Physical Culture Theory

Excerpt from the INTRODUCTION of the forthcoming book

How Music Works

A Physical Culture Theory

This book is about how music, and therefore how art and culture in general, works, as a self-organizing system. Such systems maintain a low level of entropy, or a high level of order. All living systems, man, animal, or plants are self-organizing, maintaining their life through self-organizing processes. So does music, art, and culture. The book tries to show this in the field of music on a physical basis, in musical acoustics, music psychology and brain research, and music ethnology, the music from all over the world.

The Physical Culture Theory therefore is:

  1. Culture is a system of physical man-made objects, like musical instruments, as well as human brains and bodies interacting to extend life by building self-organizing systems aiming for maintaining life as a state far from randomness. The spacial and temporal fields of culture are then an interplay of order with intermediate chaotic states.
  2. Conscious content, which is perceptual phenomena, qualia, notions, or feelings, are electromagnetic spatio-temporal fields in the brain. Cultural notions and understandings, sounds and timbre, vision, memories, self-consciousness, and all kinds of conscious content, as electromagnetic fields, are therefore only one element in culture, which consists of both, man-made objects and human – as well as animal – brains and bodies.
  3. Culture can be modeled purely in the physical domain by spatio-temporal fields of energy bursts, impulses, on different time scales, interacting with the subsystems, objects, and brains, nonlinearly to arrive at self-organizing states of order and chaos. These impulses can be wave packages in musical instruments, spikes and spike bursts in the brain, or bits and data packages in internet information streams.

Three global findings in music and arts can be derived from such a Physical Culture Theory:

Music is food. Due to the self-organization in musical instruments, the sounds they make have low entropy, or a high level of order. Entering our brains, this low entropy is lowering the entropy of our brains on a physical basis. Just like food feeding us through its energy with low entropy, music is feeding us in the same way.

Music, art, and culture are human rights. Human rights have been established in the Age of Enlightenment by determining what humans are, perceiving, thinking, and free subjects. Human rights are then derived along mans characteristics. As musical instruments have been built by humans, working such that they have low entropy, feeding us, we have enlarged our bodies and brains through musical instruments. This holds for arts and culture in general. Therefore music, art, and culture are determining us as humans, and therefore they are a human right.

Music, art, and culture are ethical. Categorical imperative. As all life is slowing down the increase of entropy on earth by an endless complexity of structures, to maintain life one needs to build such complex structures. Music, art, and culture are such self-organizing systems, therefore they help to maintain life. So we can formulate a categorical imperative: ‘Act such, that your doing builds structures which slow down the increase of entropy!’ This categorical imperative also holds for environmental, political, or social issues.

Therefore this book introduces a Physical Culture Theory exemplified with music, showing how musical instruments work, how their sound is processed in self-organizing brain structures, how conscious content appears in humans, and how this is dealt with in the music from all around the world.

Energy and entropy are closely aligned. A steam engine has a tank filled with heated water. So there is much energy in this water. Still to use the heat for driving the engine there need to be cold air outside the tank. Only then the pressure and heat within the tank wants to get out. If outside the tank the same pressure and heat would be present, the steam in the tank would not move out and could not be used for doing work, for driving the engine. Therefore, no matter how much energy there is, the energy needs some kind of order, low entropy, to perform work. With the steam engine order means that not the same temperature and pressure exists all over the place, but that there is a region of high pressure, the tank, and a region of low pressure, outside the tank.

The sun provides the earth with heat which gives life to everything. Still on Mars the sun shines too without any life up there. The reason Mars is dead is that Mars has no atmosphere, no plants, animals, or any other self-organizing being with a very complex molecular structure to keep entropy low. On earth there is an endless cascade of processes, structures, and performances of living beings to lower the entropy as much as possible. Physics tells us that entropy always increases, disorder always wins. Still life on earth slows down this increase of entropy by beings which take the energy and use it for maintaining their own lives, self-organize in a way to maintain their very complex structures. Energy is not appearing from nowhere and going into nowhere, it is only changing its nature, from heat to force, from speed to height, etc. Still within this process the energy is distributed more and more equally over a spatial field, it lowers its order, entropy increases. Of course in the end all energy is distributed equally, entropy has won. Still life on earth slows down that increase of entropy tremendously, with its endless diversity of plants, animals, humans – and culture. On mars the energy from the sun heats up the Mars surface at day time, which cools down at night completely again. Therefore entropy has maximized within one day time. On earth trees take over the energy from the sun, built up wood and leaves, storing energy in complex structures, maintaining low entropy, sometimes for millions of years as oil we use to do work.

