Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

Quantum Physics and Music: Upward and Downward Causation


Greets friends. As I am wrapping up my November 2009 tour, I am actually feeling a sense of relief, and finding space to dig deep once again into creativity, meditation and life’s meaning.

While touring, I have to pay attention to mundane aspects such as driving, soundcheck, and playing the gig. 🙂

A thinker who I am very much enjoying lately is Dr. Amit Goswami. He was interviewed in the hit movie “What the Bleep” and has been a professor of physics at Oregon State University for 32 years.

He shares a view of history with us as to how, why and when a purely mechanical / material view of our universe came into being.

Apparently for scientists to have freedom they had to separate “mind and matter” so as not to step on the church’s toes. These are just a few of the insights and perspectives he offers into understanding our current thinking.

The big question of course is where does “consciousness” come into our life picture. Is it in the material universe, is it separate, and are events and things we see in fact solid and real?

Part 1 of 3 parts:

But that is only the beginning. I can’t possibly explain in detail what he talks about – so check it out for yourself.

What struck me in this series is his description of “upward causation” and “downward causation”.

Essentially the “upward causation” idea is evident in our universe that particles make atoms, which make molecules, which make elements and ultimately make our brain. So small particles build bigger bigger bigger – from the bottom up.

But what about the consciousness we experience? Where does it come from? Is it separate from the materials composing our brains & bodies? Does it precede it or follow it. Duh. Religion & philosophy 101, I know 🙂

Downward causation suggests that there is a higher reality, consciousness or God which precedes matter and that maybe the matter is even within that consciousness as a “possibility” that only seems real when we observe it. The idea of a God on a throne up high giving orders is a primitive idea, but scientific evidence is in fact showing that downward causation is real.

I considered what he was saying to see if it somehow applied to music.

What struck me is that music is more than the “assemblage” of notes built through upward causation. An unforgettable melody for example, is a perfect example of “downward causation”. Great composers regardless of genre experience this. That’s the melody being whispered in the ear, not a clever mind thinking of a melody.

“Groove” comes through downward causation too. Groove is an essence and feeling and come down from a higher, intuitive realm. You can’t build a groove that touches the soul through sheer mechanics, or metronome practice. And you can’t slap pitches together and hope that a good melody will be the result.

This also perfectly explains how a performance that touches the soul need not be technically perfect. With downward causation in music – even the simplest, least correct music can be a vehicle for emotional communication. Likewise, a technically perfect performance built through upward causation can lack the consciousness and communication that we wish to experience in a piece of music.

It is fascinating to see my musical ideals corroborated by quantum physics. It’s just so cool.

The expression “follow your bliss” now makes even more sense than ever.

Until next time…


Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

3 thoughts on “Quantum Physics and Music: Upward and Downward Causation

  1. lol one or two of the feedback folks write are so silly, time after time i wonder whether they honestly read the content pages and items before writing a comment or if perhaps they barely read over the title of the article and jot down the first thought that pops into their brain. anyhow, it’s useful to browse clever commentary from time to time instead of the same, old post vomit that i oftentimes notice on the web i’m going to enjoy a few rounds of zynga poker regards

  2. Pingback: How to Be A Visionary and Avoid Kryptonite « Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

  3. Yo major props man, I’ve been checking out Goswami’s work for a while and the paradigm he proposes, monistic idealism, is essentially the logic behind it all. I really dig your perspective on music, reasoning that downward causation is at play; such an insight of its dimensionality makes that muse all the more mellifluous. Kudos to you ; )

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