Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #25 
(original pub. date, Lion Magazine, 1995)

The Musical Mammal                              

The Naples Renaissance Society has awarded its "Golden Leonardo" for 1989 to Prof. Uracil Lipid of the Albanian Institute for the Arts and Automotive Repair, for his "unswerving drive, even in school zones, to solidify all human knowledge at room temperature". We herewith reprint the text of Prof. Lipid's acceptance speech.

Honored Guests and Steamed Colleagues!

In a recent issue of Natural History, eminent Harvard paleontologist, Stephen Gould, spoke of music as merely "one of those non-adaptive structural consequences of a big brain built by natural selection for other reasons." After one whole semester of biology, I now feel fully qualified to point out to the good professor that music is not simply a "biologically useful structure," but is, in the truest Darwinian sense, an adaptive feature, built by natural selection, which has enhanced our reproductive success, shaped our species and allowed it to survive.

At my secret laboratory high in the Gabardinian Alps, assisted by my faithful servants Igor and Tanya—cretin and buxom, respectively
I have conducted three experiments to which I would now like to draw your attention.

Experiment number one has to do with the so-called "taunt song," universally recognized as "Nyaa-na-na-na-naaa-naaah!". There, don't you feel your hackles rise as you sing that over in your mind? (Those of you without hackles may have to take some of this on faith). Those aren't just bad childhood memories. That's instinct!
the JAWS of evolutionary rage cruising just below the surface in the deep end of your gene pool, friends.

In this tightly controlled  experiment, we exposed one group of volunteers (peasants from a local village) to the "taunt song". We then exposed a control group to the two spoken control taunts, "Sez you!" and "Oh, yeah?!" We also used a placebo taunt, "Your railway is green!" Although some control subjects did experience the well-documented "flight-or-fight" response, only the musical taunt elicited the ferocious "Fight?
Damn Right!" response. In fact, in one instance, the volunteers were on the verge of tearing the test singer limb from limb and could only be pacified by volunteers pushing 135 decibels of Roll Over Beethoven, sung by Chuck Berry, through the bars of the test cage. Which group do you think is fittest in evolutionary terms? You catch on fast.

Experiment two is less dramatic, but equally to the point. The dinner chant "Come and get it!" was sung to a group of test children outside a test cave by a test mom preparing a test pot of pterodactyl flesh (a species of which winged reptile still survives high in the Gabardines, thriving off of small rodents and farmhands). An equally famished group of children was grunted at. The kids answering the musical call were quicker off the mark. Again, who do you think survived? (Of peripheral scientific interest is the fact that the control group,  although eventually weeded out by natural selection, had 84% fewer cavities).

In experiment three, the lullaby "Go to sleep, go to sleep," was compared with typical Olduvai Gorge cajolings, such as "Knock it off, willya?!" and "Shut up that racket!" The sung-to tykes conked out almost immediately. The control group wanted to stay up "just a little while longer" and watch hand shadows on the cave wall. Which group is better rested? Fitter? Right, again.

So, on the one hand, we have a group exposed to music. They are well-rested, well-fed and nasty. In short, us. Then, we have the tired, hungry and passive. ("Huddled masses" stuff like that may look good on the Statue of Liberty, but we're talking survival value, here, not poetry). They probably turned out to be the gorillas, those wimps who sit around in the morning mist in Rwanda scratching themselves and dimly wondering just how fire, the wheel, and agriculture passed them by.

I'd like to leave you with a grim warning for our own descendants: the first four notes of the "Hallelujah Chorus" and "Yes, We Have No Bananas" are identical. Thank you."

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