The Music of the Spheres
On DavidM’s recommendation, I picked up and started reading Stephon Alexander‘s The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe. Dr. Alexander would like us to appreciate the large scale structure of the cosmos as a musical structure, and demonstrate how new possibilities of understanding Kosmos emerge if we contemplate it as musical form in the tradition of Pythagoras or Johannes Kepler.
This way of appreciating Kosmos as a musical composition is infinitely superior to today’s tendency to imagine it as a technical construct generated by a computer programme, or as being a simulation created by “future selves” or a master “artificial intelligence”, which becomes a technocratic mythology. And it also deserves to be recognised, understood, and appreciated as an example of, and contribution towards, a “metanoia” of emergent new consciousness. For there are, indeed, consequences for consciousness, life, and society whether we imagine Kosmos as a technology following a machine logic, or as Art. Dr. Alexander is mostly correct in re-imagining Kosmos as expressing a musical structure rather than a machine one (this the New York Times review of his book, which I linked to above, largely overlooked). The logos of Kosmos is more appropriately considered as musical, and improvisational, rather than mechanical or technocratic. Dr. Alexander’s intuitions about this are sounder (and saner) than those of the technicians. Our reality is not a computer simulation so much as a symphony or musical score.
What impresses me about Dr. Alexander’s sensitivity in this respect is how it also exemplifies a shift towards “aperspectivity” and the arational, those aspects of the new consciousness, or metanoia, anticipated by Gebser (and probably also by Marshall McLuhan in some respects). Here, the emphasis once again shifts from the eye to the ear, and the intuitive, as the principal organ of knowledge, and therewith to listening, which is more in keeping with the idea of mindfulness. This is also the most appropriate response to the problem of “visualisation” that presently plagues much of natural science, which “visualisation” largely means perspectivisation, and therewith the “point-of-view” consciousness structure called “mental-rational”. In some ways, we can say that “visualisation” is actually metamorphosing into “vision”, and the rational, correspondingly, into the imaginal.
Vision, in the sense William Blake uses it, is different from visualisation just as much as the Imaginal is different from the Rational. Vision and the Imaginal corresponds to the meaning of Gebser’s “aperspectival” and “arational” as characterisitics of the new integrality, and both are implicated in what we call “intuitive apperception“. Dr. Alexander’s approach in reimagining Kosmos as musical form is a step towards intuitive apperception as against the mere binary logic of a digital universe conceived as computer simulation. Rather, 0 and 1 might be better considered as states of silence and states of sound, otherwise known as Kaos and Kosmos, or non-Being and Being, Formless and Form, Absence or Presence, or Nothing and Something, correspondingly.
The mythical consciousness, though, because it predates alphabet, script, and literacy, is largely a cosmos of the polarities of silence and sound (the word “myth” being related to “mouth”).
Dr. Alexander’s turn to music parallels also what we find in Rosenstock-Huessy’s “metanoia” as the return of the ear in his “grammatical method”. The world, he says, is “God’s poem”, which again emphasises Art and the musical structure. His formula for new science also is consistent with Alexander’s Kosmos: “respondeo, etsi mutabor” or “audi, ne moriamur” are intended to supplant the Cartesian formula “cogito ergo sum” by shifting the emphasis from thinking to listening. “I respond, although I will be changed” or “listen, lest we die” both emphasise the primacy of the listening or mindful mode of consciousness. True listening is inner silence, a self-emptying that is symbolised by the Buddha’s empty begging bowl or the Christian Holy Grail — the empty cup awaiting it’s inspiration or fulfillment. Begging bowl and Holy Grail both symbolise the state called “Inner Silence”, or Emptiness or Void.
Essence is emptiness, All else accidental
Emptiness brings peace to your loving, All else disease
In this world of trickery, Emptiness is what your soul wants.
There is also a connection here that Alexander is probably not aware of — the return of the Dionysian, for jazz is Dionysian music (as opposed to Apollonian music), and highlights Nietzsche’s prescience in this regard about the return of the repressed. Jazz is improvisational, or spontaneous, and in that sense emergent. The Kosmos, as “God’s poem” or as “Jazz” or as Dionysian music, underscores Nietzsche’s insistence that thinking should be like dance: “You philosophers! Learn how to dance!” Shiva also dances to some invisible music. And as if to emphasise this, upon his final breakdown Nietzsche was found in his rooms in Turin, dancing naked to some inaudible music by his Italian landlady. (And even during the years of his mental debilitation, Nietzsche could still play piano flawlessly, still hearing his Dionysian music despite his senility).
It’s very significant that Alexander’s post-doc supervisor at Imperial College, the noted physicist Christopher Isham, encouraged Alexander to pay more attention to “the unconscious” and especially Carl Jung, and to trust in the creative spontaneity of the “unconscious”. Isham was aware of the fruitful association of the quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung that contributed to some of Pauli’s breakthroughs in quantum mechanics. This has been documented in Arthur Miller’s Deciphering the Cosmic Number: The Strange Friendship of Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, which I’ve recommended in the past as an example of the return of the Hermetic philosophy and of great importance in relation to Gebser’s cultural philosophy.
Arthur Miller also wrote “Einstein, Picasso: Space, Time and the Beauty that Causes Havoc“, noting the uncanny resemblance of Einstein’s theories with Picasso’s art, which Gebser also noted. After reading quite a ways into Alexander’s book, his jazz hero John Coltrane should probably be added to that, for Jazz is, in some respects, the musical equivalent of Picasso’s art, and Coltrane apparently tried to interpret Einstein in and through jazz. So, perhaps Arthur Miller’s book should have been “Einstein, Picasso, Coltrane“. And it’s also notable, too, that both Miller and Alexander have noted that whenever Einstein felt stumped by a problem in physics, he turned to music — not to a computer or calculator, but to a piano! Alexander achieved his own creative breakthroughs beyond the stagnation of “shut up and calculate” by taking Isham’s advice, turning to his saxophone, jazz improvisation, and Carl Jung.
(By the way, a “computer” was originally a man or woman paid to perform complex or difficult mathematical calculations. The name was transposed to the machine later).
The significance of Alexander’s work is not only as a contribution to Gebser’s cultural philosophy and the anticipation of “aperspectival” consciousness structure, but also an antidote to the Mechanical Philosophy, presently in its attempt to revision Kosmos as a computer or artificial computer simulation constructed by mysterious technocrats or artificial intelligences, which is only a bizarre attempt to preserve the mechanical model. It makes more sense that Kosmos is more nearly like a symphony than a computer programme, and more like Rosenstock-Huessy’s “poem” or a musical score than an algorithm.
And it really does matter how we imagine it.