Home » Intelligent Design » A Meaningful Universe Rigged For Humankind: ID, Music, And Technology

A Meaningful Universe Rigged For Humankind: ID, Music, And Technology

Here’s a thought about anthropic “coincidences.” Michael Denton, in his book Nature’s Destiny: How the Laws of Biology Reveal Purpose in the Universe (a tour de force which cannot be summarized here), points out that if metals could not have been smelted and refined at temperatures reachable through carbon-based fire, technology could never have arisen. What a happy coincidence. One can’t make cars and computers from wood and stone.

I presume that readers of this blog are aware of all the happy coincidences concerning the fine-tuning of the laws of physics and chemistry that make life possible in the first place, and all the happy coincidences that make our place in the cosmos ideal for scientific discovery, as elucidated by Gonzalez and Richards.

Isn’t it also interesting that the physics of sound are just right to create scales, harmonies, consonance and dissonance, and that musical instruments can be made from common materials?

Music is based on the physics of sound — in particular, the overtone series which is produced when a string or column of air vibrates in integer multiples. The division of the octave into 12 semitones is not an accident or a matter of personal preference; this produces notes that coincide with the overtone series. This is the basis of melody and harmony, and why some sounds are dissonant and some sounds are consonant.

Imagine a world without music: no music accompanying the movies you watch, no music in your church services, no music on the radio or television, no violinists, no pianists, no guitarists, no singers, no songs — no music at all! Wouldn’t your life be indescribably impoverished? Music is a totally abstract art form, but has tremendous power and meaning in our lives.

When I was in college I took a number of courses in music theory. I remember a chapter in a book about melody. All the technical elements of melodic composition were discussed but there was one final comment that struck me (I paraphrase): Most people associate “melody” with something that cannot be described, but they know it when they hear it, and there is no way to teach how to write a good melody. Each note seems to naturally flow from the preceding one.

The more we learn the more it becomes apparent that the universe was rigged for humans, from top to bottom, and in almost every way. Our universe is a very meaningful one.

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31 Responses to A Meaningful Universe Rigged For Humankind: ID, Music, And Technology

  1. I agree with you Gildodgen, but I think that music can be explained too easily by evolutionists. I mean, don’t we find pleasing the scale of sounds that we have evolved to hear? If birds sang higher and mom’s voice were higher, then our ears would obviously evolve to hear higher pitches right?

  2. I’m not so sure Collin. Evolution selects for traits which confer selective advantage, but just how does preference for certain rhythms, tones, melodies, etc. help a person survive and reproduce? Music is a higher pleasure. It’s a form of art. It puts us in a pleasant mood but does little else that I can see. It is the lower pleasures (food and sex) that get us by and spread our genes. Furthermore, music isn’t just being able to hear certain sounds; it’s deriving pleasure from the artistry of a complsition of sounds.

  3. Colin, I don’t think this is so. You’re suggesting that our pleasure in music is arbitrary – that music itself has no intrinsic beauty and our like of it is subjective. There’s a lot more to music than just the right pitch. If all that existed was low grunting noises, I doubt we’d enjoy it as much as we do. Anyone want to go to a 2-hour concert of Caveman Ug performing his latest grunt sequences?

  4. Didn’t Fred Flinstone have a car made of wood and stone? ;)

    And if Mozart is evidence for ID does that mean that Mike Tyson is evidence for NDE? :)

  5. Mozart and Tyson are both evidence of nuture, or lackof nurture. Love, training, caring, forming a mind into a virtuoso and composer, or a killing machine and helpless man needing others to manage him.

    Our minds are filters of information. Given bad input, we drift into more bad areas of input, falling into darker areas. It is rare the individuals who can overcome such bad lives.

    America happens to be one of the best places for people born in failed areas to overcome and start new lives. This does not happen in closed societies like the old Soviet Union of conformist ideologies, where challenging status quo is not allowed under any circumstances. This is why Cuba, Russia and for a long time China turned out rubbish.

    Jack Krebs would have our public schools teach robots and conformist ideology in biology. Instead of opening their minds and allowing healthy debate on real issues.

  6. Michaels7, China is still not an open society. While they have embraced some aspects of free enterprise, they still do not enfranchise their citizens with basic human rights. Interestingly, my employer has a joint venture in China and a Communist Party representative is listed prominently on the organizational chart.

  7. For those not familiar with Denton’s book referenced above: He devotes entire chapters to the life-essential fitness of water, light, carbon, the elements, gases, etc. The list of anthropic coincidences is seemingly endless, and they crop up almost everywhere we look.

