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TONGUES OF FLAME #4-STRING THEORY
“String Theory” is the 4th installment in the “Tongues of Flame” series. This number has related connotations in the cosmologies and intellectual traditions of a variety of cultures across the globe. In indigenous American cultures, this is the number of the cardinal directions, the primary reference points of the consensus reality. In the European Hermetic tradition, four is associated with the fundamental aspects of the material world, the four classical elements: earth, air, fire and water. In the Tarot, four is the number of The Emperor, of the material world as the product and object of consciousness; analyzed, penetrated, manipulated by and reflected in Mind. In Hebrew tradition, four is the number of the Manifested Divine Will. In science, four is the number of the known dimensions: height, width, depth, and time, and the four known forces of nature. It seems appropriate, then, that this guitar’s imagery should be concerned with the material world, with science, with mind, and with time.
This particular instrument’s biography is also significant in the choice of imagery. This guitar was a first (electric) guitar, a gift to the musician from his grandmother. This individual, in addition to being a considerable musical talent, is a scholar and an alchemist who has gone on to develop dazzling ability as a producer and sound engineer. It seems appropriate, therefore, that the guitar’s symbolism deals with origins and development, application and theory, and the nature of sound.
Finally, this guitar is the first of the series to go out into the world to a new owner. It therefore follows that its subject matter should be general in nature, propounding universal themes and catholic imagery, as opposed to the personal mythologies that form the narrative focus of all other “Tongues of Flame” works to date.
The title of the guitar, “String Theory” is a reference to the current world-view of science, and to the idea of the guitar as a model and manifestation of the most basic forces that shape reality. In the beginning was not the Word, but the Note, and the voice of the guitar (and by extension, all stringed instruments), is in some sense an echo of Omkara, the Music That Sustains the Spheres.
The concept of string theory, radically simplified, is the idea that the fundamental structures of reality are a variety of “string”, the vibrations of which produce the patterns that we perceive as sub-atomic particles and energy. In the words of Daniel Green, a professor of physics and of mathematics at Columbia University and a leading string theorist;
“The fundamental particles of the universe that physicists have identified—electrons, neutrinos, quarks, and so on—are the "letters" of all matter. Just like their linguistic counterparts, they appear to have no further internal substructure. String theory proclaims otherwise. According to string theory, if we could examine these particles with even greater precision—a precision many orders of magnitude beyond our present technological capacity—we would find that each is not pointlike but instead consists of a tiny, one-dimensional loop. Like an infinitely thin rubber band, each particle contains a vibrating, oscillating, dancing filament that physicists have named a string.
Although it is by no means obvious, this simple replacement of point-particle material constituents with strings resolves the incompatibility between quantum mechanics and general relativity (which, as currently formulated, cannot both be right). String theory thereby unravels the central Gordian knot of contemporary theoretical physics. This is a tremendous achievement, but it is only part of the reason string theory has generated such excitement
String theory proclaims, for instance, that the observed particle properties—that is, the different masses and other properties of both the fundamental particles and the force particles associated with the four forces of nature (the strong and weak nuclear forces, electromagnetism, and gravity)—are a reflection of the various ways in which a string can vibrate. Just as the strings on a violin or on a piano have resonant frequencies at which they prefer to vibrate—patterns that our ears sense as various musical notes and their higher harmonics—the same holds true for the loops of string theory. But rather than producing musical notes, each of the preferred mass and force charges are determined by the string's oscillatory pattern. The electron is a string vibrating one way; the up-quark is a string vibrating another way, and so on.
Far from being a collection of chaotic experimental facts, particle properties in string theory are the manifestation of one and the same physical feature: the resonant patterns of vibration—the music, so to speak—of fundamental loops of string. The same idea applies to the forces of nature as well. Force particles are also associated with particular patterns of string vibration and hence everything, all matter and all forces, is unified under the same rubric of microscopic string oscillations—the "notes" that strings can play.”
The images on the back of the guitar all relate, in one way or another, to this theme of archetypal musical string, as it is exemplified in mythology, in metaphysics, in science, in history, and in the development and dissemination of stringed instruments, in particular. Like any good current model of reality, its effects are entirely relative. The story or associations evoked depend on the direction(s) in which the images are traversed by the eye.
Perhaps the simplest level to start with is the historical, which traces milestones in the development of the guitar through time. The stump filled with vibrating water at the base of the guitar serves (in this regard), as a reference to mythical or prehistoric time as a kind of chronological threshold for the story being told, an “In the beginning” from South American indigenous mythology. Dancing in ecstasy just above the surface hangs the “small sorcerer with a musical bow”, one of several composite creatures found in Les Trois-Frères Cave in the Ariège in southern France. The figure has both human and animal characteristics, and at 17,000 years old, is considered by many scholars to be the oldest representation of a stringed instrument in human history. He dances as a shaman among the Sons of Tate (to Whom we will return later), exemplifying the early use of stringed instruments as a means of contact and communication with the world of the Spirits, and an interface between the chronological narrative and the spiritual that we will explore later.
The figures of Anubis & Thoth play an Egyptian bow harp, and a Mesopotamian lyre, respectively. Both instruments date to ca. 2,500 b.c. That Thoth, who is the Greek's Hermes, is handing a turtle shell lyre to Apollo is a reference to Greek myth, wherein Hermes makes the 1st lyre out of a turtle shell as a gift to Apollo, the God of music. Significantly, the kissar
is an ancient north African stringed instrument actually made of tortoise-shell, and may represent the ancestor of all modern guitars.
