Music is Cheesecake

What is music? Why do we have it? “It was an evolutionary accident,” says Dan Levitin, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at McGill University who has written books and papers on why we have music and why we like it.Levitin says the accident idea is a big one. It went public back in 1997 when Harvard professor Steven Pinker, a world-renowned author and experimental psychologist, got up in front of a group of musicologists and cognitive scientists at a meeting and said words to the effect of, “You’re all wasting your time because music is cheesecake.”

Auditory cheesecake.

“Cheesecake is interesting,” Levitin explains. “We have this great fondness for it, but we didn’t evolve a taste for cheesecake. In our hunter-gatherer days, it was an adaptive strategy to load up on fats and sweets because they were very hard to find.”

A Pachyderm’s Ditty Prompts An Elephantine Debate


Shanthi explores her yard at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., in 2010. The 36-year-old Asian elephant loves blowing into a harmonica.

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