Noise (And the Music Within the Noise)

Today’s posting probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve taken the opportunity to listen to Alan Macfarlane’s talk on post-modern chaos and “post-modern predicament” (as “the new normal”) to which I linked in the last post on “A World Without a World View“.

For it is somewhat ironic, and perhaps even confusing, that in a time when the “Overview Effect” is overtaking the “point-of-view effect”, as it were, we should be talking about a “World Without a World View”, isn’t it? Has Mr. Macfarlane simply overlooked something obvious?

(And, by the way, if you haven’t also seen the video on The Overview Effect, it is well-worth watching too, because this effect lies at the heart of what we now call “globalism” and the global soul — as distinct from what we typically understand as contemporary “globalisation”).

What Mr. Macfarlane is describing in his talk is what I previously referred to as “Shiva’s dance” — the whirl of paradigm formation and paradigm dissolution that he likens to a fireworks display or as everything dissolving into “mist” (much like Zigmunt Bauman’s description of “Liquid Modernity“). Of course, Mr. Macfarlane doesn’t see it as Shiva’s dance, which we should properly call “chaotic transition” or what is also referred to as “creative destruction”.

But, in fact, Shiva’s dance is not chaotic. It follows its own inner music and logic. And that’s what I want to address as perhaps the flaw in Mr. Macfarlane’s otherwise fine description of the meaning of “choatic” or his term “mist” (and for what it’s worth, “mist” and “mystification” are very much the same thing which, of course, he speaks to about post-modernism).

(And I should also like to mention in respect of Shiva’s Dance of “creative destruction” or “chaotic transition” the great Rumi’s poem “Green Ears”, which is entirely about this dance of Shiva. I’ll have occasion to mention the importance of Rumi in respect of the hidden music of the dance below).

Mr. Macfarlane likens post-modern chaos to noise. He uses the term “cacophony”, in fact. Nothing relates harmoniously to anything else and as such no coherent or consistent “world picture” or view seems possible. What we have rather is fragmentation, disintegration, and atomisation into “mist”.

Gebser would say, yes the noise is chaotic. But at the same time you’ve failed to hear the music within the noise. The reason it all appears chaotic is because of your commitment to perspectivity — the traditional ratio of rationalism is what is offended by the cacophony. The noise, the chaos, is Janus-faced and within the chaos is an emergent restructuration or reorganisation underway. And one of the reasons there appears to be no common “world view” is because such “views” and viewpoints are dissolving. This represents a shift from the eye as the organ of knowing to the ear. The ear is becoming primary again, and the eye secondary as the organ of knowing.

An anecdote for this from the life of Rumi is pertinent. It is said that Rumi was one day walking through the blacksmith section of Damascus, the smiths beating out their metal wares on anvils. Where others heard only noise and cacophony, Rumi heard a divine music, and began to dance to it. From this episode comes the famous “dance” of the mevlana sect of Sufism — the so-called “whirling dervish”. It is, in fact, a form of Shiva’s dance itself.

What Mr. Macfarlane has overlooked is the inner ecology of this chaos or cacophony, and if anything the best metaphor for ecology is music. The truth of any particular ecology lies not in the elements or “things” or “beings” of the ecology, but in the relationship between them. Just so, the meaning of the music lies not in the notes, but in the relationship between the notes or sounds, and just so, the meaning of reality lies not in the atoms and molecules, but in the relationship between the atoms of molecules. So, I would suggest here that what Mr Macfarlane has overlooked is the emergent ecology or ecologics in the cacophony of post-modern chaos. And just so, the truth value of any statement I may make likes not in the sounds, assembled into phonemes, and phonemes assembled into morphemes, and morphemes assembled into a syntax. The meaning lies in the relationship (which we call “grammar”) between the various sounds. Ecology is a grammar; music is a grammar.

Grammar is invisible. It’s what you hear rather than what you see. Chaos has a grammar, which is non-visual, which is why you can’t form from it a “world view”. The dance of Shiva also has a grammar, which is the invisible music to which Shiva dances his dance. And so Gebser would say that, yes, there is chaos and nihilism. But that chaos and nihilism has an implicit grammar, an implicit ecology. It’s anthropologist Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension.

