Our recent discussions about scientism and logical positivism remind me of something I have been thinking about for a long time. What is the empirical basis for admiring beauty? In recognizing the beauty of other humans, the answer is easy – the things that we look for (symmetry, good skin etc) are markers of good physical health and good genes.
What, however, is a comparable basis for our appreciation of music?
I ventured the question at a dinner party several months ago. One of my fellows, not at all a religious (or even ‘spiritual’) man simply answered that it is inexplicable save as ‘proof of the existence of God.’ Naturally this idea is quite appealing. Actually, it is hard to listen to the opening strains of the Organ Symphony by Saint-Saëns or the majestic heights of The Pines of Rome and wonder whether this is the sound of God thinking.
Since that evening I have come across a paper putting forth a Darwinistic hypothesis. Being Darwinistic, it is not testable or falsifiable so it a scientistic view rather than a scientific one. Nevertheless, it is depressingly persuasive.
The ability to anticipate forthcoming events has clear evolutionary advantages, and predictive successes or failures often entail significant psychological and physiological consequences. In music perception, the confirmation and violation of expectations are critical to the communication of emotion and aesthetic effects of a composition.
But, on the other hand…