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The Intersection of Science, Art, Music & Humanities

Coltrane, Physics, Math, Biology, and Jazz

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Staying with our recent focus on the interconnected beauty of physics, math, biology, and jazz, we elected to feature the genius of jazz great John Coltrane for today's Sunday Morning Stop at the Intersection of Science, Art, Music and Humanities.

Physicist and saxophonist, Dr. Stephon Alexander in the video above, argued in his book The Jazz of Physics that Albert Einstein and John Coltrane had quite a lot in common. 

Alexander draws his readers' attention to the so-called Coltrane tone circle, which resembles what serious jazz musicians now recognize as the circle of fifths, incorporating Coltrane’s mathematical innovations. 

In 1967, Coltrane gave his drawing to the jazz multi-instrumentalist, composer and Grammy Award-winning professor, Yusef Lateef, who included it in his Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns, the iconic 282-page spiral-bound book that includes a wealth of patterns, licks, and ideas, still popular among jazz players and often referred to as the "thesaurus of scales and melodic patterns."    

Professor Lateef viewed Coltrane's music as a spiritual journey that embraced the concerns of a rich tradition of "autophysiopsychic," his word for the music that comes from the physical, mental, and spiritual self. 

Stephon Alexander sees the same geometric principle in the circle of fifths that motivated Einstein, including the body of scientific laws that fed Einstein's last 30-years' quest for an unified field theory to combine gravity and electromagnetism into one single elegant theory, thereby ridding physics of quantum uncertainty. 

Alexander, on the other hand, brilliantly uses acoustically resonant harmony as a metaphor for the probabilistic relationships string theorists derived from their mathematical analysis. The string theory, for those who may have forgotten, elegantly blends general relativity with quantum mechanics and holds that the fundamental unit of existence is a one-dimensional vibrating string. 

Given that the string theory was officially birthed in the early 1980s, and the fact that John Coltrane died from liver cancer in 1967 when he was 40-years old, it seems appropriate to acknowledge his intuitive music and mathematical genius. 

Have a lovely Sunday morning.

Ellen Troyer, with Spencer Thornton, MD, David Amess and the Biosyntrx staff

For a few of our followers, John Coltrane's Naima will transport you back to early 1960s hot summer nights spent wandering streets of U.C. Berkeley, NYU Greenwich Village, or other university or college cities or towns, listening for Trane's hauntingly beautiful tune wafting from open windows.