A dandy fainting or - an exquisite in fits by Isaac Robert Cruikshank, 1818

Project (2017-)

A Historical and Critical Neuroscience of Music

Over the past twenty years neuroscience huge strides have been made in our understanding of how the brain reacts to music, and representations of music’s effects in the humanities increasingly reflect the prestige of neurology. Discussion of music and the brain has become the location of a highly significant but often unacknowledged interaction between cultural practices and epistemologies of scientific knowledge. Neuroscience has systematically advanced claims to explain not only the electrophysiological impact of music but also the nature of the musical experience and aesthetics. Some contributors to the debate on the subject seems to assume these developments mark the belated overcoming by science of an unbroken speculative, indeed superstitious, aesthetic tradition of thinking about music. However, far from being a new phenomenon, essentially medical neurological understandings of the body have long played a powerful role in thinking on music, its effects and its aesthetics. This project will therefore examine the historical roots of neuroscientific thinking on music and consider its potential and limitations as a way of understanding music.