Eloquent as usual, and speaking in perfect, publishable paragraphs, here’s The Pinkah on The Really Big Questions podcast, discussing the evolutionary significance of music. (The bit is about 9 minutes long.)
Pinker argues that in fact that music is not an evolutionary adaptation, but a spandrel: a pleasurable byproduct of some other adaptation. What’s the “enabling” adaptation? In Pinker’s view, it’s language, which makes possible the production of music. (Reading is another such spandrel, another byproduct of language that simply couldn’t have been the direct object of selection.) Music is simply lagniappe from language: “auditory cheesecake.” He and host Dean Olsher then discuss, without resolution, whether music is a kind of language, or even a thought process.
Pinker notes that his view of music as a spandrel actually angered some people. He had figured that after making the thesis in How the Mind Works (1997) that many human behaviors have evolutionary roots, his suggestion that music is one exception would show that he wasn’t a diehard adaptationist, and not an ideologue sworn to see everything as a product of natural selection. But, he says, some musicians and scholars thought that if music were the product of selection, it would somehow validate its existence. Of course evolutionary roots don’t validate anything’s existence, since some human traits seen as bad (Pinker mentions genocide, itself a byproduct of xenophobia) were probably adaptive in our ancestors.
Click on the screenshot to go to the podcast: