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Blacking, Professor John – How musical is man? – A ‘simple’ ‘folk’ song may have more human value than a ‘complex’ symphony



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Blacking, Professor John – How musical is man?

By learning more about the automatic complexity of the human body, we may be able to prove conclusively that all men are born with potentially brilliant intellects, or at least a very high degree of cognitive competence, and that the source of cultural creativity is the consciousness that springs from social cooperation and loving interaction.

By discovering precisely how music is created and appreciated in different social and cultural contexts, and perhaps establishing that musicality is a universal, species-specific characteristic, we can show that human beings are even more remarkable than we presently believe them to be-and not just a few human beings, but all human beings-and that the majority of us live far below our potential, because of the oppressive nature of most societies. Armed with this vital information about the minds of men, we can begin to discredit forever the myths about the "stupidity" of the majority and the supposedly "innate" selfishness and aggressiveness of man, which are peddled all the time by people who use them to justify the coercion of their fellow men into undemocratic social systems.

In a world in which authoritarian power is maintained by means of superior technology, and the superior technology is supposed to indicate a monopoly of intellect, it is necessary to show that the real sources of technology, of all culture, are to be found in the human body and in cooperative interaction between human bodies. Even falling in love may be more significant as a cognitive activity in which learned categories are realigned, than as an exertion of the sex organs or a hormonal reaction.

 In a world such as ours, in this world of cruelty and exploitation in which the tawdry and the mediocre are proliferated endlessly for the sake of financial profit, it is necessary to understand why a madrigal by Gesualdo or a Bach Passion, a sitar melody from India or a song from Africa, Berg's Wozzeck or Britten's War Requiem, a Balinese gamelan or a Cantonese opera, or a symphony by Mozart, Beethoven, or Mahler, may be profoundly necessary for human survival, quite apart from any merit they may have as examples of creativity and technical progress. It is also necessary to explain why, under certain circumstances, a "simple" "folk" song may have more human value than a "complex" symphony.

The source of the experience

Blacking, Professor John

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps


Music therapy