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What is music? A unified theory of music and dreaming (whatismusic.info)
187 points by pjdorrell on Jan 14, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

It's a bit hard to understand without the background philosophical knowledge, but Schopenhauer's aesthetic ideas on music are quite beautiful. A concise, oversimplified version of his thought would be that lyric-less music brings us closer to direct reality, since it doesn't replicate any forms in nature.

Unlike all of the other arts, which express or copy the Ideas (the essential features of the phenomenal world), Schopenhauer affirmed that music expresses or copies the will qua thing in itself, bypassing the Ideas altogether.

Schopenhauer holds that the experience of “absolute” music (music that does not seek to imitate the phenomenal world and is unaccompanied by narrative or text), occurs in time, but does not involve any of the other cognitive conditions on experience. Thus, like the feeling of embodiment, Schopenhauer believes the experience of music brings us epistemically closer to the essence of the world as will—it is as direct an experience of the will qua thing in itself as is possible for a human being to have

Read this full article if you'd like to know more: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schopenhauer-aesthetics

The world seems to be a bunch of subatomic particles bumping into each other, not 'will', wonder what Schopenhauer means?

I don't think Schopenhauer's concept of the will and subatomic particles are mutually exclusive. He's pretty clear on what "will" means, but you have to study his philosophy to find out.

Ah, you are right: "a mindless, aimless, non-rational impulse at the foundation of our instinctual drives, and at the foundational being of everything."

Very much like subatomic particles randomly bumping into each other.

But, also very much unlike music, at least the enjoyable kind of music. Does sound similar to the music of Lovecraftian novels, though.

>Music, on the other hand, seems to be limited to the human species

I'm not sure how you're defining music, but I would consider a bird's song to count. On one hand I don't believe music can be reduced to a mating display, but I'm skeptical that music has a biological root in processing memories/emotional response. Sure, it can stimulate memory/emotional processing, but so do most other social activities. Moreover, I think conversation, games, music, dance, etc. are much more similar to each other in that regard than dreaming is to any of them.

In my experience, dreams are wild extrapolations/interpolations of various waking experiences. When I'm awake, I would call this imagination, but the unconscious mind appears to put the imagination into overdrive in a way that is not possible while awake. It's almost as if the brain is trying to generalize memories, possibly to optimize them for storage space. (or some biological equivalent)

Interestingly, /u/undershirt mentions that it might be that you don't actually experience the dream until you wake up. This would make sense, as this process would be interrupted, leaving you with some bizarre false memories. The unconscious then quickly cleans up it's mess and hands control over to the conscious mind.

On the other hand, I think music is explained fairly satisfactorily as a positive social activity, related to dancing, both of which were ubiquitous and inseparable in ancient cultures. In a world where you have to make friends and be wary of enemies, it's not hard to see how bonding activities that signal friendliness are valuable for natural selection. Even birds sing, humans just have a much more complex songs.

If I remember correctly whales have been observed to “sing” as well. Given that sound is essentially vibration of a medium and given that noticing vibration in said medium will play a crucial role in the survival of most organisms moving in it, we can establish that some sort of “mediun-vibration-sensing” should develope anywhere in the universe given the organisms move in a medium that transmits sound waves.

This “hearing” will be connected with meaning by these organisms (e.g. loud and low frequency = big, strong and dangerous, scratchy noise + potential food). That means there is already (without music) a perceptual link between sound and emotion.

On top of that the natural harmonic series should be universal, which means that other intelligent life forms could derive joy from how sounds fit together harmonically. A certain level of intelligence will inevitably lead organisms to think a lot about the (potentially dangerous) sounds in their environment and given a certain level of organization they might decide to droen these unpleasant thoughts out with other louder sounds they make on purpose. And if these louder sounds serve a societal role they will inevitably use it to tell stories, emotions or make sense of their beeing in the world or just try to forget the things that happened in their lifes. Music.

And wolves howl. My childhood friend played the trumpet and their dog always started howling with him.

Is bird song music or just a guy sat on a fence shouting at all the other guys to fuck off out of his yard?

