[Smt-talk] Theorists and scientists

Chris Bonds chbonds1 at willy.wsc.edu
Fri Jul 6 08:12:37 PDT 2012

On 7/6/2012 5:57 AM, Michael Morse wrote:
>   Music theory succeeds when it remembers its subject matter. And 
> there are still many of us who disagree that psychology is a science, 
> for just that reason. It was the science of "mind"; then, no, it was 
> the science of "behaviour"; now, no again, it is the science of brain 
> physiology processes. The last has worked a charm, because 
> psychologists can poach from a real science. Unless and until it can 
> come up with a substantial subject matter of its own, however, it will 
> remain on the fringes of science. We in the music community have 
> especially strong reasons to feel this way, given the spectacular 
> recent charlatanism of the "Mozart Effect."

I would suggest that the "Mozart Effect" is the "cold fusion" of "music 
science." (In terms of its impact on the neuroscience of music, at least.)

There's a lot to think about in your post, which I don't have time to 
respond to right now. I will say that for me, the more we understand 
about the brain, the more we will be forced to reexamine our notions 
about all aspects of music as an apparently uniquely human activity. 
There is still too much "Is not! Is too!" in the clashes of academic 
egos on questions like theory vs. practice, etc., for my taste. I admit 
to not having followed the entire thread of this discussion, but I'm 
guessing that the importance of the protagonists' academic background in 
determining their respective positions on the topic is somewhat 
under-emphasized. A person with a Ph.D. in theory will likely have a 
different point of view from the one held by a graduate in music 
performance. It's natural to feel protective about the field you've put 
so much effort into over the years.

I completely agree with Mr. Morse about the need for "substance" (see 
above). Right now the situation reminds me a little of the state of 
biology in 18th-century France, with the rivalry of gents like Cuvier 
and Lamarck. Everyone had the facts laid out--living and dead specimens 
brought back from all parts of the world--but they were making 
inferences that later proved to be unsatisfactory in resolving the 
issues facing them. Today, we have the fine work of music historians and 
ethnomusicologists at our disposal, from which to make inferences. But 
the origin of music, like language, remains dark. Not only are music's 
origins mysterious, its relatively rapid development in complexity 
remains a mystery along with the other achievements of 
humans--literature, technology, etc. Perhaps evolutionary neuroscience 
in conjunction with other fields will shed some light into how all this 

Christopher Bonds
Wayne State College (retired)
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