Physical Epiphany Regarding Music

A had a bit of an epiphany today. I was sitting thinking about music, trying to come up with some clever thing that could be said about it. Something that would either be profound or amusing, perhaps even both. What came to me was so simple that I almost dismissed it out of hand. Music is all about the concurrent motion of a mass at vastly different scales of time and distance.

Let’s break that statement down a little bit. First, let’s talk about time. Time, as Ray Cummings said in his 1922 science fiction novel “The Girl in the Golden Atom”, is what keeps everything from happening at once. At first, the statement seems trite, even funny. But as you think about it, you realize that it does summarize the fundamental nature of time rather well. Time can be divided into arbitrarily small units called instants that occur one after another. Instants have no duration but serve only to mark a given point in time.

The next fundamental concept is position. At any given time, everything has a position. There are at least three dimensions that we use to specify that position. They are at 90 degree angles to each other and are sometimes referred to as height, width, and breadth. Some initial reference point is given and the position of things can be specified as being a particular height, width, and depth from the reference point, also referred to as the origin. As instants mark a particular place in time, points mark a particular place in space.

Having established instants and points, we can now describe motion. If, from one instant to the next, a thing is located at the same point, it can be said to be stationary. If, however, the thing is at a different point in the next instant, it is said to be moving. Music, indeed all sound, is the result of a mass, moving back and forth at a given rate. The rate at which it is moving is called its frequency. Frequency is usually expressed in Hertz or vibrations per second.

In order to hear the sound, the movement must be transferred, often by air, from the moving mass to our ears. There, sophisticated biological apparatus in our ears transform the movement into electrical impulses that are transmitted to our brains so that we can interpret it as sound.

Now back to my mini-epiphany. When something, say a string, vibrates at a frequency, we hear a pitch. Furthermore, the string vibrates at a number of frequencies all relative to the length of the string. For instance, if the predominant, or fundamental frequency of a string is 440 Hz., the first harmonic is twice that frequency or 880 Hz. The second harmonic is three times the fundamental or 1320 Hz. This continues on to form the harmonic series. A string will produce all of the pitches in the harmonic series, each successive harmonic having a lower volume in the overall sound produced.

This brings us to the point that all of these harmonics are the concurrent motion of the string at different scales of time and distance. When you break it down like that, it doesn’t seem nearly as profound.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Why Do We Make Music?

Music is part of our identity as human beings. We have built in apparatus in our heads that allow us to discriminate between pitches of different frequencies. There must have been some evolutionary advantage bestowed by this capability but I’m not sure what it is.  The topic is a hot topic for study but there are some interesting theories. Let’s have a look at some of them.

One theory is that people make music to attract a mate. It certainly is an important part in modern mating rituals. People often plan their courting activities around musical events. They go to festivals and concerts to meet people of similar musical taste. Many an adolescent boy has learned to play the guitar solely to attract female attention. And what adolescent girl can resist the emotional rush of having a song written exclusively for her.

Another theory sites the need to synchronize activities among participants, for example rowing, or marching. This seems to me to be a side effect noticed by people exercising their musical impulses for other reasons. It isn’t that music isn’t a good technique for synchronizing activity, it’s just not a survival trait.

Another theory asserts that music arose as a way of establishing a tribal identity. That seems like more of a survival trait than synchronization but it doesn’t have the feeling of truth that the mating song theory does.

A theory that I relate to strongly is that music helps people induce trance like ecstatic states in themselves and others. Having experienced these feelings first hand I am willing to give the idea some credence. It doesn’t seem like an actual survival trait but it does represent a large enhancement to our life style.

Music is particularly effective at arousing emotional responses. While that also wouldn’t account for why our musical acuity evolved it seems like it might potentially have more direct effect on inspiring people to take action for emotional instead of rational reasons. This is probably tightly related to some of the other ideas of why we developed our musical abilities.

The strangest theory that I came across while researching the topic is that music was used to intimidate large predators. I’m not sure how such a practice might have first been advanced. “No, really George. We get out there with our lutes and our timbales and the tigers will freak out and run away from us.” It seems like the early experimenters might just as well have been eaten.

What ever the reason, it is undoubtably true that music is an inherent part of our psychology and our culture. It is as necessary to our existence as fresh air and sunlight. We can survive without either of those but it would be a drab existence. Perhaps it is an expression of our mental predilection for exploring complex patterns of any type, be they visual, auditory, olfactory, or gastronomic, or some combination of the above. It is part of what makes us uniquely human.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Proof Required

There is a British magician named Derren Brown who specializes in mentalism. He is incredibly convincing although he adamantly maintains that what he does is all trickery. Since he does not reveal how he does his tricks, it is sometimes hard to believe that he isn’t really psychic and just telling people that he’s not.

