Music makes us smarter because it makes us live with uncertainty (or unexpected events, meaning tunes come out suddenly without prior knowledge of them and compel you to interact with them), and this is discussed by neuroscientist Jay Schulkin in his book Reflections on the Musical Mind.
According to Schulkin, music provides the brain with a fun exercise, and sometimes scrutiny as exercise does to the body. In fact, listening to music is, in his opinion, a microcosm of how you lived someone else’s life (the author’s life).
The writer reminds us, “Reflections on the Musical Mind” that we live in a world of uncertainty. We always need to predict the future in the absence of information or its inaccuracy, so we have naturally evolved to issue judgments based on technical and aesthetic qualities. We find slight deviations from the norm – especially in music – that are both attractive and pleasant.
A few minutes of listening to music allow us to practice the “musical scale” of our mental machine, which none of its keys originally developed to deal with music. Sometimes it appears that the musical mind is nothing more than a transient event in the human being; that is, it is a by-product of the neurotransmitters, neural circuits, sound system, and kinetic actions, all of which evolved for unrelated roles.
How did that happen?
Neuroscience has made tremendous progress in this area, and it is not only the use of brain scans, such as fMRI, to investigate the specific functions of specific brain regions. However, by enhancing our understanding of the role of these information molecules as well, which are the chemicals that regulate a wide range of our mental and physical activities. They are actually very ancient molecules that exist in many living species, but they play a fundamental role in our relatively recent modern musical sensations and perceptions.
Let’s talk about dopamine, for example, when you expect to hear music as well as while you listen to it, this neurotransmitter is released in the areas of the brain involved in regulating actions: increasing dopamine levels improves our ability to conform with important matters and omits those that are not important or superficial, and so, therefore, music prepares us with its influence on the flow of dopamine to be more intelligent with our behaviour in this world. The opposite occurs if the Basal Ganglia is deprived of dopamine, as we get worse at identifying rhythms.
The role of oxytocin is no less exciting than dopamine, as it is sometimes known as the “love hormone” due to its association with sexual arousal and maternal behaviour. Listening to music frees the hormone oxytocin, and people with Williams syndrome (which results in an excessive increase in social tendencies) A passionate love of music with high levels of oxytocin in the blood.
Much remains to be learned about the link between musical and social tendencies and oxytocin, in parallel with the role of other information molecules (or neurotransmitters), but Schulkin’s intelligent explanation and presentation of our current understanding still one of the most charming interpretations of his reflections on music.
Shulkin also raises interesting questions: Do birds enjoy singing as much as people do while playing music? If the origin and role of music are primarily about social interaction, then why do we enjoy playing music or listening to music when we are alone?