Lucid dreamers were able to respond to stimuli while dreaming iirc

A weird hypothesis is that a dream might not even be a story until you wake up—like a wave function collapse[1] of abstract brain activity. Freud wrote about a man being jolted awake by his headboard falling on his neck the very moment he had been guillotined in a dream, and I think most of us have examples.


This makes a lot of sense for deeper sleep where dreams are fragments of thoughts within a barely coherent mind but little sense in REM sleep where people have shown to be aware by doing preestablished eyemovements. There is a lot of indication that people are aware during dreams that occur in REM sleep (eye movement is unrestricted by the brain stem blocking signals so eyes move as if the person is doing things). Point being that if a person is aware and can do tasks and communicate with regular timing then the dream cannot take place at the moment of waking up.

I have experienced several instances where I dream that I am with some friend/colleague/etc e.g. helping him/her solve some problem.

Upon waking up, I check my phone and then sure enough that same friend has in fact contacted with the same or similar message as in my dream.

In several instances these are people I haven't heard from in a long time, with some very hard to guess specific reason why they contacted me. (E.g. a long time friend asking me to help his dad with something).

My memory is very clear that I had the dream and processed it (with some reaction of 'huh strange, fancy dreaming about that guy) before I opened my phone and found the text/email from that person. But is that memory being rewritten somehow afterwards?

Or is there perhaps some kind of vaguely wavefunction/quantum/etc phenomena that leads some information to be transmitted back in time by a few minutes? Hard to say, but definitely food for thought

I also have some stories like that. One time I dreamt about a friend who I haven't seen or heard from for more than a year and the same day I run into him at a random gas station on the other side of town. I mean I know this is probably a coincidence but it's just one of those moments where you start thinking if there is something supernatural about it.

> Or is there perhaps some kind of vaguely wavefunction/quantum/etc phenomena that leads some information to be transmitted back in time by a few minutes? Hard to say, but definitely food for thought

Ha, much more likely is that in your dream the person was nonspecific, and when you woke up your brain "altered" the memory to be about the person who texted you.

There is well documented evidence that human memory is extremely suggestible, and I think that is a far more likely explanation than... information time travel.

Possibly. But I remember very specifically thinking about the person in question prior to receiving the message.

We really don't understand that much about consciousness (or many other phenomena). It's not that outlandish that there may be some strange behaviour of time. Many physicists suggest its structured more like strings or otherwise more "liquid" than a linear timeline

I remember reading that people used to believe that your whole dream happened in the few seconds before you woke up. Would be interesting if that was actually close to the truth.

I have experienced several instances where I dream that I am with some friend/colleague/etc e.h. helping him solve some problem. Upon waking up, I check my phone and then sure enough that same friend has in fact contacted with the same or similar message as in my dream.

In several instances these are people I haven't heard from in a long time, with some very hard to guess specific reason why they contacted me. (E.g. a long time friend asking me to help his dad with something).

My memory is very clear that I had the dream and processed it (with some reaction of 'huh strange, fancy dreaming about that guy) before I opened my phone and found the text/email from that person. But is that memory being rewritten somehow afterwards?

Or is there perhaps some kind of vaguely wavefunction/quantum/etc phenomena that leads some information to be transmitted back in time by a few minutes? Hard to say, but definitely food for thought

"Music and dreams are similar, because they both involve, or can involve, the processing of feelings in response to situations that are not real."

"This similarity between music and dreaming suggests that music and dreaming may actually serve similar biological purposes."

This does not follow at all. We don't know why we dream, or why we evolved to make music. It's hasty to suggest the two are related based on the sole observation that both produce feelings.

What's more, there's a big difference between feelings in dreams (which are responses to imagined situations) and feelings in music (which may result from formal qualities of harmony and melody, independent of any imagined situation.) The author explains this away by 1. focusing on music with lyrical and theatrical aspects, and 2. pretending that all listeners are supplementing the music with their own memories and imagined situations. As if nobody ever just heard a pretty tune and thought it sounded nice.

