Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Music makes time a true "dimension" for us, and might challenge Hawking's view of "no afterlife"
My piano teacher, back in the 1950s, used to say that a composer’s music lives forever, and essentially gives him a kind of immortality. I suppose one could say that about any kind of content – literature, painting, sculpture. But music is different from these in another sense. One’s experience of music spans time. The brain relates the sounds at the moment to that which preceded, and an anticipation of what will follow. Memory is involved, of course, as experiencing of music is about more than “living the moment”. It’s very curious that music therapy is effective against dementia, and in taking the brain out of its own immediacy.
Actually, one could put the spin of cosmology or theoretical physics on it. Time is a dimension, but in our universe, humans can move in only one direction, usually at a set rate (which decreases with gravity), to avoid paradoxes. However, when listening to music, the mind constantly spans and replays entire blocks of time, even though one is not aware of doing that consciously. Try this not just with Mozart or Mahler, but also with Schoenberg’s “The Golden Calf”! (Actually, as one grows older, the brain experiences time moving more quickly. When you’re just 17, you really do have more “time” to solve ten calculus problems on an AP final exam. Jack Andraka has more “time” now for his medical innovation than he would at my age.)
There’s something else about time that strikes me. Even after passing – and every single one of us will pass away eventually, as far as we know, so that isn’t even controversial – the historical cross-product of a life’s experience still exists in a cosmological sense. The whole narrative of one’s life still exists. It’s possible to imagine that music extends it (and that makes sense, again, its use for therapy). One cannot undo a wrongful action or impulsive choice. One cannot go back and change the facts of one’s past.
In a dimensional sense, that is enough for “eternal life”, so one can understand why Stephen Hawking says there is no afterlife. Or it isn’t necessary for the universe. I would perhaps challenge him (and in 2015 I’ll read Brian Greene’s book and may have a lot more input). It is a mystery, “why am I me” and not someone else. Why was I born in 1943 and why have I lived the “different life” that I have, with an unusual way of perceiving emotion that only appears aloof to others (in the sense of relativity) but also affects others (again, the “observer” affects what he stares at)? Why didn’t I live at the time of Christ or maybe the Exodus, or maybe in Germany in the 1930s? Why wasn’t I born in poverty in Sierra Leone? The question may be self-referential. I am what I am. Factoring in the idea that I am more fortunate than some others then becomes a moral exercise.
As I’ve grown older, I have come to respect life as “special” in a way that I didn’t earlier. Orcas, dogs, and cats, and the amiable red fox sleeping in the yard, all seem sacred. Yet, when I was younger there was nothing enticing about the prospect of procreating life with my own seed. I saw fecundity as mundane, something taken for granted, even vulgar. No more, in a world with an aging population and falling birth rates in many countries. But my attitude was so focused on the “virtue” of someone already grown, that I didn’t see myself as having a part in the process. Submission was more exciting.
I may be “who I am” simply as an existential tautology. But still, it seems consciousness, capable of exercising free will (and executing choices that are irrevocable because of the time arrow) comes into focus gradually, well after birth, as the child is raised into adulthood (see Book reviews, Hofstader, June 1, 2013). But once it is established, will it span all remaining eternity, or only its own life-experience block? Is consciousness, developed to the point of free will, a physical elemental that cannot be destroyed, even across time? Maybe. Is there some tie to biological children, that would possibly compromise the afterlife of the childless? It sounds possible.
The Monroe Institute, for example, sees consciousness as a hierarchy. When you pass, your soul is in a higher reality. For a while, the details of the life you led stay in focus, but, just as with a dream, or with a lost job, they tend to fade away with “time” (which functions very differently, now, as a real dimension). You are concerned with where you are, as absorbed in some sort of soul group. Hopefully, you’re more aware of how the universe (or multi-verse) really works, and how a Creator really works when setting up a new universe at a singularity, inside a black hole.
I don’t think that “heaven” in the popular sense can work for me, because I am not socialized enough. It could not reward me. (I could never be part of an "eternal marriage" indeed.) But being part of a cosmic cycle does. So what I do in remaining years really matters.