human behavior

Without music, life would be a mistake

These words of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, uttered more than 100 years ago, expressed an intuitive understanding of the importance of music for the human existence. While many people may have had a general sense of this to be true, it has been only in recent years that researchers have been able to provide evidence as to the power and influence of music.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) revealed that music it is the only human activity that involves each and every region of our brains. Listening to music, in a nutshell, can make you smarter, but play an instrument and you are on your way to being remarkable. No doubt, music enriches people’s lives on the molecular, intellectual, and emotional levels.

Music training and learning an instrument can significantly improve our motor and reasoning skills. Music also helps us exercise. More than 90 years ago, American researcher Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedaled faster when listening to music than without it. The reason being, music can override the signals of fatigue our body is sending to our brain and so instead of stopping exercising, we continue on. Not only can we push through the pain to exercise longer and harder when we listen to music, but it can actually help us to use our energy more efficiently. Some studies have shown that cyclists who listened to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as those who cycled in silence. It is interesting to note that this is mostly beneficial for low- and moderate-intensity exercise. The same is true for ambient noise, which at moderate levels, has shown to promote abstract processing, leading to higher creativity.

But maybe you just like to listen to music and give in to the emotions that come with it. But be aware that the music we listen to influence how we perceive the world around us. For instance, the way we interpret a neutral expression as happy or sad, matches the tone of the music we just heard. And being able to distinguish between perceived emotions and felt emotions, i.e. allowing us to understand the emotions of a piece of music without actually ‘feeling’ them, is the reason why we can enjoy listening to sad music, rather than feeling depressed.

No doubt music is not only enjoyable, it is also good for you. It is part of humanity and represents some of the greatest accomplishments of our species. Without it, life would indeed be a mistake.

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Can we discipline ourselves?

As humans we have the desire to understand and explain the world around us. For millennia we have strived to answer questions about life, physics and natural laws. Now it seems we are forced to seek answers to problems we have caused ourselves. The questions are whether we still have time to act, or whether the natural systems have already reached a point of no return.

During times, when nature in general seemed to be indestructible, exerting power and control over all remaining life was considered a natural right. Nature was considered an interference factor and we did not think, and many still don’t, that our own behavior could, in one way or another, significantly impact the natural systems, let alone throw them out of balance. The reality is that the planet reacts very slow; so slow in fact that it requires long-term observations to measure disturbances, disruptions, breakdowns and malfunctions. Hence, the warning signs reach us with such a delay that we mistakenly conclude we could behave and do what we want without consequence. And so we release smoke, soot and toxins into our environment, polluting the place that gave us life, nurtured us, quenches our thirst, provides food and fills our lungs with air.

A mere 150 years ago, natural disasters were practically not influenced by humans at all. Solely reacting to events for millennia, many of which we could not even put into any context, let alone explain, we are incapable to anticipate the outcomes of our actions over the time periods our planet needs to react to man-made pressures and changes.

An additional handicap is that man’s time horizon is short, at best 25 years. He will, if he was alone, do nothing to protect the earth. In an ironic twist of fate it is our intellectual abilities and our technology-based civilization (which have advanced the quality of our lives) that now threaten the survival of all living things on earth – including humans. As the German philosopher Hans Jonas put it, in man nature has disturbed itself with our morality being the only mitigation factor. We are approaching the abyss, and the fundamental question we are facing is whether or not we will be able to discipline ourselves and change course.

We have lived through paradigm shifts before: we once believed that the sun moves around the earth only to have science prove that the opposite is true. Now we are told that the problems (global warming, sea level rise, depletion of the life-protecting (stratospheric) ozone layer, marine pollution, soil degradation and the loss of species and biotope diversity) don’t exist, are not as urgent, are not caused by us, or a combination of all of the above. Again, science has been providing evidence to the contrary but many people continue to believe that the future will be much like the past, the task of avoiding disaster falling to markets and technologies. But think about this: the earth is stable, it does not grow. The input of the sun likewise remains constant. Much of the wealth, derived from that input and stored over tens of millions of years in fossil fuels, has already been consumed in less than two centuries. No technology in the world can alter this equation. The greatest problem is the illusion that subtle changes in course direction could guide us towards a life of cozy shopping malls while ensuring the survival of the natural systems, the glorious diversity of life that surrounds us, and our own species.

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