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The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

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More than fifty years ago, John Coltrane drew the twelve musical notes in a circle and connected them by straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander follows suit, using jazz to answer physics' most vexing questions about the past and future of th More than fifty years ago, John Coltrane drew the twelve musical notes in a circle and connected them by straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander follows suit, using jazz to answer physics' most vexing questions about the past and future of the universe. Following the great minds that first drew the links between music and physics-a list including Pythagoras, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and Rakim-The Jazz of Physics reveals that the ancient poetic idea of the Music of the Spheres," taken seriously, clarifies confounding issues in physics. The Jazz of Physics will fascinate and inspire anyone interested in the mysteries of our universe, music, and life itself.


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More than fifty years ago, John Coltrane drew the twelve musical notes in a circle and connected them by straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander follows suit, using jazz to answer physics' most vexing questions about the past and future of th More than fifty years ago, John Coltrane drew the twelve musical notes in a circle and connected them by straight lines, forming a five-pointed star. Inspired by Einstein, Coltrane put physics and geometry at the core of his music. Physicist and jazz musician Stephon Alexander follows suit, using jazz to answer physics' most vexing questions about the past and future of the universe. Following the great minds that first drew the links between music and physics-a list including Pythagoras, Kepler, Newton, Einstein, and Rakim-The Jazz of Physics reveals that the ancient poetic idea of the Music of the Spheres," taken seriously, clarifies confounding issues in physics. The Jazz of Physics will fascinate and inspire anyone interested in the mysteries of our universe, music, and life itself.

30 review for The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe

  1. 5 out of 5

    David

    I am a physicist, and I love jazz (and try to play it occasionally), so this book strongly appealed to me! Moreover, my officemate knew the author personally, so that made the book doubly attractive to me. The book is not well organized by topic; it reads very much like the author's memoirs. Which is fine; his anecdotes about his interactions with physicists and with jazz musicians are entertaining. In fact, it is the personal interactions that made the whole book worthwhile for me. Unfortunately, I am a physicist, and I love jazz (and try to play it occasionally), so this book strongly appealed to me! Moreover, my officemate knew the author personally, so that made the book doubly attractive to me. The book is not well organized by topic; it reads very much like the author's memoirs. Which is fine; his anecdotes about his interactions with physicists and with jazz musicians are entertaining. In fact, it is the personal interactions that made the whole book worthwhile for me. Unfortunately, the subtitle of the book is completely misleading. The book does not unveil a "Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe." My guess is that the publisher added the title and the subtitle, but in doing so, the reader is done a misservice. I expected something that just wasn't there. Yes, there are plenty of analogies between music and physics. But nothing like "a secret link", and nothing that I haven't read, elsewhere. It's not until the final chapter that the author states that the book is not about analogies between jazz and physics; it is about analogies between what a jazz musician does and what a physicist does. Now, there are a few interesting analogies between what a jazz musician does, and what a physicist does. But these analogies are not very deep; they break down quickly as soon as I understood what the author tried to convey. There are two half-decent analogies. The first analogy is between the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (the accuracy of one's knowledge of a particle's momentum is inversely proportional to that of its position) and jazz improvisation. A great jazz musician maintained that the less-well-clarified the following note would be, the better-known the following notes would be, and vice versa. But such a weak analogy! Nothing earth-shattering here. The other analogy is between the Feynman path integral and jazz improvisation (again). The Feynman path integral will take as its input two end-points, and will integrate all possible paths that join them. In a sense, it gives an average value. A jazz musician has a starting note and an end note in mind, and subconsciously considers all the paths to get from one to the other. But then, the musician cannot choose "an average path"; he has to choose one particular path. So, again, the analogy breaks down. I think that the book does describe some better analogies, but they seem rather mystical. For example, during a jam session, Alexander gets inspired to try a different approach to his theoretical physics problem. But, here he does not go very deep into analyzing from where this inspiration really derives. That would have been more interesting. The book does throw some equations--even partial differential equations--at the reader. These did not phase me in the least, since I am very familiar with all of them. But they might phase the average, educated reader. Please, though, do not be put off by this. Alexander explains the equations pretty well, and if necessary, they can be skipped over. I thought that this was a nice touch for a popular book about physics.

