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date: 25 January 2021

Abstract and Keywords

The “developmental stress hypothesis”—an extension of Zahavi’s “handicap principle” to account for the complexity and repertoire size of learned birdsong—harbors far-reaching implications for our understanding of human song and music, implications explored in this chapter. The assessment of song quality in species with vocal learning is proposed to engage a Bayesian-type neural mechanism whose emotional dimension spans from boredom, to interest/curiosity, and further—via a hedonic reversal—to being impressed or moved, with awe and a sense of sublimity at its high end. Music therefore achieves its psychological impact not by carrying language-like “meaning,” nor by being a “language of emotions,” but through its interaction with a basic perceptual/cognitive mechanism operating within the constraints of cultural traditions of learned patterned lore. The principles underpinning this analysis extend beyond music to human esthetics generally.

Keywords: Bayesian brain, birdsong, developmental stress, esthetics, handicap principle, hedonic reversal, music, novelty spectrum, vocal learning

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