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Dr Barry Ross

Dr Barry Ross

PhD student 2010-14


PhD research

Viewed from afar, my PhD project is concerned with questions of domain-specificity for music in human cognition, and the implications that such domain-specificity would have for our views of the origins of human musicality. This forms part of a larger framework of questions about the origins of musicality: questions about whether current theories about the evolution of musicality are empirically justified, what could conceivably count as legitimate supporting evidence for such theories, and how best to understand the package of abilities we call musicality. More specifically, my PhD project steps off from claims of domain-specificity for music in short-term memory, made by cognitive psychologists in the 1970s and 1980s. These claims, based on problematic experimental paradigms, are in conflict with some data from more modern research on short-term memory – data that is in itself problematic.

This project is funded by the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission.

Academic background

I grew up in South Africa and attended the University of Stellenbosch, where I studied musicology, earning BMus (Hons) and MMus degrees. My Honours dissertation, supervised by Prof. W. Ludemann, was concerned with current theories of music and language co-evolution. My Masters study, entitled A Fundamental Explanation of Musical Meaning in Terms of Mental States, was an attempt to account for the problems of communication, meaning, and musical ‘syntax’, within the framework of naturalism. With funding from the Harry Crossley Foundation and the Eriksen Trust, the study was supervised by Prof. W. Ludemann and Dr. J. P. Smit, and picked up a Rector’s Medal from Stellenbosch University.

In addition to the subject matter of my CMS project, I am interested the prehistory of musical behaviour in general and the Palaeolithic in particular, how best to understand ‘syntactical’ and structural features of music, and the instruments of prehistory. I also have less-than-professional academic interests in topics in analytic philosophy, particularly in mind, logic and argument structure, and the metaphysics of logic.

Departments and Institutes

Fitzwilliam College: