Interesting debate by +Gary Marcus
and +Geoffrey Miller on the origins of music. Is it instinct, or invented?
I have been asked by many to give my reaction to the issue. As to whether music is instinct or invented, in my view it is...neither.
Most "cultural invention" viewpoints would focus on the extreme diversity of musics, and point to how we can learn loads of things we never evolved to do. I believe, on the contrary, that there are lots of universals. And not just for music, but also for language and writing. And my book, Harnessed, points out lots of them (many new). Generally, I'm of the belief that when we do brilliant things (like reading, language or music), it's because it relies on our instincts running as nature roughly intended them. We do genuinely new things very poorly -- like mathematical logic. So, I'm not a cultural-invention guy. Instead, I'm on the instinct side.
But, in the case of writing we know
we didn't evolve by natural selection to read. It's way too recent. And although it is more plausible that there may have been time to evolve spoken language and music by natural selection, it is not particularly plausible, time-wise. And reading has the signatures of instinct: we learn it early with relatively little training, we become ridiculously good at it, it pervades our lives, and we seem to have specialized regions for it. But we know it's an illusion of instinct. ...and it seems
like an instinct only because cultural evolution shaped writing to harness another instinct, namely one we have for visually recognizing objects. Written words look like nature (specifically like opaque objects strewn about in 3D space). And, as I argue in Harnessed, speech sounds like solid-object events of nature, and music sounds like humans moving about -- two of our auditory instincts are harnessed for language and music, respectively.
If music (and writing and language) came by virtue of nature-harnessing, then our capabilities will seem
innate, yet not be. Not innate, and yet not mere cultural invention either.
Rather, it is a very specific sort of cultural evolution, one that nature-harnesses