Music theory, sound-current non-dualism

and radical ecology









MAY, 2000


DonnaMae Gustafson, Instructor LS 80002


Stephen Daniels, Advisor



Recently a lawsuit, backed by timber corporations, was filed against a citizen group called the Superior Wilderness Action Network (SWAN). SWAN has been successfully challenging timber sales by providing scientific data reviewing the threat to fragile ecosystems from corporate logging practices. The timber companies argue in their lawsuit that, in reality, SWAN represents a philosophy of deep ecology that is premised on religious beliefs and thus is a violation of church and state separation. Using religious arguments to make government decisions is unconstitutional according to the lawsuit that has been dismissed by SWAN as a typical corporate SLAPP-a strategic lawsuit against public participation. While the argument of SWAN seems obvious, being a group lead by credible university scientists,(1) the timber companies raise a point that could just as easily be turned on its head: Historian David F. Noble, a former M.I.T. professor and curator for the Smithsonian, has presented extensive evidence that in actuality mainstream science is driven by a technological madness that seeks to recreate God's dominion over the earth and works to revive mankind's original image-likeness to God.(2)

The origin of the spiritual madness defining modern science is traced to the Benedictine monks under the Carolingian empire, as directed by court philosopher John Scotus Erigena. For the first time in western history the mechanical arts were motivated by an elite, materialistic millenarianism to reconstruct "imago dei" and restore "Adam" from the Fall. " 'It was precisely [the] power over nature [that] Adam had lost by original sin.'" An urgency of the beckoning apocalypse ushered in modern science, an expression of the self-fulfilling crisis. Under modernism Man himself became the universal co-creator with God, thus formally disconnecting a divine presence from nature itself and insisting on an abstract transcendent perspective "epitomized by mathematics." A "saintly existence" and a "new race of men" will follow the end-times via the "redemptive powers of technology." The final secularization of these "spiritual men" occurred in the development of modern engineering elite institutions through the freemasons and their offspring of positivism. Karl Marx even became one of the greatest proponents of the "Edenic respites from labor." Space flight, nuclear weapons production, computer-based artificial life and genetic engineering are all symptoms of an worldview to create an Adam II that will redeem mankind through the destruction of the Fall and the dawn of a new era. The "scientific saints" renounce responsibility for necessarily risking escalation toward the inevitable end-times.(3)

Several leading philosophers have argued that, while the ecological crisis presents a new unifying common ground for united action, unless the underlying opposing worldviews are addressed, resolution will only occur by escalating catastrophes that threaten the future of life on the planet.(4) The last 500 years of colonialism and its resultant ecological havoc have been rooted in ideas based on scientific materialism, reductionism, mind/body dualism, and linear causality-what became fortified as the modern paradigm by classical liberalism and the Enlightenment.(5) Radical ecology theory is being reconsidered by dominant institutions, in the context of the New Paradigm-mainly systems theory, the new physics, holistic medicine, post-modernism.

Although strongly recognized since the mid-1980s, post-modernism became theoretically definitive after Professor Frederic Jameson's tome, Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late-Capitalism. Post-Contemporary Interventions. Postmodernism is a zeitgeist driven by relativism where Universal Truth, as a defining Western goal, is no longer considered possible and the impact of late capitalism has been the mixing of high and low culture in an alienating climate. This cultural atmosphere called post-modernism has liberating potential if, as Jameson states, a new "totality of difference" can be created-what sound-current non-dualism describes. As explained by theorist Jozef Keulzart, systems theory was formalized by Ludwig von Bertalanffy during the 1930s by applying the thermodynamics of open systems to ecology, cybernetics, and information theory. The new physics refers to the primacy of energy over matter, the limit of reductionism, and the inter-connection of all reality as proven by Bell's theorem, quantum mechanics, the theory of relativity, and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Holistic medicine applies the above new paradigm concepts to mind/spirit/body dynamics for healing. The University of Minnesota, for example, offers a minor graduate degree in Complementary Therapies and Healing Practices.(6) Physicist Nick Herbert makes the following pertinent new paradigm recommendation: "Religions assure us that we are all brothers and sisters, children of the same deity; biologists say that we are entwined with all life-forms on this planet; our fortunes rise or fall with theirs. Now, physicists have discovered that the very atoms of our bodies are woven out of a common superluminal fabric. Not merely in physics are humans out of touch with reality; we ignore these connections at our peril."(7)

Many institutional planners though are hesitant to implement ecologically-sound structural reforms if only for fear of growing irrationalism, extreme relativism, and even a new all-encompassing big Other of "harmonious Nature."(8) The ecological crisis is universally eroding the fašade of the Western modern paradigm and exposing the spiritual roots of science. What theory can provide a successful integration that meets the true and legitimate concerns of rational humanists and that addresses the ecological justice crisis in a more compassionate and effective manner?

