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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Prog for the Existentialist

I've been listening to a lot of Pain of Salvation and Ayreon lately, and thinking a lot about what those band's albums, particularly BE, Into The Electric Castle, and 010101110101101001010111, all mean. The common thread in all of those, of course, is the nature of a god or gods, and the purpose of humanity. Now, I'm not intending to turn this into some kind of theological debate, but lyrically, this is a very proggy topic, and it's related to many of the themes I touch on in my own work. I am fascinated by it, and have written what might turn out to be a concept double album regarding the subject, to tell the truth. And nothing gets more proggy than a concept double album, now does it?

My little brother and I were debating about the fabric of reality earlier tonight. He presented a worthy argument: numbers do not exist because they are not real. They are only symbols on paper, you cannot "show" someone what a 3 is, other than using an outside example. I refuted him with the obvious:

3 exists. The symbol itself is just a representation of a concept. That's what variables in algebra and calculus are. Especially in calculus. It doesn't matter what number it is, it can be x. It can be k. It can be n. It can be Ä, or µ, or a picture of a Mudkip or a guitar solo. It doesn't matter, if I assign the symbol to the concept it is valid. That's why a lot of equations start out as "Let x = 2" or something, because it doesn't matter what the symbol is.

... that's a representation of 3 dots.
qqq that's a representation of 3 q's.

If you take one away from them and separate it, it'll become .. .
Or it'll become q qq

o even if you have something that represents 3, and take something that represents 1 away (3-1), you end up with something that represents 2.

I mean, if you want to get really technical about it, language does not exist. All of the words we have are simply representations of concepts within our universe. Can you show me what a book is? A book is a collection of dirty pieces of paper with words on them. A word is a combination of abstract symbols we assign meaning to. What if the letters B-O-O-K meant what we call a guitar? What if the letters G-U-I-T-A-R meant what we call football? What if the letters F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L meant what we call progressive rock music?

All of our numbers and language exist only in our heads, a construction of what our culture has come up with and created so that it can fully express the things important to them. That's why it's said that the Eskimos have so many words for snow, because it obviously surrounds them and is a big part in their lives. There are over 100 words for Jesus in English because of the importance we as a culture place on him.

3 is the symbol we made to represent the concept of there being one and another and another. It is not a thing, but it exists. This same argument could be used to illustrate progressive rock. There has been a long-standing debate over the years as to what constitutes "prog", whether it is used in a literal sense: progressing and pushing the boundaries of music, or by following the genre, being the same as the original "prog bands". Both camps have a valid argument and are certainly entitled to their own opinions, but to be looked at objectively, does "prog" exist at all? Some genres are bordering on extreme nitpicking: for example something like Extreme Death Prog Folk Jazz Metal for Opeth's latest album, while it would be accurate, provides no insight into the actual sound itself. It is perhaps a curse of the word "progressive" in that the genre is so diverse, because it's really hard to explain to people that I like some of the most brutal, technical metal and at the same time, ethereal post-modern wisps of songs, and they are both part of the same genre.

Let me go off on a tangent here: there is objective reality, and then perception. Only something encompassing ALL PERCEPTIONS in the universe can be considered objective. Thus, the only thing that can be truly objective would have to be God or some other similar, omniscient being. The existence of multiple, autonomous beings proves this. There are multiple perceptions of reality, and thus there IS reality. If we were all part of one single meta-organism, the only reality that would ever exist would be the one we all perceived. But because people are different and have different experiences, different opinions, different beliefs, objective reality exists because events actually happen. For all we know, everything that "happens" to us could be an illusion fed to us by our brains, but because people with such diverse origins all experience them, it can be deduced that reality exists.

If my brother did not exist, my life would be changed significantly, but I'd be normal. If I never existed, my parent's lives would be WAYYY different, but they'd be fine. If my house or school or church or city didn't exist, things would be different. The universe would be able to function just fine if humans never existed, or if Earth never existed. But what if there was no universe? That means that there would be NOTHING. Ever. There would be no reality, nothing would exist or ever exist. There would be no universe, there would be quite literally NOTHING at all. Can you even wrap your mind around that? There would be no plane for any reality to exist on. THAT is objective reality.

