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Pabitra Mukhopadhyay


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Maths came before music

The moment consciousness can differentiate many from one, it becomes fundamentally mathematically endowed. This is the precursor of axiomatic tautology of mathematics that can, given enough combinations, get as complex as you can imagine.
Mathematical skill therefore should predate musical skill in human evolution.

  • Jun 28 2013: I can't imagine it takes mathematical skills to make pots of varying sizes, fill them with water and and then strike them to get different tones. To observe relationships of form and sound does not require knowledge of numbers. Anyone can mess around with a nice stick, bore some holes and make noise. Sure, patterns and timing can be represented in mathematical form, but this does not imply exclusivity to mathematics.

    I also don't believe that it takes mathematical skills to feel or carry rhythm. I'm no musician, but I do play the guitar once in a while, and when I'm just making up songs as I go, not a single number runs through my thoughts, I just play.

    However, I do entertain the notion that musical skill as we know it today has roots in mathematics. This can be traced back thousands of years, but if one were to suggest that mathematics came before music, I'd say they're wrong.

    As well, Common Meter is every where... and yes, it can be syllable counts such as, or rhyming schemes such as a-b-a-b-c-d-c-d, but I'd argue that mathematics isn't what allowed for us to create these things, it's more intrinsic.

    Music is the shorthand of emotion.
    Leo Tolstoy

    All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.
    Jean Cocteau

    A little Devil's advocate:
    Is it numbers that created music, or is it music that created the numbers associated with it. Are numbers even real?

    Our brains seek patterns, adjusts, then expects and predicts what's next... to create from these observations and place into form doesn't require mathematics. Even if crude in form, music may still manifest.
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      Jun 29 2013: Oh, but it does.
      Pots are more than one pot - mathematical ability. Filling with more water than less water - mathematical ability. Different tones are more than one note - mathematical ability.
      One may like to see mathematical skill as more fundamental than you are saying it to be.
      I am not discussing about numbers or decimal counts at all. There are other kinds of numbers possible on different bases. But the ability to quantize the reality and sensing there are more things than one is fundamental. Even for extraterrestrial maths this should be valid.
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      Jun 30 2013: John, you have convinced me music came first! One could sing or whistle through ones lips, and create music without any math.
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    Jun 29 2013: Origin of Universe started with Music.

    From than on every paricle of our universe is dancing in harmony over a celestial song.

    Maths and other faculty of sceinces only confirms and prove it.
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    Jun 28 2013: In my opinion, maths and music are very related one to another. And the spirit of a good mathematician and the one of a good musician, may feel very similar sensations.
  • Jun 28 2013: Anyone who has studied music has experienced the correlation between music and math. It's comforting knowing that as a hobbyist musician -- who has never considered herself particularly mathematically adept -- I must have some portion of affinity for math.
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    Jun 30 2013: Which came first is certainly not for me to decide ... however I offer the following. One constant in Math, science, music, art, etc ... is Phi, the golden ratio 1.618 in music it is expressed by Heinz Bohlen who proposed the non-octave-repeating 833 cents scale based on combination tones, the tuning features relations based on the golden ratio. As a musical interval the ratio 1.618... is 833.090... cents.

    I went to Wikipedia, looked up Golden Ratio and the section on music .... They am smart folks.

    This does not answer the which came first question but instead confirms the compliment between Math, science, music, and the Arts.

    As we evolve we find the basics are constant. These things were observed and writen Before Christ (BC). We should recall and embrace History and learn from it or we will certainly repeat the errors documented in History.

    I wish you well. Bob.
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    Jun 30 2013: Pabitra: Which came first Math or Music? Is that the question? Well are we talking counting on your fingers and then displaying that count to a fellow primate or addiction/ subtraction, multiplication/division, algebra and trigonometry. Now when I was a teenager and went to impress the girls I bought a bongo drum and beat it till my fingers burnt. There were times when it might have even sounded rhythmic. I never learned to play anything more sophisticated. So starting on the low end of math and music it could be a question that will forever remain unanswered. Early primates cracking seeds or nuts on a log could have synchronized their striking of the vegetation, thus establishing the first orchestra. Then again, in the same clearing some distant relative of yours and mine may have been using her fingers and toes to comprehend the needs of this primate pack.
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      Jun 29 2013: When we are having a nice glass of wine between us and enjoying each others company, it does not matter dear friend :)
      But when we confront memes like 'women don't like maths' or 'he took humanities because he is weak in maths' , may be my idea matters. It can, if developed and appreciated well, help to demystify mathematics and debunk myths associated with it.
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          Jun 30 2013: Haha. I prefer my female company to pay for the wine and that makes it rare occasion any way.
          You know Kate, math is too simple an abstraction for complicated human mind, which seeks fuzzy and complex patterns to make sense of. So I understand what you say.
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      Jun 29 2013: "So it is possible music came before mathematics and mathematics developed out of music."
      Before or After?
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          Jun 30 2013: Just like we are looking for the earliest history and origin of music in human evolution, there should be one for math too, don't you think? What should that be? How do you think mathematical abilities grow in human beings?
          My idea should encourage one to think rationally about that.
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          Jun 30 2013: That ability is called numerosity and it is present in higher primates. Some grey parrots can count too.
          I believe that there is a biological basis of mathematics (not the higher and highly abstract branches but number sense and ordinal numerical ability). You can imagine all kinds of survival scenarios where this trait could be naturally selected over others.
          The book 'The nature of mathematical thinking' by Robert J. Sternberg looks promising for this inquiry.
  • Jun 29 2013: What do you mean by musical skills??? if you are talking about the ability to make music, then: no, mathematical reasoning is not an indispensable requisite to make music, if you are talking about the ability to make musical instruments, then yes, you need math to make all the necessary calculations.
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      Jun 29 2013: All mathematics is not reasoning. That two same thing is more than one same thing involves intution but I contend that the nature of this intuition is mathematical. If the particular area of brain that helps us on such intuition is damaged, it should render that person completely incapable of appreciating and making music, IMO.
      I don't think it is necessary to understand capability of solving mathematical problems (computation) as the mathematical ability. It may be far more fundamental than that.
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    Jun 28 2013: 1) Did you intend to say "differentiate ONE from MANY"? 2) What wouldn't "get as complex as you can imagine" if given enough combinations? 3) Does the theory of evolution require serial development of skills?
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      Jun 29 2013: 1. I intend to say that the idea that there are more things than one is the precursor of counting/comparative ability, this ability is mathematical in the most fundamental sense and that this ability is the simplest of conscious abilities of mind. Everything else is more complex and came after this.
      Humans and some higher order primates seem to develop the ability of recognizing 'self' as differentiated from everything else (mirror test) in childhood and some say that is differentiating ONE from Many. I don't fully agree.
      2. Everything, or most things. In fact any simple configuration can get immensely complex proceeding of reiterations based on very simple rules (Game of Life). They can get so complex that at a later point it becomes extremely counter-intutive to imagine the simple origin and the dumb rules that give birth to the complexity.
      3. No. But theory of evolution does require complexity coming out of simplicity not the vice verse.
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        Jun 29 2013: Thank you Pabrita. 1) We agree One is not Many, and Many is multiple (more than one) entitys or items. 2) Complexity is an effect of, and directly proportional to, combinations. 3) You say the theory of Evolution demands that the arrow of development over Time points AWAY from disarray (lower complexity)? Not just in gases, but in the Universe, evidence consistently indicates that the tendency is TOWARD disarray, or less complexity.
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          Jun 30 2013: I think you are hinting at 2nd law of Thermodynamics. While that is universally true, deterministic chaos can develop windows of organization locally where a system (a subsystem of the whole) can, for a time, decrease entropy, which is moving from simple configuration to complexity. There must be equal increase in entropy somewhere else in the system so that 2nd law of Thermodynamics is conserved as a whole.
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        Jun 30 2013: RE: "I think you are hinting. . . " Simple processes can build complex systems, but, are you suggesting there must be an equal and opposite reaction to every entropic change? Will a broken egg ever naturally re-assemble to unbroken wholeness, or dry bones into a living being? Are you challenging the idea that entropy must always increase in the Universe?
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          Jun 30 2013: No. You got me wrong. All I am saying is that within the Thermodynamic arrow directed at higher entropy from lower, there can be local windows where entropy can decrease for a time. The organization of life is one such window among many others. And in order to keep the 2nd law valid as a whole, there must be a corresponding increase in the entropy as it logically follows.
          Such formation of entropy islands is a verified fact in Chaos theory too.
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        Jun 30 2013: RE: "No. You got me wrong. . . " The reason I got you wrong is because I have overstepped my understanding of such matters. Thank you for your version of the science.
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          Jun 30 2013: You are welcome Edward and no problems whatsoever. It just doesn't look like I can apply for a patent for my version because it is common knowledge.
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    Jun 28 2013: What do you mean here by musical skill? Vocalizing of sounds, as in birds "singing"- music or not? Musical skill or not?
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      Jun 28 2013: I don't think birds sing. Music is just not producing pleasing notes repeatedly but a full movement with the notes challenging the periodicity in interesting ways and coming back to it. Btw, it should need the appreciation of periodicity and multiplicity of events, which again is appreciating many as different from one.