Monday, October 29, 2007

The importance of sound, resonance, dissonance

The winner of Discovery's Science in Two Minutes or Less, String theory contest


“The words rang true.” Metaphors can be very descriptive, and those that use sound can be especially powerful. Why is that such metaphors make so much sense?

It is music to my ears.

I drummed the rules into them.
It worked in perfect harmony.
It's all just noise to me.
All that jazz.
It really rings true for me.

As a metaphor, sound, harmonics, and resonance really makes sense for people. [1] What characteristics of sound are different from form other stimuli? Sound communicates information uniquely, perhaps because it's qualities are different, perhaps because we perceive it in a different way than our other senses. EM fields, light, sound and smells all permeate our space. EM can pass through most objects; natural and man made fields are everywhere, but not detectable by our senses – save the sliver of the visible spectrum. Visible light fills a room, and is perhaps the most informative sense as far as describing spaces around us. But the mind is often accustomed to categorizing and labeling what we see, and we often only see what we think is there. Not what is really there. Smells can permeate an area and fill a room, but the sense of smell is ephemeral and fleeting. Sometimes smell only lasts for a moment, and sometimes conjures up fleeting memories. Sound is a pervasive energy. Sound's qualities of resonance, harmony and dissonance can be more easily perceived through the senses of hearing, and touch unlike resonance and interference of light and EM fields. Multiple sounds can become harmonious, can become resonant and amplify, or can become dissonant. The effects of sound can be heard instantly as well, where sometimes changes in light sometimes can go unnoticed.

I am visualizing these resonances as fibers vibrating like violin strings. [3,4]

Carlos Castaneda describes a metaphysical world in which everything is connected by lines of emanations. These lines of emanations are like strings of light connecting everything. He has created some powerful metaphors for viewing the world around us. [7]

Everything has a frequency. Anything that physically vibrates at from 20 Hz to 20kHz, effectively makes sound, from individual atoms, to the stars. Research has shown that There's even some scientific basis for this. String theory, atomic resonance, lasers. [8]


An interferometer is a device that detects the difference in wave – such as EMF. Very sensitive ones are built to test the basic principles of science, such as the theory of gravity. When building them any background vibration can destroy the readings. “This background is the sound of atoms at work: the steady rustling of the vibrating atoms in the mirrors, the sound of violins (generated as the suspension fibers recoil from their own vibrating atoms) and the occasional fiberquakes (due to sudden realignments of microscopic crystal boundaries in the suspension fibers)” [6]

Everything vibrates, from atoms on up to macroscopic bodies such as plants and people. This energy that is always present, an untapped potential, subtle communication between our bodies and the world around us, is why it is becoming more important to me and my work. Acoustics and music and sound have emotional power and kinetic power. Music can stir the soul, and large numbers of people can find similar music empowering, uplifting, depressing.

Sound can also be used as weapon, note the riot control sonic weapons now being developed. Sound can be used to send signals - as communication. Sound can shatter glass, sound can create resonances that can vibrate bridges apart. [9]

Egyptians used hieroglyphs as icons and signifiers. When representing items not easily distilled into an glyph, they represented sounds. Interestingly, they only represented consonants. It was incumbent upon the reader to determine what the inter-placed vowels were, based on what word it represented. This presented a problem if two words had the same set of consonants, but was easily solved with a glyph called a determinant. The determinant was an extra descriptive word that gave a clue as to which word to choose. The Egyptians were among the first to represent sounds of words with pictures.

I devised a kind of metaphoric language to view the world:

1. Everything and everyone resonates with a particular frequency
2. People have particular resonances that are stronger than others
3. People that get along well 'resonate' with each other.
- They might have different resonances, but create harmonics with the different frequencies
4. Objects have the same resonant or tonal frequencies.

-- notes --
1 Just want to acknowledge as a Westerner, this makes sense to me. I'm not sure about other cultures or social groups.

2 OK what am I really trying to say? I'm trying to set the basis for communicating something that works inside of me: we often say something resonates with me. Something
Figures of speech can be very descriptive, and there are many metaphors use sound.

3 In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Douglas Adams writes about a satellite playing Bach, as the universal music describing everything. This didn't influence this visualization as much, but it does have an interesting parallel.

4 Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series also suggests an interesting use of strings, probably derived more from a literal interpretation of string theory. Every particle, every atom, every consciousness is a mote or string called a philote, which intertwines and combines to form living beings, planets, whatever. The ones that are complex and intellegent enough to hold together a living being are called aiúa – Sanskrit for life.

5 Interferometry – study of wave by using interference properties of waves and light.

6 http://www.ligo.caltech.edu/LIGO_web/9812news/9812han.html

7 Carlos Castaneda. Several books. The assemblage point is the point about which the awareness is rotated to alter a person's perception in viewing the world. Each person's assemblage point is a cocoon of energies called the “Eagle's Emanations.” 'Filaments of awareness' penetrate this cocoon, creating perception.

8 Chase, Sandy. “String Ducky.” Discover Magazine. Visited 10-20-07.
http://discovermagazine.com/twominutesorless?bcpid=716091875&bclid=686943766&bctid=687029421

[9] The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was destroyed in 40 mph winds in 1940. This relatively light wind was in a perfect resonance with the bridge's resonance, causing an amplification of the standing waves, and eventual collapse.

Other types of resonances are:
Sound: Harmonies, music, timbre,
Light: EM Waves
- magnetic fields
- electric fields
- radio fields
- elf, vlf, microwave

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