The second symbolic theme, the development of models of reality, is constructed from the center of the back of the guitar outward, represented by three concentric rings of tile work.
The first circle of tile work consists of the plates of the turtle’s shell. This image represents the mythical or archetypal view of reality, embraced by most indigenous cultures as well as by the root civilizations of Western European tradition, in which the structures and patterns of the material world were seen as expressing an underlying spiritual and ethical aesthetic, something essentially deeper and larger than the merely human, in which man participates, and can appreciate, but is ultimately not the master or the maker of.
`The second circle consists of a tile work pattern devised by 16th century German mathematician Johannes Kepler. The tile work is periodic, meaning that it is possible to predict from any portion of the pattern what the remainder will look like, and that the pattern repeats itself across space at regular intervals. The imagery of this pattern, with uniform stars nestled in an endlessly repeating network of rational shapes, is a lovely metaphor for the emergence of the rational, or scientific, world view. It is this perception of a clockwork universe, the product of linear, predictable processes, which forms the heart of the scientific model of reality, as it emerged from the minds of Kepler and his peers; men like Newton, Galileo, Brahe and Copernicus. Their universe was rational, comprehensible if not completely comprehended, with uniform laws that resulted in endlessly repeated patterns across the scale of objects and phenomena. It was this model of reality which gave rise to the technological civilization of Europe, which would dominate human thought for half a millennium
`The outermost circle is formed of Penrose tiles. These tiles are named after their inventor or discoverer, Sir Roger Penrose, a leading quantum theorist and mathematician. Penrose tiles are aperiodic, meaning that the pattern is repeated randomly, if at all, across infinite space, and that it is not possible to predict, on the basis of any portion of the pattern, what the remainder will look like. This image is a perfect metaphor for the emergence of the post-rational view of reality predicated by modern physics, a model of reality embracing the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, Einsteinian Relativity, and Chaos Theory. In this model of reality, the greatest precision science can achieve in its description of the world around us is a prediction of probabilities, a fuzzy universe forever being defined by the act of observation, a universe in which reality has proven not only to be stranger than we have imagined, but possibly even stranger than we can imagine.
A third layer of symbolic imagery occupies the central column of the guitar back. This symbolism revolves around the cord or string which links the body to the soul, and the soul to its source and its destination. The roots of this imagery run deep in the mythology of cultures the world over, on every inhabited continent. It is expressed here in the images of the Sons of Tate, the Four Sacred Directions, from Lakota mythology, William Blake’s Urizen, the God of Boundaries and Limits, the Fates from Greek mythology, and Maui, from Polynesian myth.
The Four Directions are depicted as sun-dancers, the cords which tether them to the ceremonial tree are transformed into the strings of the kissar, in this instance an emblem of the living earth. The tension of these cords, experienced by the conscious mind as pain or resistance, determines the tonal range of the instrument, just as the experience of pain tethers us to the world, and determines the possibilities of our expression in it. The dancers represent the possibilities of will and self-determination, the movement of the Spiritual Cord from its lower, or immanent tether point. The Dancers are also a reference to a Lakota prophecy, endorsed by Grandfather Archie Fire Lame Deer, that there will come a prophet, also known as Tate, who will teach mankind how to heal with sound.
Above them kneels Urizen, a figure Blake saw as a fundamental principle of reality, the Law of Limitation. He is posed as in Blake’s original print “Urizen Measuring the Void”, only now the points of his calipers serve to determine the degree of tension on the sun-dancer’s cords. He is Divine Necessity, the movement of the Spiritual Cord from its upper or transcendent end. He kneels in the midst of a sphere of eyes, representing the transcendent seat of Consciousness, the place “Where What Is Willed Is Done”. (The single eye in the turtle shell represents the possibility of Immanence in the material world, while the eyeless surface of the water pooled below represents the initial phase of manifestation, as yet unaware and untempered by incarnation. The juxtaposition of the cieba-stump water and the troubled sea in which Maui fishes above locate the subject of the mural as that of the consensus reality and its components, between the waters below and the waters above).
Emerging from the Primum Mobile behind Urizen stand the Three Fates: Clotho, Atropos, and Lachesis, the Spinner, the Measurer, and the Cutter of the thread of life. Their position behind the abstract Principle of Limitations implies a doctrine of individual fate as potentially transcendent of the universal forces which compel this reality, notwithstanding the very real limitations imposed on the individual lifetime by its context in the material world.
The final figure on the guitar back is that of Maui, depicted at the seminal moment in Polynesian myth when, with a fishing line woven of his own hair, and the hei-ma-tau, a magical fish-hook fashioned from his grandmother’s jawbone, he fishes the island named after him up from the depths of the primordial ocean. In this context he represents the motive and mechanism of evolution, “The Great Work” of universal redemption, toward which all creation continually strives.
Finally, the front of the guitar contains an image of the artist in the act of producing Pneuma, fanning the spark of the Ohm into the substance of the stars. This image is itself a prayer, a blessing, a magical act; a recapitulation of the act of offering up this artwork into the material world in the intention of creating a lasting and enlightening contribution to the Great Work.
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