Proceedings abstract



Dr Ian Cross


The theory of natural selection constitutes the ontological core of many recent theories of biology, mind and culture. From the perspective of evolution, music has been variously appraised as a significant agent in mechanisms of group selection, as an elaborate means of mate selection, as an activity that is parasitic on other, more adaptive behaviours and as an entirely hedonistic, potentially maladaptive, optional extra in human evolution and behaviour.


This paper re-examines the notion of "music" in the context of human evolution and development, drawing on evidence from studies on infant capacities and behaviours, from cross-cultural studies of musical behaviour, from theories in cognitive archaeology and on the archaeological record to suggest that music may have played a significant role in human evolution and still plays such a role in cognitive development.

Main contributions:

"Music" as it is characterised here arises from a synthesis of ideas from the diverse fields of cognitive science, ethnomusicology, critical theory, developmental psychology, evolutionary psychology and archaeology; re-evaluation and integration of these ideas permits the emergence of a notion of music that is inclusive yet sufficiently circumscribed to serve as a focus for empirical study across these different disciplines.


The ideas presented here have implications that are scientifically pragmatic, in that they present hypotheses that are intended to be empirically testable, and political, in that they suggest a possible basis for the valorisation of musical activity in contemporary cultures.


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