Fascinating paper, Evolution of music by public choice, in PNAS.* The paper is open access, but ScienceNow has a serviceable summary. One somewhat obvious implication from this sort of research, which utilizes human preference to shape a cultural form, is that the topography of human artistic expression is non-arbitrary. In other words, aesthetics is not just historically contingent fiction, but draws upon a deep well of our sense of beauty and pleasure, whether for adaptive or non-adaptive reasons (i.e., culture as byproduct, later subject to functional selection).
But I’m struck by the last section:
I’m not very interested in music compared to the average person. But I’m curious about changing tastes in music over time, because it’s part of our cultural fabric. Since I lack real “thick” knowledge in this domain, I started to think of crutches to allow me to get a slice of perception as a function of time. So what I did was look at all the top songs by year since 1970, and found them on YouTube. I created a “playlist” which I could listen to all at once.