In objective reality, 3 exists. It is there in groupings of things. A number is simply a representation of a grouping, so yes, 3 does exist. The symbol does not physically exist, but then again, letters do not physically exist.

One of the questions I tend to ponder in my own mind is what music would sound like on a planet that creates planets. When I ask this to people, most take it at face value, but like the Forevers in the Ayreon saga, or the title character in BE, it can pose some interesting questions about our perception of what, exactly, is.

What if there was a culture where literally everyone was a God? Not necessarily a religious figure, but a world where everybody could create and control things on a whim, everybody had immense power? What would their culture be like, a people who do not worship anything because they are the ones that are worshiped? I ask about the music because I'm a musician, but that's the bigger question. How do you think the culture of Gods would be? Are we in their image, are they in our image? Is God, like I said earlier, our universe itself, the objective reality? Would this race of Gods be simply massively powerful, but normal to each other, or would they be all-powerful and able to control even each other? Would we be able to tell? Is there only one God? Are there actually different Gods, or are polytheistic religions perceiving the various qualities as various identities? Why is God here, why are we here? They're tough questions, and I'm not expecting anyone to answer me. Let me reinstate that I do NOT want this to turn into a religious debate. I am not talking about the Christian god or any specific god, but just the concept of deities in the first place, and this concept's effect on human belief and behavior.

We can never know, because we can never know objective reality. For all we know, humans are simply experiments by these "gods" to find themselves. As well, for all we know we could be the smartest, most advanced race in the universe. The only things we can compare to are each other. And because of this, the efforts of our creativity, the things we devote ourselves to as musicians and artists and people, can only be real and can only be "true", so to speak, by creating the music we truly want to create; being what we want to be; doing what we want to do. As Sean said in his previous post, you can only go so far with 3 chords and a desire to "rock out". In my opinion, there should never be any self-imposed limits on any band: one shouldn't have to stick into a preconceived notion of "rock" or "metal" or "prog", but on the other hand, we can't expect our favorite artists to change and experiment just because we want them to keep progressing. That, in my opinion, is true prog: not necessarily progressing music, but progressing ourselves. I have grown a lot since I first stumbled upon Progulus at the tender age of 14, and it is my every intent to continue to grow in my appreciation for all music as I grow as a person.

And that is why I love prog. It has given me hundreds of bands that play amazing, unique, and beautiful music. They can, essentially, be considered gods in their field. There is every sound possible, there are no limits: the artists are only limited by themselves. There is no objective, unbiased truth as to what prog is or isn't. It is merely a representation of whatever we want it to be. It exists, but it is not real, and thus, better off as a genre for it.

"The meaning of life is to give life meaning
Go too fast, move too slow
Restore the balance between thinking and feeling
Open up and let it flow"

"I feel every mountain
I hear every tree

I know every ocean

I taste every sea

I see every spring arrive
I see every summer thrive
I see every autumn keep
I see every winter sleep

For I am every forest
I am every tree
I am everything
I am you and me

I am every ocean
I am every sea
I am all the breathing BE."


BG said...

Dude....That was some really heavy progressive thoughts.

It makes me think of the classic idea that there is only one God, which is I. And no, I am not talking about atheism....

I think so therefore I am. BUT, how do I know that others think, and that they are truly alive. Who can prove to me that everyone else aren't just made out of fragments of my imagination, maybe a defense mechanism against loneliness. So yeah...everyone and every thing exists for my benefit, because I am the center of the universe...and no one can prove it to be otherwise.

BG said...

BTW...Since you now have 2 entries I decided to put you on the list of regulars...

guitarsean said...

Wow man, that's a huge post. I've reread it several times in the past few days because I really wanted to respond but I had to figure out where to start. I think for this discussion we should start with some definitions. That way we know whether we're on the same terminology page.

First, symbols. You assert that 3 exists because we use it as a symbol to represent something else. But I would argue that since it is a symbol is doesn't really exist. All symbols are arbitrary, agreed upon by long cultural use. You later write yourself that language doesn't really exist for its very arbitrary meaning. The things that 3 might represent can be real, like your dots, but the symbol itself is only real in the sense we all agree that it represents something else we are talking about. Math on the other hand, although filled with very abstract and arbitrary symbols, has for a long time been on the leading edge of our understanding of the universe. Someone comes up with an equation that makes a prediction. We make observations that support the prediction, and we make the abstract math real.

