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Doing things with music

Two items of note (at least for me) from the excellent Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences: great to see this journal flourishing. I recall a correspondence with an eminent emeritus professor of philosophy at McGill around 2000 who nearly had a coronary when I told him of my interest in phenomenology (he’s still with us and quite productive). The bile that came through his letter (hard copy) was palpable. Anyway, the professor in question is no longer “where it’s at” so here’s a fascinating paper by Joel Krueger – “Doing things with music” (abstract below). Also a review of Larry Shapiro’s Embodied Cognition, a book I’m (still) very much looking forward to reading – first paragraph of the review below as well. Both writers are very versatile in their interests and I’ve been honoured to have had them as contributors to previous projects (very generous with their time) I’ve pulled together (Larry Shapiro; Joel Krueger).

Doing things with music

This paper is an exploration of how we do things with music—that is, the way that we use music as an “esthetic technology” to enact micro-practices of emotion regulation, communicative expression, identity construction, and interpersonal coordination that drive core aspects of our emotional and social existence. The main thesis is: from birth, music is directly perceived as an affordance-laden structure. Music, I argue, affords a sonic world, an exploratory space or “nested acoustic environment” that further affords possibilities for, among other things, (1) emotion regulation and (2) social coordination. When we do things with music, we  are engaged in the work of creating and cultivating the self, as well as creating and cultivating a shared world that we inhabit with others. I develop this thesis by first introducing the notion of a “musical affordance”. Next, I look at how “emotional affordances” in music are exploited to construct and regulate emotions. I summon empirical research on neonate music therapy to argue that this is something we emerge from the womb knowing how to do. I then look at “social affordances” in music, arguing that joint attention to social affordances in music alters how music is both perceived and appropriated by joint attenders within social listening contexts. In support, I describe the experience of listening to and engaging with music in a live concert setting. Thinking of music as an affordance-laden structure thus reaffirms the crucial role that music plays in constructing and regulating emotional and social experiences in everyday life.

Embodied Cognition

Lawrence Shapiro’s Embodied Cognition is one of the first detailed book length attempts to introduce and develop the central themes of embodied cognition, an important trend in cognitive science.1 Embodied cognition is increasingly influential, but it would be a mistake to characterize it as a rigidly defined and unified theory. It emerged from a variety of fields (e.g., the phenomenological movement in philosophy, ecological, and developmental psychology, robotics, ethology, and dynamical systems theory) and therefore still suffers from internal disagreements over fundamental issues, such as its subject matter, its methodological commitments, the exact nature and definition of “embodiment,” and the extent to which embodiment matters in explaining cognition. Thus, the explanatory capacity and successes of the embodied cognition program depend upon further clarification of these issues. Providing this clarification, it seems, is the primary motivation behind Shapiro’s book.