Then the author proceeds to make tenuous connections and meaningless distinctions for the next several paragraphs, based on this flimsy assertion that music and dreaming are alike because they produce feelings. All the while, citing no research to make these connections.

This reads like one of those post-structuralist nonsense papers that people on HN love to hate on. Why are we giving it the time of day?

There's some bridge in consciousness between music and dreaming. They share some extra-rational quality that eludes language. That's exactly why I named my first album "Trampoline Dreams" That's not the point of the post, but if anyone is interested here is a link on Spotify!


From https://whatismusic.info/blog/HypothesisMusicLetsUsPracticeH...:

  > Now let us suppose that the person enjoys listening to music.
  > Music enables the person to feel very strong emotions that lie outside the range of their normal everyday emotions.
  > Music lets a person feel these emotions, almost, but not quite, as if those emotions were real.
I’m quite puzzled by these statements. I enjoy listening to some genres of music. But I don’t see at all how music is connected to experiencing emotions. Isn’t music enjoyable because of completely different reasons? They are hard to describe, but I don’t think they’re “emotions”, are they?

Music produces sophisticated colorful shapes that aren't visualizeable, yet visible to our mind, so it sees the shapes, appreciates their complexity and order and creates emotions. Classical compositions produce exceptionally complex structures that can be appreciated only by a few.

Are you a synaesthetist? I am, and your description pretty much sums up how I experience music.

> But I don’t see at all how music is connected to experiencing emotions.

Wow, unless I don't understand this sentence, I'm surprised by it.

Music instills emotional reaction all the time -- it can change your mood, it creates the emotional feel of movie scenes, and all sorts of things. It is connected to emotional response, is it not?

Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “I don’t see at all” because that’s an exaggeration. I see some connection, e.g., listening to music can feel “enjoyable”, just not “very strong emotions that lie outside the range of their normal everyday emotions”.

As an example, here’s a random song that has a nice beat and I enjoy listening to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xY-4-O7GetQ. What kind of “strong emotions outside the normal everyday range” can one feel when listening to it?

I agree certain rare songs can instill strong emotional responses, but that isn’t the case when just listening to random music that sounds good for the first time.

This comment feels like Commander Data having a similar discussion with Picard...

I can tell you, appreciating music and emotions are deeply connected.

Well what is it else than emotion when some Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin or Mozart make me cry?

There are some interesting ideas in this. However music also might have evolved as a form of communication - for example birdsong, whale songs, or the songs various insects make. They might not necessarily be communicating emotions - although maybe sometimes they are. It's a bit of a logical leap to decide all music evolved for emotion processing purposes, rather than say, language and communication purposes.

This article was very enjoyable. The connection between dream state emotions and musical emotions are undoubtable for me. I've always assumed that they felt so similar because the brain was practicing finding meaning in chaos by recognizing patterns in the chaos, then organizing and categorizing those patterns until meaning can be associated (through previous experience maybe).

However, I do have to say that I did disagree with a few assumptions the article made:

>However dreams are never about the strangeness or the alteration of reality.

Many nightmares that I have are actually about the strangeness of the dream itself. I realize that something is not normal, and instead of determining that I am experiencing a dream (and thus start entering a lucid dream state), I start feeling like I must have lost my sanity. This can be a truly terrifying experience when things really go off the rails.

Some many masterpieces of classical music feel identical to dream states to me. This is a rich area of inquiry ;)

Chopin's Nocturnes. Erik Satie's Gnossiennes. The Tales of Hoffmann which influenced Shumann and Wagner

Franz Liszt - Liebestraum


Love Liebestraum :) If you can get past LL's emoting this is my favorite rendition of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FqugGjOkQE

Sigh; evolutionary psychology is the worst sort of ascientific metaphysical nonsense. Read it for poetry if you like.

Do you object to the basic premise or the particulars of how it's practiced?

Paul McCartney said Yesterday came to him in a dream. I think about this a lot in that there is something the unconscious mind seems to unlock.