Back you your brother's assertion that 3 isn't real, I think he should have said that you can't 'show' someone 3 in the absence of using 3 as a symbol to represent something. If I say '3' the natural reply is '3 what?' I don't think symbols are self defining.

One more point before this comment turns into a book. You state "there is objective reality, and then perception. Only something encompassing ALL PERCEPTIONS in the universe can be considered objective." The first part is right, objective reality and perception are not the same. The second part I don't think is an accurate definition of objective reality. Objective reality is independent of our beliefs and our senses, not encompassing all senses or all perceptions. To answer the question "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound" an objectivist would say "Of course. The breaking of the tree and its collision with other objects will cause compressions in the air, sound waves, and it doesn't matter if there is anyone there to perceive the sound waves."

Relating to the first part again, groups of things exist and can do so objectively, but I think it doesn't matter if they are grouped. The arbitrary symbol 3 doesn't exist objectively. The symbol requires our perception of it to exist. We have to perceive something as a group to find the need to make a symbol to represent it so we can communicate.

I'll be rereading your post again and we'll see if I have more to say. Good post, keep writing like this. I enjoy these proggy discussions. And if you disagree with me, by all means, the world needs more intelligent discussion.

BG said...

In the forest you can find 3 trees. The trees exists.

The symbol '3' exists because someone made the association between the every individual tree and the fact that they were in a group.

It all depends on what elements are "allowed" in the objective universe. So Sean, I think you are right if we only "allow" physical elements?

You could argue that associations (aka thoughts) are also elements to be included in the "equation". As long as someone is or have been thinking them...they exist.

Of course the perception of a symbol can have different meanings, but then every meaning is just a breakdown of the symbol into new elements. This unfortunately negates what I said earlier because it makes the association the object and the symbol is still the "subject" (open to interpretation).

So, if there was only one meaning for a symbol, then you can truly say it is part of an objecttive universe of things that just ARE.

BG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
guitarsean said...

The definition of "objective universe" is a little sketchy and I think some philosopher's don't even agree with the terms use. But for this discussion, an objective universe or objective reality is totally outside our heads, outside our interpretation. The trees exist but as soon as you see them that's no longer objective, it's perceptive - you aren't perceiving the tree objectively, your eye is receiving reflected photons of light, your ocular nerves send info to the brain, the brain reconstructs the image and another part of the brain says "tree" because experience has taught you the association between the object and the word.

That's not to say that perceptive reality isn't real, it just isn't objective. And the use of words and symbols is all part of our perception. I think this is one thing some people don't like about the objective universe. Since it's outside our perceptive reality we can't observe it. In a way one wonders if it exists at all if we don't perceive it (sort of the idea that the tree falls and it doesn't make a sound if no one hears it). My brain hurts now... I like it!

stringray said...

'3' is a number. A number is part of language. Language is not physical. It is develloped by human brain, in order to communicate it has the function of describing something. Equal if it's for the wish of something ("I want to eat") , or three trees ("These are three trees"). Language is a formula (consisting of letters), a tool, develloped by our given intelligence. It doesn't exist in physical form, but in our cognitive reality; it is abstraction. Abstracted abstraction. The letters are abstraction and the language as formulas of letters are the 2nd abstraction.

'3' is a formula (a tree and a tree and a tree). 3 trees do exist physically, but not the instance for '1', neither the formula of '3'. Those do only exist in our cognitive universe, so '1' and '3' are abstractions, too. Because '1' is an instance, it is abstraction, the formula 1+1+1 is and abstraction of the abstraction. '3' as an instance for the formula is abstraction, so it is abstracting the abstracted abstraction.

'Three' is the liguistical variation of '3'. A quintuple.

