Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Time and Music

We've been talking a lot about time and consciousness with the last few entries, starting with Life is But a Dream, where we looked at a video outlining some of the connections being drawn between the quantum wave function and the role of an observer in a system. In Time and Schizophrenia, we looked at scientific research indicating that schizophrenics have trouble processing the arrival times of different events through their senses, and that this can contribute to the hallucinations they experience. And in Time is in the Mind and Consciousness in Frames per Second, we looked at various theories proposing that our consciousness is not continuous, but rather divided into "frames" of awareness.

At the end of our last blog we talked about the speed of sound, and how that can complicate things for a musician. There are many other factors that can also affect a musician's timing, and in this modern digital world one of the factors we sometimes have to deal with is "latency" - time lags introduced by the time it takes a computer or the electronics of a system to process or respond to our input. This is hard to describe if you haven't experienced it, but playing a note and then hearing the instrument respond in a delayed manner introduces a whole different kind of experience, a challenge which requires a musician to adjust their mind in a way that I would say is more fifth dimensional, since it requires the performer's consciousness to operate at an additional "angle" outside the limits of the "now" of our 4D spacetime.

Now I'd like to show you a video that was provided to me by my friend Paul Hoffert, an award-winning digital visionary and one of the founding members of the classic Canadian rock band Lighthouse. Before I do, though, I'd like to let Paul tell you about this little video we're about to look at:

The clip is from a conference that was held in Toronto, InterActive ’96 (1996). The bass player and drummer were in Montreal, the guitarist was at York University, Toronto, the horn players were in a downtown Toronto club, and I was at the Bravo! TV studios. The network latency (delay) then was high - about 0.2 second. We each had to play ahead of the beat in order to sync with each other. It was very difficult and, in rehearsals, we could not do it. However, the adrenalin of the live performance plus our previous practices resulted in a synchronized demonstration of the potential of collaborative performances.

For the record, we used a few techniques to help bring it off. 1) The mental compensation required to physically play ahead of the beat is common in musical performances, but usually for much smaller latencies. Certain instruments, such as harpsichord and pipe organ, produce sounds that significantly lag the keydowns and players need to adjust what they play to what they hear. An orchestral example is that percussionists are usually at the back of the orchestra and the speed of sound is a significant factor that would make all their playing sound behind the beat if they followed the conductors baton beats. So percussionists routinely play "ahead of the stick" in order to sync with the sound coming from the fiddles. In these case, the adjustments are usually milliseconds or tens of milliseconds. .2 seconds is 200 milliseconds, a much longer and more difficult adjustment. 2) after the first run-through, I suggested that we use a technology tweak to assist and I think it was helpful. Since the bass and drums were in the same room, we turned down their playback tracks of the other instruments and suggested that they "drive" the rhythm without much regard for our monitor feeds. That kept the groove tight. In Toronto, we had to do most of the adjusting, but at least we were playing to a constant delay because the rhythm section wasn't wandering.
As a keyboard player myself, I watch Paul on keyboards here, playing 200 milliseconds ahead of the beat as he's striking these syncopated chordal stabs, and I feel a certain amount of wonder at what Paul and his talented group of musicians were able to pull off back then. Paul tells me that the band participated in another similar experiment a few years later which showed how much the technology had improved, to the point where dedicated fibreoptic links provided almost no noticeable delay between geographically separated groups of musicians who were then able to jam together quite comfortably. For me, though, I like to watch the following video as a celebration of the indomitable human spirit, where a healthy mind is able to interface with the reality around it in ways that can really be astonishing. Have I built this video up enough yet? It's only twenty seconds long, check it out!

What these musicians achieved is really no different than the delays subjects playing specially rigged video games were forced to deal with in the scientific studies we looked at in Time and Schizophrenia. With a healthy person, having to "re-tune their interface with reality" so that a physical impetus to strike a note connects with a sound they hear back 200 milliseconds later is demanding but not impossible. I wonder if the members of Lighthouse might have experienced the same disconcerting effect as was reported in that video game study, where the return to instantaneous response momentarily gave participants the impression that their observed responses were preceding their actions!

I'd like to thank Paul for providing me this video, apparently this is the first time this clip has ever been put up on the internet. And I'd like to add just one more thought here, about frames of consciousness and the quantum observer. Let's return to the idea that our consciousness is really not continuous, but rather it's divided into a certain number of "bings" per second (to use Dr. Stuart Hameroff's term).

In entries like Slices of Reality and The Statistical Universe we've talked about the important idea that just like consciousness, our reality is also not continuous: rather, it's divided into what loop quantum gravity theorists call "atoms of spacetime", and these tiny slices are the "quanta" of quantum physics. As reported at this web page on the Planck Unit, we see that the duration of these planck-unit sized "frames" calculates out to 1.855×1043 of them per second.

Now, let's look at the equally non-continuous nature of consciousness and pick a number - let's say that on average we operate at about 50 frames per second (as we've been discussing, this number is generally thought to be between 30 and 90 frames per second and may vary for individuals during their day, and will also vary according to their current state of health and their overall state of mind). This would mean that we can divide those planck frames by 50 and end up with this astonishing fact: for every "frame" of our consciousness, there are about .0371 ×1043 different branches of possible outcomes encapsulated into that "frame" of your consciousness.

Next time you're feeling like you're trapped into a situation where there's no possible way out, think about that number. Roughly speaking, that's 371,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 possible choices encapsulated within every observed frame of consciousness! Wow.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: Flow

1 comment:

ian said...

So, I'm thinking, a mind that is more relaxed, less stuck on a specific aspect of each "frame", is more likely going to be able to catch more of what's going on in those .0371 × 1043 possibilities present in each frame.

But a mind that's too relaxed wouldn't be able to hone in on the specific details within those possibilities, and would get lost in the whirl instead.

So it seems a state of neither abandon, nor control, would be where the mind could catch the most detail and interact best with the reality about it...? That this would, in any case, do something to improve the frame rate?

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