• Karsten Fundal
  • Entropia (2001)

  • Edition Wilhelm Hansen Copenhagen (World)
  • 4(2pic)(afl).4(ca).4(Ebcl)(2bcl).4(2cbn) (
  • SATB chor
  • Soprano, Baritone
  • 35 min

Programme Note

About Entropia

This orchestral work is chiefly an attempt to make a musical investigation into the complex question of the nature of time. The viewpoint taken, on a philosophical level, is chiefly inspired by the brilliant thinker and philosopher of time, J.F. Fraser. The main conclusion of his investigation of the subject, is, in very short, that the only adequate view to take of time as a phenomenon, with all the knowledge that we have today, is that time must be seen as a conflict or at least an interference, between many different “temporal levels”.

In the course of scientific history different discoveries have been made about the laws and consistency of our universe. These laws, taken as a whole, already exhibit conflicting principles seen from a temporal point of view.

Already the ancient Greek philosophers were aware of the fact that there seems to be “something” which is “timeless”, or somewhat eternal, and “something” which evolves, or is in motion, i.e. changing “in time”. Newton seemed to take the same standpoint too, and indeed this still holds, when we regard the Newtonian laws for themselves, which indeed still seems to be truths on their own scale.

Already here the first complication arises because: if “something” is timeless, and “some other thing” is evolving, is evolvement then eternal, that is moving or changing forever? And is the eternal eternal in relation to itself, so to speak outside time like Plato believed, or is it eternal only in relation to things changing or in motion? Difficult questions that the human mind seems to ponder at for eternity!

According to the scientists the most laws of physics, like Newton’s laws of gravity, Einstein’s relativity theories and Bohr’s quantum mechanistic theories all have in common that they are reversible in time; they work equally well backwards and forwards in time, and thus they don’t have what is called a preferred direction in time. This, nevertheless, doesn’t make these theories less able to tell some truths about the levels they work on.

An important theory, which does have a preferred direction in time, is the law of entropy or the second law of thermodynamics, which was discovered last century when experimenting with controlling a steam engine. This law is not symmetric in time, or at least in our concept of time. It has briefly the conclusion that a law in the universe, on all levels, exhibits the tendency of reaching a state of perfect equilibrium, where all partials, so to speak, move towards a complete even distribution in space.

The simplest picture of that law is to consider what happens when one drops a drop of milk into a hot or cold cup of coffee. After a while the milk is maximally evenly distributed, both temperature-wise and molecule-wise, in the coffee. This law does not make the other time-reversible laws less true, as far as we know. So there seem to be both a tendency of preferred and of non-preferred direction on the universe; a temporal and atemporal condition side by side.

Another phenomenon which complicate the nature of time in the physical world, is when we consider very extreme situations on an cosmological scale, like the big bang and black hole theory, for here it happens that when we use Einstein’s general relativity theory, that time seems to “bend” in the same manner as matter is “bent” in its travel through space when attracted by a larger object. This would be experienced if one was sucked into a black hole, or when travelling at a speed near the velocity of light!

This strange temporal phenomenon opens for the possibility that things do not always happen in the successive temporal order normally imagined but events might take place both in order and at the same time, or even on incomparable temporal levels.

Or just consider what implications it has when astronomers observe a supernova explosion. The light that we observe on Earth from such an event has already travelled maybe millions of years through space before reaching us, and therefore the explosion which did take place actually happened ages ago, maybe before mankind came into existence. Is the event then the one which happened so long ago or is it the light that we observe now, or both? The question of temporality becomes even more complex when we take into account the development of biological existence and the human mind, which Fraser rightly calls “the very complex”.

Here it seems that indeed a time related conflict exists, which Fraser calls existential tension. This is, in short, that the more complex a biological organism is, the more important it becomes that things happens in a certain temporal order, like getting food before digesting, sleeping when being tired, the heart beating in a steady pulse and so on. And when we move on to the human stage, the possibility of the awareness of one’s limited life span and memory enters along with expectation and disappointment. It furthermore seems that the more complex a biological existence becomes, the higher is the selection pressure it exerts on its environment, which the human kind seems to be the most intense proof of until now. This again results in that the environment responds to the selection pressure with repressure, which then “disappoints” the expected reward from the action performed by the subject exerting the selection pressure. This can be illustrated by what happens when and if a global ecological catastrophe happens as a result of our seemingly evolutionary desire to ease our lives and thereby increase the existential tension by expanding polluting materialism.

This biological conflict as a whole Fraser denotes as the conflict between the expected and the encountered, and is at the core of the existential tension taken together with the aforementioned awareness of one’s own decay and finality.

This conflict seems basically unresolvable, but then it seems that certain eastern philosophers attempt to resolve this conflict by creating another awareness above us on top of the abovementioned existential tension which is so identified with the expected and encountered. This attempt of resolution of the conflict is made for instance in Tibetan buddhistic tradition and the Japanese Zen tradition.

In these philosophies the whole universe as we see it, and therefore also one’s own existence, is seen as an illusion, and from that follows that time is also an illusion and therefore the existential tension and anxiety is self-created, and unnecessarily so. So when one stops expecting anything and fearing anything, the existential tension is resolved in the sense that it never existed, but was made up. At least it seems that certain people can raise themselves above the existential tension to a very high degree, like the Indian yogis who can live on virtually nothing.

This is certainly a privilege only available to a very few people in this world, and my personal belief is that this existential tension both exists and does not exists, just like the different apparently opposing “time evolvements” exist simultaneously in the physics. Therefore the only way to deal with this conflict is, so to speak, to dig into the nature of that same tension, facing the anxieties it involves but not expecting an “eternal reward”, as one cannot tell whether it will ever be attained.

It is thus my, admittingly very high, ambition, to exhibit this, seemingly, endless time paradoxes in a musical form, with help from different texts, but offering no eternal solution, as I do not see one.

- Karsten Fundal March 1998

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