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Jazz Cosmos: Music and Modern Physics

By Published: November 19, 2013
On a much larger scale, The Big Bang theory says that the universe itself was such a spontaneous eruption. A slight change in conditions would have created an entirely different universe than the one we are familiar with. Some cosmologists go even further to say that the universe we see is partly the result of our being here to observe it! And some are suggesting that there are other universes we can't ever know because we're not there! It's like going to a jazz performance knowing it is a completely unique event, and, moreover, that your perception of it will be somewhat different from everyone else. The experience of jazz is a unique one time only "universe" that occurs between the musicians and the listener. Jazz is by far the most intimate of musical moments. When you listen to jazz, you feel "up close and personal" with the musicians, not as if you are watching them from a distance. The music actually affects your body as if it is inside you. There is no separation between the observer and the observed. You are attending a singular once-only event, and your perception of it is unique. Cosmologists and physicists tell us that the same may be true of the entire universe!

Jazz "Telepathy" and "Non-locality" in Physics

When a jazz group is in a tight groove, or, as they say, "in the zone," the musicians seem to have mental telepathy, as if they all have the same idea at the same time. There are several tracks in the J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson
1924 - 2001
/ Stan Getz
Stan Getz
Stan Getz
1927 - 1991
sax, tenor
recording At the Opera House (Verve, 1957) where the two great players—whose usual styles were different from one other—were in such a groove that they improvised counterpoints as if they were written by one composer, as if they could anticipate exactly what the other was going to do and synch their playing perfectly with each other. Musicians in the Count Basie band could co-improvise riffs that sounded like a single instrument. It's as if they were reading each others' minds! (Of course, there are other explanations for it: they already knew the chords; one note automatically followed on another; etc. However, the overall effect can be as uncanny as telepathic communication. Neuroscientists have done some studies showing that jazz affects specific brain waves and brain activity. So what one musician is playing could change the brain activities of the others in the band so that their brains are in synch with one another.)

Newton's laws of motion, the past gold standard of physics, does not allow for objects (in this case musicians' minds) to influence one another at a long distance. Particles must collide to affect one another. The exceptions are gravity and magnetic fields, where the "pull" occurs at a distance. But these are explained by assuming a "field" around them that exercises a force. The musical parallel to this is the symphony orchestra, in which the conductor acts as the "force field" that coordinates the playing. Contemporary quantum physics, however, has demonstrated situations called "non-locality" or "entanglement" where particles and systems of particles can influence each other at long—very long—distances. In certain cases, if a collision splits a subatomic particle apart, and the two halves travel in opposite directions a long way from one another, the physicist can cause a change in one of them, and the same change will take place in the other. Physicists call this occurrence "non-locality." It's as if the one sub-particle can "mind read" the other, just as the Basie band members could improvise the same riff at the same time. (Of course, physicists do not attribute "minds" to particles, but psychologist Carl Jung did believe that there was a physical effect that one mind could have on another mind half-way around the world. He called this phenomenon "synchronicity," and the Nobel Prize winning quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli believed that mental synchronicity could possibly be explained by quantum science.

It's happened more than once that jazz musicians in different geographical areas created the same innovations at the same time with little of no contact with each other. One of the most notable examples was between West Coast and East Coast jazz in the 1950s. When players from the two coasts came together to make the groundbreaking album, The Birth of the Cool (Capitol Records, 1957), they had very little previous contact with one another. Yet they had independently developed the same ideas and concepts. Of course, they had points of contact in recordings, they knew musicians who played on both coasts, and they had a common earlier tenure in the swing bands. Nevertheless, they worked on similar musical ideas at the same time at opposite ends of the country, comparable to non-locality in physics.

Tying It All Together: String Theory

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