I’ve been musing in my last couple of blogs about the healthy necessity for humans to stay in motion, and the deleterious effects of spending long periods seated. (See my May 1 post.) In my quest for more information I found a Scientific American article about dance, and how much humans like to play music and dance to it.
During the evolution of our species, if we needed to stay in motion for our very survival, it makes sense that our brains would evolve to promote motion. One way our brains promote life-sustaining activities is by making them pleasurable and making us want to repeat them. This is why we love salty, fatty, and sweet foods. Tens of thousands of years ago, such foods were exceedingly scarce, so we needed to love them and eat as much of them as we could on the rare occasions when they were available.
Our brains make things pleasurable and worth repeating by sending out dopamine, a neurotransmitter behind lots of learning and, alas, addiction.
So here’s a wonderful clue to some of the greatest artistic accomplishments of our species. Perhaps rhythm, music, and dance arose out of repeated spurts of dopamine, urging our bodies and minds to keep us in motion. Then, as musical skills developed, perhaps musical activities became pleasurable in their own right. Perhaps we just wanted to engage in them because we enjoyed them so much.
To steal a line from Shakespeare: “If music be the food of love, play on!”