And by the way, our brain computes that in realtime without ever having a break. It is deep inside us and runs the cognitive universe in each single one of us. Our cognitive universes are part of us, us humans. What are we? We are physical materia. 'Three' is the result of chemical reactions that happen due to materia. As physical parts of the material that is the glalaxy, the universe, do we output such super-abstractions. Is 'three' now existing or isn't it?

'Three' exists. It exists for us, because our own existing is based on 'three'. (Damn, T-Bo, why didn't you use '42' as example??!!)
No other (known) species than ours knows of '3' so for them it does not exist. So we as an entire species create one 'three' and '3' after the other, and they all exist just for our cognitive universes. All they do is worshipping us (it's their only purpose), so we are a divine species. But that doesn't mean we are worshipping ourselves. Our cognitive universes are parts of this one universe we live in.

What is this universe anyway? In the beginning, was there really nothing? Then a big bang, and suddenly existence was?
What if we are only another cognitive operation of another deity? Is it alone? Or does it have company? How many universes would there be beneath the one we dwell in. And how would our represetatives do abstractions?

Heaven and hell, I better go back to my job in cascading abstractions, by using formulas for creating rhythm, frequences, lots of them, merging them add more formulas, until it's music, don't stop, add and multiply more abstactions until it's prog.

Progito, ergo sum.

Zaii said...

It is a favourite thought of mine to consider whether our fellow inhabitants of this earth have theological thoughts. Does a bacteria in our stomach consider man to be God as we give it life? Probably not, it is after all a bacteria. But what of chimpanzees and dolphins and dogs? These are animals that have very highly developed cognitive function, social interaction and the ability to communicate with each other. A police dog carries out the kind of abstract thought discussed here all the time, it sniffs the air, detects a chemical which it recognises as a narcotic and alerts its human master. It takes a physical object (the molecules of a drug) and associates it with “woof woof”, just as we take three objects and associate them with the abstract thought of “three” If they are capable of associating a molecule of a particular drug with a cognitive thought process (deciding to alert the human to its presence) and a physical action (barking and running to where the drug is) are they able to have other abstract thoughts? Do they have the concept of 3 aswell? Do they have the abstract concept of names? Many people would rubbish the idea of animals having thoughts like these, it can be argued that a dog detecting a smell and barking is merely a learnt behaviour based on a carrot and stick training regime when it was younger rather than an intrinsic intelligence and understanding of what a smell is. I don’t know, being a lover of all things natural I have enormous respect for the things animals and birds do and believe they have a lot more intelligence than we give them credit for. After all, it is oft documented that animals mourn the passing of members of their family/social group. If they mourn death then they must have the abstract thought of love. Love is not a physical thing, and therefore cannot be part of the objective reality.

So the point I am trying to put here, is that animals make all kinds of abstractions all the time, is it therefore so hard to believe that they don’t also see the world as a whole and think “god”? I certainly do.

The concept of “god” is one I have signed on the dotted line to. I am a man of science, with a batchelors degree in molecular biology and biochemistry and a master of research in biochemistry. I therefore have a deep understanding of the chemical and physical processes that give life. For many this is enough to discount the idea of a god. Not for me. I see the sheer complexity of the universe and cannot fathom how a lucky set of circumstances could have brought it all to being.
The abstract concept of “god” is one that has woven its way throughout humanity, from the ancient polytheistic societies of Egypt, Scandinavia, the Celts, Romans, Greeks and more to the modern mono-theistic world of jews and Christians and not forgetting the countless mythologies we have created in fiction- The baldur’s gate and Diablo series of games, tolkien’s middle earth, Lewis’ Narnia, the matrix world - the list is endless. I believe that whether the god(s) actually exist or not in an objective reality is a moot point. Humanity needs them to exist to explain the insignificance of ourselves in this universe. Without the idea of deities, beings of more power than ourselves, society would not have formed. The gods have always made up the backbone of human civilization – providing a structure to our society with a set of rules and doctrines to live by because gods have “decreed it so” – in Egypt man had to do as the pharaoh said, because he was god in human form and would therefore look after them. In Christianity moses gave us all 10 commandments to live by as decreed by god. These same rules are still the pillars of our society. We have always needed the idea of gods and therefore gods exist in us.
The human condition for always striving for something better than ourselves, trying to reach the gods spiritually, intellectually, emotionally is what makes us who we are. We are a species that has gone further than any other in bettering ourselves in the constant pursuit of achieving greater heights. It is the fear of something greater than ourselves that drives us – the gods have always caused ambivalence, we have loved them (or the abstract idea of them) because they keep us going, give us life and yet we fear them because they hold power over us. We fear other great things, the hot topic (if you’ll excuse the pun) currently is global warming – it is a force greater than ourselves, should our worst fears of global warming come to pass we would be powerless to stop the devastation caused to us, we therefore strive for superior technology to prevent it. The fear of one mans weapon has driven us to creating bigger weapons so that we may hold the great power over others, ultimately culminating in the nuclear bomb. The fear of the nuclear bomb has now forced us (or the US anyway) into creating a counter measure, in the form of a defence network right across Europe.

