Special Issue of Journal of Consciousness Studies
Art, Brain and Consciousness (Focus on Music)
edited by
Joseph Goguen, University of California, San Diego
Erik Myin, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Music raises many problems for those who would understand it more deeply. It is rooted in time, yet timeless. It is pure form, yet conveys emotion. It is written, but performed, interpreted, improvised, transcribed, recorded, sampled, remixed, revised, rebroadcast, reinterpreted, and more. Music can be studied by philosophers, psychologists, sociologists, mathematicians, biologists, computer scientists, neuro-scientists, critics, politicians, promoters, and of course musicians. Moreover, no single perspective seems either sufficient or invalid. This situation is not so different from that of other arts, but perhaps more intense, due to the pervasiveness of pop, the inaccessability of much contemporary classical music, the strong cultural associations of many styles (e.g., hip hop, salsa, twelve tone, heavy metal), the infusions of technology, and the combination with lyrics.

Although this is a challenging situation for researchers, it is also exciting, and advances in experimental technique, such as fMRI, and in theory, such as metaphor and blending in cognitive linguistics, have made it more so, fueling a surge of interest, and mobilizing a very diverse set of ideas, approaches and methods, e.g. see [1,2,5,6,7]. Certain aspects of the resulting positions can be visualized on a linear spectrum. At one end we find positions characterized as representational, modular, realist, reductionistic, or internalistic. At the other end are positions described as nonrepresentational, wholistic, non-reductionistic, externalist, or embodiment-oriented. Of course, this crude projection onto a single dimension fails to capture many subtle distinctions; moreover, theoretical options that seem incompatible do get combined, and mixed positions are often vigorously defended. The difficulties of classification are amplified by a variety of other associated metaphorical oppositions, including western versus eastern, and context-free versus contextualized. It will be convenient to refer to the end points of this spectrum as east and west, without intending any religious or political connotations. On the other hand, this classification does reflect ancient, deep divisions within western culture, that remain very intense and productive to this day.

Hence, though we hope it is not completely misguided, the following attempt to place the papers of this volume on this spectrum should be taken with more than a grain of skeptical salt, or even regarded as merely rhetorical. With this caveat, we place the papers by Tervaniemi and Brattico and by Bruce Katz near the western end. Tervaniemo and Brattico apply cognitive neuroscience to music perception. From within a standard representational framework, they address questions such as whether musical perception requires attention, and whether and at what stage of neural processing, cultural knowledge comes into play. Two (among many) intriguing results reported, are that increased complexity of musical sound facilitates processing, and that musical knowledge gained from experience enters at early and often unattended levels of processing.

Katz's paper defines a numerical measure of musical preference based on the degree of synchrony of a neural net model of musical cognition. This measure is separately applied to harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic patterns abstracted from three bodies of data (for Western popular and classical, and for Turkish art songs), and is shown consistent with some simple regularities noted by music theorists. A number of interesting differences among the three styles and three dimensions are also discussed.

The paper by Neus Barrantes-Vidal combines some of the perspectives discussed above. Its basic hypothesis is that underlying both madness and creativity, is a constellation of personality traits that, in their advantageous manifestation, lead to creativity, while in their disadvantagous form, make a person vulnerable to psychosis. The author offers the additional conjecture that this possibility for beneficial expression, might be a factor in keeping what alternatively turns out to be a - possibly genetical- vulnerability for psychosis in the population. One innovative aspect of the paper is its break with traditional dichotomous thinking about personality traits and mental (dys)function.

Hagendoorn moves us further east, but not beyond the midpoint. This paper approaches dance from a neuro-cognitive perspective, and in particular, attempts to explain how emotion can be aroused by dance. Although it is not about music as such, it is intriguing how its themes of emotion, embodiment, and anticipation connect with other papers in this volume, e.g., those of Tervaniemo and Brattico, and of Goguen. This paper also contains an excellent review of relevant experimental evidence, and a fascinating treatment of dance, drawing on the author's experience as a choreographer.

Erich Harth's short paper is an elegant attempt to reconcile the scientific method of reduction with more cultural concerns, by appeal to an extension of reduction to include "downward" causation as well as the traditional "upward" causation.

Moving further eastward, the paper by Joseph Goguen presents its reflections on music as an alternative theory of qualia, in which, contrary to most other treatments, qualia are seen as deeply contextual and social. Throughout, the author sketches, sometimes in broad strokes, sometimes in considereable depth, how a future theory of musical experience could be articulated, using concepts and methods from phenomenology, cognitive linguistics, and non-linear dynamical systems theory. Although rigorous use of the latter might seem to place this paper far to the west, the author claims otherwise.

The paper by Amy Ione explores relationships between art and music in the work of the painters Vasily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Both were pioneers in abstract expressionism, both worked at Bauhaus, and both were knowledgeable about and inspired by music. Kandinsky was (apparently) a synesthete, as well as a mystic who aspired to a unified science of the arts, whereas Klee was less grand in his aspirations, creating what can be seen as small experiments in color and arrangement.

Vijay Iyer, being both a theorist and a well-regarded composer/performer, provides a compelling case for music as an embodied and culturully embedded experience. Focusing on temporality, Iyer shows how in improvistation, music literally becomes "the sound of human action," and he illustrates this with his own experiences of improvisation in ensembles led by Cecil Taylor and Roscoe Mitchell.

The paper of David Borgo is a brilliant exploration of relations among technical, cognitive, and social aspects of jazz improvisation. Both an ethnomusicologist and jazz improviser, Borgo also deploys blending and cross space mappings from cognitive linguistics, to describe how jazz musicians respond to social conditions and to prior landmark performances, emphasizing in particular the important notion of signifyin(g), and how it differs from signification. This takes us very near indeed to the eastern pole.

