Friday, February 25, 2011


A direct link to the above video is at

Novelty. Is the desire for change the basic craving that drives life forward?

In his marvelous book "This is Your Brain on Music", Daniel Levitin makes the point that even eight month old babies have a well-developed sense of melody and rhythm, and enjoy predictable music (read "pop" music here if you like), but they are particularly likely to notice predictable music which then breaks out of the established mode of what their sense of melody will lead them to predict. Regular readers of this blog know that I became a grandfather last year, and little Cadence turned one last week. Whether you're playing peekaboo, or watching her laugh at a musical game where an established pattern is changed, you can see the joy she takes from moment to moment in what happens next.

This is a phrase I've used before in my book and my blog: "life is any process which is interested in what happens next". This applies so nicely to the idea of music as opposed to random noise: in fact, our brains tend to suppress noise, as we talked about in Ringing in the Brain. Sure, you could say music is noise, but it's noise that has been organized in certain ways: and most of us like music which has repeating patterns which allow us to predict at least somewhat what is going to happen next. But the most interesting music of all is the music which solidly sets up an expectation, and then takes us someplace else instead - that's the musical events that we remember, that's the music that we're more likely to fall in love with. This relates very easily to the memory-creation processes we discussed last year in Entangled Neurons.

"What happens next": we like novelty, we prefer pleasant surprises over boredom (and the ongoing popularity of horror films would indicate that a number of us crave any kind of surprises, pleasant or not!). In this blog we've talked a number of times about writer/philosopher/psychedelics activist Terence McKenna, who died in April 2000. His "Novelty Theory" (also known as "Timewave Zero") project suggested that our planet regularly sees repeating cycles of higher and lower novelty, but that we will be approaching a point in 2012 where the number of novelty events climbs exponentially, eventually causing some sort of a tipping point and transition to a new form of worldwide consciousness. This year we've been talking about how light is at right angles to spacetime - this exponential curve that McKenna (along with many others) envisions could be another way of thinking about a new quantum observer system which is at "right angles" to our current existence. How much more novel can we get than that?

This month, there was a New Scientist article written by Katharine Sanderson about a new experiment with the lofty goal of creating "Life, but Not as We Know It". The experiment is being conducted by a team at the University of Glasgow under the supervision of Lee Cronin. Here's a quote from Dr. Cronin that relates nicely to our discussion:

Stripped down to its barest essentials, life can be seen as a struggle against thermodynamics and its drive towards ever more featureless uniformity.
This is another way of phrasing Erwin Schrödinger's definition of life, which we looked at in entries like Conscious Computers and Logic vs Intuition: life is a unique process which creates "pockets of negative entropy". What is the opposite of life? It's the formless, shapeless state of maximum entropy. As living beings, we crave those surprising moments of synchronicity, the novelty of uncovering new connections, the promise of a new day... and people who lose that in their lives are moving towards death more quickly.

Life is what makes us more than just a set of thermodynamic chemical processes. Life is engaged with spacetime in a way that keeps it wanting to move forward in our 4D hyperspace, not just through its own life, but through nurturing the generations that come afterwards. And ultimately, life is part of patterns which exist outside the narrow limits of our 4D reality. This has been a running theme through a number of the 26 songs I attached to this project, including Burn the Candle Brightly, What Was Done Today, Change and Renewal, See No Future, Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, Connections, and Thankful.

Speaking of songs, I've talked before about how for me Imagining the Tenth Dimension really started out as a "concept album", a collection of songs about the nature of reality. Coming up, I'd like to show you some of the songs from a somewhat-related concept album I released way back in 1983: "Alcohol and Other Drugs".

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton


Bebbi said...

I always look forward to your posts. I have been taking a break from music. It is a hard habit to break. Silence is golden though. :) Thank you for your insights, you are incredibly intelligent and knowledgeable. I think it will take me a long time for all of this to sync in! :)

Dingo said...

A friend just shared a link to this post and I really enjoyed reading it. I was thinking of McKenna even before I clicked the link!

I especially liked this line, "As living beings, we crave those surprising moments of synchronicity, the novelty of uncovering new connections, the promise of a new day... and people who lose that in their lives are moving towards death more quickly."

So true.

Are you familiar with Stan Ridgway (Wall of Voodoo, "Mexican Radio")? He has a song called "Time Wave Zero" that is clearly influenced by McKenna.

Stay cool!
aka Festival Freak

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