Not only did modern science develop from a profound structural problem but David Bordwell, a definitive source for film criticism and social theory, argues that, similarly, social theory "has tended to be deeply traditional in its assumptions." He, like Noble, also traces these limited and problematic conceptual assumptions to an origin of elite spiritual institutions of the West: "While not all societies believe that a symbol is inherently meaningful, Christianity has been a strongly hermeneutical religion, seeking the kerygma, that latent sense waiting to be called forth."(9) Bordwell is not presenting a broadside attack against spirituality, nor even the practice of deriving implicit moral meanings, but raising an institutional critique that exposes the epistemological limitations behind western, including modern and postmodern, theories to date. The same deep conundrum does not elude music analysis.

Caryl Flinn recently accomplished one of the most comprehensive analyses of the utilization of music theory for social criticism in contemporary times and she comes to a similar conclusion as Bordwell: By arguing that music represents a special place within the limited system of symbolic interpretation, cultural analysts have worked to "nostaligize music as an object of study or have it stand in for an abandoned ideal."(10) While Flinn does not deny the special role of music for Western theorists after Pythagoras, she does deconstruct the utopian theories as still mirroring a one-dimensional bias of meaning that enforces social repression. Yet in the end Flinn positively encourages utopian projects around music and Bordwell makes, from his broader perspective, a surprisingly similar promotion. To overcome the long continuous limits of analysis, traced back to Aristotelian thought, Bordwell argues for a poetics that recovers our senses by utilizing "the reconstruction of earlier acts of comprehension." He states that, like the subordinate role often given to music in social analysis, style and form are not emphasized enough in theory and criticism.(11)

My work is, as Bordwell describes theory, a "systematic propositional explanation of the nature and functions" for inferring implicit perceptional norms that challenge dominant Western institutions.(12) This is not a nostalgic project but meets Flinn's goal for music theorists, namely, "how to talk concretely and specifically about the effects generated by a signifying system that is so abstract."(13) Utilizing Bordwell's neo-formalist approach that creates "a set of relations of meaning between conceptual or linguistic units" (i.e. a relation of opposite meaning, diminution in size, defined by inclusion, etc.), I will be presenting a field of meaning that revolves around moral categories, as is the norm for interpretive criticism of rational humanism.(14)

While a few recent grand theorists, in my opinion, have each successfully achieved this new integrative theory, they both have done so in different manners and with the same epistemological symbolic limitations that Noble and Bordwell describe. The three most prominent examples are Gilles Deleuze, Ken Wilber, and Slavoj Zizek. The later two qualitatively move beyond postmodernism by similarly building from systems theory, idealist philosophy (Hegel and Schelling) and emphasizing psychoanalysis. Wilber recognizes the need for a new paradigm to address the ecological crisis with the following: "before we can even attempt an ecological healing, we must first reach a mutual understanding and mutual agreement among ourselves as to the best way to collectively proceed....Anything short of that, no matter what the motives, perpetuates the fracture." Zizek relatedly states: "the hitherto underestimated ideological impact of the coming ecological crisis will be precisely to make the 'collapse of the big Other' part of our everyday experience.....The way to break out of this viscous cycle is not to fight the 'irrational' nationalist particularism but to invent forms of political practice that contain a dimension of universality beyond Capital; the exemplary case today, of course, is the ecological movement." And "significantly, Deleuze and Guattari express their new vision in terms of 'eco-philosophy.'" (15)

