Thus the musician feels Mathematic, the mathematician thinks Music… each to receive its consummation from the other when the human intelligence, elevated to the perfect type, shall shine forth glorified in some future MozartDirichlet, or BeethovenGauss – a union already not indistinctly foreshadowed in the genius and labours of a Helmholtz!

James Joseph Sylvester

This is an occasional blog, though I do have visions of one day becoming a Regular Blogger. I don’t know when that day will come, however. In the meantime, feel free to comment on what’s here. (No guarantee of a timely reply, but I usually will get around to it eventually.)

Noms de Plume:

  • (2016 – present): komponisto, the Esperanto word for “composer”, is the pseudonym I have long used on various parts of the internet; in the interest of “harmonization”, I now use it here as well.
  • (2007 – 2016): James Cook was the discoverer of Australia and Hawaii. My aspiration is to discover intellectual territory of similar beauty and exoticity. (Included here in case you see references on other blogs.)

3 Responses to About

  1. Ryan Stangl says:

    I just read your comments from a different blog that discussed alternate approaches to music theory. In response to a comment by the blog’s author, you wrote (scroll past this excerpt for my comments):

    “Oh dear, where to start?

    Well, you certainly have put your finger on it when you write:

    ‘Forgive my generalizations, but it seems to me that the compositional approach stems from a time when composition and theory were basically the same thing, hence, this approach is favored by an earlier generation of pedagogues.’

    Yes, indeed! The whole distinction on which your post is premised, namely that which is alleged to exist between “compositional” and “analytical” approaches to music, exists only because, once upon a time, “theory” (or “analysis”) stopped yielding insight into composition! And instead of saying “Oops, we must have gotten our theory wrong” and fixing the problem, which would have been the proper thing to do, people instead decided that they were involved in a new distinct field of study called “analytical theory”. That way, they didn’t have to discard the erroneous ideas to which they had become attached; they could simply relabel their occupation and move down the hall.

    Sadly, people do this kind of thing all the time, and not just in music. The modern concept of religion is another example. Once upon a time, people believed that supernatural agents such as gods were needed to explain the natural world; then along comes science and what do people do? Instead of simply biting the bullet and admitting that the whole God theory was just plain wrong, they invent the concept of non-overlapping magesteria and assign new purposes to religion (“it gives us morality” or “provides meaning and purpose”, etc.).

    My comment has to do with that last paragraph. You sound like someone who doesn’t subscribe to religion; is that a safe assumption? I get the impression that you believe that science can sufficiently take the place of God – that “God” was simply an ignorant human’s substitute for something he didn’t understand. It also seems that you believe that now science can explain those unknowns, and therefore the concept of God is not rational or necessary.

    How do you account for the IRrationalities in science? For example, science can THEORIZE that everything we currently see originated in a miniscule particle that exploded and gave us all the building blocks of our universe that have, by chance over billions of years, come together in an infinitely precise way to give us the amazing functions of complexity in a single cell of the human body (let alone in the trillions of cells that all work together in the body as a whole).

    BUT YET, where did that miniscule particle that exploded in the Big Bang come from?

    Science can’t explain that. I believe it would take just as much faith to look to science – which is based on the discoveries of human beings – for the answers to our existence and the wonders of our universe as it does to believe that there is an all-powerful God who created everything. Actually, it’s more comforting to believe in God because there is a terminus in that: anything that we can’t reason out (such as where did God come from, or why did he create everything) can be attributed to the almighty power of God that is beyond us to understand and there it stops, whereas with science there are certain things that it will NEVER be able to answer.

    Just my two cents worth!

  2. Jeff Cruse says:

    Hmn. I’ll take a stab at this: you ask where the miniscule particle that gave the big bang came from. Well, the state of the art in cosmology is a bit more complicated than that; since I’m not an expert in such I don’t really understand how. But the answer to this and similar questions: we don’t know, and though we’d like to know, THAT we don’t know doesn’t bother us in the way it seems to bother you.

    After all, the job of science isn’t to give you a compelling origin myth. Simply put, its job is to anticipate what we see when we do this or that or the other thing. It’s a rough and ready guide to what happens after certain experiments. It’s succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, granted — it’s given us a certain, rough and ready insight into the nature of small particles and enormous galaxies — but it’s still a practical discipline dedicated to prediction of observation. It’s indifferent to angst about the origin of the particle. If ‘it appeared somehow and then all this stuff happened’ continues to predict what we see, well, then, science sees no problem, and calling it ‘irrational’ isn’t an argument against it. It still does what it’s supposed to.

    You claim that, because it doesn’t answer all the questions one can put to it, one needs faith to accept it somehow. Simply put, it doesn’t need faith to be good science. It predicts what we observe: we can SEE it working, and that’s all we need. (We see it, y’know, with billion dollar telescopes and lots of math and ten years of specialized training. Nobody said cosmology was easy.)

    And the thing is, the success of science poses certain difficulties for believers familiar with the way it works. Simply put, it was easy to see god everywhere when we didn’t really know how things worked: parochial styles of belief work very well for parochial sorts of people. But as you learn a bit of science, as you explain more and more without recourse to him — one starts to wonder where he went. If you don’t need him to understand stars, or geology, or the mechanics of tiny particles or the progression of life and of disease — then where is he exactly? Are we really worshipping a god whose idea of a miracle is to appear on a grilled cheese sandwich?

    There are a few solutions to this. You can try to just block out science and all that knowledge, and return to the parochial sort of life. This is very hard; the world is changing, culture is changing. Country folk today are subject to more ‘modern influences’ than were city folk 300 years ago. To shut out the world, you pretty much have to go amish. And there’s something to be said for that. But it’s safe to say it won’t do for everyone.

    The alternative way is to revise the parochial style of belief. Since the world has changed, what spoke to my grandparents doesn’t speak as well to me, but this is an old, old problem. Our styles of belief have been changing slowly all along: what worked for desert nomads doesn’t work for small towns (just try reading Leviticus and Exodus in detail), what works for small towns doesn’t work for medieval cities, what works for medieval cities doesn’t work for a modern sort of person, anywhere. Perhaps the problems of modernity differ in scale, but not in type: we’re in a slightly different world and need to find a slightly different way of finding god.

    I don’t know, not in detail, how this is to be done. Maybe I’ll have some ideas in five or ten years’ time. But that’s the nature of the problem, and the sorts of things people like to say in blog comments simply aren’t solutions. Until this problem is solved, everything else is just papering over holes in the wall, perfuming wounds without healing them. ‘Where did the particle come from’ isn’t helping, and it doesn’t do to pretend it is.

  3. Harold Pierre says:

    I’m coming late to the scene. But the elephant in the room is the fact that science and religion share the same problem, they both can’t explain their fundamental origin. Science can’t explain where the particle that caused the big bang came from and religion can’t explain where god came from. Hopefully, these puzzles won’t prevent us from deconstructing beautiful music to understand their mathematical origins.

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