Category Archives: Arts

Time, Consciousness and Music

We often wonder if time-travel can actually exist. Or if it doesn’t exist per se, can we cause something to happen in the past by means of acting in the present? To put a fancy name to it, I think some call it “retrocausality”. There seems to be an audience in our heads that is able to experience time in all its glory; such as when we listen to a piece of music from beginning to end. We call this audience “consciousness” But, why does consciousness experiences such a thing as time? Is there a particular reason it is so important for existence and music?

In music, we composers often start writing the end of a piece, and create an intro or overture only once we are done composing everything else, accommodating such intro to the needs of the piece which already has a written finale. When we listen to a piece of music, we are often taken to past times, to our childhood, or maybe to feelings we had once felt but have now forgotten. If consciousness can experience this, and some folks dare say that only what is experienced by a conscious observer exists, why can’t we ACTUALLY travel back in time and experience these things?
Here’s what I think. Consciousness is fundamental to MOST reality, but in my view, is not all there is. There is a philosophical trend called “Idealism” that in summary says that everything there is, exists inside consciousness, and there is no actual reality other than that which is experienced by consciousness, including that which we normally call in our daily lives, the material world. That means, a table, a computer, a piano, none of that actually exists in its own right, but only exists in consciousness, because consciousness is all there is, and everything else is derived from it. I know, this sounds pretty crazy to some, or maybe pretty useless to others, but I think the discussion is not only interesting but central to all we do in our lives. Here’s where I disagree with most so-called “idealists”, I reiterate, Consciousness is pretty fundamental in relation to other things for sure, but it’s not all there is, in my view. This is where idealists and I differ., and I will try to explain a bit in the next chapters.

I think consciousness is only quasi-fundamental, because you need a universe with a so-called observer, a “non-isolationist property” (I know, a weird and confusing term that means to explain that whatever exists has the capacity to actually interact or perceive other elements around it, much like tennis ball would react to a racquet, or a video game character would react to a graphic on the screen of your phone ) , a receiver/transmitter or a subject, for ANYTHING to exist. A logical definition of “existence” requires an observer, an audience, or otherwise there is no such existence. Would you call an otherwise natural event such as a sunset “art” if there was no one to observe it? Whether you agree or not on a definition on art, most people would answer no. Same with reality, no consciousness, no reality.

It is not controversial to say that time is a requirement for the universe to be perceived, and therefore is only second in foundation to consciousness. Remember that based on what I have been saying, perception is a requirement for existence, and that came first, before even time itself. Why is time a requirement for time to be perceived? This is the same as trying to listen to a record while it’s paused: the music only starts once you hit play and time starts passing, regardless of it being a vinyl, cassette, cd or mp3.

Now, here’s where things get interesting: even before consciousness, one could argue that there is a realm of pure abstraction, pure logic and pure reductive reasoning, where “nothing” and “something” play a kind of ping-pong in purely logical and inevitable fashion, where you cannot have “nothing”, unless you have “something” or even everything! (infinity?).  The Tao describes it beautifully; a polarity from which everything emerges. Like a computer, a point in which when we reduce everything to its most minimum expression, we are left with the negative and the positive, yin and yang, silence and music, nothing and everything. A paradox that can only be resolved with existence itself!

That, my friends, is what I call, the Original Paradox.

There’s a lot that can be said about this Original Paradox, and I promise I will expand on it on future posts, since it’s central to what I am trying to say here. Unfortunately, it’s a long topic and I can’t possible cover it here completely. Let’s just say that not only from a semantic point of view, but also from a logical one, it’s impossible to define any of the concepts in the duality made up by “nothing/something”. They are inextricably related, and you cannot have one without the other. In order to have something, you need a concept of nothing, and in order to have nothing, you need something, otherwise there’s “nothing” for the subject of consciousness to experience. This is not a metaphor or a mere extrapolation; there is literally no way in which you can understand, define or present either concept without using it’s polar opposite. And to make matters more interesting, this “nothing” is always impossible to find empirically, because the moment you found it, it would become “something”. Some may argue this only applies to ideas, subjective thoughts, concepts, words, but I argue that from a reductive logic, this must apply to matter and all realms of reality as well. Again, I will expand more on the subject on future posts.

This original paradox creates the MOVEMENT and experience we call “the universe”.  The best illustration of this movement is time, as understood in physics as another dimension. It’s interesting to note that music also has movements, and it’s no coincidence they are called that. A movement is the expression of infinity playing, having fun with time itself. Or even better, like Alan Watts said: Music is not worked, it’s PLAYED. This is what this is all about, the universe plays itself through time, because consciousness requires it.

