Is Music Real?

Paper, January-February 2001

Basic Assumptions

I must initially state that in this paper I make a few assumptions. In order to agree with me, or even to follow certain of the arguments you will need to agree with or maybe just pretend to agree with these assumptions:

Zero and one as quantum concepts

There are two different ways of understanding zero and one. There is a famous maxim in physics that the only necessary values are zero, one and infinity, and this neatly sums up this assumption. What may initially appear to be a grotesque and simplistic idea is, in fact, a fundamentally important idea. One of the bases of digital technology is that there is a significant difference between zero and one (or on and off, or any value and another). Were this distinction not possible, digital technology would not be possible. And yet, outside mathematics and digital technology, there is no such distinction, (or no known distinction). There is a proof that it is not possible to 'know' all the fractional numbers between 0 and 1 (Cantor). Synapses in the brain work according to 'balances of power' - a certain number of hits causes a certain reaction. In fact, digital technology itself does not work in a truly digital way - a certain voltage across a gate causes a one, an absence zero. How, then, or when, does one value become another? We don't know, but we do know that whether in reality or by analogy, we are able to make such a distinction, and that such a distinction is a fundamental human quality.

Existence of external reality

Brain as a physical object and therefore our thoughts are physically created, not spiritual.

Grey matters, Current Neurological Research an its Implications for Educators, a seminar by Sir David Winkley Experience sculptures the brain through patterns of connections. After a few repetitions of cell groups firing together they tend to team up. This is called Hebbian learning after the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb. When two connected neurones have been triggered together on several occasions the cells and synapses between them change chemically so that when one fires it will be a stronger trigger to the other.

The Idea

Modestly enough, I am attempting to create a new aesthetic that takes proper account of the developments in technology and their implications. (...Objections from Hilary? from Bradford (In Our Time, Radio 4, 25th January 2001) concerning the 'technologification' of science...). The acceptance that technology in all its manifestations has something to say about our aesthetic and philosophical adventures, even if technology as it stands is trivial. There is, in any case, a peculiarity here as the majority of the western musical tradition is based on the technology of acoustic instruments, so even if one agreed that current computer technology is trivial one can still ask why it is trivial in comparison with a significantly less technological flute, for instance. As this argument is in itself controversial, it seems inevitable that the results of computer technology should afford a place in musical aesthetics, even if only to suggest that it is incapable of 'real' expression. I'll take a simple example to begin with. We are taught in school that geometry is a part of mathematics. We use geometry to analyse the properties of specific items that are presumed to reflect real world 'things'. So, if we want to build something, we may make a plan and using geometry make estimates of how much of any particular material we need. For normal, everyday examples this works very well, and indeed for over two thousand years it was assumed that this was because geometry was a precise and mathmatical version of reality, reflected by Galileo's statement that nature is written in the language of mathematics. Needless to say, this is not the case. During the twentieth century assumption after assumption concerning the relationship between mathematics and the real world came under attack. At the same time, computing machines have been theorised about and subsequently developed and developed (in a remarkably short space of time). This development has given rise to significant new branches of mathematics - theories of computation, complexity, chaos, etc., have become increasingly important.


Recording and Reproduction




NB it's not important whether some of the subsequent speculations turn out to be realisable or not. It's impossible to prove an impossible (even that!) and the results are as important whether developments turn out to be possible or impossible for whatever reasons. Whichever, we learn something fundamental about life.

Artificial Intelligence

Virtual Reality

Music is analogous in certain respects to mathematics, which is why we find the comparison so tempting.

Music as Multimedia

Are other arts Multimedia?

Literature - vision, imagination, dexterity (to write) Painting - vision, imagination, dexterity Sculpture - vision, imagination, dexterity Dance NB there are blind and deaf artists, so what the precise needs are is difficult to decide...

Multimedia is virtual reality!

Interactive and non-interactive v.r.

