The Hard Problems of Consciousness and Music

The Hard Problems
Consciousness and Music
Eugene Montague
University of Central Florida
Chalmers on
the “Hard Problem”
The Conscious Mind (Oxford University Press, 1996)
The hard problem is: How to explain consciousness
within the framework of contemporary cognitive
A reassessment of an old problem. Chalmers’ novelty
lay in:
1.Catching onto and generating contemporary interest
in phenomenality in cognitive science
2.Concise formulation
Music’s “Hard Problem”
Words, and concepts, are often deemed inapplicable
to music
For many, the experience of music is not captured by
theoretical concepts and writing
Music’s hard problem: How to explain common modes
of musical experience within the context of theory and
Two Problems Compared
The problem of consciousness is structurally similar to
that of music
Both problems come about through an emphasis on
empirical objectivity
Both involve an explanatory gap between empirical
theory and subjective experience
These similarities suggest that solutions can be
shared and that these solutions might be mutually
Cognitive Science and
Empirical scientists and philosophers have developed
considerable interest in phenomenality over the
previous decade
Responding to this, many phenomenologists have
sought to bring phenomenology and cognitive science
Naturalizing Phenomenology (Stanford UP, 1999), a
touchstone for this project. Includes
phenomenologists of many various strands, but all
draw on the legacy of Husserl, itself constantly reappraised
Music and
Phenomenology has had a somewhat muted
influence on Anglo-American musical scholarship.
Emphasis has been placed on the idealistic and antinaturalist strains of Husserl’s thought, away from
central currents in music theory
Phenomenologists of music might learn from the
“naturalizing phenomenology” project
This entails adopting a perspective wherein
phenomenology works side by side with empirical
research, whether cognitive or more traditional music
Music and Analysis
What can phenomenology bring to questions of music
and musical meaning?
1.Emphasis on intentionality in creating meaning
2.A consequent highlighting of musical perspectives,
including differences between composers, performers,
and listeners
3.Rehabilitation of subjective experience, within an
established method
4.Analysis of time-consciousness and musical
Analysing TimeConsciousness in Music
Analysis of prelude draws on Husserl’s notion of timeconsciousness, poised between retention and
This basis in phenomenological theory is linked to
considerations of practical music-making, and
cognitive constraints
The topic of temporality is central to both
consciousness and music
Husserl on TimeConsciousness
Example 1: Husserl’s diagram
of the structure of temporal
consciousness from the
Bernauer MSS.
(after Rodemeyer,
“Developments in the Theory
of Time-Consciousness.” Donn
Welton (ed.) The New Husserl,
Bloomington, IN: Indiana
University Press, 2003.)
J. S. Bach, Prelude in D
major, WTC Bk. 1
Determining a Temporal
Example 2: Following “x” at the start of Bach’s prelude (metrical projection).
Protention and Retention
Example 3: Mapping protention and retention onto the prelude’s opening bar.
Changing Boundaries of
Example 4: Developing “y” from “x” at the start of the prelude
Extending Temporal
Example 5: The temporal unit outlined by “z” at the start of bar 3.
Re-adjusting the Temporal
Example 6: Narrowing the temporal fringes as “z” fails in bar 3
Consciousness and Music
By incorporating phenomenological approaches,
music can address its “hard problem” while retaining
approaches based in empiricism and cognitive
Such studies in music foreground its status as an
intentional object, and therefore provide opportunities
to investigate consciousness in relation to the world,
especially in its temporal aspects
Selected Works Cited
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Chalmers, D. (1996). The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York, Oxford
University Press.
Chalmers, D. (1997). "Moving Forward on the Problem of Consciousness." Journal of Consciousness
Studies 4(1): 3-46.
Clifton, T. (1983). Music as Heard: A Study in Applied Phenomenology. New Haven, Yale University Press.
Damasio, A. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness.
New York, Harcourt.
Gallagher, S. (1998). The Inordinance of Time. Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press.
Gallagher, S. (2003). "Sync-Ing in the Stream of Consciousness." Psyche 9(10).
Gallagher, S. and F. Varela (2003). Redrawing the Map and Resetting the Time: Phenomenology and the
Cognitive Sciences. The Problem of Consciousness: New Essays in Phenomenological Philosophy of
Mind. E. Thompson. Calgary, Alberta, University of Alberta Press: 93-132.
Lewin, D. (1986). "Music theory, phenomenology, and modes of perception." Music Perception III(4
(summer 1986)): 327-392.
Lochhead, J. (1989). Temporal Structure in Recent Music. Understanding the Musical Experience. J.
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Nagel, T. (1974). "What Is It Like to Be a Bat?" Philosophical Review 4: 435-450.
O'Shaughnessy, B. (2000). Consciousness and the World. Oxford, Clarendon Press.
Rodemeyer, L. (2003). Developments in the Theory of Time-Consciousness: An Analysis of Protention. The
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Searle, J. (2004). Mind: A Brief Introduction. New York, Oxford University press.
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Phenomenological psychology IV(1): 271-96.
Smith, J. (1989). Variation in Music and Thought: A Critique of Factualism. Understanding the Musical
Experience. J. Smith. New York, Gordon and Breach: 209-227.