Yes. Except in his dream the lyrics were

"Scrambled eggs, Oh my darling you've got lovely legs..."

Once I learned that my enjoyment of the original was greatly enhanced.

> However dreams are never about the strangeness or the > alteration of reality.

> If people with bad intentions are chasing you in a dream, > you don't start thinking about why your life changed so > much that now you have people wanting to kill you.

This is false. Such reasoning is very common in my dreams, with explanations a hybrid of dreamed facts and reality.

I like to think music is just tickling peoples' eardrums. Musicians really are just vibrating the air, creating sound waves, thus music is inherently ephemeral. Written and recorded works utilize our memory and psychology to take us on a journey through time, telling us a story, conveying message and meaning through many moments of ear tickling.

Music is just tickling peoples' eardrums in the same way that looking at your newborn baby is just indirect light illuminating your retina.

Tickling is surprisingly complex and specific, random noise like wind blowing on skin will not tickle you, you cant tickle yourself, you clothes dont tickle you, etc. How is it a bad metaphor for music? Id even go as far as calling music a form of humanity pleasuring itself not as in the act of emulating sex but emulating the most interesting parts of a language

Music is primarily for entertainment and evocation of emotion, as well as secondarily for dance, exercise, distraction, community building... All of these require a vibration of the eardrums, and such is my temperament that I love to have fun and stay light-hearted, so most of my music fits the tickling vibe. Not intensely sad/slow music, granted, but I very rarely play that myself :)

As someone with ADHD, I can confidently say that music is one of the least ephemeral things in my mind.

Music is much more like a heuristic for generating patterns based on limited data points. You just need a key, a rhythmic base and a sentiment and you're off. Memory is a small part. it only works because you can regenerate the idea of a song based on small cues. There are so many songs where I couldn't tell you the exact words to a particular verse, but if I can grab onto another part of the song I can imagine the rhythm of the lyrics and rhyming scheme, then work backwards to something that I think I might recognize, but really it will probably be off in some way. Perhaps my head rendition is at a slower tempo and higher key, but if I tried to sing it from memory you would still recognize the song.

So I'd argue that music is a more of a exercise in pattern recognition and pattern generation than physical memory recalling or story telling.

Interesting. I don't dream and music has no emotional response for me. I wonder if they are related?

How do you know you don't dream? Maybe you do but don't remember your dreams.

What's the difference between not dreaming and not remembering your dreams? I'm nearly 50 and I have absolutely no recollection of ever dreaming. Not once have I woken up and remembered anything happening between falling asleep and waking up. So, to the best of my knowledge I have never dreamed.

It appears you have musical anhedonia: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/03/please-do...

Not sure how it relates to you not being able to have or remember dreams but it’s a very intersting coincidence nonetheless

Yes, I do have musical anhedonia.

I think you may have something that I don't have, as I believe in more or less a zero sum game in terms of mental functions: e.g. a blind person develops other senses better such as hearing or spatial orientation etc. I'm on the opposite side of the spectrum, more like a music hedonist, though lately I started to enjoy silence just as much. Do you feel that you have some sense more developed than the norm?

Not that I've ever noticed. In fact my senses of smell and hearing are pretty bad. Though I think that has more to do with getting older.

Kind of a philosophical question, but not really.

The connection between dreaming and REM, a physical and measurable action of the eyes, is firmly established.

Most dreams are forgotten, for most people. If someone takes Ambien and has no recollection of their actions, those actions still happened.

I would say that whether or not you dream relates to whether or not you REM, and you most likely do.

That's an interesting case. Can you feel fear, anger or excitement when awake? Dreaming and emotions are "done" by a very specific part of us that connects, in some sense, mind with body.

Yes, I can feel fear, anger, excitement and all other emotions when awake.

Then I'd rather believe that you don't keep memories from dreaming because emotions and dreaming are "done" by the same part of our bodies.

Have you ever tried taking Melatonin?

In my experience it causes crazy dreams, if you'd like to experience some and haven't tried it maybe give it a shot

I have taken Melatonin a few times. It hasn't had any affect on dreaming (or lack thereof).

