Why We Like Sad Music: Part Two

Music, Natural Dog Training, Panksepp and the Constructal Law



My argument is that the locomotive dynamic is the basis for our aesthetic appreciation of music, however not in the manner which is theorized in the article below, i.e. that synchronizing footfalls renders a beat of silence which then makes it easier to hear sounds from beyond, for example the advance of predators.


Nevertheless this second article is significant however because it shows how using survival as basis for any traits’ adaptive value can be used to justify any kind of trait via a circular logic loop. In my view, the adaptive value of music is indeed to heighten the capacity for synchronization but this is to amplify group efforts, and even more so because of the inherent structure of emotion and feelings. Emotion moves as a wave via feelings, and music is a perfect articulation of the wave dynamic. The purpose of evolution isn’t to survive. It’s to make information, i.e to improve the flow as per the Constructal law and the principle of emotional conductivity. Stress (the physical memory of unresolved emotion created by the resistance to emotional expression) is attracted to objects of resistance. See the following video.


The husky is attracted to the pile of leaves because it constitutes the OBJECT of his owner’s energies (literally, the pile is the material, objective result from the considerable energy that the owner invested in building it, also contributing to this charge is the rasping and/or metallic sound of the rake along with its preyful action (which the owner most probably taught the dog to leave alone by scolding), and these factors built up an emotional charge that became objectified as-the-pile so that the dog’s resistance/fear could find release. Even such behavior is related to the phenomenon of emotion and music by the way of how flow is increased by drawing individuals to objects of resistance around which they can synchronize and align. This is intimately linked to why dogs follow the human gaze and how wolves work together to bring down a large, dangerous prey animal. The animal mind is a flow system and all behavior it generates is about discordant or harmonic pathways. Discordant pathways build up a charge and intensify attraction to objects of resistance, and then harmonic pathways resolve this charge by importing said objects of resistance into the configuration. The pile of leaves is an indirect means by which the dog is trying to connect with his owner.

By running around the pile at high speed the dog is able to enter a state of emotional suspension. His subliminal beam of attention, becomes focused on his heart (and unlike the human rational mind, in a dog’s mind the subliminal beam of attention is the most prominent feature of its awareness, more so than its external focal gaze) and in this state it becomes possible to align and synchronize with others. Note that the dog is orbiting the pile, it has become a midpoint between itself and its owner, an objectified waypoint by which it is trying to connect with its owner.

Because of the phenomenon of emotional suspension, (i.e the feeling of weightlessness/resonance) we have to return to locomotion to get to the real key to understanding the emotional basis of music. The Panksepp study is particularly helpful because he concentrates on the phenomenon of the “chills” that are experienced to particularly evocative music, such as sad passages. Panksepp tries to underwrite the basis of this experience to his affective systems.

Panksepp (p.197)

“These powerful emotions, which emerged early in mammalian evolution were designed to solidify and elaborate the mandates and possibilities of social bonds.”

Happiness/joyfulness = vigorous social play

Sadness = separation distress due to social isolation

KB: But since animals don’t like being separated, why then do we LIKE sad music?

Panksepp:  “Of course, happiness and sadness work together, and the most moving music allows the two processes to be blended in such a way as to magnify our sense of ourselves as deeply feeling creatures who are conscious inheritors of the tragic view–the ability to see hope and grace in the midst of despair. It may be that the physiological possibility for the experience of chills is established when music joins our deepest opposing emotional potentials within the cradle of consciousness.”

“Separations calls inform parents of the whereabouts of offspring that have become lost, and such calls arouse powerful care-giving motivations in parents, especially the mothers. Internal feeling of coldness and chills when parents hear separation calls may provide increased motivation for social reunion. (body warmth equalling closeness). But why would social loss generate an autonomic response characterized subjectively as chills? Our theoretical view of the underlying evolutionary matters is that the mammalian brain mechanisms for social bonding and feelings of separation distress arose from more ancient, preexisting mechanisms such as those that mediate place attachment, pain perception, and thermoregulatory influences. It is the latter antecedent that may explain the ‘chill’ phenomenon. Social contact giving one the subjective experience of being warmer, whereas social isolation makes one feel colder. . . . (providing) an affective motivational substrate for promoting the types of close interactional patterns that we call social bonds in the absence of direct thermoregulatory stressors.”

