[Fis] Music Session, kickoff text

From: Juan G Roederer <jgr@gi.alaska.edu>
Date: Sat 03 May 2003 - 22:03:27 CEST

Dear FIS colleagues:

Below is a text version of my kickoff text. For a WORD format paper, see

I suggest that we divide the session into three sequential parts,
respectively focusing on each one of the three questions formulated in the
title below. And since this is a FIS (capital I!) conference, I suggest to
emphasize the information-science point of view.

I look forward to a lively, maybe at times cacophonic, electronic intercourse!



Juan G. Roederer
Geophysical Institute
University of Alaska-Fairbanks

Astrobiologists, in their quest to achieve an understanding of how life
formed here on Earth and whether life-like systems could exist elsewhere in
the Universe, are addressing very basic questions concerning expressions of
human-like intelligence such as music. However, before investigating the
possibility of existence of music elsewhere in the Cosmos, we must have a
clear idea of what we are looking for. This requires agreeing on what music
is from strictly objective informational, physical and biological points of
view, as much as possible detached from location- and time-specific cultural
circumstances. Only then can we try to speculate about those characteristic
signatures which we may expect in "musical manifestations" from
extraterrestrial beings with intelligent information-processing systems.

Concerning the first question of the title, namely what music really is, our
discussion should center on two major groups of basic attributes: (i) those
pertaining to physical, physiological and neural acoustical information
processing mainly involving complex tones, their superpositions and
sequences; and (ii) those related to the human being's emotional response to
music. In the former we should focus on "cultural invariants", i.e.,
universals such as chroma, consonance and scales, which today are believed
to be linked directly to the sensory and cognitive mechanisms of acoustical
information processing (e.g., see Roederer, J. G., The physics and
psychophysics of music, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1995). Concerning the
second group we should discuss the implications of the interactive, coherent
mode of operation of the cortical and limbic centers of the brain, which in
higher mammals gives rise to consciousness and in humans to
self-consciousness. This will lead us to a possible answer to the second
question of why there is music.

In our discussion I will argue (see background paper posted in FIS) that
music, as we know it, could not exist: (i) without a sensory system capable
of sophisticated processing operations working on complex temporal signals
and fast time-scales, such as in the mammal acoustical system; (ii) without
this sensory system playing the central role for the conveyance of
language-like information (i.e., highly compressed information encoding
complex sensory and mental images and their relationships); (iii) without a
brain-like central processor of information with motivational control of its
cognitive functions, so that non-inheritable components of language can be
acquired efficiently during the early lifetime of the organism; and (iv)
without a control mechanism working in the mode of dispensation of
reward/punishment-like feelings if a cognitive and behavioral action taken
is deemed favorable/detrimental according to inherited evolutionary experience.

Finally, of the three main theories of the evolutionary origin of music,
namely pre-human, pre-language, or co-evolving with human speech and
language, I will adopt the latter and claim that a similar development in
any civilization that developed and evolved based on carbon-chemistry would
not only be possible but might even be likely. I will also speculate on the
possibility of musics based on carriers other than acoustic waves, e.g.,
"optical music" with electromagnetic waves, and show that it would not be
possible to have the variety of fundamental attributes so essential for our
own musical cultures.

A detailed paper on these topics (Biological conditions for the emergence of
musical arts in a civilization of intelligent beings) is posted at

       VISIT MY WEB PAGE AT www.gi.alaska.edu/~Roederer.
               YOU'LL LEARN A THING OR TWO
* *
* Juan G. Roederer *
* Geophysical Institute *
* University of Alaska-Fairbanks *
* 903 Koyukuk Drive *
* Fairbanks AK 99775-7320, USA *
* *
* Phone: +1 (907) 474-5099 *
* Home: +1 (907) 479-6834 *
* Fax: +1 (907) 474-7290 *
* e-mail: JGR@gi.alaska.edu *
* *

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Received on Sat May 3 22:06:23 2003

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