I personally know a magician who performed mentalist illusions. I worked with him every day for an entire summer. I picked up some of his techniques through repeated observation of his performance. I won’t expose these techniques. I consider myself a member of the brotherhood of magicians and we have a policy of never publicly revealing how a trick is done.

Derren Brown admits to using cold reading, misdirection, and hypnotism among the many varied techniques in his arsenal. He has been criticized by some of the people whose scams he has debunked. He has been cleared of all wrong doing in all cases. I think it is a good thing to expose people who attempt to manipulate people by lying to them.

You can watch Derren Brown’s videos online. Some of them are even available on You Tube. It is sad to learn that some of the phenomena that you thought were real are actually just confidence games. It is hard not to make excuses and say that just because there are confidence men taking advantage of people’s gullibility doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t real examples of the phenomena. But in the final analysis, there is no evidence that the phenomena is real. Not repeatable evidence anyway. Any evidence that can’t be duplicated must be written off as coincidence.

In the final analysis though, I classify such phenomena in the same category that I do conventional religions. I plain don’t know. I don’t have enough information to totally dismiss either religion or any other paranormal phenomena. Just so, I can’t confirm or deny anything without definitive evidence.

I can enjoy suspending disbelief in the interest of entertainment though. I just don’t intend to make important life decisions based on anything unconfirmed. It is becoming harder and harder to detect frauds. In this era of establishing truth by loudly and persistently repeating outrageous assertions, you have to remember that appeals to authority are not valid proof.

It is more than a little disturbing that this means we now have valid logical reasons to distrust our government. I guess we always did have. It’s just more blatantly true lately.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Catalog of Interests

I thought, since I haven’t been able to think of anything else to write about, that I would catalog some of the things that I enjoy doing. I’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my career doing something that I enjoy doing a lot. I program computers, I design software, I test software,  I teach computer science, I repair computers, and I build computers from scratch. Since I have been doing it for over forty years, I have achieved a fairly high level of competency at these tasks.

Another thing that I have been working on mastering for the past seven years is writing fiction. There is a lot of aspects to master to become a good writer. I have participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) on four different occasions. I completed the challenge to write fifty thousand words in a month twice.

For the past seven years, I have written at least seven hundred and fifty words a day in an online journal. It has helped me to overcome my fear of the blank page and develop the ability to capture my thoughts on the page without having to think about typing each letter.

About a year ago, I increased my daily word count goal from seven hundred fifty words a day to a thousand words a day. On top of that, I renewed my commitment to blog by deciding to write a blog post of approximately five hundred words a day, bringing my daily word count to over fifteen hundred words.

In February of this year I started attending meetings of a club called the Downtown Writer’s Group sponsored by the Huntsville / Madison County Public Library. This has resulted in my writing short pieces of fiction to be critiqued by my fellow members. This has been educational and inspirational.

In addition to the critique sessions, the Group has sponsored programs aimed at helping a fledgling writer to prepare their work for publication. We have had presentations from an editor, a publicist, a self-published author, and a writer who shared her experience being published by a conventional publisher. We also had a presentation about cover design.

Another passion of mine that has been being ignored too much lately is playing music. I am primarily a guitarist but I also own two violins, a mandolin, and a Celtic harp. That is in addition to two acoustic guitars and two electric guitars. I also have an acoustic electric bass on order that should be delivered some time this month.

I want to learn how to record music on my computer. I have a copy of Garage Band on my computer but I’m thinking about purchasing a copy of Pro Tools when I can afford it.

The last thing that I’ll talk about here is I love to teach whether it is computer programming, writing, or music. It is perhaps akin to my love of performing whether it is acting or playing music.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Artificial General Intelligence

There is a lot of buzz lately about Artificial General Intelligence. The distinction that is drawn between AI as it is currently defined and AGI is one of scope. Most current AI programs are limited in scope to a narrow domain of expertise. The vision of AGI is a program that can identify the context in which it finds itself and apply its expertise to problems from a wide variety of domains. One approach to achieving AGI is to create a network of AIs that each are experts in their narrow domains that are supervised by an AI that is trained to recognize problem domains and dispatch those problems to the AI most adept at solving that particular problem.

When you think about it, that is how we solve problems. We first categorize the problem so that we can focus on what we know about the relevant domain. We also are able to see similarities between experiences that we have had in other areas that may suggest alternative approaches to the problem at hand.

When it comes right down to it, our superior intelligence is based on a hard wired ability to match complicated patterns. A good example of this is our ability to see faces in random shapes. We have developed a particular affinity to the basic features of a human face. It has long been a survival trait to quickly recognize that we see a face and who that face is so that we can either embrace them if they are a friend or defend ourselves against them if they are a foe.

