[Smt-talk] Classical Form and Recursion

Panayotis Mavromatis pm68 at nyu.edu
Sun Apr 5 07:03:33 PDT 2009

On Apr 3, 2009, at 7:24 PM, Dmitri Tymoczko wrote:

>>> I'll just report that every psychologist, linguist, and  
>>> evolutionary biologist I've talked to about this issue has told  
>>> me that they find this suggestion implausible.
>> OK, Dmitri. If you base your arguments on consulting your linguist  
>> and biologist acquaintances—rather than on considering what  
>> actually takes place in music, or considering what might make  
>> music different from language in this respect—there may indeed not  
>> be sufficient methodological common ground for fruitful discussion.
> I didn't mean to offend; the question is whether it is plausible  
> that humans have a much greater capacity to perceive recursion in  
> the musical domain than in the linguistic domain.  This really is a  
> scientific question -- getting input from professional scientists  
> (who study things like the limits of recursive perception in  
> language) strikes me as a responsible thing to do.

Hi Dmitri,

I agree that this is ultimately a scientific question that should be  
addressed in the framework of cognitive psychology.  One thing to  
keep in mind is that the notion of "capacity" cannot be simply  
quantified, and there are active debates in psychology circles about  
this issue.  However, it is generally agreed that this capacity  
depends on the specific type of mental coding involved, and cannot be  
simply defined in terms of the symbolic content of the stimulus at  
the surface level.

Our psychologist colleagues who study other domains have developed  
their expertise for mental codings different from the ones relevant  
for music (although I agree there may be some commonalities).  As a  
result, these colleagues may not have accurate estimates on the  
limits of music information processing, at least not at the level of  
detail that we should be engaging in our music conversations.  Other  
disciplines can offer useful methodological models, and often help us  
in formulating our hypotheses.  But the burden of answering musical  
questions ultimately falls on us, and should be pursued with  
empirical research specifically designed for that purpose.


% ===================================================
%  Panayotis Mavromatis
%  Music Theory Director,  Music and Performing Arts
%  The Steinhardt School, New York University
%  35 West 4th Street, Room 777
%  New York, NY 10012
%  Phone: (212) 998-5287
%  http://theory.smusic.nyu.edu/pm
% ===================================================

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