Brian Cox and the meaning of music
There is a deep irony in the news that Brian Cox's TV series, Wonders of the Universe, is being re-edited because the orchestral background music is so loud some viewers can't hear what's being said. It's an irony written into the title of the show.
At the start of the second programme, Cox is filmed on the banks of a holy river amidst Hindus attending to their dead. He notes that Hinduism, along with other religions, has a story to tell about people's origins and the meaning of their lives. Only, that story is flawed. He has a deeper story to tell. 'The path to enlightenment is not to understand our own lives and deaths,' he intones, 'but to understand the lives and deaths of the stars.'
He then proceeds to describe how the elements in our bodies are made from the explosive death of stars. Which is true. Only that's not nearly enough to deliver on the enlightenment promise at the top. That would be like saying the meaning of Michelangelo's David can be found in the quarry where the marble came from.
So, to add the meaning to the cosmology - to deliver the experience of wonder about the universe - the film is packed with cinematic computer graphics, Cox himself wistfully gazing, and the music. And I would argue that it's the graphics, gazes and music that delivers the meaning, not the stark fact that carbon is stardust.
Science of itself does not do the meaning part. Only a human interpretation of the science can achieve that. But to do so, the interpretation must make raids on the language of values and metaphysics. It needs the beauty of colour and the harmonies of music - qualities which, of themselves, again are unknown to physics as physics.
The irony is that whilst Cox wants to persuade us of his new cosmological enlightenment, he needs music to make it sound plausible. But the music must be loud to cover the silence of the science - so loud, in fact, that viewers can't even hear the physics.