Backward Process, Ice Cubes, and Music History

Aaron Brown and Paul Wilmott have concocted a thought experiment that is built on two processes.

The first process is to visualize an ice cube. Think of what the shape of the puddle will be over the course of two hours. If one puts in the work and uses the right models, it could be predicted with clarity how the puddle will form.

This is what these gentlemen call forward process: projecting into the future. Forward process can be seen in fields like Physics where tinkered models are used with a great degree of certainty. What is next is what will be of focus here.

The second process is to visualize said puddle. Think of what the shape of the ice cube was two hours ago. Now there are countless more possibilities of what this ice cube could have been. A puddle may look a certain way but that does not guarantee shape X.

Brown and Wilmott label this backward process. As the second process shows, such visualization is blurry, messy, and unpredictable. It can seem as frustrating as trying to un-crack an egg.

Perhaps that frustration is the point. What we have of a musician,his or her body of work, is the aforementioned puddle. Is the study of music history backward process? Would that, in turn, make it more futile to garner any certainty about what caused various musics to surface? Could music history be an accumulation of different factors that bring us closer to figuring the shape of the ice cube? And do we just forget that we will never be one hundred percent sure of the shape; that we can never be positive of what was exactly going on in Beethoven’s mental or personal life to write the music he did?

Maybe we need to keep reminding ourselves that backward process does not have the accuracy that forward process does.


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