"if music be the food of love, play on"

What is Music, exactly?

In one direction it's an encoding of data inherent in a temporally sequenced, explicitly non-accidental series of sound waves of varying frequency, wavelength, waveform, duration and loudness striking the sound-wave-modulating apparatus ("ears") of ambulatory sacks of carbon-based matter ("people").

From another direction it's the vibration/oscillation of chunks of matter at and in the hands of those sacks of matter at least partially responsible for the inclusion of "non-accidental" in the preceding paragraph, ie "music-makers".

Visual arts?

To keep it simple let's focus on painting / drawing: an encoding of data inherent in the non-accidental arrangement of molecules of matter upon a two-dimensional surface, such that light striking the surface is reflected into the photon-modulating apparatus ("eyes") of sacks of carbon-based matter, which apprehend the inherent encoding (look at the artwork) and explicitly catalyse paradigmatic information-content (and find meaning in it), yadda yadda yadda


In one sense it's any ensemble of frequency and duration over time of episodes of local proximity involving two sacks of carbon based matter; ie it's an ensemble that maximises the probability of additional, though smaller, sacks of carbon based matter "popping into" existence at time t in the future --- when a particular satellite has revolved around a particular ball of rock approximately 9 times.

In another sense it's simply the preceding paragraph minus the smaller sacks.


Non-dark energy processed into handy packets to maximise the convenience of the consumer, in this case all machines designed to thwart the second law of thermodynamics (SLOT), ie anti-slot machines.

The point of all of the above is to highlight that there's no place in a materialist/reductionist universe for emergent qualities such as "meaning", "purpose", "consciousness", "life", "love" even "quality" itself (not to mention "qualia", [you don't want to go there, trust me]). In other words, the materialist/reductionist universe cannot accommodate the multitude of warm and fuzzy sins that hide under the blanket of "encoding of data", per the discussion of music and visual arts at the start of this post. In other words, "encoding of data" is a perfect disguise for the sins of subjectivity, interpretation, consciousness, life, meaning, purpose and many others)

I believe that language is subject to "Godelian" incompleteness as much as are formal systems such as arithmetic or geometry. To mangle a complex set of thoughts and ideas: Godelian incompleteness refers to the idea that proofs of a system's completeness can only be found in the larger system in which the sub-system is embedded. In the case of Euclidean geometry, for instance, the axioms are "given", ie, cannot be shown within Euclidean geometry itself to be true (hence the incompleteness of the system known as Euclidean geometry). The problem is that everything that is not an axiom, depends on at least one axiom for its proof. So if the axioms cannot be proven, then neither can the truth or otherwise of all geometrical theorems, propositions and statements that depend on the axioms for their validity.

Re the formal system, Language, the metric or gauge for measuring the truths of that system is: meaning (whatever that is). To prove the truths of language (establish the true meaning of a word or language statement) within Language itself, is not possible. One has to step outside of Language to apprehend the "true" meaning of words or language statements. Using words to define the meaning of words is circular and therefore ultimately non-productive.

Every language statement, to a greater or lesser extent, is a metaphor. Language has no direct connection to bedrock Reality, whatever that is.

What does all of this have to say about truth? Don't ask me, I only work here.


Faycin A Croud said...

I always wished I had musical talent. Unfortunately the kazoo does not count.

mgeorge said...

The drive to assign meaning to every experience is an evolutionary result. On one end, to avoid overload, we effortlessly classify the bulk of perception as trivial or routine, and have mechanisms to forget it. On the other, we struggle mightily to explain the novel experiences including dreams (which we choose to define as novel), drug trips, UFOs, near-death experiences, personal trajedy, etc. Having settled on an explanation, we then have a mission to (a) convince others, or (b) gyp thy neighbour.

Even clearly physical phenomena such as arts, fine living (e.g. wine), etc. can gain transcendent qualities. BTW, did the lads in the pop revolution ever think of themselves as artistes (don't forget the trailing e)? Is music once heard on noisy medium-wave radio in mono any less sublime compared to today's sophistication?

masterymistery said...

Faycin, why doesn't the kazoo count? Aren't you discriminating against kazoos? You'll give them a cultural inferiority complex! Cheers, MM.

masterymistery said...

mgeorge, so meaning is to be assigned, not created? Though it could be created as it is assigned, or at least a tiny bit sooner. We humans assign meaning that we've created, and that others have created, but usually we assign the meaning that others have created less enthusiastically than the meaning we've created. I think the two parts of the mission are equally important, if not interchangeable, commutatively and associatively; it would be an optimal strtegy to convince thy neighbour AND gyp others, but best to get the neighbour done first I suppose.

Re music, let's put aside the fact that the music once heard etc is almost certainly more sublime than today's sophistication (so called). I think the sublimity is inherent to (in?) the "form" of the music. The devices or intermediaries we use to access the form perform better in some ways than others, in some contexts than others, at some times than others. However they do deliver greater opportunity to experience the sublimity than a person can get unaided. Thanks for your comment, MM.

puny human said...

I think we've had a problem, since the scientific-rationalist revolution, with anything that can't be quantified, replicated, or measured. The greatest scientists, like Pascal and Einstein, acknowledged that there was a reality that science would never penetrate, but we've come to the popular belief (in our pitiful hubris) that humanity through science will be able to know everything there is to know.

"The heart has its reasons," Said Blaise Pascal, "that reason cannot know." So love, so art, so music, so the gods . . .
Best to you,

masterymistery said...

Puny, you said it: we've got a problem alright, and it's playing itself out in so many different ways. I think what's happening now is the pendulum swinging the other way, towards "denialism" ie we're happy enough to accept the fruits of science/technology but not the roots.

Einstein in particular is very amusing on this subject. I like his reason for rejecting parts of quantum physics: "God does not play dice with the universe"



Karen said...

The pain of a headache is an example of qualia.

masterymistery said...

Karen, it probably reveals my lack of understanding of the term, but why can't we simply use "quality" as in the quality of redness is red? Yes, I know there's probably some technical or techno-philosophical nuance I'm not getting, but being the lazy sob that I am I couldn't be bothered to look it up and expend the effort to really understand it. Especially if the philosophers themselves can't.