These dimensions, including time, are nothing but the expression of the original movement or resistance between the poles created by the above described Original Paradox; the true “Original Sin” that many traditions allure to, which “gave rise” to all we see, including math, feelings, evolution, DNA, cancer, music, male and female, the 80s, Game of Thrones, Trump, Buddha, Beethoven, Charles Manson and yes even variations of what you may call heaven or hell in whichever flavor you prefer it, literally or metaphorically.

As far as retrocausality is concerned, yes, it is plausible that such infinite paradox would involve retrocausality and even lack of free will under some definitions, but if we look closely, we are really asking the same question as: how can there be nothing without something? the answer is no, not just conceptually, but practically as well. There is no more digging to be done, this is a hard and original requirement for all else, no matter how hard this is to accept to our brains which have evolved to restrict the meanderings into infinity that you have ran to while reading my supposedly music blog (LOL).

The question: can our understanding of time allow for retrocausality? the answer is yes, because you cannot have condition z (end) without condition a (beginning in time of any given event), even if consciousness is unable to access or perceive condition (a) under most circumstances. Both questions are making reference to the same paradox: Is existence inevitable? and if so, where is this required “nothing” at? The answer is they both exist, and this perpetual paradox is what keeps things moving and existing. (a) needs to exist for (z) to exist as well, and due to the Original Paradox, both (a) and (z) where inevitable, whether that hurts our brains or not.

Music is a perfect illustration of this. The tempo measures the time and speed of the piece, each pitch is a particle that gives texture to the music, and the silence in between ( the “nothing” ) is what actually gives rise to music itself (or “something “or “everything” in nature). However, you need consciousness for it to actually be music, otherwise it doesn’t even exist under most definitions.

Accepting this paradox is naturally something we will resist, and even be scared of. Absolute nothingness is probably only as scary as absolute existence, and yet this is where reality is born, and time is only an essential property of it.

At the end of the day, only one thing matters: we are an audience listening to the grandest performance of the best symphony ever written: reality. And as such, we should enjoy it.


The Death of The Arts

A Long-announced Event That Never Comes but Never Ends

Originally Published on March 23, 2016 – By Leo Perez.

Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi. Some rights reserved. Used under a C.C. License.

Non-commercial art seems to always be on the decline. The general public seems to be more concerned about Kim Kardashian than learning anything about how their cell phones work, and much less about classical music composers of any age. Music funds in schools are disappearing and commercial music is more popular than ever, despite of the rise of the internet and the democratization of creative means. Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised; true art has always been something rather elitist, or at least something that belongs to a minority of highly educated, or maybe even snobbish folk? Is it really becoming irrelevant? Should “true” artists continue to endeavor to create for a small circle of people and perhaps risk leaving an invisible legacy on an audience more interested in what’s strictly commercially trendy?

We would like to think that a mature composer is a person who composes. Full stop. No more and no less. Fame, money and success should all be irrelevant. What matters is the creative process and its outcome, right? However, we know politicians should not crave power, but most of them are in power precisely because that’s what they are attracted to. We often hear how important government positions should be given only to people who “don’t need the job”. We strive for purity, for removal of all possible conflict of interests, and we would like to think that it should be the same in the arts. We certainly try to stay pure, but do we succeed?

I have to agree to a certain degree with this purist view, not just for musicians but also for any artistic creative individual. Some artists not only should but also in fact strive to be free of external constraints because there is a calling that compels them to create the best possible work they can do. The writer writes and circumstances will be circumstances. The world may be ending, the lottery may be won, contracts or commissions may be coming or not, critics may praise or condemn, it shouldn’t matter. A mature artist creates, just like the fly runs away from the hand that tries to smash it, and like the moth flies in fatal attraction towards the light bulb. It’s all inevitable, and perhaps not so unrealistic.

You may be thinking this all belongs only in some kind of artistic utopia. It may be so. However, I will try to make the case that regardless of what the current state of affairs is, striving for this purity it is not a fruitless endeavor, and we should in fact continue to make every effort for it, respect it, and honor it, perhaps above all other human acts. This is mostly due to the fact that doing so, is in synch with all that we hold dear in this world: order, harmony, ethics, pleasure, morality, aestheticism and love. I know this is a big leap, but please read on.

Photo Credit: Antonio Castagna. Some rights reserved. Used under a C.C. License.

