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Discovery or invention?

Started by Hardy Heinlin, Thu, 26 Nov 2020 17:46

Hardy Heinlin

Quote from: Will on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 20:37
I read somewhere once that the ancient Greeks found the major third to be so unpleasant that they avoided it, and now the major third is your prototypical backbone of chords that sound "happy."

Hardrock guitarists also avoid that third -- it just sounds too happy :-) Just play the other two notes, and your chord becomes a power chord.

Quote from: Will on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 20:37
Look at what 13 years did to pop music:


Or maybe I've got that completely wrong, and maybe it's an artifact of time dilation: when you look backwards in time, eras seem more compressed the farther back you go?

I think it's both, time dilation and also an accelerated cultural progress in the past 70 years.

All in all, it's nice that new music styles don't replace existing ones. During all this musical progress in the last 500 years, the style palette just gets larger. It's not a single timeline but many timelines in parallel. Classic is still there. Rock ist still there. Folk, jazz etc. No style dies out.

Some pop music composers, however, haven't been particularly innovative in the past two decades. Melodies, nowadays, almost consist of just one pitch. They compensate this boredom by unusual sound effects. Today it's the sound, not the melody, that makes the hit. I can't hear that. Unfortunately, I have to hear it when I go shopping in the supermarket. I always try to get out as quickly as possible.



Another time lapse from 1959 to 2009:

Steve Hose

Hi all,

I regard mathematics as a process of discovery rather than invention for the simple reason that to be logically self-consistent, there can't be alternative choices that one could have made in deriving the system from a given set of axioms. This is the utility of math.

You can make up nonsensical axioms, sure, some that are even logically self-consistent, but unlike math they don't tend to accurately reflect the 'world' we find ourselves in.

Bessy is an elephant
All elephants are pink
Therefore, Bessy is pink

Perhaps one can argue that symbolic expression is an invention. There are choices one can make about how ideas can be represented.

Does math have an existence? That depends on what you mean by 'exist'. Like the word 'reality' it is context-dependent. I would agree that math exists but that its existence is mind-dependent.

Regards Steve.


I might be very black/white here but... To me it sounds like a "definition of words" thing.

Discovery: the finding of the surprise, the outcome was unforeseen. The outcome was different from the goal of the excercise.

Invention: the outcome matches the goal of the excercise. The first car was an invention, because the purpose was to build a car.

In music terms, yes there is a set of notes/frequencies/timing to play around with. If Mozart had an idea in his mind and the outcome matched the idea in his head, it was an invention. If in the process he found another trajectory to follow by "randomness" (a combination of words that created a new "aha?" feeling never experienced before), it's a discovery.

So by definition... discoveries are always an "accident". I discovered my life, I didn't invent anything. So by definition my life is a series of big accidents :-)

Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers

Quote from: IefCooreman on Mon, 14 Dec 2020 07:58
So by definition... discoveries are always an "accident".

Certain old seafarers would definitely disagree. But I believe that is a different kind of discovery. Now we get into semantics...

Hardy Heinlin

I agree with Steve; mathematical laws are discovered, not invented.

Attributes like "Bessy", "elephant", "pink" themselves are not mathematical functions. They are just symbols that can be counted like any other symbols. They are replaceable; they won't touch any universal mathematical function. Whether Bessy is really an elephant is a matter of empirical sensors and political agreements, i.e. the answer is highly variable and lies outside the mathematical scope. But this human-made variable doesn't change that human-discovered deductive logic. (I'm now putting math and logic into the same pot; some may say logic is yet another extra aside from math.)

My current definitions of the words "discovery" and "invention":

A discovery is a new knowledge element that occured by empirical or rational activity.

An invention is a composition of multiple memorized knowledge elements; the composition is constructed rationally and tested empirically.

There is no memorized "pre-math" knowledge which could be used to invent math. Math itself is already a priori.




Here's a musing on discovery vs. invention: Imagine you could record every word ever written by humanity in one long string variable. You come up with a scheme for cataloging this, maybe alphabetical by author, by country, and then in chronological order after that, and then represent all of this information as numbers. In base 2 for binary, or base 26 for the English language alphabet, or base 10,000 for all the alphabets in the world... but it's really arbitrary. You just need a way to code it from start to finish, as a value somewhere between 0 and 1.

Then take a gold bar (gold is chosen purely for aesthetic reasons), of one unit length, and make a tiny slice at the correct spot to record that value.

And the result is that you have all the literature of all of humanity coded in a single tick.

But obviously, there could be other ticks, had humanity written different books. In fact, you could just make a random tick on the bar, and come up with an entirely different literature: plays that Shakespeare didn't write, novels by authors who don't exist, songs that have never been written.