  2. 5 out of 5

    keith koenigsberg

    I'm sorry to report that this book really let me down. The subtitle of this book is "the secret link between music and the structure of the universe" and I was hoping for some good, illuminating analogies. (I teach a course in relativity so I am not coming at this as a total novice) Unfortunately, the author's analogies are strained and forced, and left me with nothing I could use with my own students. This book is much more of personal narrative of what jazz has meant to the author as a scientis I'm sorry to report that this book really let me down. The subtitle of this book is "the secret link between music and the structure of the universe" and I was hoping for some good, illuminating analogies. (I teach a course in relativity so I am not coming at this as a total novice) Unfortunately, the author's analogies are strained and forced, and left me with nothing I could use with my own students. This book is much more of personal narrative of what jazz has meant to the author as a scientist, and what science has meant to the author as a musician, as inspiration and muse going both directions. Fair enough; I have had many of the same inspirations. It contains lots and lots of the first person; stories about his youth, encounters with other musicians and scientists, his journey, and his love for the topics, etc. Also fair enough, and occasionally interesting to me. But his scientific explanations leave a lot out - he often lurches into advanced concepts without sufficient preamble for the beginner. On the other hand his analogies between the two disciplines often come out of left field - "in his song 'Jupiter' one can hear John Coltrane literally channelling Jupiter's moons in his improvisation." At best this comes across as drunken late-night fan-boy-ism, and at worst it can verge on paranoid-schizophrenic ramblings. Coltrane may have been inspired by Einstein, but did he "correctly realized that the expansion [of the universe] is a form of anti-gravity"? Absolutely not. No way. This sort of thing has been done much more elegantly and inspirationally. I can recommend the classic pulitzer prize winner "Escher, Godel, Bach" by Hofstader, which uses mostly Bach to illuminate logical, mathematical, and scientific themes. I can also recommend the somewhat more advanced "Quantum Reality" by Herbert which has about the best layman's explanation of wave/particle duality and the Heisenberg Uncertainty principal I have ever encountered, using sound waves. It's not poetry and there is no reference to Jazz, but you might actually gain some understanding of quantum weirdness. Finally, the most frustrating part of this kind of analysis, is that authors who press and strain analogues between fields, like Alexander has done with Jazz, or like Zukav did with science and Eastern Philosophy in "The Dancing Wu Li Masters", are overlooking a central idea. These analogies expose more about the human brain than about the erstwhile topics at hand. Human beings have finite brains which process the world in a limited set of modes. Saying that Coltrane somehow explains Einstein or vice-versa is in fact a trivial statement of the obvious. As if a computer noticed that "hey, Picasso and Isaac Newton are both expressed in binary code!!" Of course they are, silly, because that's the language your brain speaks.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Stephon Alexander, in the first chapter of this book, describes his adolescent vague-association with a group that calls themselves "The Five Percenters." Among other things, the doctrine of this group suggests that there only five percent of the population is "enlightened and realize that they are 'gods' of their own destiny." Why is this anecdote in a book that's supposed to be about physics and music? Well, you tell me. I can, however, pretty much assert that while Alexander claims to not have Stephon Alexander, in the first chapter of this book, describes his adolescent vague-association with a group that calls themselves "The Five Percenters." Among other things, the doctrine of this group suggests that there only five percent of the population is "enlightened and realize that they are 'gods' of their own destiny." Why is this anecdote in a book that's supposed to be about physics and music? Well, you tell me. I can, however, pretty much assert that while Alexander claims to not have subscribed to the Five Percenter ideology, he profoundly believes himself one of that five percent. And everything that follows, to chapter 18, is impossible to view through any other lens. Everything about this book is annoying. Primarily fucking frustrating, though, is my age-old gripe about non-fiction books: unless it's a personal essay, I don't care about your personal life. I absolutely do not. And Stephon, my five percenter, I feel so strongly about this that I need to write a list of all the things I don't care about that kept slapping me in the fucking face while I was reading this book. In Your Non-Fiction Book, Please Do Not: - Name drop every five seconds. - But do include people in your narrative other than those who you have personally worked with and are best friends with and who have mentored you and love you so much - Endlessly write about your personal struggles and successes when they have literally nothing to do with the topic except by title ("I liked physics in high school! This book is about physics! So I will talk about my high school experience for a whole chapter!" what the fuck) - Be SO fucking self-absorbed that the "Epilogue" is basically an "About the Author" section with absolutely no new information - And then also include an "About the Author" section - Which is mainly name-drops - Spend so long talking about your foibles in jazz music and going to Brian Eno's house that you don't get to any arguably-real points about physics until over halfway through the book - Most importantly, though, do not, do not, let your rambling personal stories get in the way of the fucking point. What's the point of this book? Physics has wavefunctions, so it is connected to music. I mean, groundbreaking. Groundfuckingbreaking. But even that was poorly explicated. The thing is, I don't INHERENTLY not care about a physicist's personal life; one of my favourite books is Janna Levin's How the Universe Got Its Spots. What Levin does right, though, is weave her personal life into the very structure of the book. She writes letters to her mother that blend anecdotes with physics concepts, which -- unlike Alexander's mess -- actually, clearly, relate to one another. The book functions as a larger narrative, not a fucking glob of disconnected names and self-fellating. Even aside from Alexander's fellatio, there's so little of interest in this book, which should really be classified as a memoir, that I can't even bring myself to give it a second star. The way he incorporates the physics makes no sense. He'll spend a few paragraphs rambling about his personal connection to a bigwig in string theory, and then without even pretending to transition, jump into formulae and complex sentences. His whole shtick is that analogies help us understand and bridge disciplines, yet the ones he uses are so fucking ridiculous, and his writing style so dense and obtuse, that unless I already understood the concept I had no idea what was going on (and I have a fucking MA in science studies so no excuses, Stephon: I am the exact audience here). I am personally fascinated by the idea that music might be the formation of the universe; wrote a paper about the connections between physics metaphor in pop lyrics and human emotion. I'm on the lookout for some pop-electromagnetism because I want to know how the hell wavelengths affect us. Everything about this book should have been exactly, exactly what I wanted. Instead, all I got was boring stories about the star-studded jazz and physics education of a guy I don't give a shit about. Trust me: skip it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    LeeAnn