This line of research is incredibly interesting to me. Thanks a lot for the work and for sharing! I subscribe to a lot of your premises and hypotheses.

So I thought I'd return the favor, some humble food for thought. Disclaimer: it's all personal research[1].

On to the meat. Forgive the imperative tone sometimes, it's all in good spirits and for brievety.

> The processing of feelings often includes thought processes

That's possibly idiosyncratic imho.

Feeling and thought evolved, in this order, as general processing systems for the bodymind (feelings originate simply as "the language of the body", neither good nor bad in nature but mostly communication of internal states; thinking is more correlated to sensory perception it seems — literally could have just been selected initially to process signals e.g. visual or auditory, then evolved from there).

They both now work in concert but there is no definite telling which dominates "generally", it seems to differ a lot between individuals; e.g. men seem to have a stronger awareness of their internal state ("thinking their emotions") whereas women tend to require strong physical states to reach awareness, and conversely report much more about "feeling their thoughts", their mental state. This is just one statistical example among probably many variations of that order.

Stephen Covey in the famous 7 Habits conveys this point: “Between stimulus and response there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Great advice in itself, it hints at the fact that untrained people tend to respond without thinking, thereby promoting their emotions from "guidance system" to "decision-making system".

I think that "letting go" and "being spontaneous" — what we do to dance well, emotionally — are positive modes (or rather balancing acts, responses) that strongly suggest a need to prefer emotions over thoughts at time. It's certainly necessary on the way to survival (mating, hence dating, seduction; but also politics from the house to the office, etc.).

So I humbly suggest:

- everytime you framed analysis implying thought after or in response to emotions, it's worth investigating a "thoughtless" direct response (note: in this context everything is a response, even in inaction we make a choice, e.g. to "keep on listening").

- De-correlate the two poles of thought and emotion, seen independently as different types of parallel processing, different "kinds" of machines (different I/O too).

- Consider operating modes where "emotions ≥ thoughts" in the final output, in full agreement with one's thoughts, to voluntarily "stop thinking".

> To fully understand how this could be possible, we need to analyze all the differences between music and dreaming.

Actually I would look into testing physiological responses first (and notably not neglect the long-term benefits, the lasting psychological qualia (or its consequences, like soothing, or energizing) over hours, days, months even (as possibly counter-evidenced by cases of severe deprivation of dreaming).

> Dreaming is Much Older than Music

I think it speaks to the evolution of brain structures indeed, it seems that interpreting "music" is a rather advanced feature. It's also largely possible that other species would hear "music" that sounds like random gibberish, noise to us — and vice-versa. We know almost for sure that other species don't recognize human music, but there's little in the way of telling what could actually be music to their ears.

> Within dreams, the content and the emotions are provided as a single fixed package.

I'm not sure about that. The systems involved in making the images/story, and those involved in their perception and the feelings thereof might be largely distinct structures (assuming the brain keeps working generally the same regardless of wake state).

What I mean is that in both dreams and music, to my perception, the content is provided; whatever I feel or think about it comes after as an internal response/state; finally I respond (whether suppressed or not by the body as when dreaming). Note that this is all in parallel, new data has entered perception by the time I respond to the last input.

I think it strengthens your case: the two processes are even more comparable in this view.

A word about imagination, which as I see it always takes off in-between "processing results" (from inputs) and "call for a response" (our final output) — this even tiny moment of hesitation to validate action before we do, which in some cases is temporally absent from perception, especially in heightened emotional states (e.g. adrenaline has a way of blurring/blinding perception to the limbic low-level, the pains, the fears, etc.)

- For these physiological reasons, music (and any emotion-inducing activity) acts as a temporary 'limbic painkiller' of sorts. Sorta occupies the mind, focus, perception.

- Imagination is both a crude low-level "feeling" about "what could" (be, have been, happen, etc) and rises up to high-level full-fledged "thinking" powerhouse specialized in creation. Again, this feeling-thinking dichotomy. In this I think we may observe how "low-level emotions" are swamping dreams whereas "high-level thinking" of the kind we invoke to process imaginary images upon music is much more controlled, indeed 'aware' of its virtuality — it's almost as if thinking was a higher-level processing system able to differentiate between reality and fiction, which emotions at a lower-level of processing don't seem able to!

