Thoughts on our Harmonic Universe and the Need for Social Harmony

In the Silmarillion, in a section entitled “Ainulindalë,” J.R.R. Tolkien has the Creator Eru Ilúvatar make the “Ainur” as the offspring of his thoughts, what we might call “angels.” [1]  These angelic beings have been given gifts of reason, harmony, and freedom. At the beginning of time, Eru Ilúvatar teaches them how to sing. Initially, they sing in harmony as Eru Ilúvatar reveals the “Great Music.”  The Great Music is lovely and has a theme of deep harmony and beauty. Unfortunately, Melkor, the most powerful of the Ainur, begins to sing louder and differently than the others in hopes of increasing his importance.

 This music introduced discordance into the music—a discordance that grows and becomes ultimately repetitive and violent. Ilúvatar finally arises and tells the Ainur: “No theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite.” [2] He then shows the Ainur the result of their music: the World amid the Void. To their surprise, the Ainur discover that by singing their melodies, they have created a habitation for the children of Ilúvatar, elves, and men, who were not present in the original theme. Finally, the Creator says, “Eä! Let these things Be!” and gives life to the model that the choir of the Ainur has shaped. [3] Thus, the history of Tolkien’s imaginary world begins.

Both Tolkien and C. S. Lewis developed creation mythologies that have musical themes. [4] One might think that this is accidental, but I think otherwise. Both were university professors, and both were probably familiar to at least some degree with both ancient Platonic philosophy and the discoveries of modern physics. Those familiar with this blog know that I believe the findings of contemporary physics have increasingly superseded a worldview we have accepted for 300 years and perhaps return us to a more classical worldview. Unfortunately, these discoveries have not yet informed our daily lives and the decision-making capacities of our leaders.

Physics and a Harmonic Universe

The beginning of the 20th century saw a revolution in physics as Relativity Theory replaced the Newtonian notions of Absolute Time and Space, and Quantum Physics developed a view of reality at odds with Newtonian materialism. From a physical perspective, quantum physics indicates that the ultimate reality (the “ultimate being” from a scientific point of view) is that particles are not material bodies but disturbances in a universal field. There are even physicists who believe that a fundamental reality is information. In the words of John Wheeler, “The ‘it’ is a’ bit’.” [5] However, fundamental reality is to be visualized, science no longer supports a purely materialistic approach to solving problems because reality is not fundamentally material.

By the 1020s, the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead recognized that matter, atoms, and subatomic particles of whatever kind were not matter. Rather, they appeared to be what Whitehead calls “patterns” or “vibrations” in a universal electromagnetic field, an emerging disturbance in an underlying field of potentiality. [6]

The idea of reality as being ultimately composed of patterns or vibrations almost automatically introduced the concept of harmonics into physics and metaphysics. This development was given additional emphasis by the development of what is called “String Theory.” Now, the “strings” of string theory are not physical strings like the strings of a guitar. They are one-dimensional objects existing in what physicists call “Hilbert Space.” The harmonics of these strings are not musical but mathematical. Not all physicists buy into string theory or the musical metaphor often used to support it. Furthermore, many quasi-New Age blather can be found on the internet using string theory to support musical explanations of the world that are themselves metaphors built upon a metaphor. Not much of it has a scientific basis.

And yet….

Edward Whitten, a professor of physics and mathematical physicist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, described String theory as follows:

String theory is an attempt at a deeper description of nature by thinking of an elementary particle not as a little point but as a little loop of vibrating string. One of the basic things about a string is that it can vibrate in many different shapes or forms, which gives music its beauty. If we listen to a tuning fork, it sounds harsh to the human ear. And that’s because you hear a pure tone rather than the higher overtones that you get from a piano or violin that give music its richness and beauty.