    Had I wanted to know all about Stephon Alexander and his career trajectory, I would have loved this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rick Davis

    I see a lot of negative reviews for this book, most of which boil down to "This book was not what I expected it to be." Fortunately, I didn't go in with many expectations. I like Jazz; I like Math; I'm a total novice in the realm of Physics. So I was hoping to hear a bit about all three, and I did. The book is not too challenging for a lay-reader like myself, and there are fun stories throughout about the connections between Jazz and Physics. I see a lot of negative reviews for this book, most of which boil down to "This book was not what I expected it to be." Fortunately, I didn't go in with many expectations. I like Jazz; I like Math; I'm a total novice in the realm of Physics. So I was hoping to hear a bit about all three, and I did. The book is not too challenging for a lay-reader like myself, and there are fun stories throughout about the connections between Jazz and Physics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lee Barry

    If you're a jazz musician, you've already grasped the idea that jazz is somewhat of a science harmonically, primarily arising from the symmetries inherent in Equal Temperament. As a physicist you might also be curious about the connection between the two domains. Ergo, the book might be more interesting to scientists. There should be more books like this, drawing connections between domains. One of my favorite books on this score is "Art & Physics" by the late Leonard Shlain. If you're a jazz musician, you've already grasped the idea that jazz is somewhat of a science harmonically, primarily arising from the symmetries inherent in Equal Temperament. As a physicist you might also be curious about the connection between the two domains. Ergo, the book might be more interesting to scientists. There should be more books like this, drawing connections between domains. One of my favorite books on this score is "Art & Physics" by the late Leonard Shlain.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jafar

    The author is being deceitful by titling his book: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe. No such link is presented in the book. The author is a jazz musician and a physicist. He talks a lot about himself, his music, the people around him, and his research topics. There’s also some general pop-science stuff on physics that you can find everywhere.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Philippe Lewalle

    I think the book ultimately settled on framing some very interesting questions. Along the way were some chapters that were quite interesting to me, along with some that were (in my view) premised on rather tenuous connections and were of little interest. I would recommend the book to someone with little knowledge of physics or music; I think many of the chapters where I had misgivings arose from the author's attempts to simplify the material for a wider audience, and as the oddball with a lot of I think the book ultimately settled on framing some very interesting questions. Along the way were some chapters that were quite interesting to me, along with some that were (in my view) premised on rather tenuous connections and were of little interest. I would recommend the book to someone with little knowledge of physics or music; I think many of the chapters where I had misgivings arose from the author's attempts to simplify the material for a wider audience, and as the oddball with a lot of specialized knowledge in both areas the book touches on, I was left wanting more. I would love to pick the author's brain in person if the opportunity were ever to arise.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bab

