Instincts and Imitation in Music

People uncritically use ideas like "instinct" and "imitation" all the time but, in fact, humans do not have instincts, nor do they routinely "imitate" others.


What appears on the surface to be some of our "instincts" are actually a few basic involuntary drives and reflexes.

These common sense ideas of human instincts and imitation were discredited over 100 years ago by every reputable social scientist except for a few biological reductionists.

Think about it: if we used instincts we wouldn't even have music and things like imitation preclude innovations.

Homo sapiens have existed for at least 200K years, probably more, and while they were anatomically modern they were more instinctual than they were symbol users. Sometime around 50K BCE,  perhaps earlier, symbolic culture replaced instincts. The problem is, then, in the absence of instincts, our ability to regulate our own conduct is no longer situated within the individual (we're not born with a 'operating system' if the metaphor is permitted) so regulation has to be situated externally, namely, in the form of other people and social norms.

We do not imitate others like parrots but conform due to (a) simple coercion or, more importantly, (b) prestigious emulation and authority.

How did you form your mental image or sound of a good guitar sound? Did somebody put a gun to your head and force you to sound a particular way (coercion) or did you fall in love with an album or engage in hero worship and emulate what you saw and heard?

As always, remember, you may not know it, but you are doing it.