Why We Like Sad Music

From the New York Times

“Why We Like Sad Music”




The emotional experience of listening to music is an excellent way to separate thoughts from feelings and emotion from instinct because as a pure wave form music is principally apprehended and processed by the heart. Understanding how the heart works is vital to understanding how a dog’s mind works.

The reason why we like sad music is because it triggers unresolved emotion, in particular the deeper layers of the emotional battery, and then music converts these pangs of fear (sensations of collapse) into a conductive flow of emotion and once converted into flow, the heart then can process the experience. So we like sad music because there is no such thing as a bad feeling. All feelings are predicated on a positive state of emotion, and resonating with something via a pure wave form is a state of yearning. Yearning is a state of flow. Flow is always good. While yearning can be linked very tightly to an instinctive, intellectual condition of grief, it is nonetheless not synonymous. We like sad music because unlike grief, it makes us feel good.

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Published September 23, 2013 by Kevin Behan
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13 responses to “Why We Like Sad Music”

  1. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    J. Panksepp would seem in tune with you. His 1995 article regarding music including sad music: http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40285693?uid=3739664&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21102652666731

    I remain confused about the 3 levels of NDT “experiencing”, please correct: (1) Balance-associated with the Big Brain and related to the issues of static energy and survival instinct in a prey/predator world; (2) Hunger-associated with the Little Brain in the gut and related to the issue of grounding and absorbing/ingesting prey/predator energy as well as the 01% stress ‘DIS’; (3) Heart-associated with knowing by feel and related to the projection and reception of energy that may transform into harmonious and unifying interaction of the group. All 3 levels of “experiencing” are connected by e•motion, the movement or lack of movement of energy in and out though the pipeline. “Experiencing” is not exactly the NDT glossary term, I seek.

    Thinking about emotion is a crazy trip. The heart level is the most difficult as most of the time due to time constraints and practicalities we have worked with the balance and hunger kinks.

  2. kbehan says:

    Thanks for the link to Panksepp’s study of music. I look forward to commenting in depth soon. (1) Yes, being concerned with balance makes the organism act in a load/overload fashion, just like the firing of neurons with an electrochemical cascade that builds up, leaps the gap (overloads) and then leaves the neuron depleted. The overload is conducted by the prey instinct and this is very effective for dealing with the basic realities of survival. If something can be killed and eaten, attack. If it can’t, run. What this means is that the organism is reacting reflexively to DIS, when the intensity gets high enough to activate DIS and bring it to the surface, the organism goes over its emotional capacity and the fight/flight, i.e. hyper-manic prey instinct, takes over. Then species specific genetically encoded fixed action patterns guide the organism and it conforms to its evolutionary niche. <> (2) The subliminal beam rooted in hunger (and generating the collected state) becomes an overarching primordial track for emotion, that if it can be sustained in moments of high stimulation/conflict/stress, then the last .01% can move through the First Primal Pathway, which by definition makes the organism feel grounded into the object of resistance and this is the basis of the deepest emotional bond. This is also the source of a sense of emotional momentum and this is also the faculty by which a new lesson is learned. (3) If the First Primal Pathway can be sustained under a high rate of change, i.e. intensity, then two beings emotionally fuses into one mind, and they perceive each other through their heart (supple forequarters) and this induces the feeling of weightlessness/resonance, which is the essence of any given feeling. In this condition, DIS serves as a tuning device so that even negatives are perceived of as positives and the individuals act in simpatico no-matter-what. This is the one and only reason wolves were able to evolve into pro to-dog and then into the dog. Heart-to-Heart interconnectivity is the provenance of Drive. In this modality, the sheep herding dog gets more satisfaction by being in harmony with sheep and sheep herder than by killing sheep. This interpretation of emotion as well spring of behavior conforms to the Constructal law wherein objects of resistance are imported into the configuration in order to improve the flow. In other words, a competitor predator, the wolf, becomes allies with human beings in order to domesticate the prey, so that they can be selectively bred and improved. Civilization then followed.

  3. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    Thank you for the explanation on the interaction of the 3 pathways.

