constructed within each brain. The resulting condition of isolation is known among philosophers as epistemological solipsism. This view is reinforced by the tenets of aesthetics, which emphasize the deeply personal experiences of individuals, not as active listeners but as passive recipients of beauty in music and other arts.  Neither conventional neuroscience nor aesthetics can explain the deep emotional power of music to move humans to action. An alternative view is presented, in which human brains are seen to have evolved primarily in response to environmental pressures to bridge the solipsistic gulf between individuals, and to form integrated societies. An evolutionary origin is found in the neurohumoral mechanisms of parental bonding to altricial infants. A case is made that music together with dance have co-evolved biologically and culturally to serve as a technology of social bonding. Findings of anthropologists and psychiatrists are reviewed to show how the rhythmic behavioral activities that are induced by drum beats and music can lead to altered states of consciousness, through which mutual trust among members of societies is engendered.   

"All arts, we must remember, are phases of the social mind.  We are so much in the habit of thinking of them in terms of art products that we forget that the arts themselves are groups of ideas and acquisitions of skill that exist only in the minds, muscles, and nerves of living men. " Giddings (1932)

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