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Music and Consciousness: Observations and questions John Sloboda Keele University

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Presentation on theme: "Music and Consciousness: Observations and questions John Sloboda Keele University"— Presentation transcript:

1 Music and Consciousness: Observations and questions John Sloboda Keele University

2 The papers so far Apparently chaotic range of different approaches, data and theories Disorientation regarding intellectual purpose Are there as many enterprises as there are papers, or are there commonalities What motivates MY interest in consciousness?

3 Goals of research Increase in human benefit Role of music in health, well-being, actualisation, mastery, goal-achievement, quality of life Can the study of consciousness in music lead to clear human benefit?

4 Definitions vary “Portmanteau” term that encompasses a range of distinct phenomena. I am interested in “a mental phenomenon occuring in the individual that is accompanied by joint awareness of the phenomenon and the self that is experiencing the phenomenon” - this is happening - it is happening to me - I am experiencing it as happening to me (and therefore can monitor/report on it)

5 Relationship to other key concepts Cognition, attention, memory, anticipation, etc. Much cognition is not conscious Is all consciousness cognition? What is the relationship between consciousness and attention?

6 Two aspects of consciousness (a) Consciousness as epiphenomenon – The shadow cast on awareness by cognition. We are helpless spectators of our own uncontrollable internal processes (b) Consciousness as agency - Part of a specific cognitive toolkit designed to enable appropriate decision-making by the refocusing and re-allocation of cognitive resources. Can we understand (b) sufficiently to enhance it? (accepting that consciousness on its own has no purpose, it always functions with other elements)

7 Agency is multifaceted A map of agency is essentially a map of functionality which reflects 1) Lasting human purposes (inter-cultural and species-defining) - e.g. survival needs (safety) 2) Social contexts in which humans subsist (culturally and historically specific – habitus) - e.g. using public transport

8 A specific approach to music Person-focused rather than work (opus) - focused (starts from the person engaging with the music rather than the “music as object”) Music on its own has no meaning or purpose (meaning and functionality arises from how music relates to other elements in a specific event: the music-context complex)

9 Vernacular comes before elite Emphasis on common vernacular contexts as the root and ground for more specialist contexts: e.g. Carer-infant interactions in child-rearing Child’s play (playground songs and dances) Religious rituals (e.g.church/mosque) -

10 What is the most common form of musical consciousness in our culture? The “three minute” recorded commercial track Recipient is musically untrained Music is accompaniment or “background” for some other activity The music takes place in mundane locations (home, transport, shops) not places specially “reserved” for music, “Mood management” is a key purpose

11 Key psychological dimensions Framing the parameters of the conscious experience Degree of choice over what is heard Degree of attention allocated to the music (are we implicitly assuming high choice and high attention – because this is what we seek from music for our own purposes?)

12 Varieties of attention Analytic (task-oriented: key attribute concentration) exemplar activities: memorising, co-ordinating with Absorbed (object-oriented: key attribute fascination) exemplar activities: contemplation, exploration Evaluative (self-oriented: key attribute self-monitoring) exemplar activities: mood or arousal management, reminiscence, identity projection)

13 Methodological issues Concurrent monitorng of contents of consciousness changes the contents Retrospective monitoring suffers from memory loss/distortion Many contents of consciousness are not easily verbalisable or reportable

14 Research tactics Use naturally occuring musical situation, rather than laboratory settings Obtain data as close to the musical event as possible Geographically close - e.g. at home next to the music storage and delivery devices Temporally close – e.g. as soon after the experience as possible

15 Data extraction Experience sampling methodology (e.g. use of cell phone to enquire “what just happened?”) Continuous monitoring methodologies (minimal contemporaneous response – e.g. use of button or dial – followed by retrospective elaboration) Verbal reports are best Other behavioural manifestations are next best (e.g. facial expressios, movements, precisely because these are interpretable in a hermeneutic framework) Recordings of brain events are close to useless, because they show only correlates, not contents.

16 Conclusions/questions Shared intellectual aims/ orientations? Shared unanswered questions? - Personal or transpersonal view of consc. - Vernacular or elite context - Chosen versus unchosen music - Music as foreground or music as background - Experimental or real-world approach - Verbal reports versus brain recordings


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