The Ludwig Wittgenstein's “Tractatus logico-philosophicus
,” published in English in 1922 under the guidance of Bertrand Russell, is widely recognized as one of the main post-kantian approaches devoted to explore the possibilities of human knowledge of natural world (Wittgenstein, 1921
). In its theorem 4.0141, Wittgenstein compares music scores and gramophone (DVDs, in our times) with music.
In the fact that there is a general rule by which the musician is able to read the symphony out of the score, and that there is a rule by which one could reconstruct the symphony from the line on a gramophone record and from this again—by means of the first rule—construct the score, herein lies the internal similarity between these things which at first sight seem to be entirely different. And the rule is the law of projection which projects the symphony into the language of the musical score. It is the rule of translation of this language into the language of the gramophone record.
The order and qualities of the musical notes in the score, the grooves' irregularities in the gramophone record, in summary, the “language” from which music might be reproduced, is not music, but has an internal similarity with music. Much longer before the discovery of the genetic code, the Wittgenstein's theorem 4.0141 recalls the main structural feature of living organisms. The process of reading the score (genetic language), produces music (life); conversely, music can be converted, translated, by a “law of projection” into a musical score, and from this again music might be reconstructed. Without internal similarities, these transitions between series of objects “that at first sight seem to be entirely different” should be simply impossible.
Interestingly in music, as in life, the description of “what is said” beyond the individual sounds is obscure. As the classic question of Erwin Schrodinger what is Life? The question: what is Music? refuses precise answers. No propositions are transmitted by music to describe clear and distinct facts, able to be thought (logically considered) by human mind. There is, as in genetics, a certain “arithmetic order” of notes that is required to produce obscure final effects. In Leibnitz words: “exercitium arithmeticae occultum nesciendis se numere animi” (Leibnitii epistolae, collectio Kortholdi, ep. 154), that is, music is as an unconscious arithmetic's exercise in which mind do not know what is being counted.
Maybe one of the difficulties of thinking life using linguistic structures is the fluid, dynamic nature of life. Languages, music score or genetic-genomic sequences, are essentially static. A book, or a musical score, or a genome sequence can be indefinitely stored without any alteration, and even more, without producing any effect (except covering a small parcel of physical space). On the contrary, speech, music, or life, are essentially dynamic; without movement they ceases existing. The fact that linguistic structures “contain” potential dynamicity does not make them dynamic at all; indeed they are practically nothing by themselves. The key-fact is that between languages and dynamic phenomena an interpretative intermediary should be interposed. The music score gives rise to music only if interpreters are available, musicians (four in a string quartet) able to read the language and converting it into sounds. Indeed a music score has an ordered internal structure, for instance following the rules of harmony, but, at first sight, we could conclude that in the absence of correct interpretation, a music score cannot be differentiated from a random sequence of notes.
Let us now imagine an out-of-Earth scientist examining a music score. He has no idea about notes, instruments, or sounds, even about the existence of music at all. Probably he will be able to differentiate a music score from a random sequence of notes. Some notations (notes) are preferentially linked to other ones, some conserved and iterated sequences are recognizable, the role of black and white notes seems not identical, some occur more frequently than others when accompanying the name a particular instrument (unknown). The note's frequency per decimeter of score apparently depends on some mysterious words at the margin as “Andante scherzoso quasi alegretto,” that nevertheless might provide a “living equivalent.” He could conclude that the musical score has a linguistic structure, potentially leading to an unknown type of dynamic behavior. If the out-of-Earth scientist could had access to a high number of different scores, he could even trace different schools, authors, influences, even a history of this unknown language—and probably he will not be much far from reality. In summary, an analytical “science” of this language could be built, and that in the total absence of knowledge about the nature of music.
Now note that the mirror process of analysis is also possible. In that case our second out-of-Earth scientist is observing the performance of a music group playing the Schubert's Piano Trio in B flat, D. 898. Unfortunately, he does not know about the existence of music, as he is unable to hear any sound, but he is able to distinguish the keys, bows, and strings of the different instruments and he can precisely record any movement of the player's arms and fingers on these structures. A representation of these movements during time should produce something similar to the musical score of the Piano Trio. Indeed the precise record of these movements might substitute the musical score, and when applied to the instruments should reproduce the music. As in the previous case, a collection of this type of records could lead to tracing schools or authors, or a history, or even a science of this language—without knowing what music is at all.
But we can also conceive a third out-of-Earth scientist, able to hear the sounds and to correlate them with the instruments and the movements of the players. It might well happen that the scientist could perceive the separate sounds, but he is either unable to link them in his mind as significant ensembles (melodies), or the sounds are so different in his brain than in ours, that our harmony is totally useless for his sensibility, and out of any esthetical possibility. As in the previous cases, this scientist could be able to study the history of music, without understanding at all what music is.
The essential is to discuss if a particular sequence of written musical notations, or sounds, or hands and finger movements, has only the meaning of “music” when understood by a particular type of sensibility. Even more: we can replace the “out-of-Earth” scientists by musicians, which will be able to reproduce the music without knowing anything about its nature, and without experimenting any of the effects that music might cause in the appropriate sensibility. They are in a “Chinese room” situation, in which the (considered to be intelligent) intermediate within the closed room receives below the door messages in an unknown language, but accordingly to a set of rules, he is able to produce responses in the same unknown language (Searle, 1984
). It is obvious that the music score, or the genome sequence, is totally unaware of its function in the process of life, and the same is true for other possible intermediaries, for instance, involved in protein translation. In the words of Sydney Brenner, “genomes do not contain in any explicit form anything at a higher level than genes” (Brenner, 1999
), or, paraphrasing Leibnitz when describing monads, “genomes do not have windows.”
Therefore, neither from the outside, in which life can only be shown (and even that, without certitude), nor from the inside (life is invisible for life-determining structures), life seems to be thinkable. “We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all. Of course there is then no question left and just this is the answer” (Theorem 6.52). In other words, the answer is that to ask ourselves for the meaning of life is a false question, that is, there is nothing to think about. “For an answer which cannot be expressed the question too cannot be expressed” (6.5). And, as stated in the last sentence of the Tractatus, “Where of one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent” (6.54). The main interest of the “score of life” metaphor is probably that both life and music can be shown (as something that seems to impose a reality), but not thought (we cannot say anything about its reality), as the genomic sequences or the musical scores are mere representations of these obscure realities.