Mind your own business

This is the second blog to wear the above title. The relevance of the title becomes clear as I again question my ideas.

The point is, I’m a musician, not a philosopher, or a musicologist, even. But you don’t spend a lifetime engrossed deeply in a subject without wondering what it all really means. Plus, a correct working attitude is vital if we are to attain our true potential.

In my book ‘The Composer/Arranger’ I ask people to maintain an open mind concerning ideas such as ‘inspiration’ (particularly if they infer God-given properties, since we have to prove God exists to do that) and ‘creativity’ (since, some say, nothing new can enter the Universe).

So, what’s brought this up, then? 

I’m almost through the second reading of ‘The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time’ jointly written by philosopher Roberto Mangabeira Ungar and physicist Lee Smolin. This book is VERY heavy going but well worth the effort.

A full synopsis of the book would take me way off topic so I will concentrate on the aspects of their thinking that affect me as a musician.

There is one universe

We start with the claim that the word ‘Universe’, by definition, means all that there is. You don’t get the Universe plus a bit more. A kind of *BOGOF. This claim challenges the idea that there is a set of immutable laws governing all that happens, as if they are on the outside looking in. So, the laws are here and, because the Universe never stops evolving, the laws, too, will change. (Since the Universe has been in a cooled-down state the rate of change has slowed down to the point that we aren’t aware of it.) 

There cannot be a Platonic realm of mathematics, either, for similar reasons. (In fact mathematics is put firmly in its proper place by Ungar/Smolin.)

What this means, certainly in the view of Roberto Ungar, is that there can be an infinity of new things, including ideas. In my own book, I ask people to try to forget this, not because I know it to be wrong, but because belief in one’s own immortality is not the way to get the best out of ourselves. We will tend to rely on a complex of influences acquired during our listening experience which are then regurgitated in a way that gives the illusion of novelty. 

Much of the Ungar/Smolin book is devoted to denying the conventional Big-Bang’ idea because it requires a singularity and infinities are not part of the world we live in. The idea of a continuum also crops up. But to get rid of infinities we have to get rid of the continuum, also. The calculus was developed to enable a mathematical treatment of continuous motion, so this problem has been around since long (long) before the time of Leibnitz and Newton.

So, I’m confused by the Ungar/Smolin book, since the idea of an infinity of new things takes us back to square one and they don’t banish infinities, anyway.

However incredibly vast permutations may be, surely there must be a limit to the juxtaposition of matter and the permutations of forces acting upon it. But, I repeat, I’m just a musician trying to make sense of all this. My stance is termed ‘deterministic’.

(Incidentally, just so no one makes fools of themselves in the company of experts, it is not proposed that space winds itself up to infinite energy at a single point, the singularity. It is wound up to infinity everywhere, which also removes the problem of ‘why did it start here, or there’. In any case until the so-called Big Bang, there was NOTHING. So it would be impossible to think of anything being above, or below, or behind, or in front, or to left, or right of, anything else.)

A qualification, here: it is proposed that the Universe is one in a series of eons involving death and rebirth so that the term ‘nothing’, above, applies to the version we are in, when meaningful ideas are required by sentient beings such as us. The sequence of eons also nicely sidesteps the problem of the uniquely special conditions at the birth of the Universe.

(Read ‘Conformal Cyclic Cosmology’ by Sir Roger Penrose who, I feel sure, would rather be left out of this argument.)

There is one ‘real’ time

This claim contrasts with Einstein’s ideas about the subjective nature of time and the relativity of simultaneity. Or, rather, it doesn’t, really, since the Ungar/Smolin book claims that processes that work locally cannot be taken out of their proper realm of application and then, without good reason, applied to the Universe as a whole. After all, we can’t say there is no absolute time and then, in the next breath, say that the Universe is around 13.8 billion years old. (I can hear the Jehovah’s Witnesses screaming at me in the background.)

In my own book, I wisely played safe, accepting that the only concept of time relevant to the composer’s work is the subjective idea of time as we experience it in our daily lives.

The interestingly different take on all this from another quantum gravity physicist, Carlo Rovelli, currently based in Marseilles, is a reminder that this field is still wide open.

(Carlo Rovelli has a refreshingly appealing style during his lectures, which can be found on YouTube.)

In my own view, vanity and a self-regarding attitude are the chief enemies to progress. It suits me just fine when people come up to me and say ‘How on Earth do you do it? You must be very gifted’ but I know it really isn’t like that. This is the reason I approach music the way I do in my book.

I was tempted to add an afterthought due to my omission of quantum effects, that have relevance to the idea of free will, which is itself linked to creativity. Quantum superposition is no longer ‘science fiction’ since quantum computers are now exploiting this principle in reality.

The decision not to do so was taken because, as a composer, I can’t justify the time taken in acquiring the level of knowledge necessary to speak authoritatively on a subject that no one actually understands yet.

*Buy One Get One Free

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