What are some beautiful, rationalist sounds?

by AllAmericanBreakfast1 min read6th Aug 202114 comments

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I loved jacobjacob's post from which I've stolen the title, format, and some of the language of this post. The goal of this post is to build a comment section containing links to lovely music or other sounds, possibly along with lyrics or stories that highlight why it's directly connected to the theme of rationality.

Let's celebrate the Art of Rationality - this time, with a joyful noise!

Rules

  • Each comment should contain a link to a free recording, and a description.

The description should show why the music or sound is directly connected to the Art of Rationality. No bare links!

  • Recordings should be somehow relate to the Art of Rationality, as practiced on LessWrong.

Allowed: Einstein on the Beach; Songs of the Humpback Whale; AI-generated cyperpunk music; Getting Better by the Beatles.

Not allowed: Random techno; Beethoven's 9th symphony; music selected just because of how hypermodernist and dissonant it is; songs that happen to be titled "Rationality" but have no other obvious rationalist content.

These standards can be loose as long as the choice is well-justified! I expect that many pieces will need some creative interpretation to make the connection clear.

  • Recordings should be something you could appreciate independently of their connection to rationality.

Allowed: Pithopraka, a piece from the mathematical composer Xenakis's ouvre, inspired by the statistical mechanics of gases, that happens to be relatively accessible; radio emissions from all the plants in the solar system.

Not allowed: ST/10 by Xenakis, which is rather disorienting and harsh; The sound of a dialup modem; the theme song from Pinky and the Brain; podcast episodes and recordings of speeches; X-ray data from a black hole translated into sound.

Ideally, this is music that can benefit from focused attention, but could also be enjoyed playing in the background (perhaps on repeat, in the case of shorter clips). It should be at least a few minutes long.

  • Don't be a jerk, but do note if you think something is a major conflict with a virtue.

No need to be a pretentious music critic, but if a composer was writing an explicitly religious composition, or a singer is noted for their anti-science attitude, that's fine to point out.

I'm not certain if this will work as well as jacobjacob's original post, but I thought I'd give it a try!

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I keep a list of all content that has ever been used for Secular Solstice celebrations. It is very long and most of the things on it don't fit the narrower thing you're looking for here, but feel free to peruse it anyway.

I'm too tired / doing other things right now to make a case for everything on there that I think fits the bill, but here are a few:

Pale Blue Dot

Description I found somewhere else:

Brief audio recording of Carl Sagan describing the primary concept of his book Pale blue dot : a vision of the human future in space. In reflecting on the image of the Earth as a tiny speak he notes "that's us" that the Earth is "a mote of dust, suspended in a sun beam' and a "very small stage in a vast cosmic arena."

This but played over nice music (that I think was composed for the purpose).

Hymn to the Breaking Strain

A musical setting of Rudyard Kipling's poem of the same name. The poem is about the double-sided coin of human agency and human fallibility. My favorite stanza:

We only in Creation
(How much luckier the bridge and rail)
Abide the twin damnation—
To fail and know we fail.
Yet we - by which sole token
We know we once were Gods—
Take shame in being broken
However great the odds...

Cosmos

A choral setting of some Carl Sagan quotes. Pitch from the composer:

Mvt. 1 is about discovery ("Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known"),

Mvt. 2 is about beauty ("The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it, but the way those atoms are put together).

Mvt. 3 is about space at large ("If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.")

On a personal level, Carl Sagan has taught me how beautiful science and the universe can be, and that understanding something enriches the experience, but doesn't take away from the mystery that draws us to the big questions of life. He taught me that the sciences are beautiful; the natural world is elegant; and for such small creatures as we, the vastness is bearable only through love :)

The Circle

This song is about expanding moral circles of concern. I guess that's more of an EA flavor (and it was written by an EA) but I don't think that's out of scope.


And here are some other ones I might come back and make a case for later (not hyperlinked because you said no bare links):

  • Sogno di Volare
  • Her Mysteries
  • Seikilos epitaph
  • Uplift
  • You Were Born
  • The Wheel
  • Time Wrote the Rocks
  • Do You Realize
  • Landsailor
  • The Next Right Thing

These look amazing, I'm excited to listen to it. Thanks for a great contribution!

Tim Blais aka ACapella Science has a long list of science songs, which are musically as well as scientifically lovely.

Emergence of complex life from fundamental physics? Listen to Molecular Shape of You then Nanobot then Evo-Devo. CMB? Hamiltonians? There's a song for each, and several for gravity.

My only 'complaint' is that I remember these tracks better than the originals, which complicate singalongs.

If you're more in the mood for rap, Baba Brinkman has some good songs (although he's more inconsistent).

I think the quality is pretty proportional to recency, so I'll give blurbs for just his two most recent youtube videos:

Cloud Feedback is about uncertainties in estimating climate sensitivity to CO2, what the physical mechanisms are, and how we should update. Listen for the "hysteresis" rhyme.

Qubits is about how cool quantum computing is (pun intended). It is quite possibly the best public presentation of quantum computing I've seen, and was featured on Shtetl-Optimized.

