Dear Rabbi Fried,
You have alluded a few times in your column that the universe is like a song. I’m intrigued by this idea and wanted to ask if you could please elaborate.
This concept is something that touches a chord in my heart, an idea that I live by. It’s not the kind of thing one can just “get” intellectually. Rather, one needs to synthesize it until it enters the heart, over time, until one can “hear the music” when walking under a beautiful sky, seeing a stunning yard or meadow, the reach of a tree, the stars at night or the morning sunrise.
Let’s attempt to understand this on a few levels.
There was a great Chasidic master who was walking through the forest with a group of students when one of them nonchalantly plucked a leaf of a tree as he walked by. The rabbi, upon observing the conduct of the student, was shaken by what he saw and began to tremble, exclaiming, “The entire universe is God’s symphony and everything in it, every leaf and blade of grass, is another instrument in His orchestra. How could you, for no reason, just pluck out an instrument from that orchestra and minimize the symphony?”
I have heard the above story told about various leaders, both Chasidic and Lithuanian, and I believe that they all happened. This is because great Torah sages all view the world in this same way. It is the reflection of many verses in the Torah and Tanach, all alluding to this idea. “For the Conductor; a song of David. The heavens speak the glory of G-d and the expanse of the sky tells of His handiwork” (Psalms 19:1-2).
Another insight into this music is the way the universe and its creations work in tandem, creating a cosmic harmony. Galaxies and planetary systems are often observed by astronomers to be in a type of waltz as they spin around each other because of each other’s gravitational pull. Food chains, body systems such as the immune system and many more are examples of harmonies that boggle the mind.
Finally, over recent decades, string theory has blazed onto the scene with new harmony and new music. The first level of harmony to which this theory plays is to, potentially, harmonize the two epic theories of the universe, relativity and quantum mechanics. Relativity, first developed by Einstein, was the revolutionary understanding of mass, energy and gravity as it applies to large bodies. Quantum mechanics revolutionized the understanding of the universe on a sub-microscopic level by way of its standard model of subatomic particles and their behavior. Both theories worked to an incredible degree of accuracy, just not together, to the great chagrin of Einstein and many others. String theory is the first tangible hope of the harmony and music between these two great theories.
On a deeper and more direct plane, string theory truly shows us the music of the universe. According to this theory, the smallest, most elementary particles of the universe are not specks of matter as previously thought. They are, rather, infinitesimally tiny strands of vibrating “string.” All matter, all strings, are “cut from the same cloth.” The only difference between them is the frequency at which they vibrate, like different frequencies on the strings of a violin or guitar. It is the different vibrational patterns of fundamental string that give rise to different masses and force charges.
The eminent physicist Brian Greene writes in “The Elegant Universe,” in a chapter entitled “Nothing but Music: The Essentials of Superstring Theory,” the following: “With the discovery of superstring theory, musical metaphors take on a startling reality, for the theory suggests that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patters orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos… What appear to be different elementary particles are actually different “notes” on a fundamental string. The universe — being composed of an enormous number of these vibrating strings — is akin to a cosmic symphony.”
As science continues to develop, the music rises to higher and higher crescendos and the power of the great symphony of the Al-mighty serenades us more and more with its profound beauty.
String theory and the music of the universe
Dear Rabbi Fried,