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Is music the most important thing we ever did? (Part II)

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  • UserProfessor Ian Cross (Director of the Centre for Music and Science; Fellow of Wolfson College)
  • ClockTuesday 12 October 2021, 18:00-19:00
  • HouseLee Hall, Wolfson College.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Julian Siebert.

Livestream available

Over twenty years ago I wrote a piece that became a keynote presentation and a book chapter with the hyperbolic title “Is music the most important thing we ever did? Music, development and evolution”. It was spurred by a chapter in Steven Pinker’s 1997 book “How the mind works” that infamously suggested that music is simply “auditory cheesecake”, a pleasant diversion but absolutely inessential for human life. On reading Pinker I had felt that he was not only trivialising something very important to me, but also that he was showing a profound and ethnocentric ignorance of music —and, indeed, of the very idea of culture— mistaking a contemporary and culturally particular idea of “music” for a universal human capacity. In my original chapter I concluded that music could have been adaptive in human evolution, playing significant roles in human cognitive development and, secondarily, in processes of managing social relationships; music was thus likely to have been functional in the emergence of modern humans.

I have since explored aspects of music, its likely evolutionary significance, and its roles in human sociality in in essays and in experiments, detailing the results in over fifty papers, chapters and the odd book and have considerably revised my earlier ideas; I now think that music, unambiguously, was indeed one of the most important things humans ever did — and still do. In this talk I shall present new theoretical considerations and experimental evidence that reveal music and key aspects of language to be intrinsically interlinked, and that imply that the human capacity for music is integral to the flexible sociality that enables humans to be human. I’ll suggest that without music, the future of humanity is likely to be both bleak and brief.

Drinks reception at 17.45.

Shortly before the start of the event, a livestream will become available—no booking required.

This talk is part of the Wolfson College Humanities Society series.

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