Chaos has a grammar. Or, we might say, grammar conquers chaos too. This is the meaning of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy’s “grammatical method” as the “ecodynamic laws of society”. Once you perceive the ecodynamic laws within chaos, that is, the grammar of chaos, is conquered. That’s pretty much the meaning of Rumi’s “Green Ears”.

Why do we have, then, post-modern “chaos”? It is as Gebser describes it — the breakdown of perspectivism and the mental-rational now functioning in deficient mode. You will note, perhaps, that Mr. Macfarlane dates the onset of post-modern chaos from the 70s, especially. That is to say, from Thatcherism and the beginnings of neo-liberalism. Recall Thatcher’s infamous remark that “there is no such thing as society” — that she saw only individuals and families. This is the meaning of neo-liberalism, and it culminated in the market meltdown of 2007 – 2008 just because neo-liberalism takes to heart that “there is no such thing as society”.

Enter chaos. And then seal it with “There is No Alternative” and as “The End of History”.

It’s precisely in Thatcher, then Reagan and altogether neo-liberalism that the deficient mental-rational reaches its climax – the overture to post-modern chaos. Society isn’t something you “see”. It’s something you hear — it’s a grammatical, and that means, ecological or ecodynamic structure. Neo-liberalism is deaf and dumb to that.

So, yes… there is chaos because there is no one “world view”. But that’s also because visualisation is failing, and viewpoints are becoming irrelevant, and this looks like chaos. When society becomes ungrammatical, then indeed you would have chaos. But then, Thatcher and Reagan and Fukuyama and neo-liberalism are only symptoms of that zombie logic of Late Modernity that has become deaf, dumb, and blind to everything vital.

We can’t have a “world view” because non-visualisability has become a foundational principle of contemporary cosmology. But it can be symbolised, and that is what Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and the indigenous “Sacred Hoop” both attempt to do — and quite well, I think. They aren’t world views. They are grammars of creation. They are images of the hidden music, or the ecology of things and events. And we could master post-modern chaos and “chaotic transition” if we paid attention to them.

It simply is not true that all universals have dissolved into myriad viewpoints or “the 10,000 things” as the Taoists describe it. But what is true seems to be of little value in the madness of the “new normal” of post-modern chaos  and “culture of narcissism”, and the hypertrophy of the ego and its “point-of-view”.


11 responses to “Noise (And the Music Within the Noise)”

  1. davidm58 says :

    Beautifully said – great post! I haven’t had time to listen to the Macfarlane presentation, but the post really resonates, nonetheless. Chaos is not the opposite of order in the sense of being equated with disorder. “Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered” said the writer Jose Saramago, and Chuck Palahniuk said “What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t recognized yet.”

    I just finished the new book “The Jazz of Physics,” where physicist/musician Stephon Alexander explains how the universe originated from sound waves in the primordial plasma. Toward the end of the book he has a chapter on “The Beauty of Noise” where he tells us that we should listen for the music in the noise. “We can understand how noise can arise using the Fourier idea. Simply add waves of all frequencies, each with the same amplitude , and we end up with a featureless white noise signal. Our ears will perceive this sound as a hiss because there is no one frequency that dominates: each contributes to the sound equivalently. So white noise is actually the most democratic sound.”

    In order for the universe to be what it is, patterns of both symmetry and symmetry breaking (chaos) are needed. In the next chapter on “The Musical Universe,” Alexander notes,

    “Music and sound have persisted, whether we have focused on them or not. They are part and parcel with the universe. The symmetry of musical compositions mirrors the symmetry that exists in quantum fields, and the breaking of these symmetries in both cases lends beautiful complexity. In physics we get the distinct forces of nature with symmetry breaking, in music we get tension and resolve.

    The uncertainty of being able to know both where a particle is and where it is going beautifully mirrors jazz improvisation. And isn’t it mind blowing that the spectrum of vibrations that were amplified by inflation, those that led to the structure in our universe today, is the same as the spectrum of noise? Fundamental to it all is the Fourier addition of waves. The harmonic structure of the cosmic microwave background emerges from quantum noise, just as distinct beats and rhythms emerge from a fundamental waveform, an oscillation, a uniform repetition, a circle.

