Beethoven may indeed be rolling in his grave, but not for the reasons some Darwin-loving reporters think.
“Roll over Beethoven: you’re no longer needed,” began Andy Coghlan on New Scientist. “From now on, the great unwashed masses can evolve their own compositions – no composers, songwriters or musical training required.” His article, “How to Evolve Your Own Musical Melodies,” reports on a project by Bob MacCallum and Armand Leroi at Imperial College London to “evolve” music by “natural selection.” PhysOrg joined in the overture, writing about “On the origin of music by natural selection.”
MacCallum and Leroi invite public participation in their DarwinTunes website. There, using an evolutionary algorithm, a selection of random 8-second sound loops can be “selected” by users for the most pleasing sound, producing more complex patterns over time. The selected loops are allowed to reproduce until something the listener enjoys results. On PhysOrg, Bob MacCallum explains on a recording how the process works (the BBC News adds video). MacCallum goes so far as to say that the winning loops have sex and reproduce, while the unpleasing loops get killed off. “It’s brutal, but that’s evolution for you,” he smirks. The article continues,
The scientists set out to test a theory that cultural changes in language, art and music evolve through Darwinian natural selection, in a similar way to how living things evolve. They simulated this cultural evolution by harnessing the power of a 7,000 strong internet audience in an experiment that was designed to answer several questions. Can music exist without being the product of a conscious, creative act? If so, what would that music sound like? Does everyone’s ideal tune sound the same?.…
Dr Bob MacCallum, another co-author and a mosquito genomics bioinformatician in the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “We knew our evolutionary music engine could make pretty good music in the hands of one user, but what we really wanted to know was if it could do so in a more Darwinian setting, with hundreds of listeners providing their feedback. Thanks to our students’ and the general public’s valuable input, we can confidently say it does.”
The BBC News insulted Mozart, too, but later admitted that the experimental music eventually ground down to a monotonous stasis that needed some kind of unspecified, unobserved breakthrough (punctuated equilibria?) to evolve further: “Of course it never slows down forever, it never just stays there,” Leroi said in attempt to rescue his hopes from observation. “Eventually you will get another burst of evolution as something new comes along and breaks through a boundary, and we think that will happen here too.”
The experiment clearly has nothing to do with Darwinian natural selection, but everything to do with artificial selection (i.e., intelligent design). There’s nothing natural about it. It’s like artificial breeding of chickens, dogs or cows to get what a human mind desires. It doesn’t matter if the artificial selector involves one or a hundred people: it’s still being selected by minds having a purpose, not by an unguided, impersonal, random process like Darwin envisioned. Even unwashed masses can be intelligent designers. MacCallum admits as much, stating that “market forces, consumer choice, is itself a creative force.” He also admitted that many of the selectors were undergraduate students (that fact may or may not impress Darwin skeptics).
Calling this sound “music,” furthermore, is dubious. It consists of a conglomeration of repetitive loops, lacking the structure and serial organization of a Beethoven symphony or Mozart concerto. It might be likened to group selection of the most pleasing wind chimes arranged in a hodgepodge that is the “least ugly” among a random set. There is no sonata form, no development, no recapitulation — no form whatsoever.
Another project by a different composer produced intelligently-designed music a different way. This time it was Michael Blake, who composed a fugue-like composition based on the Golden Ratio. This ratio (1.6180339887…) known to be ubiquitous in nature and aesthetically pleasing to the eye, is also pleasing to the ear. In another article on New Scientist by another reporter, Jacob Aron, an embedded music video shows Blake performing his work. See a write-up on Evolution News & Views about the design implications of Blake’s project. For a stunning animation about how the Golden Ratio and Fibonacci Series are related, and how they turn up in phenomena as diverse as sunflowers and nautilus shells, click here (intelligently-designed music track included).
How can Darwin keep taking credit for intelligent design? Darwin’s theory is the antithesis of ID. William Dembski showed clearly in No Free Lunch that no evolutionary algorithm is superior to blind search once external information is identified and excluded from the algorithm. The DarwinTunes scientists and reporters prove they understand neither music nor Darwinism. They don’t understand the difference between natural and artificial selection. They don’t understand that “reproduction” of selected sound loops bears little if any relationship to biological reproduction. And the results occur within a day under mental selection– not over millions of years.
Yet the mythology marches on. It’s not only the Emperor in this parade who has no clothes; it’s the drum major and all the band players, too. The media have joined in, tapping their bare feet to the drumbeat of the “natural selection” myth. It’s enough to make the normal people wonder about their normality.
Don’t worry. If you find this bizarre, it’s because it is. You’re normal. It’s time for some letter-writing to expose the perpetrators (as if they have not already exposed themselves). Let the rumbling of a thousand master composers like Beethoven rolling in their graves stir you to action until they rest in peace, or (shall we say), de-compose in peace.