    Serious contender to "WORST BOOK I'VE EVER READ" award. A few things I've learnt from it, though: – don't trust the praise section in a book, even if there's praise from Brian Eno himself – check out a few goodreads comments before you buy a book – if a published piece of allegedly scientific work bears the words "THE SECRET [...]" in capital letters on the cover: distrust/disregard/kill it with fire And now for some brief comments: – This is not a science book, this is a biography. And a lousy one at Serious contender to "WORST BOOK I'VE EVER READ" award. A few things I've learnt from it, though: – don't trust the praise section in a book, even if there's praise from Brian Eno himself – check out a few goodreads comments before you buy a book – if a published piece of allegedly scientific work bears the words "THE SECRET [...]" in capital letters on the cover: distrust/disregard/kill it with fire And now for some brief comments: – This is not a science book, this is a biography. And a lousy one at that. All that the writer cares about is telling us how very clever and talented he is and how very cool all of his top-of-the-line mentors/friends are. The science and the music are just excuses to blabber about himself. – Also, it's not a book but a huge ongoing lie. In the introduction the writer tells us that analogies, symmetry, harmony, resonance, and improvisation are the key factors to build this whole picture of the universe, from quantum up to pangalactic dimensions. Short of a complete quantum+relativity grand unification theory, music will be the key to our understanding, via intuition, of the deep workings of the universe at all scales, through this "secret link" he will show us. Well... Why write an introduction and say you'll be doing something if then you ain't gonna be doing it at all? Just to sell some books, I'm guessing. The only "secret link" we're told about is that resonance rules the physical world at all scales – impressive, what a surprise, nobody ever figured that out before... And then another game-changing "secret": that first and foremost learning the rules, then breaking loose and forgetting about them a little bit and improvising, are the keys to finding new ideas that might lead to new discoveries – wow, such a brand new insight again, thank you, Professor, you're truly killing it today. What about telling the reader something about the structure of music and jazz instead, other than the basic, elementary, trite to the bore 12-bar blues structure? What about at least TRYING to explain why you think the Coltrane tempered scale notes' mandala is related to subatomic particles? What about at least TRYING to do any of the things you tell the reader you'll be doing? This wasn't a book but a fraud. – Then, specifically about the science. I should say that, usually, books about cosmology or quantum physics for the layman tend to spend some time doing a basic overview of the history of math/physics so that the least informed reader will know what we're talking about. They'll take you through ancient Greece, then Galileo, then Newton, the usual stops, and then they'll get to Einstein/Planck/Schrödinger et al. and fly over and do a terrible job at barely explaining those "new" physics. The issue or the excuse tends to be that relativity and quantum stuff are very difficult, even counter-intuitive at times, they entail a lot of hard math, and formulae are scary. In this case, however, it's even worse: the writer manages to explain even basic concepts such as F=ma in such a way that they get distorted and sound confusing even for an engineer such as myself. Awesome job. I never thought it could be possible. And then he gabbles and babbles about quantum relativistic stuff just dropping down concepts without linking them properly, sometimes without linking them at all. It's poor and mystic at best, generally dismal. – Specifically about linking concepts, and "THE SECRET LINK" – let me stress it just once again – no such links whatsoever in the whole damn book. – Personal note: never buy anything ever again from this swindling publisher. – Also quite pissed off today by goodreads' rating system. There's no way to rate a book without giving it at least one star. I wish I could give this one an absolute zero, but I'm forced to rate it infinitely much higher and with a positive net contribution to its final mean rating. This is, in a different sense, truly mean. – Finally, for this is already growing too long: dear Brian Eno, why? Why did you do this to us? We trusted you. You're a respected musician and a respected intellectual, a master of many skills. Why did you willingly lead us into this shithole? How much was your friend Stephon going to pay you? Did you really need the money that bad? We could have helped! If you only had told us! There was no need for this! Now it seems we can't trust you either anymore :( So, recap in short: if I may borrow the words from Bill Hicks' classic capsule review, PIECE OF SHIT.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    The concept of this book is interesting, but the book itself suffers from a number of flaws. One is in its treatment of the dual subjects of jazz and physics. For one thing, it might be more accurate to call it "the Music of Physics", because half of Alexander's metaphors involve non-jazz music. The author also seems to have a mismatched idea of his reader's relative a priori knowledge of these two subjects. I'm more musician than physicist, so I was able to follow all the musical explication, b The concept of this book is interesting, but the book itself suffers from a number of flaws. One is in its treatment of the dual subjects of jazz and physics. For one thing, it might be more accurate to call it "the Music of Physics", because half of Alexander's metaphors involve non-jazz music. The author also seems to have a mismatched idea of his reader's relative a priori knowledge of these two subjects. I'm more musician than physicist, so I was able to follow all the musical explication, but frequently got lost in the physics despite a decent amount of science and mathematics training. I have no idea how a less informed reader would be able to get through this book. Stephon Alexander also spends a good deal of time--probably more than half of the book, in fact--talking not about physics or music, but about his own career and the people and situations that influenced him. While this does make for interesting reading to a point, it's most certainly not what I signed up for when I opened "The Jazz of Physics". That kind of biographical information would probably be much more interesting to someone already steeped in the world of theoretical physics, but for a layman it gets old pretty quickly. As far as I can tell, the author is a great physicist and an accomplished musician--so to expect him also to be an excellent writer seems a bit excessive. As it turns out, this book suffers from the admittedly decent but not writerly abilities of its physicist-musician-writer, and moreso from insufficient editing. Sometimes it is the structure of chapters or paragraphs which meanders and loses itself, but more often it seems as if the editor dropped the ball. Alexander will sometimes list a number of objects (A, B, C, D) and then incorrectly describe "these 3 objects", for example; as a musician I was able to detect certain strange misattributions of pieces and composers as well as concepts in music theory, though I have no idea if the same occurred on the physics end; and sometimes there were sentences that simply didn't make sense, either missing or having extra words which obscured the meaning for me. Alexander thanks TJ Kelleher, the editor, in his acknowledgments, but in my opinion Alexander needs to find a new one. Overall a good concept delivered by someone who knows the material very well, but lacks the writing skill to execute fully.

