Wednesday, July 06, 2022

Harmony, Melody, and Rhythm in the Cosmos

This is one of those titles that came to me before the post was written, so we'll have to wait and see where it leads. But as I've mentioned before, if music isn't somehow important, then I've wasted a good deal of my life. I'm with Nietzsche on this one: Without music, life would be a mistake

I'll bite: a mistake relative to what? 

Relative to the Truth which is symphonic. Now, what is a symphony?

In a book of anticipatory plagiarism called Truth is Symphonic, Balthasar writes that 

Symphony means "sounding together." First there is sound, then different sounds and then we hear the different sounds singing together in a dance of sound. A bass trumpet is not the same as a piccolo; a cello is not a bassoon. The difference between the instruments must be as striking as possible. Each one keeps its utterly distinctive timbre, and the composer must write for each part in such a way that this timbre achieves its fullest effect.   

Balthasar cites Mozart as the quintessential example, but I don't know classical, so I'm going to go with the greatest jazz composer, Duke Ellington. What Balthasar says about Mozart could equally apply to Ellington, who also

had this whole sound in his ear to such an extent that, on occasion, he could write down the single instrumental line of an entire movement because he "heard" it within the sym-phony of all the parts. The orchestra must be pluralist in order to unfold the wealth of the totality that resounds in the composer's mind.

Ellington famously wrote to the strengths and tonalities of particular instrumentalists, to the point that it sounded as if the instrumentalist were personally making it up on he spot. In other words, Ellington made compositions sound like improvisations. 

Which reminds me of the orthoparadoxocal fusion of God's foreknowledge and our free will.  

It sounds like I'm going to have to read this book, because at the moment I'm just yoinking from the amazon preview:

The world is like a vast orchestra tuning up: each player plays to himself, while the audience  take their seats and the conductor has not yet arrived. All the same, someone has struck an A on the piano, and a certain unity of atmosphere is established around it: they are tuning up for some common endeavor.

Lots to unpack there. First of all, where is the unity located in the human symphony, or the symphony of humanness? Is it in the genes? In a common trans-genetic nature? 

Or is it in history -- which is to say, time -- which is trickier than the first two, being that the song of history isn't yet finished? We know history has an end, whether it is the one foretold by scripture or by the heat death of physics, and we even know where we are situated in the latter timeline

As best as we are able to determine, the human symphony strikes that A chord about 70,000 years ago, and the last note will be sounded no later than.... I don't mean to bum you out, but entropy giveth and entropy taketh away: the "heat death" of the universe

follows from the simple fact that the flow of heat from hot bodies to cold bodies eventually brings every piece of matter in the universe to the exact same temperature. When everything registers an identical temperature, heat flow everywhere ceases. The universal cessation of heat flow implies the end of any possible performance of work, including such basic activities as respiration and digestion. The end of all work, then, spells the end of all physical life (Ross).

Oh great, as if Brandon and AOC didn't have enough on their plate, what with the EXIZTENCHUL THRET! of climate change. Because this is an ontological threat -- not just a threat to life, but to mind, spirit, and anything else you care to name.

Notice the importance of entropy, because -- literally -- we can't live with it and we can't live without it. As mentioned in the previous post, it was Prigogine who noted the critical connection between life and entropy, since emergent, living structures are only able to maintain themselves by dissipating entropy.

So, entropy is like our best frenemy. Similarly, while God banged the cosmos into existence 13.7 billion years ago,

With every passing year, the universe stretches out faster than it did the previous year, which hastens and exacerbates the consequences of the coming heat death (Ross).

That is the ultimate good news / bad news.  

So, just how long is the human symphony? We know when it began. When does it end -- not for me in particular. I'd rather not know that. But for HCE (Here Comes Everybody)?

Hold on. I'm checking. I'll have to google it. The first estimate that pops up says suggests that 

Earth has at least 1.5 billion years left to support life.... If humans last that long, Earth would be generally uncomfortable for them, but livable in some areas just below the polar regions.

Hold on -- I just found a better estimate of how long the planet will be capable of hosting human life, and it's not nearly as long as the estimate above. A lot of things are going to go sideways before the sun burns out -- for example, the Earth's rotation is going to continue slowing down, such that in 100 million years our days will last 25 hours. 

Well, good, you might say. More time to get things done. However, it also means that day and night time temperatures will grow more extreme, and that rainfall distribution patterns will change dramatically. We're also enjoying a period of unusual stability in the Sun, which started about 50,000 years back and will end in another 50,000 years. Lots of problems after that.

Bottom line: "the maximum time window in which the cosmos can possibly sustain [human civilization] amounts to less than a few million years" (Ross). And gosh! A less optimistic estimate by a credible source gives human civilization "no more than 41,000 years."

But who cares? Either way, we won't be there. Well, I care because it means the song will end: the cosmos had a beginning and it has an end. In between was everything: life, love, consciousness, thought, beauty, joy, music...

So, just what was all that stuff? We don't have to wait in order to ask that question, but can ask it now: is that the end of everything, or just of the universe? I'm gonna say that it's only the end of appearances, not Reality. Obviously, ultimate reality can't be subject to decay.

We'll get to the point of this ditty in the next post. 


julie said...

Anybody else hear a gong ringing? Just checking.

Book looks interesting, I may have to read it.

julie said...

By the way, there's a pretty big collection of von Balthasar's books available to "borrow" at Internet Archive.

John Venlet said...

Due to the fact that predictions are difficult to codify with any degree of certainty, let alone accuracy, I, in large part, pay them little heed, preferring instead to gratefully receive each day as suggested in Psalm 118:24 - "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Additionally, the admonition recorded in Matthew 6:27 should be embraced, as you cannot add a single hour (time) to your life by worrying about tomorrow.

Cousin Dupree said...

That worries me.

Anonymous said...

Curiosities of someone who is for the most part religiously ignorant...

Is humanity of primary significance to God or just a side project? Why create something as complex as a universe with atoms, elements, gravity, and all kinds of complexities and then let it cook for 14 billion years or so, let humanity evolve, and then let it die out after a few million years or so? What will God do with his/her/its time after humanity is gone?

Nicolás said...

Two contradictory philosophical theses complete each other, but only God knows how.