© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Invisible World Has A Funky Fresh Beat

Nigel John Stanford/YouTube

How much do you think you are missing right now — in this very moment, as you sit reading these words? How much of the world's grace and power do you think is cascading around you unseen like a swift, invisible river?

Most of it.

The world we see and hear and touch comprises just a few pages in a very long book. But that book is, ultimately, not written in vision, hearing or feeling. It's written in the secret language of relationship and quantity. It's written in the language of math. But the greatest secret is that within mathematics there is a kind of beauty that can make you weep, or stir you to rapture.

I know, I know — some of you will think I'm tripping. But I'm not. I can prove it to you. All I ask is that you take five minutes and check out the remarkable funky rhythms of Nigel John Stanford and his cymatic explorations in this video:

Cymatics is the science of visualizing sound. What New Zealand musician Stanford does in his cymatic experiments, however, is itself an art form. Using a variety of methods, he and his team make the complex spatial patterns generated by his own music visible — and it's a feast for all the senses.

But, most important of all, the amazing patterns you see in the video are already fully described by the mathematical physics inherent to acoustics. Some of my most cherished moments as a student came when I was calculating, in glorious detail, the oscillatory response of a circular membrane to a sudden impulse (i.e. what happens when you smack a drum head).

So, when you watch the video and see web-work patterns driven onto undulating surfaces, or beats turned into expanding water spirals, remember that you're seeing mathematics made manifest. What you're seeing already existed before the music even started, because it first existed as mathematical relations that have always existed and have always been true. And the invisible mathematical relations guiding the sounds you see in the video are everywhere! They're present in the radio waves your cellphone depends upon and they are the heartbeat of the tides sweeping each day around the Earth.

So, the message of this day is simple. The invisible world is all around us — and it is more beautiful than we can imagine.

You can keep up with more of what Adam is thinking on Facebook and Twitter: @adamfrank4.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Adam Frank was a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. A professor at the University of Rochester, Frank is a theoretical/computational astrophysicist and currently heads a research group developing supercomputer code to study the formation and death of stars. Frank's research has also explored the evolution of newly born planets and the structure of clouds in the interstellar medium. Recently, he has begun work in the fields of astrobiology and network theory/data science. Frank also holds a joint appointment at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, a Department of Energy fusion lab.