Artificial Intelligence

Strengths of artificial intelligence

1a. Non belief ever 1b. Non belief now or in the near future 2. Weak 3. Strong [1a] Effectively spiritualism. One of the assumptions of this talk is that what we call consciousness emanates from the human body (most evidently our brains) and that these are finite objects which can, therefore, in principle, be 'copied'. The only real alternative to this is... [1b] This is a specially created category to accommodate Sir Roger Penrose and his controversial but comprehensively argued belief that, while consciousness is a physical, finite process that is comprehensible to science, we do not currently have the knowledge of the physical world to properly understand it. Specifically, Penrose thinks that the key may lie in the much discussed gap between quantum theory and the theory of relativity. 2 One of the more commonly held beliefs -

Turing Tests

An adherent of strong AI is sometimes referred to as an Operationalist and reflect the behaviourist ideas of human thought and behaviour of earlier in the century. Effectively, they hold that 'if it quacks like a duck it is a duck'. In other words, as long as the appearance of intelligence is maintained to some arbitrary criteria, then the machine is, by definition, intelligent. This relates directly to the behaviourist belief that it was pointless and indeed meaningless to try to understand why certain behaviour occurred. The only relevant information is what 'comes out of the end', as it were, in other words, the behaviour itself. Operationalists like Douglas Hofstadter are very convincing in their expositions of AI, one of the latter's most notable, if controversial ideas being the 'mind as a book' idea.

The Chinese Room

There are probably more and more prominent scientists who are on the stronger sides of the AI debate than the 'non-belief' side. In general, you can probably predict that the 'harder' a thinker is, the more likely he or she is to believe in strong AI or something near it. However, it is by no means universal and a number of people have put forward serious objections to any sort of strongish AI and indeed, to the Turing Test itself. Of these, one of the most common comes from the philosopher xxx Searle and is known as 'The Chinese Room'. In this scenario, Searle imagines himself to be telling a story in Chinese, only without any personal knowledge of the language. Instead, he has a set of rules for manipulating a set of symbols. He cannot see his audience, but sits behind a wall, setting the symbols into holes in the wall in accordance with the rules. As he speaks no Chinese, he does not understand any part of the story he is telling, although his audience fully appreciates it. In this way, Searle seeks to show that it is not necessary for anyone to have any particular understanding or comprehension of something in order to express it. He is, of course, making a point about computers, suggesting that any appearance of AI is precisely that - a shadow of something that doesn't really exist. It is generally conceded that this argument needs answering, although the extent to which it needs answering is itself a matter of disagreement.

AI and Dualism

Problem with the quasi-dualism of strong AI, especially with regards to the separation between hard and software. If, as Turing suggests, there is such a thing as a universal computer, and if consciousness is nothing more than software being run on one such computer, then there is a dualism that exists between soft and hardware. In addition, the whole hard/software divide helps to promote the idea of dualism...


wato - the world at one website, sounds like 'woto', but at becomes 'ot' and one (wun) becomes 'o' cf.. Shaw and pronunciation of 'women'

Decision making

Moral, physical, aesthetic, verbal, ethical, scientific decision making - what if anything, is the difference. The nature of the external world and our response to whatever it happens to be. The nature of that response (i.e. decision making, whether conscious or unconscious, assuming there's a difference). Ethics: Utilitarian Kant Dennett: DDI, p501 _________________________________

The Nature of the Mind:

The black box and the black box and the black box: the use of analogy {and homology} when we don't understand - the transfer of that analogy into 'reality', in spite of the fact that it's just another analogy invented because we don't understand it to begin with. The change from 0 to 1 is a discrete change in abstract, or in mathematics. But our perception of the change is physical - the move from one brain state - 'the value is 0' - to another - 'the value is one'. As a physical object, the brain moves organically from one state to the other. As organic motion, it cannot be discrete at any level other than the quantum. _______________________________

[Turing Tests]

- Is an instrument playing live, or is it a recording? _______________________________


- The difference between what we know and experience now, what we know has been experienced, and theories of what we will be able to experience. We can already appreciate, at a fairly basic level, aspects of technological virtual reality, and it's interesting to compare those with the forms of natural virtual reality we have experienced - imagination, literature, music, mathematics, etc.. Could it be that we find recordings satisfying because they are a form of virtual reality in the same way that we experience music 'live' through natural v.r? This does not effect our level of appreciation of live performance itself which remains a physical interaction. Until the same physicality is recreated using v.r. this problem will continue. The evidence suggests that while there are serious and perhaps immovable problems with regard to this, that we are at the dawn of such developments and so at the very least there should be much enjoyment and acquisition of knowledge in the travel, if arrival proves too difficult.

1 - A Simple Metaphor

Take an idea like geometry. We intuitively assume that squares, triangles etc., are representations of reality, but this is not the case, in the sense that these objects have no 'reality', and are generally accepted to be only platonic figments of our imaginations. Computer Music Journal