Thursday, November 24, 2011

A hitchhiker's guide to the multiverse

Different theories spin off very different kinds of multiverses. Our current standard theory of how the universe came to be, for example, predicts an infinite expanse of other universes, including an infinite number in which duplicates of you are reading this sentence and wondering if those other versions of you really exist. Meanwhile, string theory, which hoped to derive the particles, forces and constants of our universe from fundamental principles, instead discovered a wilderness of 10^500 universes fundamentally different from ours. Even quantum mechanics implies that our universe is a single snowflake in a blizzard of parallel universes.
-- from The Ultimate Guide to the Multiverse.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A journey into light

As I understand it, people who are clinically depressed can get caught in there unable to move. The thing that the composer can do and the music can do is give you a ladder outwards from somewhere very extreme and painful...
...One of the most curious things is the pleasure we take in painful and unhappy music. There must be a reason for this, and part of may be that in exploring deep emotion the music gives you access to what they call 'the locus of control.' In other words, you externalize your feelings such that you can observe them and make changes in them or at least realise that change is possible. You can see that from the painfulness that something beautiful has occurred, and that begins to give it meaning. And if there's one thing about the human condition it's that all things are bearable if they have meaning...
...There's a paradox, a tension between the desire we have to let go of ourselves, to become without boundary (this is very beautiful but very terrifying) and the horror of finding ourselves completely hemmed in by boundaries, unable to make choices.... And there's something about music in particular... that allows us to find/project/ discover/make within that fabric of sound identifications with the most profound inner conditions.  This may be what music exists for...
For quite a long period I would take my string quartet to play in hospitals and we would often be playing for people who had truly diabolical situations, and sorrows. People do face big issues when they're that ill. To begin with, naively, we used to take in music that was broadly 'cheerful', what ever that means! But no; what we found was that if we took something like Schubert's Death of a Maiden or Schostakovitch's 8th quartet, this was the greatest consolation.
I can only theorize as to why this might be. We can all recognize that there's something extraordinarly uplifiting about recognizing that somebody has made something beautiful from being in such a condition themselves. There's something extremely liberating because even though we are taken up and gripped by music we always actually have choice so that the locus of control remains with us. And the very fact that we can chose to enter the searing emotional world of Shostakovich knowing that we can choose to step out -- we're free not to be there -- gives us an extraordinary philosphical freedom, which is what we are looking for.
From a rough transcript of remarks by Prof Paul Robinson,  interviewed by Stephen Johnson for Into the Light, an approach to Shostakovitch that was rebroadcast yesterday.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The reverend is against the death penalty, but in thinking about it before the camera he veers off into an anecdote about a golf trip and his relief at not hitting a squirrel and killing one of God’s creatures, and we can see how, when pressed to illuminate its own contradictions, the human mind can go on the fritz. This may really be Herzog╩╝s theme.
-- from Werner Herzog on Death Row by Lorrie Moore

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fun-sized nuclear weapons

Linked from a report on the expanding US budget for nuclear weapons, Mother-Jones lists 8 of the Wackiest (or Worst) Ideas for Nuclear Weapons

These have included The Davy Crockett, a tactical nuclear recoilless rifle with a 0.01-kiloton payload that was designed for use on conventional battlefields, and deployed by the US Army until 1971.

What ho, Jeeves! Some of these sweethearts should come in handy for keeping the Persians in line!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

'The music will begin shortly'

If you stop playing for like, even like a year - sometimes it all builds up in a really great way. But there's no such thing as not playing... Music has rests in it, so you are on a rest right now. And the music will begin shortly... It's like an orchestra tuning up. 
I used to try and get myself started. I would take a tape recorder, and I would put it in the trashcan and - the ones that are on wheels... And I'd turn it on, and then I'd roll around in the yard with it, and then play it back and see if I could hear any interesting rhythms, you know, that were just part of nature. 
Or - I tell you, the best snare drum on earth is a trampoline in like, November, when all the branches have landed and they're heavy and they're wet. And then you jump on the trampoline; they all lift up and come down at the same time. It's like, wow.
-- Tom Waits