> This difference may be directly relevant to explaining why music is human-specific – because actively thinking about long-term goals is (as far as we know) a specifically human endeavour.

I'm not entirely sure about this whole long/short-term dichotomy in this case; I think it's more of a consequence of the above physiological systems that we are more immediately concerned with feelings in dreams and more laid back about a non-threatening wake situation — you have to realize how dramatically different both these moments are to the brain, below any form or degree consciousness.

Bluntly put, when survival is at stake, we see the deepest/oldest structures emerge back in full-force (unsurprisingly low-level layers tend to be strongest at "overriding" general functioning).

> Strangeness

Really interesting take! I wonder if it's also a matter of system (low/high level, or thinking vs feeling, or a fluke of perception that switches off in dreams or is too complex to properly work at that level.

I've long identified "familiarity" as one of the big determinants (in humans as in animals, it's one of those really low-level deeply refined mechanisms, that just appears about as soon as memory is possible, even ROM from DNA that produces unaware biological structures). Things just move "towards" the familiar "good", and "away" from the "unfamiliar" or "familiarly bad".

Which, when you think about it, can also be expressed in terms of strangeness, the reversed polarity of familiarity.

Regardless, your observations on strangeness do fit my current model/view quite well[2]. I need to thank you again for the food for thought.

Great read, amazing approach!


[1]: My "goal" has always been a general model of the "bodymind" (like "spacetime", I reject the fragmented theory of duality, and include animals in the continuity). So I have a rather 10,000 ft bird's-eye approach, more 'structural' and less 'specific' I guess, however such research as OP's are pure honey to me — they help me inform all the categories I wrestle with in my research.

In all honesty and transparency, I'm not "university-qualified" in those fields — there's too many of them anyway. But I do pride myself on 20+ years of strong transdisciplinarity, always trying to answer this question: "what makes us tick? why do we do what we do?"

[2]: Briefly, the model is graph-inspired with geometric elements, and I have so far identified ~7 nodes or "powers" as I call them (of which thought, emotion and perception are 3). The "unconscious" is yet another (sits below everything else as the proto-mind, the earliest processing system), and what I call "will" or "wisdom" is about the highest-level, most developed (it roughly corresponds to the prefrontal cortex, biologically, and "philosophy" in our ontology). This is where long-term awareness happens, e.g. our ability to delay gratification — a clear case of thoughts totally overriding emotions.

I've observed a sort of "tension" (I really mean both the common term, and the math concept of tensors) between the unconscious and my node of "will/wisdom" — it seems that both act as "impulse drivers", sources of volition and willpower (which is notably in finite quantity for a day and tends to replenish after sleep/dreaming, it also seems about the same for everyone but with significant differences which apparently are rather hard to change, train, de-train).

I'll end it there unless you want more, but in general terms it seems that 'wisdom' is the seat of our 'informed and valued knowledge', that is an integration of emotions and thoughts in a way that "is right and feels right", it's pretty much "system 3: aggregator" if you call the other two system 1 and system 2 like Daniel Kahneman.

That might be an angle worth looking at to frame/model/explore some of your questions.

Edits: typos and clarifications

Connection between music and dreams is a very deep rabbit hole from which there is no return (in a good sense). This article does a good job at bringing attention to the topic, although ideas presented there are naive.

To expand on a comment reply I made earlier elsewhere in this thread, I think that the author is correct about there being a connection between music and dreaming. However, I'd venture there is another fundamental reason that is not mentioned in the content above.

I posit that both dreaming and music listening (including listening via imagination, like a song stuck in your head) are both actually fundamentally processes of pattern recognition and pattern generation happening together in real-time. In a dream, our mind is generating visual, auditory and mental/emotional stimuli based on the real stimuli we've experience in our waking lives. It's not purely replays of real life jumbled up, because many of us have experienced dreams where we've created passable imagery of imaginary individuals we've never seen before and probably don't exist.