Is that discovery or invention?
Will /Chicago /USA

Steve Hose

Hi Will,

I would say the method of encoding the information would fall more in the 'invention' category given free choices can be made by an 'inventor' in assembling an encoding algorithm from available sub-processes.

The decoding of the knowledge itself I would say sounds more like an act of discovery.

But perhaps I'm misunderstanding the question!

Regards Steve.

Hardy Heinlin

QuoteAnd the result is that you have all the literature of all of humanity coded in a single tick.

I don't understand your idea, Will. I can't see how a single value could contain every word ever written by humanity.

Is that single value just another metaphor for "house"? "Imagine you could build a house that stores every book ever written by humanity; is that house a discovery or an invention?"

Or do you mean "coded in" in the sense of "symbolized by"?

(I'm a coder. For me, a code contains encoded information that can be decoded to get the original information. If the code of all literature can't be decoded to restore all literature then it's not a code.)



Jeroen Hoppenbrouwers

Your code is a one-way hash with extremely high collision risk. It does not encode anything. It compresses extremely with loss of nearly all information. The construction of the code algorithm is an invention (you could patent it); but you cannot link it to discovery of literature, I believe.


Martin Baker

Sorry Hardy, having dismantled my 747 sim in June and being on the move for 6 months, I have spent the last couple of weeks getting it set up again - so have been distracted from this thread, hopefully for reasons you understand. :-)

Quote from: Hardy Heinlin on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 04:29
For example, the emotional difference between a major and a minor chord is something I consider basic, like the difference between, say, laughing and crying. However, the difference between the Mixolydian and the Aeolian modes, for instance, sounds to me like the difference between two long stories -- much more room for interpretations, much more complex than the shape of eyebrows, or squares and triangles.

I understand this view, and I certainly think it is true for the majority of us, in Western culture. However, I'm not sure I can go so far as to agree that the emotional expressions we derive from major/minor chords are as innate or instinctive to the human race as laughing/crying, or eyebrow expressions.

Whilst it is the case that, to those of us accustomed to "normal" musical language, mixolydian and aeolian modes (for example) sound less obvious or innate, I have spent a large section of my career teaching young people non-standard Western musical languages and notations. What seems to us adults to be complicated and unusual can seem very simple and intuitive to children who have yet to learn a particular notation, and whose ears - despite several years of subconscious "normal" musical formation - approach modal languages with an ease and understanding that eludes the trained adult ear. I have encountered such young people who, when asked of a major and minor chord, which is happy and which is sad, just look confused and can't answer!

I suspect this may also be the case for people formed in Eastern (i.e. non-Western) musical cultures, but I have no experience of this so cannot comment with any certainty.

Quote from: Hardy Heinlin on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 04:29
On the other hand, it could be that just the symbology got more precise, while the basic emotions haven't changed much. For example, a human may think a rainbow consists of just five or so colors.

It's possible to argue that the reverse of this applies to music: the language of tonality developed from a multi-modal spectrum to just two colours - major and minor - over several centuries, hence the invention of the Second Viennese School (12 tone music) to get composers out of a very confining musical rut! Might it also explain the start of the early music movement, whose origins go back to the mid nineteenth century - musicians looking for ways out of what they perceived as an increasingly narrow path?

Quote from: Hardy Heinlin on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 04:29I think fashion involves some kind of "gravity law". It starts with a tiny core, a small dust particle that attracts other dust particles. The core gets bigger and thus its gravity increases, therefore attracting even more particles. It grows exponentially. In other words, a famous person -- an influencer! -- sings, for example, a simple two-tone melody though an autotune-yodel-machine, and three fans of that influencer like it because they admire their idol's attitude. That is, the new song symbolizes that special attitude. Those three fans attract more fans and so on. Luck is the biggest parameter in this process. Once a new fashion has started to roll, it keeps rolling.

I like this analogy!

Quote from: Hardy Heinlin on Wed,  2 Dec 2020 04:29But the fans won't eat everything the influencer serves. There are limits. So there must be a certain programmed common palette of style elements where the influencer can chose from, and that will generate a resonance among the fans. And that's the big question. Why do special styles at special times have such a great resonance around the world? There are classic fans on all continents. Same for jazz, soul, rock, hip hop etc. for pentatonic scales and so on. I understand that the technical evolution brought new instruments. But only some of them got popular. I think a new instrument can only be successful if it can be used to express the current local life style. So the core lies again in the human itself, in the mood of the people at a certain place at a certain time.

I suppose, thanks mainly to the internet, each individual now has a plethora of choices in musical taste, so perhaps we are seeing a new mediaevalism - a break from the orthodox canon of western musical tradition - where everyone's musical views/tastes are equally valid and anything can be described as good or valid?

A fascinating subject. But, to come full circle, thanks for the amazing 747 software - it's great to have it back! :-)