hat an odd thing it is to see an entire species—
billions of people—playing with, listening to, mean
ingless tonal patterns, occupied and preoccupied for
much of their time by what they call “music.” This, at least, was
one of the things about human beings that puzzled the highly
cerebral alien beings, the Overlords, in Arthur C. Clarke’s novel
Childhood’s End
. Curiosity brings them down to the Earth’
s sur

face to attend a concert, they listen politely, and at the end, con
gratulate the composer on his “great ingenuity”—while still
finding the entire business unintelligible. They cannot think
what goes on in human beings when they make or listen to
music, because nothing goes on with
. They themselves, as
a species, lack music.
We may imagine the Overlords ruminating further, back in
their spaceships. This thing called “music,” they would have to
concede, is in some way efficacious to humans, central to human
life. Yet it has no concepts, makes no propositions; it lacks
images, symbols, the stuff of language. It has no power of repre
sentation. It has no necessary relation to the world.
There are rare humans who, like the Overlords, may lack the
neural apparatus for appreciating tones or melodies. But for virtu
ally all of us, music has great power, whether or not we seek it out

or think of ourselves as particularly “musical.” This propensity
to music shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every
culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our
species. Such “musicophilia” is a given in human nature. It may
be developed or shaped by the cultures we live in, by the circum
stances of life, or by the particular gifts or weaknesses we have as
individuals—but it lies so deep in human nature that one must
think of it as innate, much as E. O. Wilson regards “biophilia,”
our feeling for living things. (Perhaps musicophilia is a form of
biophilia, since music itself feels almost like a living thing.)

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