Physical Culture Theory

Bader, R.: How Music Works – A Physical Culture Theory. Springer 2021.

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 human-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 random. The spatial 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, like 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 major findings can be derived for music and arts 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. When listening, 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 with man’s characteristics. As musical instruments have been built by humans, working such that they have a 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 determine us as humans, and, therefore, they are a Human Right.

Music, art, and culture are ethical. Entropic 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 an entropic imperative: ‘Act such that your doing builds structures which slow down the increase of entropy!’ This entropic 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 around the world.

Energy and entropy are closely aligned. A steam engine has a tank filled with heated water. So there is a lot of energy in this water. Still, to use the heat for driving the engine, there needs to be cold air outside the tank. Only then do the pressure and heat within the tank want 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 exist 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 nearly no atmosphere, no plants, animals, or any other self-organizing being with a very complex molecular structure to keep entropy low. 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 that take the energy and use it for maintaining their own lives, self-organize in a way to maintain their very complex structures. Energy doe not arise 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 sun’s energy heats the Mars surface during the daytime, which cools down at night nearly entirely again. Therefore, entropy has maximized within one day. On earth, trees take over the sun’s energy, grow wood and leaves, storing energy in complex structures, maintaining low entropy, sometimes for millions of years as oil or gas.

Music is energy with low entropy. Humans are living by self-organizing themselves to a system of low entropy. Music, therefore, generally speaking, 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 feed us with the physical energy of low entropy to recover, rethink, feel good or bad. With music, we can also choose how to use music to some extent, how to use the low entropy we feed ourselves with. So stating that music is food is not an analogy, it is a 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, maybe because 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 Age of Enlightenment reasoning, 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 are a Human Right.

Having determined how music, art, and culture works, we can 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 can slow down the increase of entropy. This might sometimes include to destroy old systems and building new ones. Still, we can claim an ethnic principle of physical reasons, to act such that your doing builds structures that 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 consider the system as a whole. 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 smiths’ 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 needs 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 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 was 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 what 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 can 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 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 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 Vernunft, reason, spontaneity, human freedom. This 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 \emph{Intelligenz}, which is often also similarly used on the European continent.

We must not mix these two, understanding and reason. Artificial intelligence that 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 over the last years often heard. 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 away from a computer taking over our lives. It is always another human that 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 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 behavior. It produces harmonic overtone structures we only know from animals or humans, very seldom from ‘dead’ things. This book will go deep into such systems to show that we do not deal with analogies, but complex physics, meeting our ears’ and brains’ demands.

Therefore, what the PCT takes culture to be is more than ideas and thoughts. It is also more than a society of brains. It finds musical instruments, LPs, CDs, concert halls, recording studios, architecture, machines, books, computers, all to be part of culture. Like us, they are physical, and therefore, together, we 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.