Does the composer create because she thinks she is an artist? I would say that’s certainly not the case, at least for most people. A composer composes, and there is no reason for it. Art is not done for any reason in particular; art is done, because one does, because one must. Becoming an artist (at least in the strict sense of the word) is never a rational choice; instead, is a calling. If we push the issue, and ask any artist why beyond this “calling” Art is ever made, she may tell you that all Art seems to inspire, describe or direct our experience of existence to a lower degree of entropy (chaos or disorder) and bring about an aesthetic experience in the process. I would argue that more than a simple artist’s opinion, the act of creation is as fundamental and ingrained to human nature as food is to our survival. A young Nietzsche once said: “without music, life would be a mistake”. I do not believe this is very different from saying: “without food, we would die”. I do not mean this in a poetic or metaphorical sense, but in a literal way: of course we can live without music and survive, however, we cannot survive as a species, or even as living conscious beings, without unambiguously working in a direction that where cooperation, harmony, trust, moral behavior and love do not exist, and this is what “artistic” music is about.

Why agonize about creating aesthetic forms that have nearly no pragmatic use for the survival of the species? You may think that music and art is simply marginally useful because it may entertain, provide pleasure, relax or helps us focus. These are true statements, however, is this really all there is to it? And why does it feel like a calling? Is it simply a side effect of evolving our brains to look for structure and order for survival? Why do perfectly sane and talented individuals in fields like Mathematics, Science and Engineering dedicate their life efforts on something like becoming an artist which barely pays the bills in today’s society? Are we simply at the mercy of being unable to stop and following another evolutionary “glitch” that forces us to do meaningless stuff? Are we wasting our time producing impractical poetry, metaphors and collections of pitches in ordered lines? There are people out there who think music in the best of scenarios is just a form of entertainment, and others even consider it a full-blown waste of time. Well, is it?

Not quite and far from it.

Photo Credit: A Health Blog. Some rights reserved. Used under a C.C. License.

As Winston Churchill is rumored to have said: “[If we cut funding to the arts and dedicate money to the war efforts], what are we fighting for then?” I believe the act of creation is a force of nature in the most literal sense. For instance, as a composer, creating is something I can’t stop whether I rationally think this is useful in life or not; despite all of my ruminations, I must compose until my last breath, much the same I would go about working to feed and clothe my family. Why do I believe this is an important and ingrained human trait? Perhaps even more important than anything else? It’s important precisely because of what Mr. Churchill was intuitively pointing to: that the act of creating aesthetic forms goes beyond pure evolutionary accident, but in fact it describes why a conscious being can be clearly differentiated from an inert object in the universe and why our fundamental nature demands that we create, just for the sake of it.

An engineer may create extremely useful software or important infrastructure for societies to function in increasing order. You may argue that these engineering acts are essential for our survival and progress because they lower – at least in an informal sense – the degree of entropy or chaos that reality always brings plenty of, and you would be right to say so. However, all of these acts would be completely meaningless, unless conscious beings like us are there to experience and use them, and this is where music and the arts come to play. Everything we do, we do for one specific purpose only: to experience the aesthetical and subjective side of life, such as closeness with others, art and love. A universe without this would be pointless, and all the wonders of science of engineering would exist only to be shown to a hall without an audience. We are not here to operate computers and drive on highways, we are here to bask in the conscious experience of feelings, art and creation.

There are some parallels that can bring further clarity to the point I am trying to make. Imagine earth, billions of years ago, devoid of all bacterial life. The panorama consists of an inert stage of forces and matter without any presence of conscious agency that preserves or evolves higher forms of order and function. Now, forget that image for a while, and imagine pure noise, such as that which you would hear on a radio that hasn’t synched the right frequency or simply random pitches without any order in particular coming out of a set of speakers. These two images (early earth and random noise) are examples of what a “lower” level of harmony and order look like (higher entropy). Now, let’s picture earth’s ecosystems and human cities, bustling with activity, structure and function. Now let’s play in our minds Beethoven’s 5th symphony in all its glory, developments, instruments and harmony. This second picture (earth’s ecosystems, human societies and music) present a “higher” level of order that describes why the arts are so important and intrinsic to our being: because we are art before machines, but they are both sides of the same coin.

What is music is about then? Music is aspiration, inspiration, reflection and revelation. It’s what we live for, and this is why it’s important to stay as pure as possible to the arts. Not for money, not for fame, even if this is impossible to achieve in reality. Striving to do so is not only important to elevate our cultural baggage, but because it’s what we are: conscious beings in search of harmony and love which allows continuing our existence in the universe.

What do you think?