    Water seems like a very mundane substance, but it has all kinds of unusual and unique properties, all of which are essential for life. Just as one example, if water in its solid form were more dense that it is in its liquid form (as are almost all other liquids) all the bodies of water would freeze from the bottom up and never thaw out. Here’s the introduction to the chapter on water:

    The Vital Fluid: In which it is argued that water gives every appearance of being uniquely fit for the type of carbon-based life that exists on earth. Every one of its chemical and physical properties seems maximally fit not only for microscopic life but also for large warm-blooded organisms such as mammals, as well as for the generation and maintenance of a stable chemical and physical environment on the surface of the earth. Some of the properties of water reviewed include its thermal properties, its surface tension, its capacity to dissolve a vast number of different substances, and its low viscosity, which allows small molecules to enter and leave cells by diffusion and which also makes possible a circulatory system. If the properties of water were not almost precisely what they are, carbon-based life would in all probability be impossible. Even the viscosity of ice is fit. If it were any greater, then all the water on earth might be trapped in vast immobile ice sheets at the poles. If the thermal properties of water were even slightly different, the maintenance of stable body temperatures in warm-blooded organisms would be problematical. No other fluid comes close to water as the ideal medium for carbon-based life. Indeed, the properties of water in themselves provide perhaps as much evidence as physics and cosmology in support of the proposition that the laws of nature are specifically arranged for carbon-based life.

    Denton then goes into great detail about these properties. It is interesting to note that water can dissolve a wide variety of substances, but without chemically reacting with them, which is essential for life’s chemical processes. Most chemicals (e.g., sulfuric acid) that can dissolve a wide variety of substances are also highly chemically interactive.

    Yes, I know, if all this were not as it is, we would not be here to observe it. But as the list of anthropic “coincidences” continues to grow in many disparate fields, including the arts, this argument becomes increasingly suspect as an attempt to explain away the obvious.

    One last observation: To the best of my understanding Denton does not consider himself to be an ID proponent, but note that he cannot avoid design language when he comments about “…the proposition that the laws of nature are specifically arranged for carbon-based life.” Arrangement sure sounds like design to me.

  8. Mozart and Tyson are both evidence of nuture, or lackof nurture.

    On that we can definitely agree to disagree. No amount of nurturing could have made a Mozart out of Tyson.

    It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. In the end it’s still a pig.

    And I don’t know just how much nurturing Mozart received. His father seemed a bit of a tyrant.

  9. Gil, I think you have two very intriguing threads going here. One is about music as an anthropic principle, the other is about Denton’s book.

    I have read Denton’s book. I agree with you that he presents an intriguing case for a biological strong anthropic principal.

    In Denton’s book, however, he seems to present a view that is quite different than presented in his first, “Evolution a Theory in Crisis”. Denton seems to at least consider the possibility that all of life was front-loaded into the strong anthropic principal — that when the big bang happened, humanity was inevitable. This “law” view differs dramatically from the “agency” view that dominates ID. I explored Denton’s law view for a while after reading the book. I have since concluded that no amount of anthropic principal can account for the known evidence. I am again firmly back in the agency camp.

    Collin:

    I mean, don’t we find pleasing the scale of sounds that we have evolved to hear? If birds sang higher and mom’s voice were higher, then our ears would obviously evolve to hear higher pitches right?

    The 12 pitch octive is not pitch dependant. Our hearing works from 20hz to 20khz, so we use the 7 octives that we use. If our ears were tuned to higher frequencies, then we would use a higher set of octives.

  10. Good post Gil.

    One thing, though. You can make a computer out of wood…and water. We studied how it was possible at the university. Sure, it won’t be fast at all, but you can get a mechanical wood/water machine to compute. (Think Japanese levels of wood-working skill…)

  11. Just a note:

    Denton’s passage on water could have been written for “The Privileged Planet”.

  12. Gil, if you haven’t already, I strongly recommend getting Wiker & Witt’s new book: A Meaningful World. It’s fantastic.

  13. Scott,

    It’s on order! I’ve heard nothing but great things about it. It was discussion about this book elsewhere that prompted my post.

  14. Scott, I read the reviews on Amazon. Its on my wish list.

  15. Great post, Gil. Thanks

  16. >>The division of the octave into 12 semitones is not an accident or a matter of personal preference; this produces notes that coincide with the overtone series. This is the basis of melody and harmony, and why some sounds are dissonant and some sounds are consonant.