Fortunately Georgia State University philosopher Mark B. Woodhouse wrote, after building on these grand theorists, the presentation of what he calls energy monism-a model of reality that would not be possible, "if we were not of the very essence of music, i.e., rhythmic vibrations of energy."(16) His work is promoted by Tulane University philosopher Michael E. Zimmerman, author of Contesting Earth's Future: Radical ecology and postmodernity. (17) Zimmerman considers Woodhouse's Paradigm Wars: Worldviews for a New Age to be "an indispensable guide to new conceptual pathways that may lead to the radical and constructive alterations needed to guide humankind in the 21st century." Ironically at about the same time that Woodhouse's book came out, I also sent Zimmerman my manuscript, "The Fundamental Force," which presents dramatically similar integrative work. Zimmerman also positively reviewed what I have been recently calling sound-current non-dualism-a label very much like energy monism. Fortunately, and most significantly, the core concepts of this paradigm can be expressed through basic and easily accessible music theory-a realization that's been entertained by not only leading scientists but by the foundation of the Western Academy-Pythagoras.(18)

It's not surprising that energy monism can be easily understood "as a powerful root metaphor and as a concrete model of explanation," according to Woodhouse. The same resonating approach to reality is found in cultures across the globe, just as the same basis for the sophisticated philosophy of Taoism is also found universally.(19) The harmonic and rhythmic processes of yin and yang forces are rooted in a "deep ecology of the body," according to the work of Taoist qi gong Master Mantak Chia. Influential physicist and music analyst James Jeans dismissed the connection between Taoism and Pythagoreanism in 1937 when he wrote, "the central Pythagorean doctrine that 'all nature consists of harmony arising out of number' provided of course the simplest of all answers, but only by building on an unproved metaphysical basis. An answer on equally uncertain foundations was given by the Chinese philosophers of the time of Confucius, who regarded the small numbers of 1,2,3,4 as the source of all perfection." Esteemed mind research Dr. Philip Regal gives a more positive connection, "Taoism had its origins in shamanism, and much like Pythagoreanism it attempted to develop a systematic 'scientific' aspect." The brilliant philologist and historian Peter Kingsley in his groundbreaking work Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition, well summarized the bias that my approach openly confronts: "To suppose that a magician is someone incapable of devising coherent theories about the structure and working of the universe is in the last resort sheer prejudice, denied by all the evidence."(20) The reconstructive science of Taoist qi gong and sound-current non-dualism successfully address the western crises of self/other dualism and subsequent reactionary irrationalism, thus enabling an ecological approach to reality to be achieved. Woodhouse theorizes that the new paradigm, because of its cyclical universal principles, is a foundation for a rising global culture which is meeting the planetary crisis of survival.(21)

I contend that the theory of sound-current non-dualism demonstrates that true science-based music theory and Taoist qi gong are formally equivalent. Both originate from indigenous systems that are based on universal principles of turning fundamental quantity into quality or natural law modeled by music theory. Music theory formally explains why indigenous societies are not "pre-cognitive" or "backwards" and formally explains how the western self/other repressive system derives from closed one-dimensional western epistemology and is reflected in linear, genocidal western development. Music theory provides the formal foundation for radical ecology, chaos and complexity and, in so doing, successfully and formally addresses the three main critiques of radical ecology: a) that it's irrational b) that it's still materialistic and doesn't explain inner consciousness c) that it's another symbolic hegemony or repressive big Other deterministic system. Music theory, by modeling the principles of universal energy, explains how to achieve what qi gong master Dr. Chow calls, "exceptional human functions" of a multi-dimensional sustainable nature.


Music is derived from a very simple yet profound concept. From the definitive book Music and Science by physicist Sir James Jeans: "The motion of any particle [or pulse] will be a succession of waves...but in a vibration the restoring force is exactly proportional to the distance the particle has moved from its position of equilibrium."(22) This is known in physics as the law of Pythagoras. The implication of this law is that "the motion of every particle will be of the same kind, whatever the structure to which it belongs." (23) Consider the clock, a defining metaphor for the western modern paradigm(24): "the period of vibration of a pendulum depends on its length, and not on the extent of its swing; it is because of this that our pendulum clock keeps time.... the period is independent of the extent and energy of the swing...Without this property it may also be said that music, as we know it, would be impossible."(25) The simple motion of regular waves enables time to be ordered and the plucked string (a.k.a. the first note, the fundamental, the pulse, or the natural free vibration of the string) when viewed on an oscilloscope, is seen as an empty circle, like the clock face.(26)

