Human Evolution

, Volume 15, Issue 3–4, pp 199–242 | Cite as

Prolegomenon for a hypothesis on music as expression of an evolutionary early homeostatic feedback-mechanism. A biomusicological proposal.

  • N. L. Wallin


Musical experience and creativity are regarded to be largely depending on cultural conditions and hence on higher cognitive functions. True as this may be, there are, however, numerous responses to music-the urge to make music taken into account-which derive from deeper levels of the human organism, namely from arousing alternatively moderating vegetative and limbic functions. Although the behavioral intensity and quality emanating from such evolutionary early nervous structures may be affected by cultural influence, they still seem to be essentially independent. Similar specific responses to acoustical and/or motor patterned stimuli are found among some other higher vertebrates which like humans are equipped with sophisticated mechanisms for hearing, sound production and locomotion, well tuned to each other. However, it is even today an open question whether these manifestations of auditive-phonatory-locomotor abilities just are analogues or if they share a common evolutionary background. The current discussion on this matter has accumulated data which apparently support the latter view pointing to that sexual selection would be the common force, first suggested by Charles Darwin (153). Other, and still more recent data in genetics and neuroscience, may be interpreted as hints at that the common origin would be a more elemental organismic feature, a metabolic-homeostatic variable which due to its evolutionary strength eventually created the platform for a radiation of adaptations concerning species-specific patterned sounds and locomotions with a broad spectrum of tasks, among them sexual selection. This line of reasoning is here, under reference to recent biological data, made the basis for a hypothetical model of music as an expression of an early homeostatic feedback mechanism.

Accordingly, in music there is a central variable, a “heart” or a “core”, which is not to be found exclusively in music but appears globally as a releasing mechanism for basic endocrine, autonomous and elementally cognitive functions. It is of acoustical or motoric nature, or of a combination of these characters, and is performed in repetitive trains of impulses. It is further assumed that the target of its operations is mainly proteins with a regulatory effect on the cellular and synaptic states. The principal representatives for these proteins are growth factors, especially the NGF which originally was regarded as a growth stimulator within the peripheral and sympathetical systems but which eventually appeared to be also a synergetic modulator of neuro-endocrine-immuno-reactions, i.e. of the three central homeostatic systems (5, 80). One can speculate that this variable is functionally active at an elemental level such that it has escaped to be knocked out by forceful “higher” and evolutionary younger factors (49:13).

This hypothesis — that music has its roots within and is a part of a globally occurring natural acoustical-motoric stimulus, manifested in a great variety of auditory and motoric behavior in humans and among some other higher vertebrates — implies that humankind has developed this stimulus into a category of acoustical structures which oscillate round an instable point of equilibrium. Exactly such structures, not stochastic but neither too predictable, affect the organism mainly on a sensory-vegetative level (59, 102, 137, 151). They are in addition perceptionally optimal in creating cortical space-temporal neural patterns with strong interhemispheric coherence (110, 130).

According to this scenario, music did not originate from a human need of communication or as an aspect of sexual selection. It emerged from elemental processes within the individual organism with the aspiration to maintain his bodily and mental fitness, thus on a pre-social level. What was beneficial to the single individual in his fight for survival, was good also for the group and its survival. Starting from that platform music has evolved in symbiosis with dance and play within a large spectrum of social functions, where sexual selection and ritual and autonomously aesthetical tasks got a focal role that increased over time and always was accompanied by emotional events. Behind, the ticking in the deep structure of music of this in cultural-ethical terms totally value-neutral archaic mechanism goes on without pause, contributing to the maintenance of an optimal functional balance in body and mind of the individual, and the group as well.

Key words

music pre-proto-and proto-music neurogenesis growth factors homeostatic process 1/f-behavior in music 


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Copyright information

© International Institute for the Study of Man 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • N. L. Wallin
    • 1
  1. 1.FirenzeItaly

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