Researching the relationship between Daydreaming and Music ...

Dear Maladaptive Dreamers,

My name is Philip Dorrell.

As far as I know, I am a "normal" daydreamer.

The reason I wanted to join the "Wild Minds" network is because I am interested in ... Music.

Music is one of the fundamental unsolved mysteries of human nature. We don't know what music is, and we don't know why it exists.

Our knowledge of the existence of music is entirely subjective. The only way to know if a given sequence of sounds is musical or not is to listen to it, and see if it sounds musical. The only objective way to identify a sequence of sounds as musical is to observe that other people listen to it, and to hope that one can eliminate all non-musical explanations as to why other people are listening to those sounds (and in practice the only way to be sure that there is no non-musical reason to listen to some sounds is to listen to those sounds oneself anyway).

Music does have structures somewhat analogous to those of speech, and of course some music is singing which is a stylised form of speech. We do have a reasonable understanding of what speech is and why it exists (ie for people to communicate with each other). But we don't know what the relationship is between music and speech, and whether the purpose of music has anything at all to do with the purpose of speech.

The content of music does not seem to have any intrinsic meaning, which suggests that it might be some form of symbolic communication. Yet music does not seem to communicate anything specific, at least not in the way that speech does. Music is mostly "enjoyed" rather than "understood". And music bears repetition in a way that normal speech doesn't (like if you've said it once, there's no point repeating it twenty times).

The primary effect of music seems to be its "emotional" effect, although even the nature of this effect is difficult to describe precisely. Does music "cause" emotions? Does it act on pre-existing emotions? Why do we apparently enjoy "sad" music, even though normally we don't enjoy being sad?

With all these issues in mind, I recently developed a hypothesis that the emotional effect of music applies chiefly to "hypothetical" emotions, ie to emotions arising from hypothetical imagined situations. In the first instance I observed the extremely consistent use of music in cinematic films.

But of course cinematic films are a very recent chapter in the history of human evolution, and music seems to have existed for tens of thousands of years, if not more.

As it happens, outside of entertainments provided and distributed with the help of modern technologies, most of the hypothetical scenarios processed in the human brain are those generated by that same brain, ie, daydreams.

And I observed, from my own personal experience, that there can be a direct interaction between music and the emotionality of my own daydreams, especially if the music in question is something I strongly enjoy.

And then, not long after developing this hypothesis, I read about maladaptive/compulsive daydreamers. And I wondered to myself, is there an interaction between music and daydreams in these people who, for whatever reason, are more strongly motivated to daydream than the rest of us?

Even from reading that first article about MD, I learned that music is a very common "trigger" for daydreams, and some compulsive daydreamers do most of their daydreaming while also listening to music.

So here I am, hoping to investigate further.

What I would like to do, as a member of this network, is explore some questions and hypotheses. I would like to write questions and state hypotheses, and hopefully anyone who is interested can relate them to their own personal experience. This is isn't fully scientific research, because I'm essential hunting for interesting anecdotes, but it can perhaps be a prelude to more systematic investigations.

So here's an initial list:

  • Do you primarily daydream while also listening to music?
  • If your daydreaming is strongly associated with music, what happens if the music is suddenly cut off?
  • If you sometimes daydream with music and sometimes without, is there a qualitative difference in the daydreams, or in the feelings you have about your daydreams?
  • Are there any maladaptive daydreamers whose daydreaming has no association with music? If so, do you still enjoy music? (Given the hypothesis that music triggers an altered "daydreaming" state of mind, it is possible that there is a subset of compulsive daydreamers who are chronically in this altered state, whether or not there's music, in which case the presence or absence of music is not relevant - like a car where the accelerator cable is stuck in maximum position and disconnected from the pedal, so the car always goes fast, and pushing the pedal can't make any difference.)
  • Does anyone practice music while daydreaming? (If music makes daydreaming better, then anyone daydreaming off their own performance has direct feedback about the musical quality of their own performance, assuming they focus sufficiently to learn the basics of the instrument to get started in the first place.)