This empty circle, the fundamental, notes music analyst Beaulieu, is also the same symbol of the Wu Chi, the source for all reality in Taoism.(27) Taoist qi gong Master Mantak Chia states,

Through observing nature and the effects of energy within the human body, the ancient Taoists were able to trace universal energy back to its point of origin. Having developed an empirical approach with which to contact this source of observable phenomena, they established the concept of the primordial void as the point of departure for all creation. This void was given the name Wu Chi. It is depicted as an empty circle in traditional Taoist art because it is beyond human description."(28) Wu Chi is literally the void or nothingness from which all arises. Although Wu Chi, the source of the way of the Tao, cannot be directly referred to with words, music, profoundly, does measure the nothingness itself, as we'll see next.(29)

By the same law of Pythagoras, the free vibrations, or naturally harmonious relations to the fundamental, are all "multiples of the same number."(30) The next natural multiple or harmonic is the octave, the ratio 1:2, or as its called in the Greek source, the Diapason, meaning "through all" or "through the whole."(31) The scientific basis for proving harmony of the Diapason (that Hemholtz theory built from the law of Pythagoras) is at the next order of information, the ratio of ratios or the relation of the multiples of the ratios. Each multiple has its own set of multiples in an infinite pattern of dynamics.(32) But for the Diapason, or the first node (where the string is touched in the center), the beats, as the physicists call the resultant sound of the second order, equal zero or nothingness itself. Normally the resulting difference between the multiples of the ratios creates a pulsating sound or beat. Jeans writes, "on this theory [Helmholtz theory of beats] the octave becomes the most perfect of all concords, since none of the harmonics can possibly beat worse than when one note is sounded alone." He adds "the unpleasantness [beats] remains until the octave of frequency...is reached, at which point [the beats] suddenly disappears."(33)

Since music theory is not considered a model to describe reality by the corporate-state western institutions then the great cosmological magnitude of Hemholtz's beat analysis is left systematically marginalized in dominant society. By approaching rhythmic vibrations of energy as the new physics does, the implications of the Diapason is that the source of reality can now be understood easily (i.e. how something comes from nothing). As the most successful music theorist and sympathetic vibrations physicist, John Keely, put it:

There would be no life, and therefore no action in aggregated matter, had the latent negative force [the nothingness measured by music theory] been left out...The evolution of power from the latent condition...proves the 'connection link' between celestial and terrestrial, the infinite and the finite.(34)

Keely's connecting link refers also to the second important implication of the law of harmony, or beats, which is that the difference between orders of information can be measured. The problem of clarifying the difference between classes of information is a perennial quagmire to science and true music theory provides the answer.(35) In Taoist qi gong these different levels of information are crucial to the concept of nothingness as the source of creation. The node is the relative void, where string displacement equals zero, and the zero of the beats, signifying pure harmony and creation, is the absolute void. The brilliant and profound text Taoist Yoga states:

Seeing the void as not empty is right and seeing the void as empty is wrong [as the West does], for failure to return to the (tsu ch'iao) centre (which is not empty) prevents the light of vitality from manifesting...When spirit and vitality return to this cavity, spiritual vitality will soar up to form a circle (of light) which is not void. Voidness which does not radiate is relative but voidness which radiates is absolute. Absolute voidness is not empty like relative voidness.(36)

This concept has been regained in the new paradigm work of new physics. Berendt cites physicist Charon, noting,

Both the electron and the black hole [i.e. extremely dense matter or zero beats] are characterized by totally curved space and by curved time. This means that the time of electrons and of black holes is opposite to our 'material' time, which moves on a straight line from past to present to future. This, in turn, may imply that if entropy grows in the 'material' world, then in the world of electrons (and black holes) precisely the opposite force might grow, the force of negentropy.(37)

The Diapason, first overtone, or node, as the halfway spot on the vibrating string, is, Beaulieu points out, equivalent to the complimentary halves of the Tai Chi symbol from the Wu Chi. Tai Chi, just as with the Diapason, is the basis for all harmony. Music theorist Berendt comments, "the octave, the proportion 1:2, which has always been used to signify the polarity of the world: yang and yin, male and female, heaven and earth, etc."(38)

GO TO: Part 1/ Part 2/ Part 3/ Part 4/ References

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