Music is energy with low entropy. Humans are living by self-organizing themselves to a system of low entropy. Music, most generally speaking therefore is food. It helps to maintain our lives. Of course it is a different kind of food compared to vegetables or meat. Music is mental and soul food. Still on a physical basis. We can decide which food we choose and get a physical energy with low entropy to recover, rethink, feel good or bad. With music we can also choose to some extend how to use the music, how to use the low entropy we feed ourselves with. So stating that music is food is not an analogy, it is physical reality.

Musical instruments are built like living beings, as self-organized systems. Only because of the high complexity and nonlinearity of tone production a very simple and stable output is produced, a harmonic sound with simple mathematical frequency relations of 1:2:3:4… Musical instruments are culture, they have been invented and built by us. We rebuilt these instruments fitting our physiology, our brains, and interestingly using very similar physical principles as keeping us alive. Music therefore is an extension of our lives, musical instruments have many properties like those of friends or relatives, some musicians might love their guitars more than some of their companions… This is as they act like living beings in many respects (of course not in all). So enlarging ourselves with music, may it be by playing music or by listening to it, is part of our very nature, of extending our self-organizing principle within the world. This is culture. Following the reasoning of the Age of Enlightenment that human rights are no arbitrary values free to choose, but are derived from determining humans, which need to eat, live, work – and make music, arts, and culture, clearly music and arts is a human right.

Having determined the way music, art, and culture works we can therefore formulate an ethnic principle, just like Kant did with his categorical imperative. When we want to maintain life, ourselves, plants, animals, and nature we need to build structures that are able to slow down the increase of entropy. This might sometimes include to destroy old systems and built new ones. Still we can claim an ethnic principle of physical reasons, to act such, that your doing builds structures which slow down the increase of entropy. Music is one of them, in a way meeting this principle.

The Physical Culture Theory (PCT) proposed in this book is deterministic, still not simply mechanistic or materialistic. Nonlinear, self-organizing systems are that complex that a simple relation between single elements is very seldom possible. It needs to take the system as a whole into consideration. It is also not pure materialistic as it also covers our conscious content, the qualia in philosophical terms.

Therefore the hope is also to bring hard and soft sciences closer together again. In terms of musicology, the Pythagoreans found everything to be number, where music was an essential part of it. They vowed to the Tetraktys, a mathematical relation of 6 : 8 : 9 : 12, from which all musical intervals can be derived. Still the so-called smith’s legend needs to be wrong. Pythagoras one day passed a smith and heard that the relations between the hammer length were just like the relations of the musical pitches these hammers produced when hitting an ambo. This need to be a legend, as the pitches a hammer produces is not relative to their length, but to their volumes. So although experiments were performed in ancient times, not all experiments claimed seem actually to have been done. Still this does not mean that the relations are not there, they are only more complex. This relation between music and the rest of the world maintained in Renaissance times, e.g. with Keplers Harmonia Mundi, where the Quadrivium included music, geometry, arithmetics, and astronomy, while the Trivium contained dialectics, rhetorics, and grammar, making it the seven free arts.

The split between hard and soft sciences might be found starting with Descartes, claiming the mind/body duality. The slip continued during the development of modern hard sciences, especially physics in the 19$^{th}$ century. The core of this duality is the qualia, that we have a conscious content of aesthetic nature, the color red, a musical timbre, a smell. Still in modern brain sciences, we are pretty sure to connect physiology, which in the end is physics, with conscious content. Starting from the end of the 19$^{th}$ century the field of psychophysics, which for music is psychoacoustics, is combining physics with the idea Franz Brentano called ‘inner measurements’, of listening tests in music psychology. Still to bridge this gap again fundamentally we need to explain consciousness and conscious content out of physics. As all we measure when performing EEG, fMRI or other brain scanning techniques is electromagnetic fields, and as electromagnetism covers all three fundamental forces in physics, electromagnetism, strong and weak forces, known as the standard model (the forth is gravity, still astronauts also have consciousness), therefore it is straightforward to expect electromagnetic fields changing over time and space to be conscious content. This might sound esoteric to some, still the opposite is true, looking for another source of consciousness rather than that we know and is able to explain what we perceive and measure seems more esoteric, at least to me. Also claiming a reason for consciousness itself, next to a conscious content, would only make sense if there could be a consciousness without a content. Still even a consciousness of emptiness has such a content, the emptiness. Therefore the conscious content we have, hearing sounds, melodies, and rhythms, thinking, and feeling all seem to be special spatio-temporal electromagnetic fields.