    Bicknell, J. Music Thrills and Chills (June 16, 2011) in Why Music Moves Us

    “One of the most intriguing explanations for music’s “chill” effect has been offered by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp. Panksepp found that chills and piloerection were most likely to be associated with sad music, and with the bleak simplicity of a solo soprano voice or instrument emerging from a relatively richer musical background. A great example occurs in Whitney Houston’s version of Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You,” when the words of the title are repeated at the beginning of the third rendition of the chorus. Panksepp offers an evolutionary explanation for the origin of the chill phenomenon, whether the music involved is a popular song, operatic aria, or instrumental work. He argues that chills may emerge from brain dynamics associated with the perception of social loss, specifically with separation calls. Separation calls are cries by young animals that inform parents of the whereabouts of offspring that have become lost. The “coldness” of chills may provide increased motivation for social reunion in the parents. So certain kinds of sad and bittersweet music may achieve its beauty and its chilling effect through a symbolic rendition of the separation call.”

  4. kbehan says:

    Excellent interpretation, and I’m about to post an NDT interpretation of chills, but for now let me argue that the chill is closely linked to the thrill, and while there is a thrill inherent to reuniting with a lost loved one, and the thrill of reunion would be a powerful psychological motive, we might still however ask where else in experience do we experience chills that are intimately associated with thrills.

  5. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    Weightless flow is thrilling and chilling. Like a roller coaster ride down.

  6. kbehan says:

    That’s exactly right, and furthermore, invoking the locomotion dynamic (deeper than the affective systems) is completely consistent with Wolpert and the Constructal Law.

  7. MuttsandStuff says:

    Peter Houghton lived 1500 days with a mechanical heart. How does that fit into your view that “apprehended and processed by the heart”?

    And what about heart transplant patients, even a baby that received a baboon heart? Are they processing music differently because they are using a different heart?

  8. Mutts and Stuff says:

    Houghton lived 1500 days on a mechanical heart. How does that fit into your claim that music is “apprehended and processed by the heart”?

    Would you say that without a heart he couldn’t experience and process music?

    And how do transplant patients fit in? Do they process music differently? There was even a cross species transplant, how would you say that affected their ability to apprehend and process with a non-human heart?

  9. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    Much learned about the cardiovascular role in processing of music & much to be learned:
    “Vocal and orchestral crescendos produced significant correlations between cardiovascular or respiratory signals and musical profile, particularly skin vasoconstriction and blood pressures, proportional to crescendo, in contrast to uniform emphasis, which induced skin vasodilation and a reduction in blood pressure (p<0.05)….When a sudden crescendo was spaced adequately, or the musical profile exhibited a regular or slow change, then the cardiovascular system tracked the musical profile, and skin vasomotion was evident. When the musical profile changed very rapidly, the overall effect was the opposite. Skin vasomotion and a reduction in blood pressure by general relaxation were observed….The findings of these studies suggest, though, that musical performance has a greater effect on emotion-related modulation in cardiac autonomic nerve activity than musical perception….http://www.cardio.se/fileArchive/Artiklar/Trappe%20Heart%202011.pdf

  10. kbehan says:

    Great questions. In my model the animal mind is composed from neurology, physiology, but also anatomy. The midpoint of a body in motion is the chest region, the area that houses the heart. This is where the subliminal beam of attention is drawn when the body is in full motion or resisting being accelerated and the heart as a sentient organ holds the memory of a “null value” (the sum value of all forces acting on the body, thus the epicenter of the capacity to resist said forces). In fact I think the condition of being born paralyzed is more problematic to my theory than the question of heart transplants and mechanical hearts. In the womb the heart is beating at 5 weeks, it is one of the first functional organs. This would be the paramount variable in fetal experience so even if someone has a heart transplant or a mechanical heart, they would still have many years of the physical memory of a heart beat regulating their animal mind and being perceived subliminally as responsible for integration with their surroundings. Also, when we consider the crude, gross level of heart function (putting aside its electromagnetic properties which are only now being plumbed by science), the surging of warm blood and the mechanical pumping rhythm, even a mechanical heart puts this beat into consciousness (an animal heart would present less issue to my theory than a mechanical heart). There is a man in my town who has had a heart transplant and he cannot be startled, even when jumped from behind his heart doesn’t “skip a beat” and he remains non-plussed. So I would suspect that there would be a great effect on vagal tone and emotional reactivity after one of these procedures given the artificial manipulation of heart beat, but it would be difficult to parse this apart from all the drugs and treatment protocols that attend one of these procedures. In sum, I believe that the physical memory of musical experience would still be available to such a patient, but I would expect some subtle yet profound distinctions would be evident as well.

