The biology and evolution of rhythm: unravelling a paradox
Periodicity is a ubiquitous feature of all living things, and coupled biological oscillators entrain to each other readily. Despite this, humans are rare if not unique in their ability to entrain their musical motor output to that of others during singing, dancing, and playing in ensembles. This presents something of a paradox concerning human rhythmic entrainment and all that goes with it: why should a phenomenon seemingly so basic be (apparently) so rare in nature? The paradox, put simply, is this: if periodicity and entrainment are ubiquitous features of all living organisms, why can't dogs dance? This chapter examines this paradox from multiple comparative viewpoints, exploring similarities and differences between humans and other animals, between different aspects of music (harmony and rhythm), and between music and spoken language. It suggests that the ‘paradox of rhythm’ can be resolved by recognizing that human rhythmic behaviour comprises several different components, each with their own biological basis and evolutionary history. It identifies at least three separable components underlying the human capacity for rhythmic behaviour. These include periodic motor pattern generation itself (an ancient and ubiquitous phenomenon); pulse (or ‘beat’) extraction from complex patterns (a form of perceptual cognition that is shared with speech, at least); and entrainment of one's own motor output to this inferred ‘beat’ (which may be the most biologically unusual feature of human rhythmic behaviour).
Oxford Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.
If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.