Such a fusion of hard and soft sciences gives endless possibilities for understanding culture using objective measures rather than subjective, heuristic ideas, feelings, or world views. This does not mean that subjectivity is something wrong, still it is not scientific. The book proposes an Impulse Pattern Formulation (IPF) as a mathematical method to understand musical instruments and brain activity in the realm of music. As this method is computationally fast, arbitrary scalable to very small activity as well as to very global events, and as it is able to cover billions of active, nonlinear subjects, it might be one way to come close to explaining the highly complex interactivity of culture in physiology, nurture with nature. The Impulse Pattern Formulation is a Physical Modeling (PM) method. It models the physical system in an iterative way, time after time, to arrive at a prognosis of a future in case certain actions have been taken or events have happened. As it is a physical model of self-organizing, nonlinear nature it is able to detect long-range developments as well as sudden phase changes. It is also able to predict events that never have occurred in the past. This is what makes Physical Modeling techniques superior to those of artificial intelligence, which mainly learn from the past and therefore are not able to predict events that have never happened before. Also AI is often predicting long-range developments much better than sudden changes. Still of course AI will also play a role.

These methods, PM and AI can serve as objective measurements to detect racism, populism, or tell invented from real history. They are ways to politically enable crowd-sourced decisions using internet platforms of open-source algorithms to analyze culture and suggest future cultural politics and actions based on objective measurements. Still this is only a first approach, and therefore this book is also a starting point of a scientific program which I would guess will be outlined over the next decades to come.

Artificial intelligence is a term used in basically two ways. Immanuel Kant in his Critics of Pure Reason suggested a two-stage process of perception. First, in transcendental aesthetics, the sensory input is collected and sorted using four types of machinery, categories: quantity, quality, relation, and modality. These are processes, machines, therefore categorical perception is not putting things into boxes, it is a way for arranging the endless sensory input in a meaningful way, to hear a pitch from a complex time series, to detect a musical instrument playing. This transcendental aesthetics Kant calls \textit{Verstand}, may be translated as understanding. This is what is often meant by intelligence in the Anglo-American literature. Still Kant then proposed a second stage of perception (the a-perception), which is \textit{Vernunft}, reason, spontaneity, human freedom. This \textit{Vernunft}, reason, is our ability to intellectually freely deal with what the categorical perception gave us as organized data. Reason needs to be guided by ethics, according to Kant in his Critics of Practical Reason, through the categorical imperative, ‘Act such, that your doing could always be used as a foundation of a public law.’ In German often his reason is taken as Intelligenz, which is often also similarly used on the European continent.

We must not mix these two, understanding and reason. Artificial intelligence which serves people shall perform the first task and leave the judgment of what to do with the sorted data to the people. Of course it can also perform the second task, be creative, reasonable, free, guided by ethnic principles. Still the output of such an AI should not be taken as the only choice, alternativeless, a rhetoric term often heard in Germany over the last years. Although there might be many actions that are not reasonable, this does not mean that there is one, and only one reasonable action. AI needs to serve the people. And by the way, everybody programming AI knows how far we are until a computer takes over our lives, it is always another human which might use a computer to take over our lives. Still this human could also determine our thoughts and actions not using a computer. In the former Eastern German state people were watched by simple microphones and by evaporating hand-written letters.


Musical instruments are no human beings. They do not have consciousness. Still they are living to some extend, as for us they often act like intelligent, sensitive beings. This animistic view was strongly suggested by Ernst Cassirer in his philosophy of symbolic forms. All living beings around us, trees, rivers, fields, animals interact with us, they change in time, rivers flow or fall dry, fields grow through the year. We can help them and might be threatened by them. This is not restricted to ancient times, many talk about their computers or cell phones just like active persons in their daily life. They interact with us, they get sick, need to be repaired, do not what we want them to do, etc. Although we all know that computers do not have consciousness, we need to deal with them as changing objects, or even subjects, just like we need to deal with our friends and relatives, with dogs and cats, living beings we assume they are conscious. What makes a guitar or a saxophone different from a stone or from water is that when played it exhibits a self-organizing behaviour, it produces harmonic overtone structures we only know from animals or humans, very seldom from ‘dead’ things. In this book we will go deep into this to show that this is not only an analogy but that this is complex physics, meeting the demands of our ears and brains.

What the PCT takes culture to be therefore is more than culture as ideas and thoughts, it is also more than a society of brains, it finds musical instruments, LPs, CDs, concert halls, recording studios, and generally buildings, machines, books, computers, to be part of culture too. They, like us, are physical, and therefore we all are an extremely complex system, where here and there conscious content pops up. We are nature, physics, self-organizing systems which decays entropy increase in billions of ways, what we call life, and what makes life so fascinating and worth living.