  11. 5 out of 5

    May Ling

    Summary: This will be slightly tougher if you have no background in music or physics. If you like both, it should be right up your alley. 1 star removed because the subtitle is misleading. He should have gone without it. [Vlog will be out after Feb 21st. Would be thrilled for you to have a look/follow on Instagram at WhereIsMayLing] I love frameworks that are clever enough to elucidate and bring deeper meaning. This is what he's talking about as relates to the secret link. Unfortunately, his crow Summary: This will be slightly tougher if you have no background in music or physics. If you like both, it should be right up your alley. 1 star removed because the subtitle is misleading. He should have gone without it. [Vlog will be out after Feb 21st. Would be thrilled for you to have a look/follow on Instagram at WhereIsMayLing] I love frameworks that are clever enough to elucidate and bring deeper meaning. This is what he's talking about as relates to the secret link. Unfortunately, his crowd is not all American English speaking. Damn. Physicists cannot separate being an academic thesis critical from the art of a good story. Ouch. You deserve more than 4. Notes: P. 1-2 - To all the haters, this was his thesis: "I've found the most successful books in communicating ideas are those that find the best analogies to mirror the physics." p. 14- The chaotic music of Ornette Coleman - This is a way of thinking about pattern in chaos. Very cool. p. 18 - Fractal structures in music along with everything else in the universe. p. 53 - This example of Weinberg illustrates a larger epidemic in the academic universe. Namely, over-focus on using a single discipline creates myopia of thought that does not allow for the insights that naturally arise from taking a break and doing something/anything else. p. 80... I didn't realize Kepler's second law follows chord progression. Very cool. p. 88 The Brian Eno story is awesome. I had never thought about how all those keyboards got programmed. Also, the way he thinks about the sound that is less physics, more emotion and how that all connects. I get what Alexander is saying. This is not what I suppose the haters were reading it for. p. 124 - The idea of Jazz is to practice what you're supposed to do so that when you mess up you can do what you need to do. That is an amazing piece of advice for life. It was his thoughts on research that goes awry. It can still take you somewhere awesome. p. 129 - It gets me every time that the universe use to glow b/c it was so hot. I'm not sure why I always smile on that one. p. 159 - John Coltrane and Charlie Parker would practice up to 14 hours a day despite, he was naturally talented AF. p. 165 - Relating Heizenberg's uncertainty principal to a jazz improv. I kind of love it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Everard Griffith

    I have a Welsh background so music is in my soul; and I am a wanna-be physicist so science and science fiction have been a life long interest. And now I am a retired Christian minister so spirituality has been my passion. This book has it all. Spirituality, for me, is about unity, beauty, transcendence, creativity, new life etc. and that is why I was drawn to this book. The book has a strong autobiographical unifying thread that leads the reader on a journey of discovery, improvisation, and unde I have a Welsh background so music is in my soul; and I am a wanna-be physicist so science and science fiction have been a life long interest. And now I am a retired Christian minister so spirituality has been my passion. This book has it all. Spirituality, for me, is about unity, beauty, transcendence, creativity, new life etc. and that is why I was drawn to this book. The book has a strong autobiographical unifying thread that leads the reader on a journey of discovery, improvisation, and understanding of how the universe works. The question that drove Alexander was: How did the universe get here? This has been the crux of the religion-science argument/debate for years. The use of the analogy of music allows us to see the math and follow the path of discovery. About two-thirds of the way through this book the science got too much for me to grasp. ("Understanding how the improvisational nature of quantum fields function in a vacuum is essential to generating the building blocks of matter in the universe, which gave rise to the plasma that comprises the sea of photons, electrons and protons in the CMB" p. 178) But I took a musical approach to it and continued reading. It was like listening to a jazz composition. I could appreciate the experience of it without actually being able to hold all the individual concepts (notes) in conscious understanding. Just watching the improvisation of the process that led to new understandings of how the universe works and how it emerged was inspiring. From a spiritual perspective I felt the joy of living the miracle of life on this planet, part of a universe expanding and moving toward what? Who knows? Just knowing where we are at and more of our history is enough. The rest is up to us. Alexander does end with a question of purpose. Not a question, he admits, that a scientist should concern himself with. But there it is. We are the species that can do the math and create the music that leads to an understanding of the universe and how we got here. There is always more to find out. It is a fascinating book. I gave it a five star because of the feeling it gave me when I finished, not because I understood it all. Then again, maybe I did, just not intellectually.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mark Ehlen

    A wonderfully enticing mix of science and music and biography, as if to suggest that you might understand it. I will have to read this multiple times to really understand what it means - and understanding it is important - and having it include the human and musical makes it easier to start and follow that process.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    I enjoyed being introduced to the connection between music, mathematics and physics. It is a personal narrative by the author and focuses on his education as to how the universe functions. However, it gets very technical at times and was a challenging read. The author's thoughts and opinions bounced around a lot and were often obscure. I enjoyed being introduced to the connection between music, mathematics and physics. It is a personal narrative by the author and focuses on his education as to how the universe functions. However, it gets very technical at times and was a challenging read. The author's thoughts and opinions bounced around a lot and were often obscure.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Akshansh Gupta

    3.5 stars. The author needs to dial down the brown nosing.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Megan Lawson

    I love jazz. I love physics. But I didn't feel like the author really did anything to link the two, so I'm a bit disappointed. Not a bad book but not what I thought it would or could be. I love jazz. I love physics. But I didn't feel like the author really did anything to link the two, so I'm a bit disappointed. Not a bad book but not what I thought it would or could be.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Chaffey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Decided against reading it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Martin

