Full text of the associated invited paper in PDF at http://www.iiisci.org/journal/sci/FullText.asp?var=&id=iCK872YO
Why music has such a power over us, why has it evolved in evolution? Does music have a fundamental cognitive function? 2400 years ago Aristotle asked: “Why music being just sounds reminds states of soul?” He asked this question alongside with “is the world finite?” and “does God exist?” Kant could not answer this question. Darwin thought that “music… is a greatest mystery.” And today evolutionary psychologists cannot agree on answers to these questions.
Based on mathematical-psychological ideas about cognition, I discuss a hypothesis that music has a fundamental cognitive function. This function is to unify mental mechanisms of the mind. Whereas animals have a unified mechanism of concept-emotion-behavior-vocalization, humans have differentiated function for each of these. We can independently think, talk, feel, about different things. This gives us freedom of deliberate thinking. But we have to pay for this freedom: our thoughts and actions are not automatically connected to our instinctual needs. Our mental life is not necessarily whole. It is not easy for us to maintain a clear view of the meaning and purpose of our life.
This is manifest in a well established psychological theory of Cognitive Dissonance, CD. CD is a psychological conflict when holding contradictory cognitions. Whereas scientists and engineers thrive on solving contradictions, most of people cannot stand them, and usually discard contradictory knowledge, even if irrationally. Ancient Greeks knew this: in Aesop fable the Fox sees high-hanging Grape, which he cannot get. This creates CD: he wants grape, but cannot get it. The Fox resolves the dissonance: The “Grape is sour.”
During the last 50 years thousands of experiments with children and adults repeated similar experiments. It is well known, people discard contradictory knowledge. But then, how could knowledge accumulate? How could human culture evolve?
I will tell about several experiments performed by my colleagues: if music plays in the background, people do not have to discard knowledge. Music helps to unify contradictory cognitions. Bach music helps unifying most difficult contradictions: between life and death, between striving for happiness and life despairs. Rap and Lady Gaga help to unify simple everyday ideas (about girls, boys, police…). Our mental life is split into pieces by our ability for language and thinking. Music unifies our soul. This is the reason it emerged in evolution, this is the reason it has such a power over us.
Dr. Leonid Perlovsky is Visiting Scholar at Harvard University, Technical Advisor and Principal Research Physicist at the Air Force Research Laboratory. His research interests include computational intelligence and neural networks; mathematical modeling of the mind and brain including higher cognitive functions, consciousness, emotions; abilities for beautiful, sublime, music; evolution of languages, cognition and cultures. He serves as Program Manager for DOD Semantic Web program and for several research projects. From 1985 to 1999 Chief Scientist at Nichols Research, a $0.5 B high-tech organization, leading the corporate research in intelligent systems, neural networks, sensor fusion, and data mining; previously, Professor at Novosibirsk University and New York University. He participated as a principal in commercial startups developing tools for natural language text understanding, biotechnology, and financial predictions. His financial company predicted the market crash following 9/11 a week before the event, apparently detecting illegal Al Qaeda trades, and later helped SEC tracking the perpetrators. Dr. Perlovsky delivered invited keynote and plenary talks, tutorial lectures at conferences and Universities worldwide; published about 60 papers in refereed scientific journals, 250 papers in conferences, authored 10 book chapters and three books, “Neural Networks and Intellect,” Oxford University Press 2001 (currently in the 3rd printing); “Neurodynamics of Higher-Level Cognition and Consciousness” (co-author R. Kozma), Springer 2007’ “Sapient Systems” (co-author R. Mayorga), Springer 2007. He leads an IEEE NNTC Task Force on The Mind and Brain, serves as Chair IEEE Boston Computational Intelligence Chapter, on several IEEE Committees, Organizing Committees for WCCI’06, IJCNN’07, Program Co-Chair for IJCNN’09, Program and General Chair for several IEEE conferences, Assistant Editor for “Transactions on Neural Networks,” Editor-at-large for “Natural Computations,” Editor-in-Chief for “Physics of Life Reviews.” He is interviewed on Radio and TV about workings of the human mind. Dr. Perlovsky received prestigious National and International awards, including several Best Paper awards, IEEE Distinguished Member Award, Boston Section 2005; Dr. Charles E. Ryan Memorial Award for outstanding in-house scientific efforts and achievement 2007, Air Force Research Laboratory; International Neural Network Society Gabor Award, 2007; McLucas Award 2007 (the top scientific US Air Force award).