So if I understand this properly, chills make us feel like drawing together in order to get warm and we therefore like chills because sad songs make us feel grateful for the connections that we have, or the kind of closeness that might be possible were we to find those who could satisfy our anxieties of separation. While I’m very attracted to these kinds of interpretations that root higher cognitive processes to basic bodily processes, I still feel that a deeper explanation can be found in the locomotive circuits because before there were parent/offspring relationships, there were predator and prey relationships, and there was the absolutely fundamental mandate of moving the body from point A to point B so as to intercept an object of attraction. This would also be  more compatible with the research of of Dr. Wolpert who states that everything about the brain is dependent on locomotion. Therefore I believe the emotional affects are not predicated on survival mechanisms or neurological circuitry hardwired in the Central Nervous System, but rather how the body and brain interplay on a much deeper level, specifically how to move the body from point A to point B. Emotional experiences arise in the mind when the  brain generates neurological energies by tracking a subliminal beam of attention on the body’s physical center of gravity, that are likewise coupled to the movement of  external objects of attraction.

State Attention 1




The emotional affects resulting from this bifurcated state of attention replicate electromagnetic effects. In other words, a Being is a charged particle of consciousness, as its body/mind is displaced by forces or stimuli, neurological activity happens. And when charged particles are in motion, they induce electromagnetic effects. The chills one experiences in music are related to the hairs standing on ends, the bristling of a dog’s hair along his top line. These arise from the subliminal attention to where the p-cog, or the feeling for the p-cog is in the body. The p-cog can move anywhere in the body, it can stir and move deep in the core, or it can rise and skim along the surface, and it can even leave the body altogether. The chills to which Panksepp refers are the same chills one experiences when riding in a car and the road falls away suddenly, for example when cresting a steep hill. The subliminal beam of attention is always tracking the movement of the body’s physical center of gravity and registering where it is, not only physically relative to external forces, but also where it is virtually, emotionally, relative to objects of attraction in its surroundings. (These become welded together via Pavlovian conditioning during the early imprinting phase of life.) The surroundings thereby come to constitute a virtual field of energy and thus relative motions of variables in this field generate neurochemical activity throughout the body. This neurochemical activity is organized so that emotional affects make the individual feel just as if they are weighted, weightless, as well as electrically and/or magnetically charged. These feelings are how animals know how to seek, connect with others and collectively work to improve their lives. Negative is drawn to positive, and vice versa, North is drawn to South, and vice versa, and in this way how the brain interacts with the body to generate electromagnetic-like effects, collective momenta are pooled and harmonized to do greater and greater work, i.e. evolve.

The connection of the balance modality of mind with the hunger modality of mind, induces a virtual current via the physical memory of ingestion, and the mind generates emotional affects that feel as if the organism is a charged particle moving through a magnetic field. Our emotional bonds with others are deep magnetic connections (as far as our animal mind is concerned) and so as we move through the space (music creates a field, a space that is emotionally conductive) created by listening to music we feel as if we are moving/floating through a magnetic field. Music creates a space as emotionally conductive as a dream state.

Listening to music puts us into an emotionally conductive state, we enter a state of emotional suspension, a state as deep as the degree to which we are enraptured by the music. We feel as if we are moving freely through space, a space that is not empty but is a field composed by emotional experiences with objects of attraction/resistance, a subconscious FIELD of subjective experience. By being moved via the music we re-experience our physical memories of resistance (to which the unconscious sense of the p-cog is attached) and this movement is akin to electromagnetic induction, the surface levels of which is like the flux of magnetic fields which we experience as chills running up and down the body. Again, this is directly related to the chills/thrills that are experienced on a more intense core level when driving in a car and upon cresting a steep hill an intense burst of sensations (chills) runs up from our stomach to our heart. (And were one to crash, it would be experienced as rocketing up and out of the head.)

