The appreciation of the human mind for music knows no limits. A quick look at a list of the most watched YouTube videos shows that 90 percent of the top thirty are songs, with total views for each ranging from 3 billion to 13 billion.1 Most of us can correctly remember melodies and lyrics learned in childhood, even years after last having heard them. While speaking words effectively communicates information, we seldom remember even a short speech verbatim. It seems that the human mind is wired for music.
What’s the evidence for design in the linkage between mind and music? We could start by observing that from an evolutionary perspective, music is not something we grew up with ancestrally. Beyond the calls and trills of birds, nature as we know it provides few sounds that resemble even the simple melodies of children’s nursery songs. Is our ability to appreciate music akin to our ability to comprehend mathematics? Again, from an evolutionary standpoint, human mathematical ability far exceeds any adaptation we might have from needing to count the number of ducks in the pond.
Benefits for the Soul
The benefits of music for the human soul and its effects on our emotions are well-documented.
Music is ubiquitous across human cultures — as a source of affective and pleasurable experience, moving us both physically and emotionally…2
Music has a bewitching power when it comes to our thoughts and emotions….The psychology of music has been recognized and studied since ancient times, with Plato theorizing that different styles of music stirred different emotions in listeners.3
Plato’s thoughts on music are confirmed by recent scientific studies. UC Berkeley researchers studying 2500 people from the United States and China have identified 13 different emotions evoked by music, from amusement to annoyance, and sadness to triumph.4
More than just stimulating emotions, music’s influence on us extends to deeper levels as well.
The use of music in the realm of medicine is impressively far-reaching. It’s been known to assist in therapy and healing for a wide range of illnesses and conditions.5
Music therapy can minister to people with mental health issues and help to regulate moods and reduce stress.
Is the connection between mind and music limited to humans?
One context in which music therapy may be used to enhance animal welfare is to alleviate stress in domestic environments.6
Testimony to Human Exceptionalism?
However, a survey of the effects of varieties of music on different animals reveals inconsistent results. This may indicate that animal minds perceive and process musical sounds categorically unlike humans. Rats, however, do respond positively to Mozart.7
Is there anything inherent in nature that could suggest the connection between music and mind? Music is based on vibrations at varying frequencies, and vibrations are pervasive in nature. Most natural frequencies exist at levels far beyond the range of human hearing and occur apart from sound waves. All atoms have electrons that orbit with varying frequencies, exemplified by the hydrogen atom in its ground state for which the electron orbits about 6.57×1015 times per second, in the range of visible light frequencies (an electromagnetic wave), or approximately a trillion times higher than the frequency of sound waves humans can hear.
Planets orbit around the sun with much lower frequencies, approximately one billionth of an orbit per second, corresponding to a frequency about a trillion times lower than the frequency range of human hearing. The rotation rates of collapsed cores of massive stars, known as pulsars, include many millisecond pulsars, whose rotation frequency would be audible in the frequency range of human speech, if converted into a sound wave.
Design in Hearing
“Whale song” also occurs within the range of human hearing but went unnoticed by humans until its discovery in 1967 by marine biologist Roger Payne.8
The whale song is considered one of the most complex non-human forms of communication created by any species in the animal kingdom. The whale song carries a predictable melodic tone and the notes are repeated over and over again like a chorus.9
In our discussion of the connection between music and mind, the biocomplexities of our auditory senses certainly play a key role and the documented evidence for design in hearing is profound. Our deep emotional and aesthetic appreciation for music adds to the argument that we are more than unguided outcomes of natural forces that evolved the ability to hear because it imparted to us a survival advantage. Attempting to reduce our love for music — the mystery of music — to an evolutionary adaptation has a dissonant edge to discerning ears.
Editor’s note: On the subject of music’s mystery, Evolution News has many times over recommended a wonderful, short video by George Steiner:
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most-viewed_YouTube_videos .
- Peter Vuust, Ole A. Heggli, Karl J. Friston, and Morten L. Kringelbach, “Music in the Brain,” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 23, (2022) pages 287–305.
- “The Neuroscience of Music,” https://www.levinemusic.org/about/news/the-neuroscience-of-music/ (October 14, 2022).
- Yasmin Anwar, “How Many Emotions Can Music Make You Feel?,” https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_many_emotions_can_music_make_you_feel . (January 17, 2020).
- The Neuroscience of Music,” https://www.levinemusic.org/about/news/the-neuroscience-of-music/ (October 14, 2022).
- Paul McGreevy and Angela Crean, “Musical Dogs: A Review of the Influence of Auditory Enrichment on Canine Health and Behavior,” Animals 10 (1), January, 2020, DOI:10.3390/ani10010127.
- Charles T. Snowdon, “Animal Signals, Music and Emotional Well-Being,” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8472833/ .
- “Almost 60 years after the discovery of whale song, their haunting sounds reveal new secrets,” https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/jun/16/roger-payne-60-years-discovery-of-whale-song-their-haunting-sounds-reveal-new-secrets .