Nativism and the Wiredin Circuitry

Dealing with music relies on low levels of reactive behaviour and higher levels of cognitive processing. As such, there are several related questions: (i) what is the role of innate and wired-in circuitry? (ii) Can music be processed automatically and at a preattentive level? (iii) Can we conceive of musical competence as an innate faculty somewhat analogous to linguistic competence? (iv) Are there brain substrates for music processing? (v) What is the role of emotion in music processing?

There are, first, information-processing mechanisms that are basic and innate and that rely on low-level neural architecture which functions as wired-in reactive circuitry. According to Damasio, they are designed to solve automatically the basic problems of life, such as finding sources of energy, incorporating and transforming energy, maintaining a chemical balance of the interior of the body, maintaining the organism's structure by repairing possible impairment and fending off external agents of threat. Most of these mechanisms are part of the regulatory homeostatic machinery that provides the innate and automatic equipment of life governance. At the bottom of this organisation are very simple responses such as approaching and withdrawing, or increases (arousal) and decreases in activity (calm or quiescence) (Damasio, 2004, p. 31).

Most of this reactive behaviour points into the direction of automatic processing beyond conscious and deliberate control. It involves a lot of biological regulation that engages evolutionary older and less developed structures of the brain such as the hypothalamus, brain stem, and limbic system. Such a 'primitive' processing mechanism, however, has considerable adaptive value: it provides the organisms with levels of elementary forms of decision making which rely on sets of neural circuits which do the deciding (Damasio, 1994, pp. 123-127).

According to Damasio, there are at least four levels which precede the stage of conscious control: the level of metabolic processes, basic reflexes and the immune system; the level of behaviours which are associated with the notion of pleasure or pain (reward or punishment); the level of drives and motivations - hunger, thirst, curiosity and exploration, play, and sex - and the level of emotions-proper (Damasio, 2004, p. 34). The whole machinery, however, ensures an organism's survival. Based on innate strategies, it permeates the human brain from the start of life with knowledge regarding how to manage the organism, including both the running of life processes and the handling of external events. The mechanisms, however, are rather general. It is interesting, therefore, to look for similar ones, which are related to the processing of music.

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