There is no greater power than a god, and this I believe is why humanity spends so much time dwelling on the subject. Progressive music is often described as thinking mans music. It is an art form designed to push the boundaries musically by incorporating elements of many genres into rock and metal. It pushes the technicality of music, so moving away from simple 4/4 time signatures and moving into more unusual time signature, even polyrhythmic music. It is therefore only logical that progressive music should push the boundaries lyrically – singing a song about someone you fell in love with is all well and good but is very run of the mill - too easy to understand and relate to. Many progressive bands take on bigger lyrically responsibilities, singing about gods and humanities role in everything, where we came from where we are going and making sense of modern day humanity. I would be sad if ever bands like pain of salvation, dream theatre and ayreon stopped tackling the big issues is life. In this world of homogeneity it is a pleasure to have an art form that can give us pause for thought, make us consider the bigger picture.

As for whether 3 exists…just ask Sean…I believe he has played on stage with them :-)

guitarsean said...

Ok, I concede the point. 3 exists, and they rock (although there are 6 of them. If they are 6 can they be Three?)

stringray said...

wow Zaii, we're exactly on the same track! My profession is quite different, but not in a totally non-technical way.

A bacteria is a bacteria, the most simple form of life. If it has something to consume it lives, if not it dies. So simple can life be.
When you think of animals, it's quite stunning. An ape that finds wheat mixed with sand, it will take it and throw it into water, because the sand will sink and the wheat will swim. I've heard parrots talking in complete sentences, even answering questions logically; and they even have fun fooling you. Cats that can kill you with a glance because you've opened a can of food it doesn't like.

But the dog in your example has been domesticated. It does smell and find the narcotic because we made it being used to it. The 'woof woof' is no warning but an expression of a wish: "give it to me, I want that!" A cat eats food in cans because we force it to live inside a house and would starve if not. Other if you have mice for the chase as well. The dog finds the narcotic, because the human adds it to its food regulary and makes it wanting it through that way.

Those animals wouldn't do that if they would live their natural lifes. And that's a point about us humans, one we definately should philosophize about. Is it really so good that we started to learn, explore construct, dominate, etc? Have a look at this planet and then think away all of us and the effects and diseases we applied. How would it be then? How would that aria look like if New York (just for an example) would never have been constructed? Or Mumbai? Or Munich?
Early this year I've seen HD material of a guy who went filming in the aria of Chernobyl, and it was... hell... there is no word/abstraction I find... The fauna is so bizzarre, noone can tell its species, animals simply are not there. Rotten artefacts of a gone civilisation like in "Children Of Men". The result of a simple failure in a power plant. The sarcophagus still is there, doing its chain reaction inside its ever growing coating of concrete for another 10.000 years.

You mention the climatic shift. Well. it is happening and we cannot stop it. When Emmerich went advertising for the sreenplay for "End OF Tomorrow", they studio bosses wondered why there is no Bruce Willis who'd stop it.
And that is our nature, I'm afraid. We cannot stop the global warming, no chance, too late. All we can do is spend huge, yes, really huge efforts of reducing its effect. We do know that. But we're still debating if it would be worthy for our economy (or our personal habits).