    Two things that you may not be considering:
    (1) Almost all of the music that we listen to (in “the west”) is dependent on modification of the overtone series. Without this modification, it would not be possible to play in different keys without retuning the instrument.
    (2) The twelve-semitones-per-octave system is not a universal convention in music all over the world. For just one counterexample, listen to gamelan music of Indonesia. (Non-western tuning systems may also have roots in the overtone series; my point is to caution against too readily drawing an inference based on what we happen to find pleasurable.)

  17. Great post, Gil, as usual.

    I have to agree with bFast that Denton still seems to be a bit uncomfortable with anything beyond a law-like requirement leading inevitably to life. That does not diminish his insightful critiques of Darwinism and his intriguing perspective. However, at the end of the day, there is, I believe, precious little hard evidence for the idea of the inevitability of life. Goes back to the question of necessary, but not sufficient, conditions.

    My take on Denton is that he is essentially engaging in the same exercise as are we all (namely, at what point do we say that intelligent agency presents a more reasonable narative than natural processes — speaking here of biological life as we know it), but that Denton just has not yet gotten over the hump yet.

    This is a couple of years old now, but in the following I provide a few thoughts about Denton’s position (the link to the online interview with Denton, unfortunately appears to be broken now, so I’ll have to fix it at some point).

    http://www.evolutiondebate.inf.....0World.htm

  18. “my point is to caution against too readily drawing an inference based on what we happen to find pleasurable.”

    mgarelick – To sum up your point, you appear to be saying that different cultures hold differing types of ‘music’ to be pleasurable and thus, based upon this observation, the only thing that distinguishes ‘noise’ and ‘music’ is cultural choice, which, the inference appears to be, is a random thing in itself. I appreciate I may be extending your argument a little.

    The problem with this argument is that all cultures may find different music pleasurable but ultimately music, as with all art, shares 2 fundamental factors: order(expressed by the skill of the artist) and meaning/message. The order aspect of music is crucially important. Michael Cage’s cacophonies, not to mention his silences!!, were only ever listened to by philosophically inclined intellectuals because random collections of notes – or indeed silences are not music and are not pleasurable to listen to. No matter what part of the globe you look at, you will find music uses some semblance of order.

    The fact that the order exists in whatever music you are looking at, raises a question. How do you explain that existence of order and the choice of humanity to embrace that order, if you believe in a naturalistic universe of essentially non-order and non-meaning. To coin an example, a team of monkeys making marks on a manuscript may, possibly, produce Beethoven’s fifth, with infinite ‘attempts’. That is not interesting. What is interesting – and inexplicable from a materialistic worldview, is the fact that we, as humans, recognise Beethoven’s 5th as distinct from the other random markings.

    There is nothing remotely advantageous, in terms of survival, in listening to an organised series of notes/sounds. This presents an insurmountable obstacle to the person who believes that a survival-based mechanism explains life.

  19. Eric,

    Great essay on Denton. I believe the interview you mention can be found here:

    http://webcast.ucsd.edu:8080/r.....rIntWit.rm

    I linked to it from TheApologiaProject.org here:
    http://www.theapologiaproject......ibrary.htm

    Scroll down to “On Darwinism II” at about the middle of the page. There are lots of other interesting links on this page as well.

    I mentioned Denton for a couple of reasons as a lead-in to my comments about the physics of sound and music. The first was to show how fine-tuning and anthropic coincidences are now being found everywhere — from the nature of gravity and the electromagnetic force, to the nature of the carbon atom and the water molecule, to the fact that metals can be smelted in carbon-based fire, to the happy circumstance that the physics of sound permit a powerful human art form called music.

    The second reason for mentioning Denton is precisely what has been discussed about him here: He can’t be accused of being religiously motivated, or of being a creationist or even an ID advocate, and therefore can’t be accused of finding something that isn’t there in order to prop up a previously held philosophical commitment.

  20. Balti said:

    >>”… music, as with all art, shares 2 fundamental factors: order(expressed by the skill of the artist) and meaning/message.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “meaning/message” with respect to music. It seems self-evident that the meaning or message of a piece of music can vary so widely from person to person as approach utter subjectivity.

    >> “Michael Cage’s cacophonies, not to mention his silences!!, were only ever listened to by philosophically inclined intellectuals …”

    I assume you meant to refer to John Cage.

    >>”What is interesting – and inexplicable from a materialistic worldview, is the fact that we, as humans, recognise Beethoven’s 5th as distinct from the other random markings.”

    I don’t know this for sure, but I think there must be studies of the physical changes in the brain of a human who is listening to music (or observing art). Why is this not a materialist illustration that we “like” music?

    >>”There is nothing remotely advantageous, in terms of survival, in listening to an organised series of notes/sounds. This presents an insurmountable obstacle to the person who believes that a survival-based mechanism explains life.”