    A book that left me with more questions, than answers. Overall, increased my awareness to patterns and symmetric in my daily life. Because quantum physics and the nature of the universe are very mysterious, we may never know the true structure of our existence. Some concepts may have gone over my head, or are not yet fully proved. Yet, there are enough connections between music, rhythm, & tempo to gravity, string theory, the the reaction of particles, to ignore. The book clearly explains how hum A book that left me with more questions, than answers. Overall, increased my awareness to patterns and symmetric in my daily life. Because quantum physics and the nature of the universe are very mysterious, we may never know the true structure of our existence. Some concepts may have gone over my head, or are not yet fully proved. Yet, there are enough connections between music, rhythm, & tempo to gravity, string theory, the the reaction of particles, to ignore. The book clearly explains how humans and our solar system are the result of billions of years of structural formation. The multiverse can be perceived as a field of strings engaging with each other in both harmony and chaos. This book is a great read for music and jazz fans. The author tells stories about works of great musicians. Many artists have turned to space and science for inspiration and their work portrays a deep connection to the cosmos. One example is a contrast to the works of Jazz artist Coltrain to the formulas of Albert Einstein.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    This is a good thinking book, one that draws parallels between physics and music in ways that are convincing and enjoyable. Receiving this book as a gift, I sort of assumed there would be more jazz and less physics (although the title would easily suggest otherwise), but still found the physics thought-provoking and well-argued. Perhaps it is my failure to understand, but the musical mystery that Alexander presents at the beginning of the book was unsatisfactorily illuminated by the end. He is a This is a good thinking book, one that draws parallels between physics and music in ways that are convincing and enjoyable. Receiving this book as a gift, I sort of assumed there would be more jazz and less physics (although the title would easily suggest otherwise), but still found the physics thought-provoking and well-argued. Perhaps it is my failure to understand, but the musical mystery that Alexander presents at the beginning of the book was unsatisfactorily illuminated by the end. He is a physicist and a musician, but I wished there was an equal amount of music beyond the inspirational anecdote.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    Heavy on narrative, this book is quite interesting and worth the challenge. If you are comfortable with some basics of mathematics, physics, and music, you will find this book fascinating. If you are not, be prepared for a challenging read. Alexander does a great job of weaving together his experiences as a student from middle school through his current career, developments in cosmology, with musical cognition, especially jazz. The book is full of insightful stories, especially with some of jazz Heavy on narrative, this book is quite interesting and worth the challenge. If you are comfortable with some basics of mathematics, physics, and music, you will find this book fascinating. If you are not, be prepared for a challenging read. Alexander does a great job of weaving together his experiences as a student from middle school through his current career, developments in cosmology, with musical cognition, especially jazz. The book is full of insightful stories, especially with some of jazz and physics greats. Though Alexander does not specifically address how the brain functions, what he shares has important implications on brain function and problem solving. Highly recommended for those interested in both jazz and cosmology, and graduate students. It's a great book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    A book which approaches the nature of the universe in terms of the quality of sound we call "music". As a general approach to reality, I could not agree more with that assessment as organism's, like music, moves from one state to another state, all of which 'feel' like tones, because it is the felt quality, so well represented in the tones of the musical scale, which seems morphologically continuous with the power of music. At root, the universe is all vibration, and Alexander takes the reader o A book which approaches the nature of the universe in terms of the quality of sound we call "music". As a general approach to reality, I could not agree more with that assessment as organism's, like music, moves from one state to another state, all of which 'feel' like tones, because it is the felt quality, so well represented in the tones of the musical scale, which seems morphologically continuous with the power of music. At root, the universe is all vibration, and Alexander takes the reader on a ride through many different perspectives on the nature of how music can describe the transformational changes of the cosmos.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Michael Platt

    Highly recommended. Physics is a thing. Music is a thing. Turns out they may be the same thing. Think applying the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle to Improvisation. This is not light reading. Stephon Alexander is a Theoretical Physicist and Jazz Saxophonist. But if you are a musician that wants to understand more about physics or have knowledge of physics and want to be amazed at its connection to music this s a great book to read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Matthew O'Neil

    What an incredible book. Part memoir, part history of physics, part music theory, and a whole lotta love. Sorry, wrong genre. I was inspired each day to sit down and play more music. Thinking about all the contributions to physics, and quantum mechanics, through the pursuit of sound in the cosmos. This was like all my life’s dreams coming together. Well worth the read for anyone curious about how our universe is built with music in its roots.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Richard Bravman

    Harmonies Across Space, Time, and Realms Alexander weaves together ideas from music and physics with verve, courage, and a personal voice that it truly engaging, from the first word of this fine riff to its last. Kudos for the inspiration received, related, amplified, and passed on to us.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Solita