I'm not a nazi of the green party, I'm no new ager, I'm not a [insert almost any label]. But please allow me to philosophize about our species. We're not a bacteria, but a virus. We're a disease to this planet. Instead of debating about a god, which god, etc. we should take a bit more care of our own actions. If there were any, and I really mean any religion worth of todays necessities, it would be respectable. But sorry, none of todays religions handle the most important topics of our lifes, just like politics do not. I don't want to blame religions here at all, I'm just saying that the old missions they once had are mostly outdone by todays normal life. We better not decide if an action is christian (mine hopefully are, though I'm not religious in any way) but 'not in the usual human matter'. We should do better than that.

Heck, I cannot finish this by saying:
"There's 6 of Three? are they borg?"

T-Bo said...

Wow, I leave for a few days, and y'all have a great debate going. I love it.

Essentially, the way I think of it, there are only two "things" in our universe. Matter, and energy. Neither can be created nor destroyed.

What is the line between theory and reality?

A number becomes an equation, which becomes a wave, which becomes a sound. Combined with other sounds it makes a chord, and with a pattern of rhythm it makes music. A chord is essentially a system of equations, if you think of it that way. But if it's something based in theory - not physical - can it still be real if it takes place within the physical world? Music is not matter: it has no mass or volume or any of that. It's energy compounded and compounded until it has a physical effect on our world.

I mean, where is the point where energy becomes matter? It's theorized that the Big Bang was caused by two electrons spontaneously forming at the same time, in the same spot. Or something similar to that. Were they created from a buildup of energy, and then released said energy, causing matter to explode all over the universe?

And in that dichotomy, where do other things exist? Emotions, feelings, ideas, thoughts. Language. Numbers. The Internet. They obviously exist, and we use them, but what are they? I don't think they can technically be classified as energy or matter.

I mean, it's common knowledge that emotions are controlled through various impulses and chemicals in the brain. It's common knowledge that language needs a medium - speech, writing, and it could be argued that language itself is simply a medium for ideas. It's common knowledge that the Internet uses servers and modems and things to transmit signals, but really, we can enter into a whole world stored on nothing but memory.

I think objective reality can never be obtained. The figure we call God may seem to have it, but he may merely be extremely powerful, beyond our every comprehension. But the only sure thing is that we can never know. Nobody has pure objectivism, and we can really only base our entire assumptions on life based on what we've learned from our experiences.

Everything in this world is an assumption: we drive to work every day, assuming we'll get there. We step out of bed every morning (well, afternoon for me :P) assuming we won't fall through some sort of intangible chasm in the floor. We assume that we will type up posts about reality and all this nonsense, and then when we hit the 'SEND' button, it'll go through. The laws of physics are only assumed proven until even the tiniest slip-up.

I mean, there's that ongoing debate, does 0.9999999~ = 1? It makes sense, 1/3 is 0.33333~, and 3 * 1/3 = 1, and 3 * 0.3333333~ = 0.999999999~. The problem with this is that it's still an approximation. We use the repeating decimals as an asymptote, or a limit. It is an approximation of the value, not the actual value. Physics assumes such things, due to the practical negligibility of such tiny differences, but nonetheless, there is a difference between an assumption and what something actually is. We can only assume what we perceive, and infer what we can based on our observations, and use our colored lens to see the world in the way that we do.

In this way, we are scientists. In this way, we are physicists. In this way, we are thinkers. We are philosophers, we are musicians, we are proggers. And 3 kicks ass.

guitarsean said...

I'm really hoping string theory is correct. I find it very interesting that one of the newest hypothesis of existence involves 'strings' vibrating in and out of 11 different dimensions. Very musical. It's profound to think that all existence is like this. Maybe that's why music, particularly instrumental music, has a profound way of expressing emotions and deep feelings even without words. It's as close as we can get to our smallest common connection to the universe.

I think it's also interesting that we can all make observations about the wonders of the universe and reach different conclusions about god.

Zaii said...