Another important tool that we use to amplify our intelligence is language. We have used the ability to communicate our experience through stories to teach others our hard won lessons. As time goes on, and more and more people have shared their lessons, our collective intelligence rises. It takes a huge leap when we learn how to write our stories down. Now we can save our best stories, unaltered for generation after generation.

After a while, a certain clever man named Gutenberg created a printing press that made it practical to mass produce books. This meant that now everyone had the ability to read the collected wisdom of the ages.

The next step is yet to come. There are scientists hard at work on building a brain computer interface (BCI) that will allow us to communicate our thoughts and feelings directly to a computer and inevitably to each other.

When this occurs, we will have the mechanism in place to form a global collective on a scale to rival any AGI that may either emerge or be created directly by human programmers. In any case, the Singularity will have arrived at that point.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Practical Immortality

It is a little bit disturbing when you go back to places that you knew in your youth and find that all traces of them have been erased. It makes me wonder how long it will take after I die before all traces of my existence have been similarly eradicated. One of the reasons that I write is to attempt to capture pieces of myself so that they may live on beyond me.

It would be better to live indefinitely myself but that is a possibility that may not manifest during my life if in fact at all. My mother used to call realization of ones immortality “Seeing the elephant”. I recently researched the phrase and found it had a somewhat different meaning. It had become a macro for realizing one’s mortality in my family lexicon so it is still the phrase that comes to mind when I contemplate my mortality.

There have been many developments in recent years that hold forth the potential for what is often called practical immortality. The meaning of the label is that death due to old age and known sicknesses will become extremely rare if not nonexistent. Death from accidents and murder will still happen but human life expectancy will rise exponentially.

Another potential avenue for achieving functional immortality is through uploading yourself into a digital storage facility for later restoration to a physical body. Other variations on that scenario include merging with a computer such that when the organic portion of yourself expires you remain as a wholly digital entity.

Another interesting possibility is that as we develop the ability to merge with computers we will simultaneously develop high fidelity digital communications facilities such that we can share our thoughts with each other, a digital telepathy so to speak. A possible evolution from that might be a merging of all minds into a massive ubermind.

Such a development might not suit all people. There might be rugged individualists that choose to maintain their individuality. That leaves us to ponder the question of what it might be like to be an individualist in a society comprised largely of a single mind.

The other question that arises from the possibility of practical immortality is how would our perception of time change? Would we have enough memory to remember our whole life or would we only remember the recent things that have happened to us or the most important things that happened in our life?

I have many books I want to read, movies and tv shows I want to watch, places I want to travel to, people I want to meet, things I want to do, and there is so little time in the course of what we now consider a normal life time to do them all. I wonder if practical immortality would be a blessing or a curse.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Unknown Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Extraterrestrial

Back in World War II pilots on bombing missions in Germany reported glowing globs that flew parallel to them. These globes were rumored to be a new secret weapon of the Third Reich but after the end of the war it was determined that the Germans had no such weapon.

A few years later a private pilot, Kenneth Arnold, in Washington state reported observing metallic craft flying faster than any craft of that era was capable. He described them as having a “saucer-like” shape and the newspaper reports coined the term flying saucers to describe them.

As more and more people reported strange aerial phenomena over the next several years it became obvious that flying saucer was too specific a term to cover the wide range of shapes that people were reporting. The term Unidentified Flying Object or UFO was coined to refer to all unexplained aerial phenomena.

The thing that has been bothering me when I think about all of these strange, unexplained phenomena, not all of which were observed flying, is that we seem to assume that such objects are necessarily from outer space. It is seldom suggested that they might come from other dimensions. One notable exception to that observation is Jacques Vallee. He was careful to assert only that the reported phenomena that he investigated were unexplained. He even discussed the fact that similar reports had been made for hundreds and even thousands of years.

As our physicists and cosmologists are beginning to advance theories that there are more dimensions than the four that Relativistic Physics postulates, it becomes more and more credible to me that we could explain these reports of phenomena and strange visitors could be explained by other possibilities besides interstellar travel.

I will admit that I still have hope that we will discover some technique that enables transluminal flight. I also hope we will learn to explore other dimensions. But we should not be too quick to explain the unknown without having first studied the phenomena more closely and established protocols for recording our observations. We must also be careful not to try to force the data to fit into any preconceived notions of what conclusions we should draw from it.

We have not been well served by governments that choose to ignore or, even worse, suppress reports of unexplained phenomena. All they have done is engender distrust of everything that the government says. They have caused the very situation they were ostensibly trying to prevent, which is panicked speculation about the phenomena and rampant distrust of the government.

I hope we learn to investigate unexplained phenomena instead of trying to dismiss it and cover it up. All science was initially considered pseudoscience, until enough people had verified the observations of those making these claims. The universe is a big place and there are many things in it that we can’t begin to imagine. We need to learn to say the simple phrase, “I don’t know.”

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.