    Well, I'm not a musician, and I'm not a physicist. I love music, know a tad about it, but mostly enjoy listening to it, various genres, including jazz. I have no burning questions about the make up of the universe, I just enjoy the mystery. I look up at the sky in awe, and I wonder about life and the meaning of it all. (I've met people who say life has no meaning, that we just are. Well, IDK if there is a why, or purpose. I only know I, myself, have to live with a sense of purpose.) I'm curious Well, I'm not a musician, and I'm not a physicist. I love music, know a tad about it, but mostly enjoy listening to it, various genres, including jazz. I have no burning questions about the make up of the universe, I just enjoy the mystery. I look up at the sky in awe, and I wonder about life and the meaning of it all. (I've met people who say life has no meaning, that we just are. Well, IDK if there is a why, or purpose. I only know I, myself, have to live with a sense of purpose.) I'm curious about physics, but it isn't a great love of mine, as is literature, poetry, music, and art in general. (Which I consider a manifestation of the human spirit.) I really barely understand physics, but I get the gist. When it comes to the equations, forget it; my head just spins. (Hm. "Spins.") "The universe is a symphony of vibrating strings." I love that line. Why not? When something spins, when something vibrates, it does hum, doesn't it? Some frequencies humans can hear, and some not. Right? And I suspect there is a there there, even when we can not perceive it. Stephon Alexander believes there is a "secret link between music and the structure of the universe," but he doesn't claim to know what it is. He makes these amazing connections, parallels, between jazz music and physics (which seeks to explain the structure of the universe.) I find it fascinating. Have to say, though, that the term "secret" annoys me. Nature (or the universe) doesn't have secrets. There are "unknowns," but that doesn't make them "secrets." "Mysteries" is probably a better term. Just saying. It's kind of an autobio, really, mixed with some physics and jazz info. I'm ok with that. I enjoy learning about how people's lives unfold, how lives cross paths. I happen to believe in luck, or fate, that everything happens the way it was always meant to. That free will is an illusion. Even the choices we make, we were meant to make. The mystery is that we don't know, but these ideas come into our heads (or seem to), and we decide (or seem to) to do this or that, or not. I had no idea John Coltrane was interested in physics, and that he was such a fan of Einstein. I was aware of his brilliance; I hear it in his music, as well as statements I've heard, by chance, quoted by reverends connected to the Church of John Coltrane. IMO, amazing, deep statements. Such as, "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being." And "When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hangups.” The man was deep: I hear it in his words, I feel it in his music. Alexander says that the mind of god/God is cosmic music. Oh, I just love that. I'm not religious. I don't belong to an organized religion. But I believe in something, a Mystery. The idea I have of God/god is not like the idea I hear expressed in these organized religions. But that's a whole other subject. I did enjoy the book. What a beautiful, poetic idea: the mind of God/The Mystery is cosmic music. I wonder if that is where art comes from. From that music. From those vibrations.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Claire

    Although I do not identify as a jazz musician, or exactly as a mathematician, per se, even if I do this or that which could qualify as this or that, I do appreciate them both. (I have in fact doodled in Classical and Baroque music as an oboist, and later I did a little bit of bassoon work, so I can't technically quantify how jazzy this book is, exactly. I thought it was quite well enough. Then, the mathematics I have ended up getting talked into doing after chit-chatting with this and that perso Although I do not identify as a jazz musician, or exactly as a mathematician, per se, even if I do this or that which could qualify as this or that, I do appreciate them both. (I have in fact doodled in Classical and Baroque music as an oboist, and later I did a little bit of bassoon work, so I can't technically quantify how jazzy this book is, exactly. I thought it was quite well enough. Then, the mathematics I have ended up getting talked into doing after chit-chatting with this and that person confounds me in retrospect.) I saw the thesis that Stephon Alexander was trying to get across, or tried to before this book was due. I technically have seventeen more days... that reminded me to switch the computer room calendar from August to September even though today is technically the day before the last day of August...! You've got two days before the Kalens of September! Have you gotten all your back-to-school shopping done yet for the semester? Or are we all holding tight for this pandemic? I particularly liked the first time I saw all the graphs the most. Maybe I should have been more thrilled about the similarity to the tenor clef with Kepler's calculation of Mars' elliptical orbit, since that is what I ACTUALLY studied in all my years of music school, but as soon as I saw any graph at all I got unbelievably excited about my potential of drawing more graphs soon with Mathematica or the like. And you know about how potential energy builds up tension in your body. It's exciting. So I am glad to have read this book. I think it's psyching me up for more to come! I thought it wasn't too difficult to understand, and that it built off concepts I already grasped. I didn't notice the autobiographical stuff until skimming the other reviews, which is troublesome.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Prinoski

    "The Jazz of Physics" is an analogical discussion of the relationship between physics and music. There is a strong autobiographical component to this text that is necessary to describe the influences and milestones that have molded the author's growth in music and science. As an accomplished scientist and jazz musician, Alexander symbiotically intertwines theoretical physics and jazz to foster mutual understanding of both. As Einstein's scientific creativity was enhanced by his appreciation of p "The Jazz of Physics" is an analogical discussion of the relationship between physics and music. There is a strong autobiographical component to this text that is necessary to describe the influences and milestones that have molded the author's growth in music and science. As an accomplished scientist and jazz musician, Alexander symbiotically intertwines theoretical physics and jazz to foster mutual understanding of both. As Einstein's scientific creativity was enhanced by his appreciation of piano, violin, and Mozart, Alexander similarily gains insight into his research from his saxophone and John Coltrane. Specifically, Alexander utilizes the improvisational aspects and symmetries within jazz to spur his insights in cosmology. The author also speculates how John Coltrane's interest in physics and cosmology influenced Coltrane's music. Though familiar with many of the scientific concepts discussed from previous readings of books by other physicists, I personally struggled with some of the music concepts described. However, any musician with an interest in science would readily understand and be delighted by all aspects of this book. Even non-musicans such as myself benefit from exposure to the descriptions of basic musical theory and composition presented. Learning in all fields is desirable and a dominant theme in this book. This text should not be approached solely as a dissertation of theoretical physics or music. It is also the dance of improvisation, collaboration, and successive life experiences that lead to innovation in both fields. I enjoyed Alexander's book and recommend it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katrina

