Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Music is likely much more special than we realize. Though deep down, maybe we always knew that there was something special about it.

Music, may actually have some deep connection to the nature of the universe.

What initially led me down this train of thought, was when I first heard a bird song, slowed down to human hearing range, as shown in the TED talk 'The unexpected beauty of everyday sounds' by Meklit Hadero. A beautiful talk, by a beautiful woman.

What I find so fascinating about their songs, is that they actually sound like melodies humans would make.

It hints at the possibility that our aesthetic for music isn't unique to humans. That possibly, something much deeper and more fundamental is at play that causes us to like music. The fact that we even make music at all is an anomaly. As we don't get food from it, nor does it seem to help in the survival of our species. Yet we dedicate so much time, energy, and resources to the endeavor. Music is such a fundamental part of our culture, it's so powerful, we all know how powerful it can be. At times it can feel transcendent.

The great philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said - “Without music, life would be a mistake" I'm inclined to agree. When I listen to Vivaldi, it truly feels like I'm connecting to something beyond me, something beyond this world. Birds sing, so do dolphins, chimpanzees even show a sense of musical preference. Clearly music is something special. But why?

All of these species are known for their intelligence. So maybe music is somehow fundamentally connected to intelligence? Interestingly, one of the problems of building artificial general intelligence, is how would one develop an AI that would actively go out of its way to make music? It's a difficult problem, and it may be that we will only have true AGI until we can make AI that can and will make music, not because it has to, but because it wants to.

The current popular understanding of the brain and of AI, takes the perspective of looking at the systems, as systems primarily built for learning, but that doesn't really explain how and why we make music. But the ideas Nell and I are developing about the brain, could potentially explain this. As our ideas don't look at the brain as primarily a system that learns, but as a resonance engine that continuously molds itself and it's neural activity to resonate with it's environment.
Our theory
proposes that the intelligence of the brain, and of life, is an emergent property of entropy maximization, otherwise known as the 2nd law of thermodynamics. In order for a system to maximize entropy within its environment, it must resonate with its environment. And by resonating with its environment, it forms what effectively is, a model of its environment.

It also turns out, that Andrés Gómez Emilsson and the Qualia Research Institute, are actually developing a theory to explain consciousness, as something that emerges from brain harmonics. They call this theory, The Symmetry Theory Of Valence.

Andrés gives a talk that goes into detail about the theory, and even makes clear, empirically testable predictions, that could falsify or prove the theory true. I highly recommend watching it.

In his talk he references research done by Selen Atasoy on the study of brain harmonics, and how certain brain harmonics determine certain states of consciousness. This research is not only very interesting, but also backs up the idea of looking at the brain as a resonance engine, rather than as simply a system that learns.

With this in mind, I think it becomes a bit easier to see why music seems to have such a powerful affect on humans, birds, dolphins, or really anything with a neocortex. Perhaps it's just embedded in the way the brain works. If the brain is a resonance engine, then perhaps the brain likes music, simply because music is very easy to resonate to. As nice sounds, have a clear, and beautiful mathematical structure. And dissonant sounds, sounds that we tend not to like, don't really have a structure. They literally cause dissonance in whatever medium they travel through.

All I know, is that I love music so very much. I lose myself in it. And perhaps there is a deeply profound reason why it affects me, why it affects all of us, in such a way.


(Note, birds actually predate mammals and have even evolved down a completely different path, and yet have still developed their own version of a neocortex, that looks a bit different, but essentially works the same way. Which is also amazing in it of itself. It suggests that the development of the neocortex, which allows mammals to learn new behaviors, isn't due to some chance occurrence. But rather, that evolution, regardless of circumstance, will naturally lend itself to the development of neocortex like structures.)