Friday, May 29, 2015

Sex and the Single Song

Scientists repeatedly bred the most pleasing snippets of noise, and found they eventually evolved into music.

Sex and the Single Song

This has to be one of the more unusual experiments carried out by a team of biologists. As a sort of analogue to biological of evolution, researchers created snippets of noise and asked a group of 7000 listeners to rate them. The strings of sound that were “loved” by listeners were mixed with other highly rated strings – in a process much like breeding.

The babies were the rated and the favorites bred with each other. This story from PRI’s The World attempts to explain the experiment, which was published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. I liked the way this story explained the sex part:

As people rated the music, the program picked the most popular medleys and allowed them to procreate.
“These songs – they get together, they have sex, as it were,” says Leroi. “The code gets mixed up, and then they have baby songs.”
The “baby” songs sound similar to their parents and yet are distinct musical entities.
In the experiment, those babies were then sent back online to be rated by the public. The process continued for generation after generation.

Other stories quoted the authors of the paper comparing the experiment to natural selection, though it seems more akin to the breeding of cattle or dogs or perhaps breeding nastly little grass seeds into wheat. People choose which individuals are most desirable and those are allowed to mate. But then, Charles Darwin realized that natural selection worked much like breeding – only in nature it usually happened more slowly and human intervention was replaced by natural competition to survive and reproduce in changing environments.

If you want to listen to some of the songs at varying stages of evolution, go to

You can read the scientific paper here:

About this blog
Faye Flam - writer
In pursuit of her stories, writer Faye Flam has weathered storms in Greenland, gotten frost nip at the South Pole, and floated weightless aboard NASA’s zero-g plane. She has a degree in geophysics from the California Institute of Technology and started her writing career with the Economist. She later took on the particle physics and cosmology beat at Science Magazine before coming to the Inquirer in 1995. Her previous science column, “Carnal Knowledge,” ran from 2005 to 2008. Her new column and blog, Planet of the Apes, explores the topic of evolution and runs here and in the Inquirer’s health section each Monday. Email Faye at Reach Planet of the at

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