Richard Parncutt holds a interdisciplinary PhD (physics, psychology, music) from the University of New England, Armidale. Since 1998, he has been Professor of Systematic Musicology at the University of Graz in Austria. Richard's main areas of research are the perception and cognition of musical structure, musical performance, and the origins of tonality and music.



“Modern human behavior” includes reflective language and religious/musical rituals. It probably emerged between 200,000 and 50,000 years ago. The reason why that happened is one of science’s great mysteries. I will argue that the obstetric dilemma, created by a combination of bipedalism and encephalization, was the critical event or trigger. Over millions of years, gestation became shorter and human infants became more fragile. Infant-mother dyads developed new forms of communication to compensate for infant helplessness and enhance infant survival. The infant schema (Lorenz) is evoked by infant “cuteness” and motivates nurturing behaviors. The analogous mother schema (MS) is a multimodal representation of the mother from the prelinguistic fetal/infant perspective. Both schemas are supported by endogenous opioids and oxytocin. Prenatal MS prepares for postnatal mother-infant communication (motherese). It includes all aspects of the mother that the fetus can perceive: sound patterns (voice, heartbeat, footsteps, digestion), movements (walking), and changing biochemical concentrations in amniotic fluid and placental blood. All these patterns reflect maternal physical/emotional state. At birth, according to the theory, prenatal MS transforms to postnatal MS (the mother as perceived by the infant) by a Piagetian process of accommodation. On this basis, I examine the thesis that god/s and music are cultural transformations of pre- and/or postnatal MS. The theory is consistent with cross-cultural ritual experiences and strong experiences with music including altered states (out-of-body, spirit possession, floating, universal fusion) and spiritual beings (large, moving, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving). MS-triggers include chant, rhythm, dance, quasi-fetal postures, and drugs. The theory is also consistent with quasi-universal beliefs including human or animal spirits (explaining death) and human or animal creators (explaining the universe). Evidence is circumstantial and cumulative; falsification is problematic.

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Research seminars are presented by current staff, higher degree research students and visiting academics. 

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