Chris McKitterick (mckitterick) wrote,
Chris McKitterick

Creative genius and science.

Fascinating. This is the oldest piece of music known to humankind, originally engraved in cuneiform on a tablet from 1400 BCE, excavated in the early 1950s in the ancient Syrian city of Ugarit. It is a hymn to the moon god's wife, Nikal. The tablets also contain detailed performance instructions for a singer accompanied by a harpist (this recording is harp-only) as well as instructions on how to tune the harp. From this evidence, Prof. Anne Kilmer and other musicologists have created this lovely piece of music:

(Found it via Tumblr, and it was never attributed to a source, but you can easily find lots of links by doing a quick search.)

Listening to this got me thinking: In the days when this was recorded in cuneiform on clay, mastery of anything was a form of magic. Only a genius could have created this piece or performed it, because they didn't have the same kind of rigorous science-based educational system. But since the advent of the scientific method and applying it to our educational system, we have learned how to partition masterpieces (art, music, stories, structures, and so on) into understandable components, analyze them, and reproduce the effect they create in the mind of the audience.

Click the image to see a page about the original cuneiform tablets.

Now anyone with sufficient interest and patience can learn the theory that once produced what we believed was actual magic, and with practice and a lot of effort can perform such a piece and maybe even come up with one that has a similar effect. It's like Hogwart's for everyone; we can all learn the magic, if we work hard enough at it. I suspect this is why creative genius today is so hard to pick out from a crowd of art - anyone can look like a genius. But it's also why we recognize true genius when we do encounter it.

Tags: hope for humanity, random cool stuff

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