I think music is fundamentally the same thing. We hear a song once that creates mental/auditory stimuli, and our brain is able to recognize the general patterns and compress it into pieces of data we can replay at a later time. We don't listen X different times to a song per X individual instruments being played, but often if we hear a prominent part of an individual the song out of the context we will immediately recognize it as part of another song. For a well-known example, imagine the bass line from "under pressure"/"ice ice baby" and how just imagining that bass line lets you conjure up totally seperate parts from either of those two songs in your memory. You can now sing back those different parts of those songs and people will easily recognize it, even if you are technically singing in a different key, a slower tempo, and you flub some words.

So in this hypothesis, even listening to music is not a passive action because your brain is engaged with recognizing and real-time generating the next parts of it (ie singing along). So when the author says:

> Nevertheless... music is often accompanied by a non-specific desire to engage in some level of active behaviour. Because this desire is very non-specific, and because musical feelings are more strongly bound to things that match the rhythm and/or melody of the music, the end result is that the desire to engage in such activity can be satified either by dancing or by joining in with the performance of the music.

It's clear that dancing and joining in make sense because listening and/or imagining music itself is a generative process of imagination + memories (or perhaps "delusional" to use the term in the article).

As an somewhat interesting aside: I mentioned that I have ADHD in the other comment. One of the interesting, though very under-studied things I've discovered about myself and some others with ADHD is that many of us end up with songs playing in our head constantly (see: https://www.reddit.com/r/ADHD/comments/7tu8jz/music_is_const... ). Some studies talk about getting a particular song stuck in someone's head as an OCD type thing, but this type of "head radio" as I call it, doesn't necessarily stick to the same thing forever and really isn't very mentally distressing. Sometimes even I'll get unique tunes stuck in my head that I end up writing out later. Until high-school I assumed everyone had music playing in the background of their heads at all times, but when I started taking medication I noticed it became less frequent. So I'm of the opinion that the "head radio" was mostly a form of mental fidgeting, part of the hyperactivity component of ADHD.


Dreams can contain strange and altered realities. However dreams are never about the strangeness or the alteration of reality.

If people with bad intentions are chasing you in a dream, you don't start thinking about why your life changed so much that now you have people wanting to kill you. All you think about is what you need to do to prevent those people catching up with you and killing you, which might involve running, or attacking your attackers, or perhaps calling out for help.

Given that dreams are often seem very strange when we wake up and remember them, but don't "feel strange" when we are dreaming them, it is plausible to suppose that our sense of "strangeness" is actively suppressed when we are dreaming.

End quote.

This is correct. During REM dreaming the executive functions on the brain are shut off. Why is this?

We can remember some of our dreams, and in our dreams we behave. This means we get to examine our unconstrained behaviours and judge them for their suitability to the situation.

The situations our brains construct during REM dreams are formed in incredibly neurologically biased conditions. Norepinephrine levels, a stress related neurotransmitter, are 85% below base waking levels during REM dreaming (Norepinephrine levels spike after a stressful event, but it's 85% below resting levels!). And there is plenty of evidence to show, low Norepinephrine levels mean a relaxed mind.

Think of the fantasies that the brain creates during moments of fear when awake. Say you have a fear of flying, the fantasies all urge avoidance - 'the plane will crash', 'the wheels will fall off before we land', etc... That is how the brain builds fantasies when Norepinephrine levels are high. When they are low fantasies urge the opposite of avoidance - they urge action. You are being attacked -> you need to fight back. Someone is trying to steal your things -> stop them. Someone has upset you -> tell them.

So we find ourselves in situations in our dreams which demand action, and we get to see how we behave on a solely emotional level (because executive functions are off). If we are not behaving in accordance to what the action-demanding situation requires, then we have learnt something about a fear we have. Something present at an emotional level which is stopping us from taking useful action.

Correcting that is a matter of consciously breaking this pattern in your waking life. Taking action when you were previously scared to and discovering you are ok, and did not need to be scared.

