For our present purposes, it is also worth noting the way in which science intrudes into Ramachandran’s description of the subject. Instead of a careful and circumspect attempt to define a problem, there is a perfunctory description of a few artistic phenomena, an unwarranted reference to a preferred explanation (“neural mechanisms”), and an anticipation of the result of applying it. This is the sure sign of scientism — that the science precedes the question, and is used to redefine it as a question that the science can solve. But the difficulty of understanding art arises precisely because questions about the nature and meaning of art are not asking for an explanation of something, but for a description.My usual critique of this kind of research does indeed focus on how the scientists usually create the kind of question that they can answer, ignoring completely what musicians already know or creating the kind of question that is really irrelevant. Then they perform the experiment and declare victory. I'm not so sure that all questions about the nature and meaning of art are to be answered with a description rather than an explanation, though. Scruton offers this explanation of why things having to do with art, music and the human personality are not in the empirical world studied by science:
Science tells us a lot about the ordered sequences of pitched sounds; but it tells us nothing about melodies. A melody is not an acoustical but a musical object. And musical objects belong to the purely intentional realm: they are about something else; they are imbued with meaning; they are sounds as we self-conscious beings experience and relate to them. The concept of the person is like the concept of a melody. It features in our way of perceiving and relating to each other, but it does not “carry over” into the science of what we are. The fact that the person does not carry over into science does not mean that there are no persons, but only that a scientific theory of persons will classify them with other things — for example, with apes or other mammals.There is a lot more in the essay, which I recommend reading in full. I also recommend reading the critique by John Hyman that I also linked to.
Now, let me see, what piece of music would be appropriate to end with? As I recall, the Wall Street Journal put up an article about how recent research has shown that the emotional effect of Adele comes from, now brace yourself, because this will be a surprise: the use of the appoggiatura!!
Actually, I suspect that a lot of what helps that song is the feeling of inevitability in the well-worn chord progression:
Which is not so terribly different from this chord progression:
|Click to enlarge|
Both work their magic with a simple arpeggiation in which the bass descends while the upper voices remain the same (for a while). In the second example the chords are C# minor, then with a seventh in the bass (C#4/2), then A major, D major and G# major. The second piece is by Beethoven, his piano sonata known as op. 27, no. 2, or the "Moonlight" Sonata.