In regards to surface chills, this magnetic like aurora is composed by the animal mind so as to serve as an emotional bubble, selectively insulating the organism from its external milieu, just like a cells’ semi-permeable membrane is a faculty of discrimination by which it “perceives” the inter-cellular milieu, and it does so by way of electromagnetism which accords an electromagnetic charge to external stimuli. A “negative” stimulus (predatory aspect) and a “positive” stimulus (preyful aspects) arise in the perception of the individual’s external surroundings by way of this external shell that has been generated by an internal focus on the body/minds’ actual and virtual (that which is welded to external objects) physical center-of-gravity. And if a negative variable induces a magnetic charge, then negative-equals-access-to-positive and the organism becomes willing to let the negative enter its personal space (i.e. animal magnetism). Whereas if an external variable has an electrostatic charge, then grounding (balance mollified by hunger, CNS sublimated into Enteric nervous system, the front end needs to be connected to the hind end) must first take place before contact can be made.

If the individual is attracted to something but cannot connect, the individual feels electrically charged by an interruption of momentum (the animal mind is invested with an inherent emotional momentum—-the balance/hunger conundrum mandates that the organism must move–). This momentum is variable, it can be impinged, the bottom can fall out more or less abruptly, or it can be interrupted altogether. (See the Steward-Tolman effect: The development of a negative charge at the forward end of a metal rod which is suddenly stopped after rapid longitudinal motion. This effect is even far stronger in the case of electrolytes, for example, the chemical solution found in a battery.) This electromagnetic-like effect is the basis of a morbid dread, a sickening feeling of a loss of momentum that arises from the gut and takes up station in the head as awareness dawns, with an intense sensation of chills running up the back of the neck and then over-lapping the skull, like a wave cresting over the back of the head. This is the same physical experience as hitting the brakes suddenly in a panic stop.


When listening to music, the virtual p-cog is in a free floating state, riding the wave the music defines. And when the subliminal beam of attention is accelerated toward the surface from a transient loss or a sudden change of direction, the individual experiences tingling sensations, i.e. “chills.” This happens freely in music because of emotional suspension and of being tossed about on the wave form of the music. In this way, feelings of the composer are transmitted to the listener, just as feelings are transmitted from one animal to another. The human rational mind considers this kind of resonance a minor aspect of conscious awareness and so we then look to deep psychological explanations as an existential source of meaning. I argue this misses the core of the experience because for the animal mind the weightlessness inherent in the feeling of resonance constitutes the whole of their conscious awareness within which things and the flow of events find their meaning. To be clear, I’m not arguing against the brilliant findings or interpretations of Panksepp, my argument is that these affective systems sit on top of this far more primordial system.


The emotional battery is formatted according to the disposition of the physical center of gravity when the body is in motion. Emotional experiences are layered according to intensity of resistance encountered. The deeper realms of the battery where more intense experiences are stored, are accessed by the deeper bass notes, although we could add piercing sounds to this as well. (Note the alarm call of various animals, these collapse a state of attraction in the young and they scurry for “ground” i.e. cover or simply lowering themselves.) Percussive elements and the basic rhythm of the passage meter the discharge of the battery and this constitutes the emotional momentum of musical experience. (Martial marching music is thus effective at triggering and mobilizing rage in an audience while simultaneously encouraging a regimented body and mind.) On the other hand, the higher notes represent articulation, or expression, of the deeper energies that have been mobilized, up and out into the external world and in a coherent wave form, rather than incoherently as spikes or outbursts. These are especially pleasing because the basic urge of consciousness is to articulate its deepest energies. The melody channels the emotional momentum of a musical experience into a wave form so that the listener apprehends that their stress reserves are moving coherently through a periodic rising and falling of a coherent wave form. In this condition of emotional suspension the p-cog can move freely through the body and it can rise suddenly to the peripheries of the body/mind and kindle tingling sensations. This is why we like sad music, the de-acceleration of a minor key or change in tempo brings the p-cog to the surface of our magnetic aurora (as when dancing and twirling a partner) and we experience this as an emotional shimmer.

Why are we organized this way? Because emotion is a universal bandwidth that fundamentally is not about survival and reproduction, it’s about information, it’s about turning the experience of change and resistance into information. Our emotional domain evolves the same way the physical world evolves, through the principles of thermodynamics, laws of motion and electromagnetic principles of conductivity. In sad music the listener is processing deeper memories and this feels good because it satisfies the fundamental mandate of our animal body/mind, i.e. to resolve unresolved emotion. This mandate ultimately improves the flow by incorporating objects of resistance into the configuration.