(Link to related blog post on my own blog: Music and Day Dreaming )

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Comment by Colette on June 20, 2015 at 4:19pm

1.Well in my other life im a famous singer so music is a very big trigger to me.

2.I do daydream constantly without music though.

3. I do like daydream with music better they feel more real to me sometimes 

4. I dont know if other people with MDD have no association with music

5.I dont practice music while daydreaming

Music helps me come  up with many ideas and helps me get into my characters too. When I come up with movie like scenes to songs I imagine them being music videos my famous self puts out. 

Comment by Floris on June 18, 2015 at 2:35am

1. Yes, or do work that doesn't require too much thinking.

2. The daydream fades, new thoughts come up.

3. The music can inspire to focus on something particular. Without music there is room for deeper thoughts but there can be more chaos also.

4. The presence of music is relevant in the sense that music can be as disruptive to DD-ing as stimulating. The relation to music is there, but never constant in nature.

5. I do use my imagination when creating computer music. Not so sure it could qualify as DD-ing, but I guess it could. It's just that I'm not really thinking of movielike scenes in my head, music is more abstract and it's more about short bursts of creativity. I fill in the blanks on a randomly discovered foundation, usually a note sequence.

And while it can happen in daytime, I mostly dream new music at night. It is nigh impossible to convert that to a new piece. Music is as much about quality of sounds as it is about melody, I might nail the melody but not the awesome sounds I day dream.

Comment by Emma on June 6, 2015 at 7:33pm

1. Mostly, no.

2. I daydream more with the music off. So if it is on, in the car or in the house, I will turn it off to daydream.

3. One of my characters is a musician.  Sometimes, when I listen to music featuring the instrument he plays, I imagine a scenario around the performance.  I've even made a mixed tape with songs this character could have played.  I have several scenarios in which he might play a particular song, and if I can access that song while I daydream, I'll imagine the whole performance.  I did this with about six songs, but they all had to feature the instrument that my character played so it couldn't be just any song. This has had the result in ruining these particular songs for me while I'm not daydreaming though, so I stopped doing this.

4. Aside from the scenarios I mentioned above, I never daydream to music.  I love music. I'm a huge music fan. Music distracts me from daydreaming. If I'm really into a song, I can't daydream because I'm too focused on the music. For me, music isn't "background"- it's a presence.  When random music is on, like the radio or something, it's harder to daydream but I can ignore it and daydream though it's harder. But when I've chosen to play music, I can't daydream. In fact, when I'm trying to control my daydreaming, listening to music is something I do to prevent myself.

5. Interesting, but no I've never done that.  Playing music requires too much focus on what I'm doing. I daydream while doing other things, but only things that do not require thought- chores, driving, mowing the lawn, laundry, working out, etc.  And I never day dream about the things I'm doing. 

Comment by OhMyMagenta on June 6, 2015 at 6:45pm
1. Primarily yes, but I can DD without it.

2. If the music suddenly stops, the DD is paused until the music resumes.

3. With music, I have a specific scenario to play out. Without music, I focus more on dialogue and connectedness between characters.

4. N/A

5. No
Comment by debbie downer on June 4, 2015 at 2:09pm

1. primarily, yes

2. it stops

3. daydreams without music are calmer

4.  n/a

5. no

Comment by Lauren Smith on June 2, 2015 at 4:02pm

1-Not really. It's half and half. 

2-I continue the daydream, usually without realizing the music is gone. 

3-Yes. With music my daydreams are either extremely happy or extremely intense. 


5-Yes, I play piano while I daydream ALL THE TIME. 

Comment by Tuxedo Knux on June 2, 2015 at 12:53pm

#1: Yes

#2 When the music suddenly stops, the daydream is paused, and I then have to reset the music from the beginning so I can experience all of the "visuals" in their order.

#3 When the music is on I feel more of a presence within my own dreams, while when the music is off I feel like a observer.

#4 I believe thats possible, just not in my case.

#5 I've never done that, so I can't answer.

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