So in the case of one of these strings it can oscillate in many different forms—analogously to the overtones of a piano string. And those different forms of vibration are interpreted as different elementary particles: quarks, electrons, photons. All are different forms of vibration of the same basic string. Unity of the different forces and particles is achieved because they all come from different kinds of vibrations of the same basic string[7]

One of the proponents of the metaphor of music and string theory wrote recently:

That the world around us possesses musical attributes has been a preferred theme of philosophers and mystics since the early days of Western culture. The relationship has also been emphasized by highly regarded scientists, from Johannes Kepler, in the seventeenth century, to Edward Witten…. However, the exact nature of this relationship has been subjected to different interpretations through the centuries. For example, the mystical stance sustained by Pythagoras more than two millennia ago, concerning a musical universe, diverges substantially from that proposed by contemporary string theorists. Thus, even though string theorists claim, as many before them did, that their physical universe has something to do with music, their association is unique. It cannot be reduced to previous conceptions. [8]

This quotation shows that those who use a musical metaphor in connection with string theory are part of a long tradition recognizing the importance of music and its metaphorical application and explanatory power in various contexts.

A Pythagorean Interpretation of Reality

Those who support the harmonic interpretation of the universe normally begin with the thought of Pythagoras. According to Pythagoras, celestial music permeates the universe, which corresponds to a mathematical harmony. Pythagoras noticed the harmonious movements of the heavens and other harmonies that gave rise to his mystical, even religious belief in a harmonic universe. We human beings participate in their harmonic universe and can create discord in the universe as the divine harmony is warped by human behavior.

Pythagoras deeply influenced Plato. In the last part of the Republic, Plato introduced his own harmonious theory of the creation of the universe. [9] Specifically, Plato’s musical theory was both mathematical and idealistic. The musical harmony of the universe was an eternal and changeless reality in a world of pure thought, the world of the forms. For Johannes Kepler (1571-1630), a founder of modern science, there was an element of harmony between music and the universe. Kepler believed the universe was imbued with rational thought, a harmonic, though inaudible, music. Thus, Kepler believed the planets move in a mathematical cosmic harmony. For him, the idea of musical harmony of creation was not a metaphor. In his view, the universe’s harmony reflects the Trinity’s harmony. [10]

This notion of a harmonic connection to reality was not accidentally or idiosyncratically imported into physics; many of the founders of modern physics, from Einstein on, were musical and interested in music. [11] Brian Green, author of The Elegant Universe, has written:

Music has long since provided the metaphors of choice for those puzzling over questions of cosmic concern. From the ancient Pythagorean “music of the spheres” to the “harmonies of nature” that have guided inquiry through the ages, we have collectively sought the song of nature in the gentle wanderings of celestial bodies and the riotous fulminations of subatomic particles. With the discovery of superstring theory, musical metaphors take on a startling reality, for the theory suggests that the microscopic landscape is suffused with tiny strings whose vibrational patterns orchestrate the evolution of the cosmos. The winds of change, according to superstring theory, gust through an aeolian universe. [12]


Augustine quotes Cicero speaking through the voice of Scipio using a musical analogy as follows:

In the case of music for strings or wind, and in vocal music, there is a certain harmony to be kept between the different parts, and if this is altered or disorganized the cultivated ear finds it intolerable; and the united efforts of dissimilar voices are blended into harmony by the exercise of restraint. In the same way, a community of different classes, high, low, and middle, unites, like the varying sounds of music, to form a harmony of the different parts through the exercise of rational restraint, and what is called harmony in music answers to concord in a community, and is the closest bond of security in a country. And this is not possible without justice.  [13]

Social harmony requires social justice, and social justice is created when all the various components of society find their proper place and receive their due reward in a social concord that allows the society to prosper. This goes classes to include all of the elements of a functional society.

The idea that human society and ideals, such as justice, reflect a “bias for harmony” that is part of the created order intrigues me. Most of the time, the adjustments we make in societies, from the family onward, have to do with restoring or creating harmony in the social system. The metaphor of music that was attractive to Cicero and Augustine and the meditations of philosophers from Pythagoras and Plato onward lead some credence to this notion.  In addition, the idea of harmonics is part of a greater theory of morality and ideals as related to aesthetics, a concept that many people find attractive. The idea that the universe is somehow harmonic is worth exploring. If it is true, it is obvious that we humans are part of that harmonic universe.