    Come, now. Haven’t you ever been calmed by Bach, or sexually stimulated by Prince (or vice versa)?

  21. Just curious, mgarelick, do you seriously believe that music came about as some kind of survivability advantage, or are you just having fun with the fact that a “just so” story about contribution to survival can easily be spun about every single feature of biology (even diametrically opposite features)?

  22. I agree with much of what mgarelick is saying. He refers to “modification of the overtone series” and by that I think he means “tempered tuning,” which is the standard used today to tune Keyboard instruments. A piano is actually “tuned out of tune” — rendering all half-steps the same distance apart so that playing in any of the 24 major and minor keys will sound good. Without tempered tuning, playing in one key might sound great but playing the same thing in another key would sound awful.

    As I mentioned, tempered tuning is pretty much just for keyboard instruments. The strings (e.g. violin) use natural tuning, which means that whole-steps are farther apart and half-steps are closer together. (We can do that because the necks of bowed, stringed instruments do not have frets. Older bowed stringed instruments — such as the viol, did have frets!)

    Anyway, listen to a professional violinist play unaccompanied and I’m sure you’ll hear the difference in the natural tuning.

    His comments about music in different cultures also make some quite valid points. In Western music the smallest interval used is the half-step (e.g. c to c#). But in parts of India their scale systems use micro-tones — intervals smaller than half-steps. Of course this would sound out-of-tune to Westerners, but to simply write off other tuning systems seems to smack of ethnocentricity.

    Finally, music, for all its glory, does have survival value. For one thing, it functions as a “social glue,” helping to unite us in shared values, and passing those values on to the next generation. (Think of National anthems and school songs.) It also fosters cooperation and helps us coordinate work — think of rowing songs and marching tunes. And that’s just a starter. I don’t think it detracts from the pleasure we derive from music one bit if we find that it also has helped our species survive.

  23. Eric Anderson — first of all, if you are the Eric Anderson who wrote “Thirsty Boots” et al., let me say thank you.

    That said, what I “believe” is not really relevant. I’m interested in what holds water as a reasonable explanation. To the extent that I understand what GilDodgen is trying to say up at the top of my screen, it’s something like “God gave rock and roll to you” — which I’m actually willing to believe, but I’m not sure it qualifies as a theory.

  24. Karen,

    I am perfectly aware of tempered tuning and alternate scale systems, but this doesn’t change the fact that music is ultimately based on the physics of sound. Dissonance and its resolution are just as important as consonance in the expressive power of music.

    In order for Darwinian explanations of the origin of musical ability to be taken seriously one must:

    1) Establish that it actually does have survival value, not just make up stories about how it might have survival value.
    2) Demonstrate that musical ability can be approached in incrementally small steps, each with a naturally-selectable advantage.
    3) Demonstrate that stochastic genetic processes have a reasonable likelihood of engineering these incrementally small steps within the central nervous systems of our simian ancestors.
    4) Demonstrate that within a reasonable time frame, and with a realistic projected number of individuals in the population and a realistic number of generations, these stochastically generated genetic alterations can be fixed in the population through natural selection.

    Until such has been demonstrated with some kind of analytical rigor, speculations about hypothetical survival value are essentially less than worthless.

  25. Karen,

    That music can serve as a “social glue” or a rhythmic coordination device does not explain at all why we have it and enjoy it. Any of a myriad belief/desire combinations could cause us to bond as a society (presuming epiphenominalism is false), and any rhythmic pattern could serve to coordinate our actions (consign artistry to the flames).

  26. Mgarelick: “It seems self-evident that the meaning or message of a piece of music can vary so widely from person to person as approach utter subjectivity.” – Yes, I agree, there are many different expressions and therefore may pieces of art – but this does not change the fact that meaning/message is a fundamentally constituent of art.

    “I assume you meant to refer to John Cage.” – yes I did – apologies for the typo.

    “I don’t know this for sure, but I think there must be studies of the physical changes in the brain of a human who is listening to music (or observing art). Why is this not a materialist illustration that we “like” music?” – The proposition that our brain’s physical state changes when we interact with the physical world by listening to certain sounds does not show that liking music is the product of those changes. Indeed those changes are most likely to be down to the fact we like music, since we must first distinguish music from background noise before those changes can take place.

    “Come, now. Haven’t you ever been calmed by Bach, or sexually stimulated by Prince (or vice versa)?” – You argue firstly that we are effected by different types of music and secondly that this effect has a survival advantage. The problem with your proposition arises from the fact that we are affected by music in the first place. The fundamental question is ‘why should be calmed by Bach?’ if calming were the ‘purpose’ of music then this would be served far better by low, regular beats, as opposed to the complex patterns of Baroque.

