The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe Hardcover – April 26, 2016 Stephon Alexander Basic Books 0465034993 Physics - Quantum Theory

The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Structure of the Universe Hardcover – April 26, 2016 Stephon Alexander Basic Books 0465034993 Physics - Quantum Theory

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Item # 199128

 (3 Reviews)


Editorial Reviews


About the Author

Although I'm a guitarist with over 40 years professional experience in jazz and other American musical idioms, I don't feel qualified to assess The Jazz of Physics by Stephon Alexander. Hence, the 3 star review, by which I mean my neutrality as to the book's qualities.
The question needs to be asked for whom this book was written. A serious musician could not comprehend it fully without also having a thorough understanding of both physics and calculus. I have some college education, but unfortunately not those subjects.
Chapter 8: The Ubiquity of Vibration contains several complex graphs and equations, for which it is assumed the reader understands all the math symbols used. I'm not sure what books I would need to study to understand it, but nearly all of Chapter 8 is incomprehensible to me. The book's notes don't explain the equations or the Fourier transform any more than the text does.
I love the concept that the universe behaves like a musical instrument, but I have no understanding why the author believes this may be the case.
If you are more musician than scientist or mathematician, you might want to read How Music Works by John Powell for a read geared more towards the general reader.
By Mark S. Williams April 13, 2018
I cannot say enough good things about this book. It was quite amazing to follow Dr. Alexander's journey to the world of physics through the lens of jazz. I have read review with people complaining about the book being autobiographical or even jumping subjects. That actually is what makes this book so interesting to read. I learned some new aspects of physics, it helped strengthen other elements of physics I had heard about in the past, and it was a pleasure to read about his journey into physics, starting with the first trip to the museum and seeing a display of Albert Einstein.

I would highly recommend this book to those with a novice based love of physics, those who love both music and science, and as an amazing way to aspire children, teens, and young adults to reach for their goals in their own unique way. I love that his journey was his and not limited to a one way, boring, pre-charted road.
By D. A. J. May 6, 2017
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 winer "Escher, Godel, Bach" by Douglas Hofstader, which uses the music of Bach to illuminate logical, mathematical, and scientific themes. I can also recommend the somewhat more advanced "Quantum Reality" by Nick 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.
By Keith E. Koenigsberg May 16, 2016