Creativity and free will. Was I wrong?

In the book I express my concerns regarding too much emphasis on so-called ‘creativity’ in our working methods and approach to the subject of composition, mainly because of my acquired knowledge that nothing new can enter the Universe. Instead, I maintain, ‘creativity’ involves the regurgitation of acquired complexes, especially the influences we are exposed to in our early, impressionable years, when the world and everything in it is fresh and new to our senses. 

Because of the combinatorial vastness of musical materials, arguments about whether or not it is possible to produce something that is truly original may be irrelevant, especially, bearing in mind the fact that, with the passing of time, old ideas can be reintroduced as novelty but I doubt that many musicians would be satisfied with this point of view. In any case, in the ‘real’ world, because of having to meet deadlines, which means functioning as well as we can regardless of our mood or sense of vitality on the day, intentional manipulation of musical material is the most fruitful way to stimulate fresh ideas. It really, (really) works.

In the classical world of Newton and Einstein, laws are deterministic, which precludes the appearance of genuine novelty. The laws also bring into question the idea of free-will, anyway. What happens is the rearrangement of properties according to immutable laws.

But in the quantum world, unique predictions are replaced by a statistical distribution of possible outcomes. The problem is how to explain why objects in the macro world we see and touch every day don’t appear to demonstrate this tendency. Having said that, it does give free-will a chance and I, for one, have always struggled with the idea of a lack of it. 

Another problem arises when we consider the possibility of genuine novelty and that involves the notion of ‘infinities’; the idea that there are countless creations waiting to be invoked. I definitely don’t like infinities because they don’t occur in nature but, again, combinatorial vastness might assist us.

A further complication lies in the tendency for some philosophers to condone infinities in mathematical, and other, principles whilst not in the properties they describe. It seems to me to be an attempt to have our cake and eat it.

In physics, as in music, time is the biggest puzzle of them all, especially the notion of the ‘present’. As a 14-year-old I used to watch the minute hand on the antique clockwork timepiece above the fireplace. I could just see it moving. One moment it was approaching the hour and the next it had passed it by. I hit on the idea (which I foolishly thought was a new idea!) that the only way it could make sense would be if time is comprised of individual, stationary, slices, like the frames of a film.

This isn’t just an idle pastime. The ‘present’, we are told, is all-important because the past is dead and gone and we have limited (some would say ‘no’) control over the future. But we never arrive at the present in any sense that would allow us to make our mark. Even if Planck’s constant is used to define the lower limit for subdivision, there would simply be no time for us to actually do anything.

I wonder how Einstein must be feeling about all this. Lorentz had already given us the time dilation factor and Maxwell the idea of the fixed velocity of light and other manifestations of electromagnetism. The notion of a fixed, global time is being re-introduced, which means that the principle of the relativity of simultaneity goes out the window and even infinities are being thrown out, which undermines the field equations themselves, although there are solutions of these that come to the rescue.

One of the most satisfying explanations for the existence of the Universe is that it is one of a number of eras, each one giving birth to the next. This idea is definitely preferable to the alternative fate, that mass/energy will simply dissolve, leaving a cold, bleak darkness stretching into eternity. It has even been suggested that, because we have no causal contact with anything outside the Universe we know of, subsequent editions might have different laws, for all we know. But this still doesn’t allow an infinity of genuine novelty because, however it all works, things resolve down to a limited number of rearrangements of the same ‘stuff’ that the Universe is made of.

The elusiveness of scientific truth might explain the appeal of religion. Because, some say, God designed the Universe, He can have it any way he wants and, in any case (some will say) who are we to question Him? Tying up this debate with religious notions is a tidy way to go because it appeals to those who believe in divine inspiration and who accept the spiritual plane as being the source of art. I really (really) wish I could believe in all this. Life would be so much simpler but I can’t say that something is so unless I can back up my ideas and that principle applies to disproving, also. 

Keep an open mind.


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