Humans aren't the only ones ruled by what followers of Islam call haraam, forbidden activities. Each species -- and within species each culture responding to local conditions -- comes up with magic think to avoid unwanted consequences. Babe (above) and especially Tiny (below) have ofen exhibited what we term proto-religious behaviors, watching our own behavior and adapting theirs to try to avoid undesirable responses.
"Listening to music and singing is a sin and cause for the sickening and weakening of the heart," according to one of the multifarious self-proclaimed interpreters of the true Islam out there in cyberspace. The buzz word is haraam -- forbidden -- but no two sources agree upon what is, indeed, haraam. While some say no:
Many Muslim leaders, notably those of Salafi, Wahabi, and Deobandi tendencies . . . believe that music is forbidden both by the Qur'an and by the hadith, as well as by tradition.
Others say no, no:
Other Muslims retort that music is forbidden only if it leads the believer into sins like drinking alcohol and carousing with courtesans. Music can be a harmless accompaniment to family or community celebrations or to public devotions.
Tiny's the one who's totally attuned to our every nuance of behavior, ever on the alert for signs of imminent disaster. The big one is when we're loading the car and about to head off down east for Goomp's. She always picks up on subtle cues and heads for the hills. Her latest religious/superstitious ritual has to do with medication. Until recently, we were administering Flovent by inhaler daily, which she hated. The vet said it was okay to discontinue that and just keep giving her half an anti-inflammatory pill concealed in her food once every other day, but try telling that to her. Every time we pick up our own anti-inflammatory eye drops, she freezes in horror and makes herself scarce.
Watch out for those courtesans, you bearded wonders, and don't get us started on drinking alcohol. Unlike your Western counterparts, you psychologically constipated scolds appear to lack the curiosity that leads to enlightenment. Enter modrin science, stage right, with Farhad Manjoo's "This Is Your Brain on Music" at Slate [via enrevanche]:
What's interesting about how our brains respond to music -- rather than, say, language -- is the large number of systems that are activated by the experience. In addition to the cerebellum, music taps into the frontal lobes (a "higher-order" region that processes musical structure), and it also activates the mesolimbic system, which Levitin explains is "involved in arousal, pleasure, the transmission of opioids and the production of dopamine." This is why certain music can feel so pleasurable, producing such deep emotions -- it's simultaneously operating on various parts of our brains, and the response is something on the order of taking a hit of heroin.
We think it all goes back to Oxytocin Dearest -- Baby rats are just like us. [In our own case, the music we love best, beyond the obvious Mozart, Schubert & Company, is sultry jazz. It reminds us of our mother's silky, soothing tones from childhood.] They want their mommy -- but the scientists of the current study say it gels during adolescence, which sounds about right:
Clearly, though, we don't all find pleasure in the same music -- and what determines whether we end up loving Billy Corgan, Billy Idol, Billie Holiday or Billy Shatner is mostly a matter of what we listen to when when we're young. Studies suggest that we start listening to and remembering music in the womb (but playing Mozart to your baby, and indeed playing Mozart to yourself, will not make you smarter -- studies showing that famous effect have largely been debunked). Humans prefer music of their own culture when they're toddlers, but it's in our teens that we choose the specific sort of music that we'll love forever. These years, Levitin explains, are emotional times, "and we tend to remember things that have an emotional component because our amygdala and neurotransmitters act in concert to 'tag' the memories as something important." In addition, our brains are undergoing massive changes up until the teen years -- after that, the brain structure becomes more fixed, and it begins to prune, rather than grow, neural connections.
"There is compelling support, Levitin says, for the idea that our brains evolved to respond to music in this way; in other words, it is no accident -- and rather it's by evolutionary design -- that we are so good at processing music." In our view, it depends upon what your definition of "design" is, but we fundamentally agree. We would have used the term natural selection rather than design. We were caught up short, though, when Levitin declared that
One bit of evidence is the ubiquity of music across cultures, and across history. "No known human culture now or anytime in the recorded past lacked music," Levitin notes.
'Guess he hasn't been following the joy-free, human-nature-denying trail of Jihad.
If it's joy you're after, head over to Watermark for the 128th Carnival of the Cats.
Update: Pajamas Media links.