    The mere fact that human emotion CAN somehow be expressed by music does not address the issue of why it IS used in that way. This distinction can be seen in your comments Karen: – “music, for all its glory, … functions as a “social glue,” helping to unite us in shared values, and passing those values on to the next generation”

    Yes but then one only has to look at death metal and Marilyn Manson to see that music can also act diametrically against such things. There is nothing inherent in music per se that compels expression of positive things.

    “I don’t think it detracts from the pleasure we derive from music one bit if we find that it also has helped our species survive.” – Music CAN be used for good purposes (and bad) but there is something else inherent within music too – something that cannot be explained by survival-based mechanisms because it has nothing to do with survival.

  27. GilDodgen says:
    Until such has been demonstrated with some kind of analytical rigor, speculations about hypothetical survival value are essentially less than worthless.

    As Les McCann sang, in the words of Gene McDaniels, “tryin’ to make it real/compared to what?”

    GilDodgen’s formula (in #24) may be useful in judging the merits of a Darwinian explanation for music, but for my purposes (formulating a cogent response to his original post) I don’t think it’s determinative. He argued that music is evidence of a meaningful universe rigged for humans. The response: not so fast, here’s a Darwinian explanation. OK, which explanation is better? GilDodgen sets out requirements for the Darwinian explanation that make it very improbable. But what does that say about his own explanation? If the two explanations have the relation of “p” and “not p”, then it might say a lot (unless one explanation is not possible), but I don’t think that is the case.

    To the extent that “rigged for humans” depends on the absence of a non-ID explanation, I would argue that any coherent Darwinian explanation shifts the burden back.

    When we’re weighing the relative likelihood of competing explanations, it seems reasonable to consider what else we know about explanations of that type. We know something about how RM+NS works in other areas (since we’re discussing evolutionary psychology, I’m assuming some acceptance of Darwinism in more traditional fields, e.g., biology).

    What do we know about how “rigging” is done?

  28. Hello Gil,

    Does anyone deny that music can foster cooperation and help bind us together? It certainly doesn’t make us perfect, but any kind of cooperation is better than none at all for humans, because we do better when we can work together. (Not an easy thing to do, as I am reminded each day I walk into my office.)

    Does anyone deny that music aids in memorization, especially for the young? So why would music not give our ancestors some kind of advantage?

  29. Hi Karen,

    If I may step in for Gil…

    Yes, as you’ve shown, it would seem that music can serve an instrumentalist role. There’s a bigger problem, however, which concerns what causes our body parts to act in manners conducive to our survival (gathering and cooperating as groups, for example). If consciousness (beliefs, desires, etc.) plays a causal role in our behavior, then it would seem that our creation and enjoyment of music would arise only in order to further our survival. The problem with this is that any of a seemingly infinite number of different mental states could do the exact same thing. Music seems unnecessary and its existence devoid of a plausible explanation.

    You might say that it still serves a role in memorization insofar as it provides a simplifying pattern, but I would argue that it is not music as such that does this but rather the simplified pattern it represents. (Consider that acronyms and rhymes can also aid memory but wouldn’t be called music.) We’re still left without a plausible explanation for the artistic element of music and the enjoyment it causes based upon its artistic composition.

  30. Karen – you still havent addressed the fact that music is also not used for co-operation but to further blind hatred and distruction. You just need to look to Wagner for an example of that…

    I would emphasise again that your comment concerning music having some instrisic pleasurable value AS WELL as being useful weakens your whole position.

    I agree with cranddaddy’s comments on the memorisation issue.

  31. To my poor brain, Gil’s test at #24 is not so much about making a Darwinian explanation improbable as about emphasising that a Darwinian explanation has not yet actually been shown.

    Surely the point raised by the post is the fact that physics seems to be ‘rigged’ to support the expression of meaning through music.

    I.e., a perfect fifth in music makes a particular impact on us. There is no naturalistic explanation as to why that is. RM & NS or any variant cannot explain diatonic intervals but even small children can recognise their impact.

    I recall the (probably highly anecdotal!) story of Beethoven, who was listening to a person in another room, attempting to play the scale of C on an harpsicord but who kept ending on the 7th note of the scale every time. After several such abortive attempts Beethoven rushed in and hit the 8th note loudly and repeatedly (to finish the scale). Try doing it on a piano and you will see what drove B crazy – its annoying but why should we instinctively want to ‘finish’ the scale – Can anyone suggest how this arose though a process of NS?

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