The hard problems of consciousness and music
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The Hard Problems of Consciousness and Music. Eugene Montague University of Central Florida [email protected] Chalmers on the “Hard Problem”. The Conscious Mind (Oxford University Press, 1996)

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The Hard Problems of Consciousness and Music

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The hard problems of consciousness and music

The Hard Problems of Consciousness and Music

  • Eugene Montague

  • University of Central Florida

  • [email protected]


Chalmers on the hard problem

Chalmers on the “Hard Problem”

  • The Conscious Mind(Oxford University Press, 1996)

  • The hard problem is: How to explain consciousness within the framework of contemporary cognitive theory?

  • A reassessment of an old problem. Chalmers’ novelty lay in:

    • Catching onto and generating contemporary interest in phenomenality in cognitive science

    • Concise formulation


Music s hard problem

Music’s “Hard Problem”

  • Words, and concepts, are often deemed inapplicable to music

  • For many, the experience of music is not captured by theoretical concepts and writing

  • Music’s hard problem: How to explain common modes of musical experience within the context of theory and analysis


Two problems compared

Two Problems Compared

  • The problem of consciousness is structurally similar to that of music

  • Both problems come about through an emphasis on empirical objectivity

  • Both involve an explanatory gap between empirical theory and subjective experience

  • These similarities suggest that solutions can be shared and that these solutions might be mutually illuminating


Cognitive science and phenomenology

Cognitive Science and Phenomenology

  • Empirical scientists and philosophers have developed considerable interest in phenomenality over the previous decade

  • Responding to this, many phenomenologists have sought to bring phenomenology and cognitive science closer

  • Naturalizing Phenomenology(Stanford UP, 1999), a touchstone for this project. Includes phenomenologists of many various strands, but all draw on the legacy of Husserl, itself constantly re-appraised


Music and phenomenology

Music and Phenomenology

  • Phenomenology has had a somewhat muted influence on Anglo-American musical scholarship. Emphasis has been placed on the idealistic and anti-naturalist strains of Husserl’s thought, away from central currents in music theory

  • Phenomenologists of music might learn from the “naturalizing phenomenology” project

  • This entails adopting a perspective wherein phenomenology works side by side with empirical research, whether cognitive or more traditional music theory


Phenomenology music and analysis

Phenomenology, Music and Analysis

  • What can phenomenology bring to questions of music and musical meaning?

    • Emphasis on intentionality in creating meaning

    • A consequent highlighting of musical perspectives, including differences between composers, performers, and listeners

    • Rehabilitation of subjective experience, within an established method

    • Analysis of time-consciousness and musical temporality


Analysing time consciousness in music

Analysing Time-Consciousness in Music

  • Analysis of prelude draws on Husserl’s notion of time-consciousness, poised between retention and protention

  • This basis in phenomenological theory is linked to considerations of practical music-making, and cognitive constraints

  • The topic of temporality is central to both consciousness and music


Husserl on time consciousness

Husserl on Time-Consciousness

Example 1: Husserl’s diagram of the structure of temporal consciousness from the Bernauer MSS.

(after Rodemeyer, “Developments in the Theory of Time-Consciousness.” Donn Welton (ed.) The New Husserl, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2003.)


J s bach prelude in d major wtc bk 1

J. S. Bach, Prelude in D major, WTC Bk. 1


Determining a temporal unit

Determining a Temporal Unit

Example 2: Following “x” at the start of Bach’s prelude (metrical projection).


Protention and retention

Protention and Retention

Example 3: Mapping protention and retention onto the prelude’s opening bar.


Changing boundaries of time consciousness

Changing Boundaries of Time-Consciousness

Example 4: Developing “y” from “x” at the start of the prelude


Extending temporal consciousness

Extending Temporal Consciousness

Example 5: The temporal unit outlined by “z” at the start of bar 3.


Re adjusting the temporal horizon

Re-adjusting the Temporal Horizon

Example 6: Narrowing the temporal fringes as “z” fails in bar 3


Consciousness and music

Consciousness and Music

  • By incorporating phenomenological approaches, music can address its “hard problem” while retaining approaches based in empiricism and cognitive science

  • Such studies in music foreground its status as an intentional object, and therefore provide opportunities to investigate consciousness in relation to the world, especially in its temporal aspects


Selected works cited

Selected Works Cited

  • Berthoz, A. (2000). The Brain's Sense of Movement. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

  • Chalmers, D. (1996). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York, Oxford University Press.

  • Chalmers, D. (1997). "Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness." Journal of Consciousness Studies 4(1): 3-46.

  • Clifton, T. (1983). Music as Heard: A Study in Applied Phenomenology. New Haven, Yale University Press.

  • Damasio, A. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York, Harcourt.

  • Gallagher, S. (1998). The Inordinance of Time. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press.

  • Gallagher, S. (2003). "Sync-Ing in the Stream of Consciousness." Psyche 9(10).

  • Gallagher, S. and F. Varela (2003). Redrawing the Map and Resetting the Time: Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. The Problem of Consciousness: New Essays in Phenomenological Philosophy of Mind. E. Thompson. Calgary, Alberta, University of Alberta Press: 93-132.

  • Lewin, D. (1986). "Music theory, phenomenology, and modes of perception." Music Perception III(4 (summer 1986)): 327-392.

  • Lochhead, J. (1989). Temporal Structure in Recent Music. Understanding the Musical Experience. J. Smith. New York, Gordon and Breach: 121-165.

  • Nagel, T. (1974). "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" Philosophical Review 4: 435-450.

  • O'Shaughnessy, B. (2000). Consciousness and the World. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

  • Rodemeyer, L. (2003). Developments in the Theory of Time-Consciousness: An Analysis of Protention. The New Husserl: A Critical Reader. D. Welton. Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press: 125-156.

  • Roy, J.-M., J. Petitot, et al. (1999). Beyond the Gap: An Introduction to Naturalizing Phenomenology. Naturalizing Phenomenology: Issues in Contemporary Phenomenology and Cognitive Science. J.-M. Roy, J. Petitot, B. Pachoud and F. Varela. Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press: 1-83.

  • Searle, J. (2004). Mind: A Brief Introduction. New York, Oxford University press.

  • Smith, J. (1973). "Musical Sound as a model for Husserlian intuition and time-consciousness." Journal of Phenomenological psychology IV(1): 271-96.

  • Smith, J. (1989). Variation in Music and Thought: A Critique of Factualism. Understanding the Musical Experience. J. Smith. New York, Gordon and Breach: 209-227.


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