The evolution of music and human social capability

From time to time I find myself saying things like, “Music is a social superpower that combines telepathy with time travel.”

This paper doesn’t make any claims like that, but it does make a case for music as an essential aspect of human cultural evolution and cognition.

From the introductory lines:

“Music is a core human experience and generative processes reflect cognitive capabilities. Music is often functional because it is something that can promote human well-being by facilitating human contact, human meaning, and human imagination of possibilities, tying it to our social instincts. Cognitive systems also underlie musical performance and sensibilities. Music is one of those things that we do spontaneously, reflecting brain machinery linked to communicative functions, enlarged and diversified across a broad array of human activities. Music cuts across diverse cognitive capabilities and resources, including numeracy, language, and space perception. In the same way, music intersects with cultural boundaries, facilitating our “social self” by linking our shared experiences and intentions. This paper focuses on the intersection between the neuroscience of music, and human social functioning to illustrate the importance of music to human behaviors.”

Thanks to @dneu for the link.


I share Ian Cross’s theory that music was the most important thing we did as a species to accelerate our evolution. The discovery of music (the shared experience of the mathematical harmonic patterns found throughout the universe) led us to social playspaces opening us up to enhanced empathic and social skills. Rhythm gave us the opportunity to experience shared interpretation of time. Drumming and dancing together allowed us to merge our time perceptions, opening empathic channels previously undiscovered. Then, as Jaron Lanier once talked about, we "hacked " into our own bodies, and used music to create a communication network out of the body parts designed to eat and breathe. More recent FMRI scans reveal that the activity that accesses and lights up more areas of the brain than any other activity is that of playing music. (Listening to music comes in second). Anyhoo, thanks for this Rich!