Some reasons to place music in the western area include its similarity to language, which has been a basis for strong claims (e.g. from Chomsky) about innateness and modularity of mind, as well as influences from theories such as neural reductionism and behaviorism. Some reasons to place music near the eastern pole include the inevitability of action whenever music becomes concrete, the importance of rhythm and its relatedness to processes of bodily coordination (e.g., in walking and dancing), the social aspects of musical performance, and the role of emotion in music. It may be that east is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet (as claimed by Rudyard Kipling); perhaps there are even good theoretical reasons for such a supposition, e.g., that musical phenomena are so inherently heterogeneous, that one method is more suited for some aspects, and another for other aspects.

But there are also reasons to suppose that the east/west dichotomy can be overcome. For example, something like Harth's proposal for downward causation or Searle's emergentism [4] might eventually become sufficiently developed as to constitute a viable method for the humanities. Further out is the late Heideggerian proclamation of the "end of philosophy" [3], in which thinking time and Being overcome the long history of thinking beings "in the manner of representational thinking which gives reasons," thus revitalizing pre-Socratic insights that transcend the traditional oppositions with which we have been playing in this introduction.

In any case, we can safely predict that music theory will remain far from equilibrium, in a dynamic instability and evolution that mirrors its subject, and we hope that this volume will play some role in that ongoing process.

Joseph Goguen & Erik Myin

Dept. of Computer Science and Engineering,
Jacobs School of Engineering,
University of California at San Diego

Centre for Logic and Philosophy of Science
Vrije Universiteit Brussel


[1] Gerard Assayag, Hans Feichtinger and Jose-Francisco Rodrigues (eds.), Mathematics and Music: A Diderot Mathematical Forum, Springer, 2002.

[2] William Benzon, Beethoven's Anvil, Basic Books, 2001.

[3] Martin Heidegger, On Time and Being, Chicago, 1972 (trans. Joan Stambaugh).

[4] John Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness, New York Review of Books, 1997.

[5] John Spiro (ed.), Music and the Brain, Nature Neuroscience 6, 7, p 661-695, July 2003.

[6] Robert Zatorre and Isabelle Peretz (eds.), The Biological Foundations of Music, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Vol. 930, 2001.

[7] Lawrence Zbikowski, Conceptualizing Music, Oxford, 2002.

Journal of Consciousness Studies
Volume 6, No. 6/7, June/July 1999
Special Feature on Art and the Brain
Edited by Joseph A. Goguen


Joseph A. Goguen, Editorial Introduction

V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, The Science of Art: A neurological theory of aesthetic experience

Commentaries on Ramachandran and Hirstein

Colin Martindale, Peak Shift, Prototypicality and Aesthetic Experience

Richard L. Gregory, Object Hypotheses in Visual Perception: David Marr or Cruella de Ville?

Bruce Mangan, It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing

Bernard J. Baars, Art Must Move: Emotion and the biology of beauty

Julia Kindy, Of Time and Beauty

Partha Mitter, Response to Ramachandran and Hirstein

Jaron Lanier, What Information is Given by a Veil?

Ruth Wallen, Response to Ramachandran and Hirstein

V.S. Ramachandran, Author's Response

Further Papers

Semir Zeki, Art and the Brain

Erich Harth, The Emergence of Art and Language in the Human Brain

Nicholas Humphrey, Cave Art, Autism, and the Evolution of the Human Mind

Commentaries on Humphrey

Commentators: Paul Bahn, Paul Bloom, Uta Frith, Ezra Zubrow, Steven Mithen, Ian Tattersall, Chris Knight, Chris McManus and Daniel Dennett

Nicholas Humphrey, Author's Response

Further Papers

Jason W. Brown, On Aesthetic Perception

Ralph D. Ellis, The Dance Form of the Eyes: What cognitive science can learn from art

Journal of Consciousness Studies
Volume 7, No. 8-9, August/September 2000
Special Feature on Art and the Brain, Part II
Edited by Joseph A. Goguen and Erik Myin


Joseph A. Goguen, Editorial Introduction

Further Commentaries on The Science of Art by V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein

E.H. Gombrich, Concerning 'The Science of Art'

V.S. Ramachandran, Response to Gombrich

Amy Ione, Connecting the Cerebral Cortex with the Artist's Eyes, Mind and Culture

Jennifer Anne McMahon, Perceptual Principles as the Basis for Genuine Judgments of Beauty

Donnya Wheelwell, Against the Reduction of Art to Galvanic Skin Response

Papers from the Cognitive Science Conference on Perception, Consciousness, and Art, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, 17-19 May, 1999

Erik Myin, Two Sciences of Perception and Visual Art: Editorial Introduction to the Brussels Papers

Amy Ione, An Enquiry Into Paul Cézanne: The Role of the Artist in Studies of Perception and Consciousness

Robert Solso, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Art: A Preliminary fMRI Observation

Rafael De Clercq, Aesthetic Ineffability

Jennifer Church, 'Seeing As' and the Double Bind of Consciousness

C.L. Hardin, Red and Yellow, Green and Blue, Warm and Cool: Explaining Colour Appearance

Further Papers and Reviews

Alva Noë, Experience and Experiment in Art

Richard P. Taylor, Adam P. Micolich and David Jonas, Using Science to Investigate Jackson Pollock's Drip Paintings

Glenn English, Reframing Consciousness (Review Article)

Joseph A. Goguen, Visual Space Perception (Book Review)