Quadruple Play: Physics, Biology, Math and Music

Physicist and 2013 Edward Bouchet Award winner Stephon Alexander can be seen below with Jim Gates, who as we’ve previously noted was the first(1994) recipient of that award.


In the background of the photo above you can see that the two physicists are at the E.E. Just Symposium. Stephon Alexander is the Ernest Everett Just 1907 Professor of Natural Sciences at Dartmouth. Just was a visionary biologist who saw

that organisms are holistic systems with emergent properties that arise from their organization and complexity …

Only today, with powerful tools such as low-light, high-contrast optical-sectioning microscopy (Yuste and Konnerth, 2005), are we beginning to noninvasively image molecular activities and other events inside cells as they occur during development.

E. E. Just understood, long before such technologies were available, that treating the cell as a holistic system necessitates using methods that do not destroy its integrity. Today, as ecology and biological development, separated for a hundred years, are reunited under the auspices of Eco-Devo, we can celebrate the work and insight of Ernest Everett Just.

Science Direct

Stephon Alexander is also exploring relationships between disciplines:

“There is a conceptual connection between physics and music,” Alexander observes. “In composition or improvisation I see geometric parallels to physical laws like gravity, with the musician gravitating to or away from certain tonal tensions. I see geometry as a principle that governs physical law and also harmonic and rhythmic ideas in music, especially in jazz.

Dartmouth Now(emphasis mine)

In this Ted Talk he even demonstrates how John Coltrane’s Giant Steps can be related geometrically to quantum gravity and dna! As he notes in his presentation it might be  “a bit much”, however recalling the notion that Drummers Are Natural Intellectuals, perhaps it’s quite Natural.