First up, is a report from the economists on the "creative sector's" contribution to the US economy: $500 billion dollars. This sort of thing, trying to quantify the "value" of the arts and culture in the economy, has been going on for a long time, of course. This is just a more ambitious attempt. The hidden assumptions behind it are what trouble me. Here is how they put it:
"Measurable, legitimate, rigorous" and completely wrong! The value of arts and culture is not fundamentally economic, but aesthetic. Measuring just the economic spindrift thrown off will mean fundamentally misunderstanding what the arts and culture are and how they function in a society. It means that the most important musician of 2013 is Madonna, because she earned the most money. It means that classical music has only a very tiny function in the culture. I'm sure readers of this blog will know that I have many reasons for disagreeing with this!"One of the challenges that's always been there for economists and even lay people and certainly policy makers is to understand what is the arts' value," Ilyengar said. "Here's a measurable, legitimate, rigorous way of tracking the contributions of the creative economy in the country."
The brain scientists are still going at it. Here one blogger summarizes how music affects our brains:
We can usually pick if a piece of music is particularly happy or sad, but this isn’t just a subjective idea that comes from how it makes us feel. In fact, our brains actually respond differently to happy and sad music.I have written before about what I see as problematic about this. That was not exactly the post I was looking for--for some reason the search widget on my blog doesn't seem to work any more! What I have noted is that garden variety emotions, like happiness and sadness, have objects. We are happy or sad about something. This applies to emotions like anger and love as well (if love is a mere emotion). But the moods and expressions we hear in music do not have objects; they are merely suggestive of certain sensations. You might think of them as metaphors. A piece of music is not actually happy, sad nor angry; nor was the composer happy, sad nor angry when he or she wrote it. The performers likewise do not share these emotions and finally, neither does the listener. Music does not MAKE you happy or sad or angry because it neither contains nor communicates these emotions.
What we hear when we listen to music are musical moods and expressions. These may be beautiful, or coarse, or threatening, or charming, or languid, or agitated or a thousand other things we have no words for. But what they are not are garden variety emotions.
So why are scientists always going down the rabbit-hole? Well, if the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. If the only tool you have is a magnetic resonance imager, then you are going to scan a lot of brains. I just don't think that it is going to tell you anything about music or how and why we enjoy it.
The article I linked above comes in several parts. Here is one I found particularly hilarious. It explains how our musical "choices" (I guess they mean "tastes" but are just afraid to use that word) predict our personalities:
You know what this reminds me of? With about the same amount of scientific rigor? Yep, horoscopes. Here is what the stars reveal about your personality:
Most people's musical tastes span different genres. The amount of selectivity they exhibit can also vary enormously. Some people seem to enjoy most music in a kind of non-specific way. Others have intense likings and dislikings for different songs on the same album or different pieces by the same composer. Other people, and I list myself among them, like outstanding examples of pieces in widely varying genres. I have heard rap songs that I was quite taken with, but at the same time, there are Baroque pieces I find horribly tedious. So, of course, I won't fit into any of those predictions. Neither will most of us.Aries (March 21- April 20): Aries is the first sign of the zodiac. Those who are Aries are independent and courageous. They enjoy leading others and bringing excitement into the lives of others. An Aries is enthusiastic and very goal-oriented.Taurus (April 21- May 21): The second sign of the zodiac, those who are a Taurus are solid and fight for what they want. A Taurus is very easy going but can also be stubborn. A Taurus can be procrastinators but also have a good-work ethic.Gemini (May 22- June 21): Gemini is the third sign of the zodiac. Geminis have many sides and are known for their energy. They are very talkative and are considered social butterflies. A Gemini will always take their lives in the direction they want to go.Cancer (June 22- July 22): Cancer is the fourth sign of the zodiac. This sign is marked by inconsistency. They enjoy security but also seek adventure. A Cancer is not very predictable and always keep others guessing.Leo (July 23- August 21): Leo is the fifth sign in the zodiac. Leos have high self esteem and are very devoted. They are also very kind and generous. A Leo is known for being hot tempered yet forgiving.Virgo (August 22- September 23): The sixth sign of the zodiac, Virgo is very mind oriented. They are constantly analyzing and thinking. They enjoy bettering themselves and those around them.Libra (September 24- October 23): The seventh sign of the zodiac, Libras are known for their diplomatic nature. They get along well with everyone and are ambitious. They have very expensive taste and work hard to make money.Scorpio (October 24- November 22): The eight sign of the zodiac, Scorpios are very intense. They like to question everything and work hard at making sense of things. Scorpios treat others with kindness and loyalty.Sagittarius (November 23- December 22): The ninth sign of the zodiac, a Sagittarius has a very positive outlook on life. They have vibrant personalities and enjoy meeting new people. They can also be reckless.Capricorn (December 23- January 20): The 10th sign of the zodiac, those who are Capricorns are marked by their ambitious nature. They have very active minds and always have to be in control of their lives.Aquarius (January 21- February 19): Aquarius is the 11th sign of the zodiac. Aquarians don't always care what others think about them. They take each opportunity they have and work towards formulating new ideas.Pisces (February 20- March 20): Pisces is the 12th and last sign of the zodiac. Those who are Pisces are extremely sensitive and reserved. They like to escape from reality. A Pisces is a very good listener and friend.
Just more dreary pseudo-science, I'm afraid. But it looks so impressive with all those nifty charts and diagrams...
Let's hear some music! Does this make you happy or sad?