Friday, November 21, 2014

Math, music, and life

This stunning visual/auditory bombshell by Nigel John Stanford combines art, science, and electronic music in way I've never seen, and the quote midway through may not be convincing, but it is thought provoking:
"Everything owes its existence solely and completely to sound."

-Peter Guy Manners
I'm not inclined to believe it's all about sound, but I do wonder about waves, or more precisely, equations. Chladni plates have always been one of my favorite links between the world of mathematics and the physical world of the senses, and my absolute favorite demonstration to get students thinking about the connection. Students see the patterns of sand change abruptly as I increase the frequency, and I tell them that atoms and electrons are like this, and that it can all be described by equations.

I think it was Hawking who referred to the universe as a "dance of geometry," and I am inclined to believe that. But is everything really reducible to equations?  Isn't that a low view of life and love and being human?

Is it? I was listening to Protoculture's hard-hitting new track, Music is More Than Mathematics yesterday, and had this thought: Maybe the problem is that we have too low a view of math. Maybe we have too low a view of equations. We see them as hard and cold, inflexible and limited. But maybe we don't see how they can be or could become so much richer than we imagine, that they could contain all of the richness of life and the universe.

What if the richness of music, which after all is just sound waves, were our hint that it really is all about math, but that math is much more than what we think--much more than numbers and letters and symbols and drills and tables and lists? What if math is all about order and beauty and wonder and power and change and vibrancy and life and potential?

And as science and math progress, and our paradigms and pictures of the world shift again and again, and the richness of the picture deepens, and the equations shift from Ptolemy's to Newton's to Einstein's and Schrodinger's and Dirac's, the symphony of nature and life is not silenced, not even just magnified or amplified or clarified, but renewed, transformed, and reborn, every time.

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