[lit-ideas] Re: Sung Hero

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 6 Jul 2011 19:59:09 +0100 (BST)

--- On Wed, 6/7/11, Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx <Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx> wrote:

> McEvoy was referring to 'music' (as
> such) as a  third-worldly phenomenon. I 
> disagree. There's nothing more physical than music, 
> some say (some not).

But to say music is physical, or may be physical, or even that it must be 
physical qua sounds, is not to show that it is not also a non-physical 
"third-worldly phenomenon."

Take a proposition p such as "All swans are white", or any such proposition. If 
we speak it, 'it' is sounds, and it must be therefore  physical (some say). If 
we write it, it is encoded physically as script, and it must be therefore 
physical (some say). But all this shows is that the content of p may be 
physically embodied either as speech or writing: it does not show that the 
content is itself merely a physical object or property. And it is easy to 
indicate how and why it is not: if we speak softly or loudly or use Italian 
rather than English, if we write in a smaller or larger font, we may 
necessarily alter the physical embodiment of p without changing its _content_ 
one iota. In a similar vein, p will stand in a logical relation of 
contradiction to non-p, but this is not a physical relation but a logical 
relation between mutually incompatible _content_ (clearly, both p and non-p can 
be physically embodied, but nevertheless their _content_ cannot both
 be true). This shows that there is a way of regarding content, even content 
that is perforce physically embodied such as speech or writing, that is 
independent of the specific physics of its embodiment.

Applying this to music:- even if we consider music as it is played, as perforce 
physically embodied qua sounds, we can consider the content of that music in 
ways that are independent of its embodiment. The content of a musical theme may 
stand in a [quasi-logical?] relation to some counterpoint or 'answering' theme, 
and aspects of this relation may be independent of whether the theme is played 
loud or soft, or independent of which instrumentation is used: even though 
these may greatly alter the physical content of the music, the _abstract_ 
content or 'meaning' of the music may be largely unaltered. For example, the 
World 3 content of "The Art of Fugue" contains many structural and objective 
features that remain more or less constant whether the piece is played on a 
solo piano or by a string quartet or a synthesizer: this (more or less) 
invariant content is what identifies "The Art of Fugue" for the work it is, and 
not the variations in physical sounds
 that can be used to convey the work. 

We may even say that, from a purely physical POV, there is no such thing as 
music - only sounds or noise. When we speak of music [as opposed to the sound 
of traffic] we are referring not merely to it being sound but it being sound 
with a 'meaningful' and specific content. The same is true when we refer to 
propositions. That 'meaningful content' is not so much a physical or World 1 
phenomenon as a "third-worldly phenomenon". We do not approach understanding it 
as a physicist might approach understanding sound, and we have good reason to 
oppose the view that a complete explanation of the 'meaningful content' of 
music could in principle be given by a physicist. As Popper's World 3 
terminology suggests, that 'meaningful content' is content at a whole other 
level than the level of mere physics (or World 1), even though it may be 
conveyed by physical means. 


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