From my experience working with dreams in therapy (mine and with others in theirs), good dream analysis acts as an incredibly astute method to diagnose unconscious anxieties.

I got very interested in dreams after their usefulness in my therapy, so wrote a paper on the above with 13 examples of dreams in (5 are mine if I remember correctly). The paper: https://psyarxiv.com/k6trz HN discussion of it: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19143590

This post has it all wrong.

Music is the shadow of spoken language syntax, ornamented with mathematically recursive patterns, enigmatic suggestions, and all of the other various cerebral plumage humans are attractive to, all for one simple evolved purpose: “you gotta get down with the get down.” ;)

Dreaming has much more to do with core memory processes which remain a deep mystery. Nobody has put forward even a plausible explanation of how memory actually works on a physical level.

I find your assessment of music to be (not personally, but conceptually) insultingly reductive.

(Paraphrasing) "It's just math, linguistics and biology" is just about the least convincing reductivist statement possible to make. The idea that music simply exists to "get down" is frankly laughable.

To give an example, I think many people who listen to music a lot would agree that it somehow interacts with memory in a subtle yet profound way.

I may not be able to remember the exact details of a certain experience precisely, but if I happened to be listening to some music then, and I listen to it again now, it often recalls a memory of emotion I wouldn't otherwise have access to.

Further: the experience of listening to song you've listened to many times over many years tends to accumulate and integrate associations, like a perpetual stew. The experience of listening to a song you've known and listened to for many years is about as close to the experience of dreaming as I've found in waking life.

Music isn't alone in triggering memory recall, all other senses do this as well. I'm not sure I'd assign music special powers in this context, although because it's time based music does seem to be a more profound effect.

Agreed. It's not that music is somehow special in of itself, but rather I think it's a form we've constructed and implicitly optimized to trigger certain forms of recall.

A lot of early chamber music (and music from way back when in antiquity) was based on the idea of reproducing and augmenting voice, which very clearly carries emotional content. It's evolved and mutated since.

Put more simply: I think music is a medium humans have optimized over time to effectively trigger emotional and (less so) experiential recall.

In the process of doing so we've found that certain systems of harmony, tone, timbre, rhythm, etc are effective in emphasizing recall of certain emotional qualities.

I don't think anyone is born thinking the Beatles' Blackbird evokes a particular emotion, but to those who have lived in the world long enough there's a stunning commonality in what it affects in us.

Put even more simply: music is the "language" that best approximates common/shared emotional recall (though obviously there are regional and cultural variations).

I’m sure the female peacock would say the same thing about her experience of seeing those fancy feathers for the first time.

There's really no outlook on life quite more drab and dull than believing you've figured it all out simply because you've read Hitchens.

Again, seeing connections where there are none.

I’m sure the pigeon would say the same thing about the female peacock's first experience of seeing those fancy feathers for the first time. ;)

What about war chants?

The best way to understand about war chants is, firstly, to imagine what it would be like to be a warrior in some prehistoric tribe that is about to go to war. Imagine possible scenarios in your future - the beginning of the war, where you and your fellow warriors carefully but deliberately proceed towards the enemy (who might be a neighbouring tribe who don't yet realise they are the enemy), the actual fighting, where you are in a constant state of "kill or be killed", and, finally, the world as it will be after the war has finished. If victorious, you will have greater status in your tribe, more possessions, more territory, possibly more women. Even if your tribe does win the war, probably some of your colleagues will have died, and it won't be the same living without them. Whatever the result, life after the war will be significantly different to life before the war.

Then, after thinking these thoughts, find a piece of music that strongly intensifies the emotions which arise from thinking them. This music won't be an actual prehistoric war chant, because most of us living in the modern world have musical tastes that have been shaped by exposure to modern commercially produced music. So you will be thinking about a prehistoric war scenario, while listening to twentieth or twenty first century music.

Then, I think, you will understand, albeit subjectively, what it is that war chants are about.

You never heard of a rebel yell, have you?

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