The idea of harmony as being fundamental to reality comports with the notion that a sound social order is characterized by what the Jews called “Shalom” and what we often call “Peace.” Whatever one may say about the condition of modern society, and perhaps particularly Western society, there is a distinct lack of Shalom. Perhaps a concentration of rebuilding social harmony, as opposed to the politics of division and hate, would be a nice idea.

Copyright 2023, G, Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion (Boston, MA: Houghlin Mifflin, 1977).

[2] Id, at 17.

[3] This introduction was suggested to me by Andrej Strocaŭ, “The Music of Creation in Tolkien andLewis” in The Wheel  (2021) found at (Downloaded September 25, 2023).

[4] For Lewis, the analogy is found in his work, The Magicians Nephew which has been published as a part of the Narnia Series. C. S. Lewis, The Magicians Nephew (New York, NY HarperCollins; Reprint edition (March 5, 2002).

[5] See, Paul Davies, Niels Henrik Gregerse, Information and the Nature of Reality – From Physics to Metaphysics (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011). The term was coined by renowned physicist John Wheeler.

[6] A.N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York, NY: Free Press, 1925, 1967), at 132.

[7] Nova, The Elegant Universe “An Interview with Edward Witten” at (downloaded September 25, 2023). At this point, I must reveal that my mathematical abilities are not sufficient to understand String Theory in depth nor to understand fully its defenders and opponents.

[8] “The Music of Superstrings” Part I of IV at (downloaded September 25, 2023).

[9] One sad aspect of contemporary education is that contemporary students, unlike C. S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, do not study the classics. In my time, the study of the classics had fallen out of most academic curricula. I believe that the mathematical and musical interpretation of creation, suggested by their mythology, was deeply influenced by their familiarity with classical literature, especially Plato.

[10] “The Music of Superstrings” Part II of V.

[11] Id, at III of V.

[12] Michael Greene, The Elegant Universe 2nd Rev. Ed (New York, W.W. Norton Company, 2003).

[13] Cicero, On the Commonwealth tr. George Holland Sabine & Stanley Barney Library of the Liberal Arts, ed. (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1929), 183. Augustine studied and appreciated Cicero.

Constitution 14: Sixteenth Amendment, Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

I promised to return this fall to the series of blogs on the Constitution. Previously, I briefly examined the Constitution and Amendments 1 through 15. I stopped with the Civil War Amendments that dealt with ending slavery and its consequences.  Today, we come to the 16th Amendment. There is probably no amendment less popular among nearly everyone who pays taxes in the 16th Amendment, which made possible the living of income taxes on American citizens! It reads as follows:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

Despite being unpopular, there is probably no single constitutional provision adopted after the Civil War with more impact on American society and the emergence of the United States as a world power. Without the income tax, the modern welfare state, the participation of America in the two great World Wars of the 20th century, the creation of the military-industrial complex, the huge federal bureaucracy, and the position of America in the world would have been impossible. [1]

Reasons for Passage of the Amendment

During the years after the Civil War, the industrialization and urbanization of America, together with the expansion of the role of the United States of America in the world, created the need for additional federal income. Progressive groups especially felt that it was necessary to tax the wealthiest segment of society in a way that protected the interests of the poor and middle class. In 1894, Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff Act, which created an income tax provision of 2% on incomes of over $4,000 (equivalent to $135,951.63 in 2022 U.S. Dollars). [2]

During the Civil War, a similar tax was used to pay the expenses of the war. It was expected that the Supreme Court would use the same reasoning it had used in upholding the Civil War tax to uphold the income tax. [3] That was not the case. In 1895, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., holding unconstitutional Congress’s attempt the prior year to tax incomes uniformly throughout the United States. [4]

 Article I of the original Constitution gave Congress the general authority to “lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imports, and Excises.” For “direct” taxes, Article I provided that taxes must be collected based on the population of the states. Before an income tax was established, the majority of funds given to the federal government derived from tariffs on domestic and international goods.  [5] That is, citizens of Virginia could not be made to pay taxes greater than citizens of New York. Since an income tax taxes personal or corporate income, it was inevitable that the burden of an income tax would fall on wealthier states with wealthier citizens.  The Sixteenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, expressly provides that Congress has the power to collect an income tax without apportionment among the States and without regard to population. Thus, the Sixteenth Amendment creates an income tax exception to the requirement in Article I that direct taxes must be apportioned based on states’ population.