Published September 27, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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3 responses to “Why We Like Sad Music: Part Two”

  1. Music and Emotions

    The most difficult problem in answering the question of how music creates emotions is likely to be the fact that assignments of musical elements and emotions can never be defined clearly. The solution of this problem is the Theory of Musical Equilibration. It says that music can’t convey any emotion at all, but merely volitional processes, the music listener identifies with. Then in the process of identifying the volitional processes are colored with emotions. The same happens when we watch an exciting film and identify with the volitional processes of our favorite figures. Here, too, just the process of identification generates emotions.

    An example: If you perceive a major chord, you normally identify with the will “Yes, I want to…”. The experience of listening to a minor chord can be compared to the message conveyed when someone says, “No more.” If someone were to say these words slowly and quietly, they would create the impression of being sad, whereas if they were to scream it quickly and loudly, they would be come across as furious. This distinction also applies for the emotional character of a minor chord: if a minor harmony is repeated faster and at greater volume, its sad nature appears to have suddenly turned into fury.

    Because this detour of emotions via volitional processes was not detected, also all music psychological and neurological experiments, to answer the question of the origin of the emotions in the music, failed.

    But how music can convey volitional processes? These volitional processes have something to do with the phenomena which early music theorists called “lead”, “leading tone” or “striving effects”. If we reverse this musical phenomena in imagination into its opposite (not the sound wants to change – but the listener identifies with a will not to change the sound) we have found the contents of will, the music listener identifies with. In practice, everything becomes a bit more complicated, so that even more sophisticated volitional processes can be represented musically.

    Further information is available via the free download of the e-book “Music and Emotion – Research on the Theory of Musical Equilibration:


    or on the online journal EUNOMIOS:


    Enjoy reading

    Bernd Willimek, music theorist

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    Thanks for this valuable contribution. While I may be misinterpreting some of the concepts given that there is much to absorb, nevertheless I’m immediately struck by the consideration of physics, the inference of motion as relevant to emotional movement, the mention of potential energy. In regards to these I want to venture an initial response because I believe I have identified a very deep architecture that is relevant to the emotion involved in experiencing music.

    My model has ventured into the realm of music due to (a) my own subjective impressions of emotional experiences when listening to music, which means self-examination is open to all, (b) the phenomenon of dogs howling with passing sirens and then (c), in counterpoint, the equal/opposite phenomenon of dogs becoming unduly afraid of thunderstorms (unlike other animals). My interpretation of emotional experience no matter the context is an understanding that all emotional interactions and experiences represent at their core a transfer of emotional momentum. Emotional affects the individual experiences are the neurological/anatomical/physiological mechanism for these exchanges (or failure to exchange) to be conducted.

    In my reading of animal behavior, the mechanics of locomotion serve double duty as the mechanics of emotion. This means that an animal doesn’t distinguish between physical and emotional equilibrium and this means that when an animal is neurologically stimulated and thus emotionally destabilized, it is perceived as a force of acceleration, a force acting on the body and compelling it to either resist, or resolve by flowing with, in order to return to equilibrium. The physical center of gravity is the heart of any response. It is the point around which the body will articulate to effect a rhythmic flow of forward motion or to resist being pulled/pushed over. The physical center-of-gravity is also the center point for the acquisition of physical memory, which is unresolved emotion created by behavior attempting to express emotion (i.e. return to equilibrium) but then inevitably meeting with resistance as all emotional expression does.