    "From time to time, there will be some beautiful equations, but it's not necessary to understand these equations to grasp a concept. If you encounter an equation that you don't quite get, I encourage you to skip it and continue reading." I took these words to heart while reading this book. Though some of the equations were, as the author expected, outside of my ability, this was a fascinating read for my music loving self. I especially loved learning about Alexander's personal voyages through the "From time to time, there will be some beautiful equations, but it's not necessary to understand these equations to grasp a concept. If you encounter an equation that you don't quite get, I encourage you to skip it and continue reading." I took these words to heart while reading this book. Though some of the equations were, as the author expected, outside of my ability, this was a fascinating read for my music loving self. I especially loved learning about Alexander's personal voyages through the worlds of physics and jazz, and how the breadth of his experience became a boon rather than a distraction. "I felt pressure to keep these two worlds separate. Physics to some is about absolute truths encoded in rigid mathematics, and music is a language of emotion. Perhaps this tension would not have been a bit deal had I known that in the early days of science, music and astronomy were inseparable." "The power of interdisciplinary thought was my adrenaline. Music was no longer just an inspiration, not just a way to flex my neural pathways, it was absolutely and profoundly complementary to my research." "Music may likely be the best example of a human endeavor that, on one level, has physical and mathematical roots and, on another, has the ability to evoke such powerful emotions and sense of purpose. It is amusing to speculate that the reason why music has the ability to move us so deeply is that it is an auditory allusion to our basic connection to the universe. If our cosmic origins are seated in sound patterns, is it too far-fetched to think that music viscerally enables us to tap into these origins?"

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Apparently I remembered enough physics from my college physics class to be able to follow a decent chunk of what he talked about in this book. I think this book was an interesting read, but could have been better structured to help readers. The book lacks a certain focus in each chapter. Some portions are more technical and dryly written, and other portions are less dry and are about being auto biography or looking at the lives of scientists and musicians. This book really didn't point out any n Apparently I remembered enough physics from my college physics class to be able to follow a decent chunk of what he talked about in this book. I think this book was an interesting read, but could have been better structured to help readers. The book lacks a certain focus in each chapter. Some portions are more technical and dryly written, and other portions are less dry and are about being auto biography or looking at the lives of scientists and musicians. This book really didn't point out any new connections between music and physics that I don't know from having taken advanced music theory classes that drew on the mathematical side of music except for the idea that sound or noise was part of the basis of how the universe was formed. I didn't realize physics had proved this. I think what flustered me most were his metaphysical underpinnings. So much of this book makes more sense if one acknowledges a creator of the universe. He looks for composers of Jazz music, but not for the universe. The other thing that flustered me was when he was giving a history of the earlier scientists like Kepler and Galileo. He brushed aside how their metaphysics impacted how they did physics, and in some cases like with Galileo made it sound like he wanted to buck the church rather than it being that he ticked off his fellow academics. I did learn things while reading this book, but I think it could have been structured in a more coherent fashion to help readers better get at what he is trying to do with this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Serge Pierro

    As someone who was reading college textbooks on Chemistry in fourth grade and has spent time practicing guitar 12-16 hours a day during my 43 years of playing (currently practicing only 4-6 hours a day), this was a book that really intrigued me. It was given to me by one of my students and I had great expectations for it. However… it fell flat. This is more of a memoir of Stephon Alexander’s involvement with Physics and Jazz. And even as such, it is somewhat shallow in the information presented As someone who was reading college textbooks on Chemistry in fourth grade and has spent time practicing guitar 12-16 hours a day during my 43 years of playing (currently practicing only 4-6 hours a day), this was a book that really intrigued me. It was given to me by one of my students and I had great expectations for it. However… it fell flat. This is more of a memoir of Stephon Alexander’s involvement with Physics and Jazz. And even as such, it is somewhat shallow in the information presented. Topics and people are quickly introduced, yet few of them are fleshed out into any kind of substantial contribution. There’s a lot of name dropping throughout the book and that seemed to be of more interest to the writer than the book's topics. Sadly, the book’s subtitle “The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe” still remains a secret, as there is nothing of profoundness introduced in the book. There is a lot of speculative theories, but not a whole lot of empirical science. Though the inclusion of mathematical formulas was a nice touch and they were well explained. With names such as Einstein and Coltrane being scattered throughout the book, I had expected more. As a memoir, it proved to be somewhat interesting and there was some history of science/mathematics, but overall it was a bit weak for the subject matter at hand.

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