  11. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    For me the intriguing question is: Why do musical abilities and related movements remain in persons with dementia who have lost significant cognitive functions?

    Dan Cohen commented on his April 2012 documentary entitled “Alive Inside” that ‘Even though Alzheimer’s and various forms of dementia will ravage many parts of the brain, long-term memory of music from when one was young remains very often. So if you tap that, you really get that kind of awakening response. It’s pretty exciting to see.’ (NPR http://www.npr.org/2012/04/18/150891711/for-elders-with-dementia-music-sparks-great-awakenings).

    There are other reports of dementia patients enjoying, playing, dancing to, and learning via music. “Many patients, families, and caregivers consider music– or the ability to play, remember, learn, or otherwise benefit from a song– one of these rare cases in which general skill and memory are preserved in spite of otherwise severe overall impairment.The subjective reports of preserved musical processing are not limited to procedural memory, and often include stories of music used as an effective mnemonic device.” N.R. Simmons-Stern et al. Music as a memory enhancer in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Neuropsychologia 48 (2010) 3164–3167.

    Music appears to revive dementia patients despite their loss of higher level cognitive abilities. When their brains are functioning so poorly, how do they process music? One explanation appears related to the vagus nerve and the “little brain in the gut.” The person with dementia’s brain in their head may be injured but the vagus nerve and the gut continue to function. Music is received by the ear that is in physical contact with the vagus nerve and it connects to the gut with its way of knowing.

    Explanatory excerpts from Chapter 2 “The Physician, the Ear and Sacred Music”. Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. In Music Physician for Times to Come, compiled by Don Campbell. 2006, Third Printing, Quest Books, Wheaton, IL.

    P. 41. “…the ear also has a fascinating tie into the 10th cranial nerve or the vagus nerve…the vagus is literally responsible for our gut reactions since it is the link between the autonomic functions of the internal organs and the brain. It is surprising to realize that the eardrum and the vagus nerve are in contact with each other. what is the significance of this interaction? Let us track the path of the vagus throughout the body. The nerve wanders on from its liaison with the ear, next making contact with the back muscles; it then sensitizes the larynx which allows us to speak, sing, or scream. The vagus then travels to the lungs and heart before diving through the diaphragm to all of our internal organs (including the entire intestinal tract via communication with sacral nerves).”

    “Hearing has substantial effect on the rest of the body, due to its contact with the vagus nerve. But this ought not surprise us. what would a scary movie be without the manipulative soundtrack? as the ear gains greater appreciation as our primary sensory organ-as well as having an extensive effect on many internal organs, (p.42) due to its connection with the vagus nerve-a theoretical basis for auditory-therapy’s effectiveness in the many physical and emotional conditions it can treat comes into focus.”

    P.45 “The claim that music exerts a profound effect on us is beyond question. What remains is only to establish how the components of sound affect our bodies. (Psychosomatically? Physiologically, due to the wandering path of the vagus (p. 46) nerve?”

    Thanks to Joanne Frame who renewed interest in the vagus nerve, a moment of NDT synchronicity.

  12. kbehan says:

    And thanks for this comprehensive survey of the fortuitous wanderings of the Vagus nerve, without which our intellects would starve from a void of meaning.

  13. wetnosewarmhearts says:

    My reality takes this beyond intellect to what I see first hand and try to make sense of.

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Books about Natural Dog Training by Kevin Behan

In Your Dog Is Your Mirror, dog trainer Kevin Behan proposes a radical new model for understanding canine behavior: a dog’s behavior and emotion, indeed its very cognition, are driven by our emotion. The dog doesn’t respond to what the owner thinks, says, or does; it responds to what the owner feels. And in this way, dogs can actually put people back in touch with their own emotions. Behan demonstrates that dogs and humans are connected more profoundly than has ever been imagined — by heart — and that this approach to dog cognition can help us understand many of dogs’ most inscrutable behaviors. This groundbreaking, provocative book opens the door to a whole new understanding between species, and perhaps a whole new understanding of ourselves.
  Natural Dog Training is about how dogs see the world and what this means in regards to training. The first part of this book presents a new theory for the social behavior of canines, featuring the drive to hunt, not the pack instincts, as seminal to canine behavior. The second part reinterprets how dogs actually learn. The third section presents exercises and handling techniques to put this theory into practice with a puppy. The final section sets forth a training program with a special emphasis on coming when called.
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