    On the one hand unresolved emotion serves as emotional ballast and in everyday life is experienced as an emotional mass or burden. Thereafter, when dealing with objects of resistance the subject projects its sense of its physical center-of-gravity onto the object as the first step in facilitating a transfer in order to return to equilibrium. (The act of projection simultaneously projects past experiences onto said object.) If however, the object can absorb and then transfer momentum back onto the subject, and then this is returned in kind and the interaction between the participants can continue to elaborate through the ping/pong exchange of p-cogs, into a progressively intense level of exchange, at a certain frequency of exchange both parties enter into a state of emotional suspension. They feel weightless as due to the power of Pavlovian conditioning they are reliving the primal state of flow which was inculcated in the animal mind within the womb and thereafter during infancy while nursing as the relief from internal and external duress, i.e. overwhelming resistance. The state of weightlessness is a wave function defined by the two participants exchanging the up and down emotional polarities, like two kids on a see/saw, and this allows them to achieve an emotional bond and which now means that they have combined their respective energies and now have more collective energy available to them so that they can collectively address even greater objects of resistance and import them into the social configuration their emotional bond has achieved. We could say that emotional suspension in which the past is put into motion, is how the animal mind recognizes potential energy, and this is how they positively affect their external surroundings to conform to their internal emotional states.
    In my opinion, the pure wave like action of music once the listener attunes to this wave structure, autonomically induces a state of emotional suspension, so that the listeners’ subconscious sense of their physical center-of-gravity is free to float throughout their body and feel as if entrained with other entities as well and are thus released from unresolved emotion as a burden. For this reason the basis of an emotional response to music is a state of yearning as the animal part of our mind converts objects of attraction/resistance that are embedded as static entities in physical memory, repositories of unresolved emotion, are thereby put into motion. Even morose but emotionally evocative music is experienced as an uplift.

    Meanwhile in dogs, the piercing sounds of sirens, howls of other dogs and people, and certain musical instruments, knock a dog off emotional equilibrium and to repeat, a dog doesn’t discriminate between physical and emotional equilibrium since both revolve around its sense of its physical center-of-gravity. So when the animal mind is knocked off of equilibrium, this is perceived on the deepest level as a force of acceleration. So emotion is invested with a degree of momentum that demands a point of terminus to thereby return the organism to neutral. A feeling in contrast with emotion, is a wave action that smoothly and safely delivers the organism to a point of terminus. It “channels” the organism to terminus so that a random force of acceleration becomes a coherent force that guides the animal to entrain with others. A wave pattern that satisfies a state of emotional disequilibrium, renders new energy as it incorporates objects of resistance into the overall flow pattern in a coherent manner, and this is adaptive given the way nature itself flows. This is how the organism makes a living, captures a meal, connects with others and so on.
    I can’t overemphasize how important the perception of a wave is within the animal mind. When a dog runs and obtains something it wants, he gives credit to the wave action that he feels as having taken over his body and which he rode by running along to keep up with it. Not only does a dog not distinguish between the inside and the outside, in fact, it weights the inside as responsible for the outside since the internal emotional affects are all consuming. So the wave and breathing in sync with the wave action (which is the predominant aspect of running which the dog weights in its experience), is what the dog gives credit for the experience. This is why it’s easy to induce a dog to howl, they project their “voice” (unresolved emotion crystallized around their physical center of gravity) into the elongating wave action.
    When knocked off balance and therefore accelerated and put into motion, the organisms’ autonomic response is to find an object of attraction so that it can project into it in the unconscious aspiration to achieve a wave pattern in order to absorb this momentum. That which can absorb momentum is prey energy. (In the canine mind the moon serves this purpose of objectification.) On the other hand, if the sounds are discordant or compressing in a reverse doppler shift, then the presumed object is unconsciously identified as a predator and the dog is very frightened for it is not able to objectify this force of acceleration. Such a dog can’t feel how to turn off the force of acceleration by achieving terminus, i.e. bringing an object to ground and/or aligning and synchronizing with it. But with a siren or another person howling, since there is an elongating wavelength (doppler shift), this allows the dog to feel it is dealing with an entity with which it can resonate and its positive emotional bonds are conducting the static physical memories of resistance. We can therefore say that compressive or arhythmic sounds equal predatory energy, whereas elongating or rhythmic sounds equal prey energy. (The moon is prey energy, the sun is predator energy. One can project into the former, and can’t look at the latter.) So for a dog, hearing an elongating wavelength is emotionally the same as something running away, which means that the state of having emotionally projected into it will feel good because it will absorb that force of acceleration which is the first phase of bringing something to ground and/or aligning and synchronizing with it.

  3. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    This does not completely fit under this post but it is from a 2011 book entitled Sound of Music by Stephen Gislason and it makes me think of NDT. “The ‘motion’ part of emotion is the important part. Emotions put animals and people in motion and emotional behaviors are essential forms of communication among animals. Our response to the emotional behaviors of other animals is emotional. A dog growls, shows his teeth and we recoil in fear.” It seems like the person mirrors the growling dog. But, more importantly it highlights movement as primary function of animals including humans. The sound, the tones, of the growl lead to backward movement.

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