This essay offers a novel theoretical perspective on the evolution of music. At present, a number of adaptationist theories posit that the human capacity for music is a product of natural selection, reflecting the survival value of musical behaviors in our species’ past (e.g., Wallin et al., 2000). In sharp contrast, a prominent nonadaptationist theory of music
argues that music is a human invention and is biologically useless Pinker, 1997). I argue that research on music and the brain supports neither of these views. Contrary to adaptationist theories, neuroscientific research suggests that the existence of music can be explained without invoking any evolutionary-based brain specialization for musical abilities. And contrary to Pinker’s claim, neuroscience research suggests that music can be biologically powerful. By biologically powerful, I mean that musical behaviors (e.g., playing, listening) can have lasting effects on nonmusical brain functions, such as language and attention, within individual lifetimes. Music is thus theorized to be a biologically powerful human invention, or “transformative technology of the mind.”

Via Alessandro Cerboni