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I Was Looking at the Ceiling And Then…

I have been completely sucked into the series currently running on Slate investigating the carvings inside Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland, and today’s installment asks a musical question:  “Are the chapel’s mysterious stone symbols a musical score?”

I’ve always associated the whole “amazing things in sand and sonic frequency” bit with the work of Alvin Lucier (and coincidentally, I just got a press release for a performance of his Queen of the South yesterday), but if you scroll through to the end of the Slate post, there’s a diagram laying out how the ornately carved ceiling of the chapel may actually read out as Chladni patterns, and therefore as a piece of music. I expect Dan Brown has already started writing his next installment. Meanwhile, check it out!

And here’s a neat demo of the phenomenon, if you’re unfamiliar:


  1. Perhaps the question is why evolutionary adaptations cause us to see beauty in physical phenomena like the auditory and visual effects of sine waves. And why do we then move beyond beauty and associate it with mystery and transcendence — with something much larger than ourselves? Is it some sort of complex neural reaction (probably involving feedback cycles where part of the output of neurons is returned to the same neurons and amplifies their responses) that causes us to perceive or cook up notions like God? Thank you for the interesting post. And please let us know if you get this all sorted out. 🙂

  2. I often catch a glimpse of religious impulse when I confront something super beautiful and stunningly complex. I’d never considered neural amplification before, but something must be tweaking me. I usually stop short of equating my sense of awe with a god I can speak to, but clearly lots of folks throughout history have not. It’s very different from Stephen Hawking’s equation of dead humans with broken computers, however, and he has probably seen and better understood some of the most beautiful and complex things in our world. No easy answers here, clearly.

    Meanwhile, this Slate series continue to carry my imagination along.

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