In a similar vein, there's a bunch of symphony of science videos. These are basically remixes of random quotes by various scientists, roughly grouped by topic into a bunch of songs.

I'm really enjoying these :D

[I fixed your link; you used Markdown syntax but were in the WYSIWYG editor :)]

About 8 years ago, as I was in the transition of updating from music education to psychology and computer science (thanks to Rationally Speaking and LessWrong ♥️ ), I tried to make music with higher utility for a while before I started prioritizing paths with more potential social impact. I mostly explored for good ideas so most tunes are not fully formed yet. Also, I didn't polish them to a releasable quality, but now that I got distance from it I thought that maybe somebody here would enjoy some of the more promising attempts. 🙂 

 

♫ Tailwind Tale (<5min) (symphony orchestra) - No lyrics, I tried to capture the feeling of fruitful exploration.

♫ We don't know (30sec) - Explore to cope with reality and update motivation to have less self-deception.

Sip of Hair (<2min)- Reduce againstness (CFAR), take "outside view" and support each other to grow.

WOOP (1min) (Wish outcome obstacle plan) - Implementation intentions (CFAR TAPs) and mental contrasting.

Growth (5min) ( mix: more symphony orchestra,  sheet music) - Growth mindset and other LessWrong ideas.

 

Each tune has lyrics and some more designer notes in the dropbox comments if you're interested in that.

Feel free to give any feedback on better and worse parts. I might spend some free time polishing and updating some songs if somebody would appreciate it.

TWRP - Pale Blue Dot 

This is a song about cooperation from a super-skilled rock band that makes me want to dance and save the world.

I have been enjoying Daði Freyr's Somebody Else Now, a celebration of changing your mind and updating on new beliefs. It's a catchy euro-pop song, which means it regularly pops into my head unbidden. Normally this is a pretty serious downside, since a single line tends to loop indefinitely, but I've managed to regularly use the intrusion as a prompt to reaffirm my desire to change for the better. Overall, its main appeal is a genuine joy at the prospect of changing yourself that I find infectious.

His song Think About Things, which he wrote in anticipation of his first child, might also be enjoyed by rationalists. It conveys a sense of wonder at the prospect of another perspective coming into the world in a way that I personally find easy to extend beyond the parent-child relationship.

Playlist (YouTube, Apple Music) of tunes from various genres with mostly reasonable lyrics, but as you say one might need to steel woman & make some creative interpretation to make the connection clear. There are better ways to boost motivation, but listening to these songs for a while serves as a complementary source of motivation on days when I need it. 🙂

Some sneak peeks:

  • The tune 'Be Real' has lyrics "Sometimes I doubt the words you say. I forgot what you need, you forgot what I feel, I just want to be real with you." -  Scout Mindset, Seeking sensibility (CFAR)
  • 'Brave' e.g. the clever lyric "show me, how big your brave is" (a pun on brain 😉) which I relate to Scout Mindset since it is brave to have a process of leaning into confusion and do comfort zone expansion.
  • 'Daydreaming' e.g. "Dreamers they never learn ... we are just happy to serve you" - Service Orientation
  • 'Stronger' e.g. "I want to be strong for you" - Grow because you have Something to protect
  • 'Grow as we Go' e.g. "I am unfinished, I've got so much left to learn ... but I'd like some company through every twist and turn" -  Test yourself in fire, with self-compassion and compassionate support.
  • 'Both Sides Now' e.g. "they shake their heads and tell me I've changed. Well something is lost, and something is gained" - Change, ditch the word "hypocrite"
  • 'Golf on TV' e.g. "some people think it's supposed to hurt, like it couldn't be real if it is putting you first" - Bucket Errors, decoupling.
  • 'Come Alive' e.g. "take a world and redefine it, leave behind your narrow mind, you'll never be the same" - Reduce bias, original sight, update.
  • 'A million dreams' e.g. "I think of what the world could be, a vision of the one I see ... run away to a world that we design" - World modeling
  • 'What if' e.g. "How do I know a wish should stay a wish?" -  Prioritizing
  • 'Doin' it right' because "doing it right ... feeling it right". - Instrumentally,  feeling/motivation with less self-deception.
  • 'Might Quit' e.g. "It's the first day of school and I think I might quit, because the things I've been seeing here don't make sense." - The case against education, the elephant in the brain.
  • 'Don't Give Up' e.g. "Don't give up, you know it's never been easy ... because I believe there is a place where we belong' - Self-efficacy, belonging to community.

Sentries is dedicated to a hypothetical asteroid watch:

Humans are hotheads, who break the rules...
Humans are hotheads, but not quite fools—
Therefore we fly, keeping an eye Turned to the depths of the borderless sky.

Some of us people, the rest machines —
Sensors, computers, and read-out screens —
Always aware, with infinite care,
That we're the first warning if anything's there

(per Toby Ord it's probably better not to build tech that can redirect large impactors, but looking for them is a good idea)

Thomas Bergersen - One Million Voices

I shared this song on Facebook awhile back and a fellow rationalist commented: "When the first person is woken from cryosleep, this is what I want playing."

The song is a soaring roaring celebration of humanity and a great reminder of what it is we all must protect.