    …Get this: If there is nothing outside the universe and if the universe functions like an instrument, with all the musical elements it has, then the universal instrument must play itself. In other words, the cosmic sound is the instrument and the instrument is the cosmic sound. Everything in the universe, including space-time, that supports it must vibrate or oscillate.

    It’s possible to convert this idea into a physical one simply by oscillating one parameter – the expansion rate of the universe. If the expansion rate oscillates with a frequency of a pure tone then we have what I will call a rhythmic universe, otherwise known as a cyclic cosmology. It turns out that Einstein’s theory of relativity admits a cyclic universe as an exact solution. This type of universe gets us around the mind-bending question of ‘What happened before the big bang?’ The answer is that the universe underwent a succession of contractions and expansions – there was no beginning. There is no big bang singularity, and time always existed. This is the purest tone that the universe can play. The tone itself is the oscillation of the scale of the universe.”

    Got carried away with another long quote there, but you can see the confirmation of my theories regarding the essential nature of the Expand/Contract polarity pattern, and which also helps us understand the universal nature of chaotic transitions – “as above, so below.”

    Looks like there are some interesting articles and interviews on Alexander’s website.

  2. Steve Lavendusky says :

    Spiritual Landscape

    Wild berries clarified by frost,
    inhabitants of a transparent landscape,
    spiritual vista of flowers reduced
    to their remote value: cold on the forehead.

    A stone hangs in the air like a bird
    touching branches and roses as it flies,
    slightly weightless yet never grave:
    easing my heart as it passes.

    Hands in bloom that never grasp:
    serene reservoir encompassed by vastness,
    and distances—so many—that flow into veins,
    while softly a star sleeps upon the table.

    By Jean Gebser

  3. abdulmonem says :

    It is god is the aim of the humans and not nature but nature is his speech and his pictures to those who know how to listen and know how to read. God is not at the surface but in the depths that is why we read in the revelation that I am nearer to the human than his jugular vein. Our true awe is in grasping the illuminating foundation of everything,there we found our true selves face to face with the light sources of our being. It seems the purpose of all humans exploration is to come near to the understanding of the source and each will get his glimpse in light of his preparation and receptivity, or as some seekers puts, what seems hints and guesses of the eternal state of consciousness, in actuality it is a state of human exploration in that realm through the consciousness given to him.The imaginal world of the divine is beyond reason and will continue to expand as stated by the quran. I am always wary of those who stand at the surface and never move to the depth of what is true. Ibni Arabi says, entering the divine abode of bewilderment that of knowing and not knowing is the prelude to move from the mental concept pf being to the experience of being where the concept and being are unified. The divine revelation is an experiential process where the temple is established as laboratory venue for exercising the reach. I feel sad that some of our friends are transfixed in the realm of the mental conception and do not move to the real being. When language is unmoored from reality, spiritual scotoma wil set in those who are mentally besieged. May god orotect us.

  4. abdulmonem says :

    May god protect all.

  5. edlevin2015 says :

    We can’t have a “world view” because non-visualisability has become a foundational principle of contemporary cosmology. But it can be symbolised, and that is what Rosenstock-Huessy’s “cross of reality” and the indigenous “Sacred Hoop” both attempt to do — and quite well, I think. They aren’t world views. They are grammars of creation. They are images of the hidden music, or the ecology of things and events. And we could master post-modern chaos and “chaotic transition” if we paid attention to them.

    I’m trying to find what Rosenstock-Huessy wrote about the cross of reality. Can you suggest an available English writing that is the best place to start?

    • Scott Preston says :

      Speech and Reality and I Am An Impure Thinker are companion volumes of essays. But I’ve found his The Origin of Speech to be the best general orientation to Rosenstock-Huessy’s grammatical philosophy. The cross of reality, though, is best explained in the first essay of Speech and Reality. The essay is called “In Defence of the Grammatical Method”.

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