Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Hey Bill Nye! What Makes Music So Human and So Powerful?

Music is an undeniably powerful force, and the science behind it suggests we create music because of some deeply rooted impulses. Bill Nye the Science Guy explains how deep our love of music is.

Aides: Hey Bill Nye, Aiden from California. I'm a musician, a songwriter, and I really would like to know what makes music so human and powerful in its nature? Thank you.

Bill Nye: Well Aiden, as you know I know everything. I don't know why but it sure is deep within us. Now, I remember when I was in school people in psychology class talked about dogs responding to octaves, that is the doubling of the frequency. And so there may be something to that that there are natural resonances that appeal to us that have something to do with our voices. I mean I'm not an expert on this but I've been to China and people will listen to sort of western disco music but other music, like a swing music, that doesn't appeal to them. They don't like it. There's something about the traditions with tonal language speakers versus us that doesn't jive, doesn't fit in. But then in Japan it's not a tonal language but they also got something that sounds more like Chinese to me. I don't know, it is deep within us and I will say that if you want to get to Carnegie Hall practice, practice, practice.


I will say scales are very important. Do scales. That's what it's all based on somewhere down there. And if you're going to play the blues, I'm looking at you with your guitar, if you're going to play the blues you got to get a couple minor chords in there. You got to have a major third and a seventh or something like that. But I'm not sure why, but it's got to be just ultimately based on trying to attract a mate. That's got to be what's down in there.

It is called the universal language — music — yet speakers of different languages prefer different genres. Cultures that communicate using tonal languages, for example, have markedly different musical traditions than western languages. Yet the primacy of music across so many distinct human cultures suggests a deeply embedded drive to create it — and groove to it. In this video, Bill Nye talks science, culture, and musical notation.


Recalling his college psychology classes (Mr. Nye is a career engineer, but sometimes we like to throw him a curve ball), the Science Guy knows that dogs respond to octaves, defined as the doubling of the pitch frequency. So certain qualities of music that are also found in speech affect behavior in natural ways, which also suggests that musical qualities are buried deep in our evolutionary history.

Responding to Big Think fan Aiden, from California, Bill Nye does what he has done throughout his career as a popular science educator: encourage young people to be diligent in their studies, whether the subject is science or music. So if you want to get to Carnegie Hall, it is going to take a lot of practice. After all, refining millions of years of evolutionary forces and expressing it through a string or a brass tube is not easy. And if you want to play jazz, make sure you include a major seventh cord (which is not bad musical knowledge for an engineer).

Ultimately, says Bill Nye, whatever drives us to create music is so deep within us it must serve a very basic purpose. And what purpose is more basic, more fundamental, than procreation? Likely none, and there is likely no greater purpose belonging to music, evolutionarily speaking, than to bring people close together — very close together.

Take your career to the next level by raising your EQ

Emotional intelligence is a skill sought by many employers. Here's how to raise yours.

Gear
  • Daniel Goleman's 1995 book Emotional Intelligence catapulted the term into widespread use in the business world.
  • One study found that EQ (emotional intelligence) is the top predictor of performance and accounts for 58% of success across all job types.
  • EQ has been found to increase annual pay by around $29,000 and be present in 90% of top performers.
Keep reading Show less

Face mask study reveals worst material for blocking COVID-19

A study published Friday tested how well 14 commonly available face masks blocked the emission of respiratory droplets as people were speaking.

Fischer et al.
Coronavirus
  • The study tested the efficacy of popular types of face masks, including N95 respirators, bandanas, cotton-polypropylene masks, gaiters, and others.
  • The results showed that N95 respirators were most effective, while wearing a neck fleece (aka gaiter) actually produced more respiratory droplets than wearing no mask at all.
  • Certain types of homemade masks seem to be effective at blocking the spread of COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

You want to stop child abuse? Here's how you can actually help.

Sharing QAnon disinformation is harming the children devotees purport to help.

Photo: Atjanan Charoensiri / Shutterstock
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The conspiracy theory, QAnon, is doing more harm than good in the battle to end child trafficking.
  • Foster youth expert, Regan Williams, says there are 25-29k missing children every year, not 800k, as marketed by QAnon.
  • Real ways to help abused children include donating to nonprofits, taking educational workshops, and becoming a foster parent.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore cellular function in 32 dead pig brains

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
Keep reading Show less

Here’s a map of Mars with as much water as Earth

A 71% wet Mars would have two major land masses and one giant 'Medimartian Sea.'

Image: A.R. Bhattarai, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • Sci-fi visions of Mars have changed over time, in step with humanity's own obsessions.
  • Once the source of alien invaders, the Red Planet is now deemed ripe for terraforming.
  • Here's an extreme example: Mars with exactly as much surface water as Earth.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast