Darwinism Can’t Explain the Evolution of Music? Memes to the Rescue!
|January 27, 2007||Posted by GilDodgen under Intelligent Design|
On another forum I wrote:
It seems to me that the arts, and music in particular, present a real problem for Darwinism. How would such an ability come about in a step-by-tiny-step fashion and what would be the survival value of the transitional intermediates, or even the end product? (Never mind what mutations would be required to rewire the central nervous system for musical ability, and the probability of those mutations occurring.) Of course, for Darwinists, Darwinism must explain everything, so they will invent stories about how ancient jungle drummers got the girls, just like rock stars get the groupies. But everyone enjoys music with absolutely no evidence that it offers any survival or reproductive advantage. It just seems to be programmed into us at a very fundamental level.
It turns out that my comment about jungle drums and rock stars was prophetic.
The Evolution of Music
One of the criticisms being leveled at the budding science of memetics is a valid one: what is it good for? Can memetics explain historical facts any better than existing theories? Can it make better predictions? If not, it can hardly be called a science, let alone a paradigm shift in understanding culture. To the rescue comes philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett, deliverer of the first Charles Simonyi Lecture at Oxford last week. What does memetics explain that we otherwise have no clue about?
Traditional evolutionary theory — not taking memes into account — boils down to the idea that in the end, everything is about improving an organism’s chances for reproducing its genes. While there has been ample speculation as to the biological function of music, most people thinking along traditional lines of evolutionary theory have concluded that it’s at best some kind of not-yet-understood social-group bonding mechanism and at worst a mistake that hasn’t been caught yet by Mother Nature. Given enough time, they say, genes for liking music will be out-competed by genes for something more productively related to reproduction.
Dennett proposes that music has less to do with genes, and more to do with much-quicker-evolving memes. Memes may actually be directing the evolution of genes to suit themselves much the way we breed dogs so they look and behave the way we fancy them. When one looks at the sex lives of popular musicians, that’s not so far-fetched a thought, is it? Why is it that rock stars have so many adoring admirers? What possible genetic function could it serve to want to mate with a singer?
Dennett weaves a tale of how it might have happened, beginning with caveman Og pounding with a stick on a log. Some of the rhythms he pounds, for whatever reason, are more catchy than others. The ones that are catchy get picked up by other cavemen. These rhythms are mental information patterns: early memes.
Now this pounding evolves for awhile, and it turns out that some of the rhythms that get pounded out are more pleasing than others, and crowds tend to gather around when someone pounds them out. Since the crowds gather around, the meme spreads faster. As a byproduct of this, the best rhythm-pounders gain in social status and therefore get more chance to spread those genes that give them the knack for rhythm.
You can read more at the link above. Note that the author refers to “the science of memetics” and then talks about how Dennett “weaves a tale.” Weaving a tale is science?
I have a much simpler explanation: we were designed to create and enjoy music.
As some UD readers are aware, I am a pianist. Since I am something of an evangelist for classical music, I’ve included my three piano albums free for downloading at my website, along with program notes.