Lecture Series Continues (Tomorrow!)

Our next LaMERG talk will be given by our own John F. Bailyn, on Tuesday, April 14th, at 5:30pm in the Linguistics Seminar Room.

All are welcome!

Language, music, fire and chess
John Frederick Bailyn

Linguistics Seminar Room (SBS S-207).

5:30pm, Tuesday, April 14th

In his influential 2006 book Music, Language and the Brain, Patel makes the following unexpected constructivist claim about the evolution of music: “there is no compelling evidence that music represents an evolutionary adaptation.”  Rather, Patel compares the universality of music across all human cultures to that of the ability to use fire, which all human cultures also share, but which in and of itself not an evolutionary adaptation. He also compares the cognitive complexity of music to chess playing, which is “a complex cognitive ability that is unique to our species, but which has not been the target of natural selection.” Patel’s constructivist claim about music evolution is all the more startling when taken in contrast to his strongly adaptionist view of the evolution of language: he provides “10 lines of evidence that I find … most compelling in favor of a direct role for natural selection in the evolution of language” and then attempts to refute such evidence for music.

In the first part of this talk, I review in detail Patel’s claimed and implied distinctions between language and music, and show that in every relevant aspect, music shares the properties attributed to language and does not in fact have the expected properties of cultural inventions such as fire or chess. In the second part, I provide a plausible co-evolution story for language and music based primarily on the work of cognitive archeologists Steven Mithen and Iain Morley, which also allows me to address some aspects of the current modularity debate surrounding these two highly complex systems.

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