When science, music and spirituality converge in the search for and the finding of truth I am genuinely moved. I was moved in ways I cannot fully articulate reading Stephon Alexander’s book, The Jazz of Physics, a book about the search for the answer to the question: How did the structure of the universe come to be?
Having a Welsh background (Griffith) music is in my soul. Music leads me into awareness, feeling and knowing beyond words. For example the statement, “Love changes everything”. Hearing this you may nod your head in agreement. But when I hear the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, “Love, Love changes everything: Hands and faces, Earth and sky, Love, Love changes everything: How you live and How you die”, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0Kl2iBders) I feel the truth of that statement in the depth of my being. I am carried away by its truth. Jazz is a specific kind of music which runs the gamut from smooth jazz with improvisation on a melody to avant-garde that may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability. The latter is the music Alexander played and for him it became an analogy for the way discoveries in physics are possible.
Physics is another one of my passions. Even though I can not do the math, I do see the connections between the spiritual yearning for understanding who I am /why I am here and the reality being explored by physics studying the physical movement of evolution to how we came to be here. In this book Alexander comes very close to bringing these two explorations together.
The Jazz of Physics is subtitled The Secret Link between Music and the Structure of the Universe. Sometimes I think sub-titles are dreamed up to pull us into the book. I am not sure there is a secret revealed. The author does use the language of “analogy” to reveal truths in physics that are like those in music. There is no mention of religion or even spirituality per se in the book. In the last chapter Alexander opens up the possibility that science may be delving into the realm of “purpose”, as science and cosmology seem to be addressing the same questions.
If there is a secret it has to do with Genesis 1:1-2, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters”, and John 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. From the physics perspective the word is a note, a sound or a vibration. In Hinduism, in the beginning there was sound (Aum, Om). A New York Times book review states, “Dr. Alexander ventures far out onto the cutting edge of modern cosmology, presenting a compelling case for vibration and resonance being at the heart of the physical structure we find around us, from the smallest particle of matter to the largest clusters of galaxies.”
This book takes us from the beginning of exploration with the Greek thinker, Pythagoras, through to Einstein, continuing on to the physicists of the 21st Century who are getting ever closer to understanding the beginning of time and the creation/formation of the universe. My attention was captured by the personal journey of the author as he moves back and forth between math and physics and the experience of Jazz, playing saxophone in groups all through his career. His use of analogy invites us to explore the connections between music and science. Getting out of your mind allows what you know and what is not yet known to mingle in creative ways leading to new discoveries. He shows us that trying to prove a theory in physics is a lot like playing a jazz riff. You are doing what you know and you reach a moment when you have to decide how to proceed next. If you decide to play a “wrong” note or shift to a new pattern everyone in the group will shift with you, and that will determine a different outcome. Alexander shows us the ways science has advanced in the past 100 years and describes his personal experience as part of this process, all moving to answer the question, “How did the structure of the universe emerge?”
“Understanding how the improvisational nature of quantum fields function in a vacuum is essential to generating the building blocks of matter in the universe, which gave rise to the plasma that comprise the cosmic sea of photons, electrons and protons in the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background).” (p. 178)
“The dance among harmony, symmetry, instability and the gaps of improvisation, all cooperate to sustain cosmic structure formation.” (p. 215)
Both music and physics have laws/rules to maintain structure, yet both need a creative process if they are going to make us a new composition or discover new information. In music it is notes and rests; in physics it is waves and particles. It is the spaces between the notes and the vacuum in space where creators discover new possibilities. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle allows for uncertainty in the evolutionary process. It allows for mystery in scientific thinking.
“In the 1980’s researchers showed that inflation predicted that the initial waves had the correct characteristics to initiate the sound waves in the primordial plasma – otherwise known as a nearly scale invariant power spectrum of the quantum fluctuations.” (p. 193)
I can’t possibly give you the examples he cites as proofs of the scientific theory of the Big Bang. When I got further into the book I just skipped over the math and formulas Alexander used to validate the theory of evolution and how it works. Yet, as I persevered I found an intuitive joy in the way physics understands our universe and how we came to be here.
I like it when the intuitive understanding of Christian scripture (Genesis 1, stating God created the wold out of nothing, order out of chaos and emptiness) and the new science discovering how matter came to be formed out of a vacuum. This book affirmed my evolutionary Christian perspective from a scientific point of view. I hope you will give it a read and let me know what you think.