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Music is a funny thing, really... I wonder what people did without it.... I mean, I wonder what people did without TV too, but music moreso. And no, this isn't an MTV-generation style look at "Wow, I can't imagine my life without TV!!!!1!!", that's pointless and over-done. No, what I'm wondering is not what people actually did before those things, but what they thought about.

Let's go for some examples. For starters, I know the entire script, start to finish, of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, proving once and for all that no matter how hard I try, I'm still a total geek. Add to that a reasonable knowledge of the complete scripts to several more movies, and we already have quite a bit of information.

I guess my 1800s counterpart would have a knowledge of plays and performances - before I was really into TV and movies, I used to do drama, and I knew almost every line in the second act of The Golden Masque of Agamemnon, so I can see how that's possible. Where I would be learning movie scripts, he would be learning plays.

But then there's television. While in the last two years I've not been paying so much attention to TV, I still follow a good few soaps. Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks, Neighbours... If asked, I can give an outline of the characters, their actions over the past few years, their history, and that not only applies to the current characters, but every character in Neighbours and Eastenders for the past 10+ years. And that's before I get onto the various series that I watch, like Red Dwarf, Friends, Frasier, and the many things I used to watch that I still have a reasonable knowledge of. I can still tell you who played every Doctor Who companion right back to some point in the 1960s....

Then again, my nineteenth century equivalent would be far more well read than I. He would have a good working knowledge of literature. For every soap whose history I am fully aware of, he would be able to give similar accounts of sagas and series of books. He would be able to describe the characters and scenes in those books just as well as I, with my visual memory, would be able to describe those same things on TV. And where I know practically every joke from Friends, he would be able to relate various anecdotes more appropriate to his time and culture, and would know them all by heart.

So here we can see how my life of TV and movies can compare to his life of plays and books. And one can imagine that these are in some way equivalent, and that neither of us has a greater mental capacity than the other. While my memory works in a more visual way, since I can recall the images I have seen, his would work in a more imaginative way, leading to him perhaps being more creative than me.

But then we come to music, and my poor 200-year-old sidekick suddenly loses any sort of edge he might have once been able to claim. I know the complete lyrics to well over a thousand songs (without exaggeration - try counting songs yourself, you'll see), I know the guitar tabs to over a hundred, and have a knowledge of what the music sounds like in literally thousands of songs. But largely, it's the lyrics that astound me. I know the words to far more than a thousand songs, which amounts to learning a song every week since I was born. Yet I could sit here, and list for you a thousand songs whose lyrics I know, if I had the time.

My poor nineteenth century counterpart, on the other hand, could probably not even hope to keep up. Because he lacks the stimulus to learn, due to the technology of the times. I'll confess, at least 500 of the songs I know the complete lyrics to are pop shite. I know the words to Unchained Melody, and not because of the Righteous Brothers version. I know a good many Britney Spears songs, Backstreet Boys songs, I know Eminem raps, Savage Garden, 5ive, I know Abba songs, random 60s stuff, and this doesn't even start taking into account the fact that I have extensive collections of Everclear, The Ataris, Semisonic, Live, Goo Goo Dolls, The Beatles, where I know all the words too. And it's not just about words - it's about the notes, the melody. I know those too (even if I can't quite get them right all the time). I know what the backing music sounds like. I can identify songs from a couple of seconds of their introductions. It all amounts to a massive feat of memory.

In short, the music in today's culture is so stimulating and memorable that people seem to be able to remember a lot of it. The Me from the 1800s would be able to see musical renditions, and concerts, but infrequently, and not to the point where he would learn things especially quickly. He might see the same piece played a few times in a year, and remember it. If he had a copy of the sheet music, he might be able to learn it, but it's just not the same.

My point, if I have one, is that the human race is beginning to transcend basic evolution. Selection is a lot more complicated these days. People talk about sexual selection, survival of the prettiest, but this isn't a strong force for genetic trends at all. For starters, the aspects of one's appearance that determine how attractive society deems that person to be are not inherited. Individual characteristics are the only things that are determined genetically. And even if they were, very few people are denied the opportunity to reproduce because they look that bad.

Because of the human social dynamic, we now live in a society that rather than benefiting the strongest, helps the weakest. There are few, if any, "rules" that govern offspring. In the animal kingdom, a faster rabbit outruns its predators and is more likely to have offspring, and more of them. In our society, humans have adapted - in developed countries, people are more likely to survive and therefore they have more chance of having children and passing on their genes. However, a lot of them are all into their careers, and choose not to. In undeveloped countries, lacking proper healthcare, fewer people survive, but through little or no genetic reason, and those that do survive have more children, and rarely worry about how this will affect their salary or chance of becoming a partner in their firm.

Evolution has produced in humans what it could not produce in other animals. A truly adaptive species. It has been suggested (and I agree) that dolphins are more intelligent than us. They have a similar brain:body-mass ratio, yet are unconcerned with many of the things we humans trouble ourselves with, leading to a more philosophical, introspective approach to life. In an environment where hands would slow them down and make them easier prey, they have evolved to be thinkers rather than doers. We, on the other hand, seem to have evolved to do more of the doing, and less of the thinking (as our race's burning trail through history would suggest).

Bringing this back to my original point, I honestly believe that I have a much greater capacity for memory than the equivalent person 200 years ago (or at any rate, I have more in my memory than him). Setting aside the fact that genetic mutation does not work that fast, it's obviously not an evolutionary trait anyway - there is no specific advantage to having a greater memory. In fact, memory seems to work against evolution in many cases, as memory leads to experience, which works to override instinct. But I digress.

My point is that the human brain is highly adaptive - give it enough stimulus, and it'll just keep on coping with that. It makes us capable of "evolving" without selective pressure. Technically, we've already evolved, and we're just making use of what we have, but in practice of course, it gives every appearance of us improving as a species, so I think the term "evolution" (if not genetic) is appropriate. Had I listened to twice as much music growing up, I might well remember twice as much. It's hard to be specific, because memory capacity isn't the sort of thing that can truly be measured, but it seems fairly obvious that the more you're exposed to memorable stimuli, the more you are capable of remembering later in life.

Just a thought.....

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Some good points throughout, however you have to remember that as much as we have gained, we have also lost. The 19th Century fellow you talk about will almost certainly have a greater degree of what is often termed 'natural' knowledge (although the term 'natural' opens up a whole new can of post structural semiotic worms) - that concerning his surrounding environment. He would also have more ideas and knowledge of how to live, work and play without technology. I am at work now so cant really comment as I would like, but if you dont mind, I'll add you as a friend...

Yeah, I don't mind...

And yes, he would have all those ideas and knowledge, but at the same time, there would be equivalents regarding my knowledge of how to use technology, and how do perform tasks in today's modern world ('cept programming VCRs, but...). The thing that separates the people in the different timezones, to my mind, is the knowledge of music, for it has no equivalent.

It's funny how much information we absorb without even realising it. When we talk about an intuitive interface on an electrical appliance, we're referring very much to the intuition that comes with living in that way that we do. What would be instinctive to us would be foreign to a person from a couple of hundred years ago. It's that capacity for change in the species that never fails to impress me....

Ahem lj-cut ahem!


Fuck that, I never do LJ cuts when I write long posts... Only for things like surveys and things...

Grrrrrrr ... you mean I have to exert allm that effort on my mousewheel to avoid the diatribes! B4h! ;0)

hi, i luv your music taste!! you're not so bad yourself, but i'll be good... ;)

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