The Adaptive Meaning of the Musical Mind


Spring 2014 quarter

Taught by

Humans are unique products of adaptive evolution. Our most remarkable evolutionary features are associated with our overwhelmingly cultural brains, far more flexible and dynamic than the brains of any other creature on earth. But this level of uniqueness creates a problem in the quest to understand ourselves. How are we to comprehend human characteristics that have no parallel, and little precedent, elsewhere in the biota?

Of all the unique cultural attributes of humans, music is uniquely perplexing. It exists in every culture, is a significant feature of nearly every human life. Music is produced by both males and females. It can be made with tools as elaborate as a piano, or as sparingly as with a single human voice. It is both collaborative and solitary. It can be enjoyed as a participant or spectator. And music is powerful—reaching into our deepest emotional core where it has the capacity to trigger profound responses, often with zero associated narrative content.

This program will confront this deepest evolutionary mystery full force, and on its own terms. We will cultivate an appreciation and comprehension of the structure, meaning and effect of music as we address the evolutionary mechanisms that must have produced it. We will strive as a learning community to experience music’s full glory and mystery, while we grapple rigorously with it as an evolutionary phenomenon. Weekly program activities will include reading, focused listening, workshops, lectures and seminars. Together we will approach program content in a manner that is accessible to students with little background in these areas, while still challenging those with prior experience. 

Program Details

Fields of Study

Preparatory for studies or careers in

biology, music, science and arts-related fields.

Academic Website

Location and Schedule

Campus location



Offered during: Day


Buy books for this program through Greener Bookstore.

Online Learning

No Required Online Learning: No access to web tools required. Any web tools provided are optional for students.

Required Fees

$400 for two overnight field trips.


Date Revision
February 12th, 2014 $400 fee has been added.

Registration Information

Credits: 16 (Spring)

Class standing: Freshmen–Senior; 25% of the seats are reserved for freshmen

Maximum enrollment: 48


Course Reference Numbers

Fr (16 credits): 30141
So - Sr (16 credits): 30144

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