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Laurens Rademakers


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Why does music "touch" us emotionally? It doesn't make sense.

This is a profound mystery which I cannot begin to ponder. Perhaps you can help?

Think of it: technically speaking, music is just a collection of sounds interspersed by silence.

But every human being knows of pieces of music that really "touch" him or her emotionally. These emotions can be very strong, and transport you to another "place".

How is it possible that a mere collection of sounds gets associated in our brain with memories, experiences, emotions, stories, images, feelings...? Why can we even cry when hearing a particular piece of music or even a fleeting, short succession of a few notes?

It's totally bizarre. I don't understand. It makes no sense, as far as I can see.

Sense? No, because:

-(Apparently) there's no "utilitarian"/"economic" value to music.
-(Apparently) there's no biological/evolutionary advantage -- we are hunters and gatherers, with some brutally uttered noises we should get by well while hunting mammoths and elephants.
-There seems to be no real social value either (as some music can be too private, and a singular fragment may touch a single person at a strictly single, private moment)
-Maybe there's a neurological advantage (releasing energy in excessively charged neurons, or something to that extent...)

In any case: how can we ever explain the fact that music "touches" us and generates "feelings" that can touch our entire body and make us shiver?


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    Jun 24 2011: I feel as though listening to music, much like the sense of smell, stimulates memories about people/location/events that strike an emotional cord with the listener. When we listen to a piece of music, we harmonize with our surroundings and embrace the people/events that we associate with that piece of music. Take for instance the recommendation of a song by a friend. One will remember the friend/loved one for as long as he/she listens to the piece of music, and the music itself can transcend time boundaries to exist as a potent memoir of that person irrespective of life's circumstances. I think memories associated with the music, complementing the melody and harmony of the piece, are the reasons we are stimulated emotionally.

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