Perishing lack of algebraic technique

When I was young, I learnt the violin from a teacher who was a great fan of the playing of Ruggiero Ricci, and not of the most famous violinist of the time, Yehudi Menuhin. I remember one of his comments on Menuhin, though I don’t remember the context: “Perishing lack of bow technique”. No doubt he would have used a stronger word if there wasn’t a child present. Now it seems to me that a great many famous physicists suffer in a similar way from a “perishing lack of algebraic technique”. Of course, this is a minority view, and most people are quite happy to accept the playing of Yehudi Menuhin without making a critical appraisal of his bow technique.

If your violin playing is larded with plenty of continuous (geometrical) vibrato (of the wave-function) and portato (of the mixing angles), the listener may be carried away with the beauty of your playing, but be unable to distinguish the elementary particles (notes) of the music, or distinguish between up bows and down bows (spins). You may be an expert at prestidigitation of the left hand, but if you haven’t got the right hand (algebraic) bow techniques of flying spiccato and the rest, you’ll never be able to play like Paganini, and you’ll never be able to distinguish all the discrete quantum states.

A discreet spiccato that distinguishes between up and down bows when crossing strings (from left to right or right to left) is a sine qua non of violin playing. Those violinists who think that the difference between up and down bows is a mere matter of convention (and I know quite a few violinists who do seem to think this!) do not understand the violin. Those string theorists who think the strings vibrate of their own accord are in complete denial of the fact that without the algebraic technique of the bow, there would be no music of the violin (or of the spheres). They should take a few lessons in bowing from the algebraic masters of the art.

7 Responses to “Perishing lack of algebraic technique”

1. Robert A. Wilson Says:

Unlike many musical instruments, which have a helicity but not a chirality in the physical sense, playing the violin is distinctly chiral. If you want to understand the difference between left-handed and right-handed spin in physics, therefore, ask a violinist.

2. Robert A. Wilson Says:

For complete disclosure, I should reveal that I did meet Ruggiero Ricci, but never met Yehudi Menuhin. I also met Henryk Szeryng in the interval of a concert at which he had played a concerto, and my teacher was playing in the orchestra, when I was about 10. He introduced himself to me, so I politely introduced myself in return. Apparently this was a huge joke in the orchestra for weeks afterwards. And, apparently, it was not at my expense, but his. I wonder if history might be about to repeat itself.

3. Robert A. Wilson Says:

It is really quite unbelievable how many people know about the supposed magical qualities of a Stradivarius violin, but almost nobody knows about the importance of a good bow, or knows the name of Tourte. In the same way, physicists glorify geometry, and forget that without algebra, there is no geometry.

4. Robert A. Wilson Says:

While on the subject of violins, I should probably write on the subject of GUT strings.Traditionally, the G, D and A strings are GUT, with physical gauges G2, D3 and A4. The gauge D3 or SU(4) is also available as A3, and is usually called the Pati-Salam model, but these manufacturers also make the short and long parts of G2, usually called left-handed and right-handed SU(2). The gauge A4 or SU(5) is called Georgi-Glashow, who also make D5, that is SO(10). There are plenty of other gauges for D and A which are popular, but problems start to arise if you try to make E strings out of GUT. There are attempts at E6 and E8 gauges, but these strings always seem to break when you try to play them, or even just tune them.

That’s why modern (heterotic) E8 strings are made of metal. But heterotic strings don’t play any tunes, because there is no bow to play them with. Apparently there are 10^500 different possible tunes, but no-one can decide which one to play.

If I may make a suggestion: first take your E8 strings out of the packet, where they are coiled up in hidden extra dimensions, and stretch them out to their full length. Then break the symmetry by fitting your strings onto a violin, and tune them to the music of the spheres. When I say tune, the E-string needs fine-tuning to the anthropic environment, so your violin will need a fine-tuner (also called an adjuster on this side of the Atlantic). Then get a bow, so you can connect your violin with the audience. Then get a book of tunes from the local cosmology and astronomy shop. Then start to play. You’ll be amazed at how much gravity you’ll be able to find in a humble fiddle. And don’t bother with old-fashioned GUT, simple nylon fibre is all you need.