“In the beginning Eru, the One, who in the elvish tongue is named Ilúvatar, made the Ainur of his thought; and they made a great Music before him. In this Music the World begun; for Ilúvatar made visible the song of the Ainur, and they became enamoured of its beauty, and of its history which they saw beginning and unfolding as in a vision. Therefore, Ilúvatar gave to their vision Being, and set it amid the Void, and the Secret Fire was sent to burn at the heart of the world; and it is called Ëa.
Then those of the Ainur who desired it arose and entered into the world at the beginning of Time; and it was their task to achieve it, and by their labours to fulfil the vision which they had seen. Long they laboured in the regions of Ea, which are vast beyond the thought of Elves or Men, until in the time appointed was made Arda, the Kingdom of the Earth. Then they put on the raiment of the Earth and descended into it and dwelt therein."

JRR Tolkien is hands down, my favourite author of all time. Widely acknowledged as the father of modern mythology he created a world with its own religions and beliefs, its own origin story and its own languages. The first time I read The Silmarillion – what is effectively a history of Middle Earth, I was so enamoured by this introduction that it has remained with me. Your thoughts on String theory and their musicality, Sean, brought it back to mind. The thought of music, the most wonderful of art forms, being the very source of life and matter is one that I find most appealing, music can after all make or break one’s emotional state. How many times have we all sat down, turned out the lights and just listened to the music flowing though us? It can bring about such peace, such love for all things. I imagine that this is a concept lost on many of the worlds population, those of us who will only listen to what Simon Cowell dictates through the X factor or American Idol. This months flavour in the UK is Alexandra Burke who recently won the X factor (I had to search the internet to find out her name) and is guaranteed of the coveted “Christmas number one” with her woefully bad cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” – a song perfected by Jeff Buckley and made famous to today’s society by Shrek.

I find there is a beautiful symmetry in music creating the world and music being used to then explore the nature of the universe 15 billion years later.

Your thoughts on assumptions are a good point, TBo. All science is based upon assumptions. Just the other day I was bored at work and decided to calculate the speed at which I would hit the ground if I jumped off the top of Everest assuming no air resistance. That is a crude example, but probably makes the point quite nicely – the universe is just too complex to take everything into account, we have to assume certain things. Erwin Schroedinger was one of many highly intelligent European physicists to delve into the realm of quantum mechanics, a subject brought into public consciousness recently with the search for the “God particle” in the large hadron collider at Cern. Any scientist knows that one of the major problems of our work is that as soon as you measure something, you are altering it. Schroedinger tried explaining this with a cat. If a cat is in a box with a poison, then quantum mechanics would say that it is both alive and dead, simultaneously. Only when someone looks into the box does the cat become either alive or dead. Quantum science is riddled with these kind of paradoxes. The chemists and physicists among you will know that all matter is both a wave and a particle – in schools in the UK (or at least good schools where the kids want to learn) we do experiments to prove that light and electrons have both a wave nature and a particle nature. Humans themselves have a wavelength of 10^-42 or so, if we could get through a gap small enough we would diffract – something which I imagine would be quite a messy process.

So we make assumptions and approximations because we have to, because we cannot be truly objective as has been pointed out before in this little discussion. We have to assume that something is either one thing or another – in chemistry it is too difficult a concept to think of electrons as waves, as formless “clouds” of charge encircling a nucleus, instead we think of them as small particles of charge forever orbiting a nucleus. Perhaps we should consider god in a similar manner – not as a definite particle, be it a large man with sandals and a beard or a boson in a large tube deep beneath the swiss alps but as both a definite being and a shapeless mass of energy covering this universe. That would certainly explain why we cannot prove there is a god, because he is everywhere and everything, he is the mountain, the tree, the earth and the sea. He is you and me.

Going back to progressive music briefly, if the universe/multiverse is made up of strings vibrating and interacting in such complex ways, maybe it is only the most complex music that can start to mirror the beauty and wonder of our universe. Pop music is just too simplistic, too much of an abstraction to be able to effectively represent all that is the universe. Progressive music with its countless layers of sound, its countless sources of inspiration and styles is able to connect us with the universe and therefore gives those of us closest to it those shivers down our spine that we get when we become truly absorbed by the beauty of a perfectly constructed song.

I imagine I am being somewhat elitist here, but I have never been moved by a song that is a top 40 hit, a song “written by numbers”.

Oh and TBo, Einstein teaches us that energy and matter are intrinsically linked, after all E = mc^2 :-)