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Not With The Band: Between Art, Music And Science, Where Is The Truth?

A few months ago, after reading Iman’s review of Amanda Palmer’s concert, I couldn’t decide if he had liked her show or not. ‘You hate ambiguity’ he told me, and yes, I realized he was totally right, I am not used to ambiguity, I don’t like the ‘two sides of the story’.

I probably get this from the scientific part of my brain. As astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss said, we are always taught that there are two sides to every story, so when people try to do science, they try to see ‘both sides’, however, in science (and this is what makes science so unique) one side is certainly wrong and the other one right, period! This reminds me about the Discovery Institute’s campaign which claims ‘teach the controversy’, expecting science teachers to give equal time for creationism in the classroom… crazy idea, and unacceptable of course, because evolution is true (based on a million of hard concrete facts), creationism is false, there is no controversy and this is the end of the story. You see where I am going? You can’t apply this to arts, you just have an opinion (or several) about music, there is no right or wrong, there is always ambiguity, and there is controversy!

So I guess that, when I am trying to write about music, I am always struggling about this idea, and my left and right hemispheres are always competing with each other – although this simplistic vision as known as, ‘right brain versus left brain’, is now perceived as a myth by neurobiologists. Let’s just say that some rational part of me wants to establish some truth, to prove something, to seek an explanation: I love or hate this music,… Why do I love or hate it? What does it mean for me and for others? Whereas another part of me doesn’t care much about any explanation and just wants to enjoy the music for what it is, and take it as it is: a mystery. I was trained to think as a scientist, I was trained to quantify, do measurements and experimentations, but I have always enjoyed arts and thought through them, so I guess I have always developed this dichotomy; it’s a great thing to have access to these two aspects, to open the internal dialogue, and I don’t really appreciate people who compartmentalize and only think through one unique aspect.

So where is the truth in all this? Good science is all about rigor and integrity and it is used to verify what is true or not through repeatable experiments and reviews of peers. And I don’t care much about all these endless philosophical discussions about truth and science, modern science, although it cannot explain everything of course, is truth (with uncertainties), simply because it works!

However, there is nothing like this in art or music, how do we judge what is good music? There is no truth, it’s totally subjective, cultural and so personal…

But music, or any other form of art, is just another expression of the human experience and will never really compete with science because, if the goal of science is some universal and objective truth – some may argue it is unreachable, but I would reply that Pythagoras’ theorem works for everybody everywhere the same way! – the goal of art and music is simply the expression of someone’s own experience, and it’s totally selective and individualistic.

I always keep in mind this last thought, about the collective process of science and the uniqueness of a work of art. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson elegantly said something about this: ‘If I discover a scientific idea, surely someone else would’ve discovered the same idea had I not done so. Whereas, look at Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ – if he didn’t paint ‘Starry Night’, nobody’s gonna paint ‘Starry Night’.’

Think about this next time you listen to your favorite song by your favorite songwriter, it is an unique truth because nobody else could have written it.

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