Interpretive Issues 

By its terms, the Sixteenth Amendment applies to “taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived.” The empowerment of the Sixteenth Amendment does not extend beyond “incomes” to property taxation or other forms of taxation not permitted by the Constitution. [6] Of course, the term income itself is not entirely clear, and there has been continuing subsequent litigation on what exactly constitutes income for the Sixteenth Amendment. [7] The basic holding of the Court was that: “Income may be defined as the gain derived from capital, from labor, or from both combined, including profit gained through sale or conversion of capital.” [8] This seems simple, but stock dividends and stock issued in reorganizations and the like, and other cases, raise difficult issues. [9]

Internal Revenue Code

Obviously, the nature of the income tax, corporate and individual, gave rise to the need for additional law and administrative interpretation.  The Internal Revenue Code embodies the lineal descendant of the income tax act passed in 1913 following ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment contains the basic tax laws of the United States. [10] The federal Internal Revenue Code is approximately 2,412,000 words long, and federal tax regulations are 7,655,000 words long. These numbers do not include the substantial body of tax-related revenue rulings and case law that is often vital to understanding the tax code. [11] This has resulted in calls for simplification.

Tax Resistance

Every so often, someone fails to pay their income taxes based upon arguments concerning the legality of the Federal income tax. The arguments vary. This blog will not cover all of them. In all cases, the courts have overwhelmingly supported the government against taxpayers making specious objections to the code and the income tax system created by the Sixteenth Amendment.

A common argument is that the Sixteenth Amendment is somehow invalid because it was not properly adopted. The courts have held that this argument is baseless. This argument is based on the premise that all federal income tax laws are unconstitutional because the Sixteenth Amendment was not officially ratified or because the State of Ohio was not properly a state at the time of ratification.  Unfortunately for those taking this position, the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified by forty states, including Ohio (which was confirmed as a state as of 1803). [12] Shortly thereafter, two other states ratified the amendment. Under Article V of the Constitution, only three-fourths of the states are needed to ratify an Amendment. More than three-fourths of states ratified the Sixteenth Amendment without Ohio to complete the number needed for ratification. After the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the income tax laws. [13] Since then, courts have consistently upheld the constitutionality of the federal income tax. [14]

 Some individuals want to believe that a religious objection to income taxes eliminates their duty to pay them. the Supreme Court held that the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such importance that religious beliefs in conflict with the payment of taxes provide no basis for refusing to pay, stating that “[t]he tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.” [15] We can safely assume that if religious objections were a valid basis to avoid taxes, America would become a much more religious nation.

Finally, some individuals have taken the position that taxpayers may refuse to pay federal income taxes based on religious or moral beliefs or on an objection to using taxes to fund certain government programs. Some of these persons mistakenly invoke the First Amendment and, often, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”). The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, freedom of speech and religious opinion do not extend to failure to pay taxes. The Sixteenth Amendment does not provide a right to refuse to pay income taxes on religious or moral grounds just because taxes are used to fund government programs opposed by the taxpayer or which violate a deeply held belief. It is also settled law that RFRA does not afford a right to avoid payment of taxes for religious reasons. [16] Once again, if personal moral or religious objections to certain programs or policies were to be a valid objection to paying taxes, there would be vast numbers of people (myself included) that would object to all or a part of the spending of the government. No government could possibly allow or survive such a rule.

Calls for a Wealth Tax

One issue of current importance is the call of some for a wealth tax to eliminate the great wealth disparities of our nation. The prior discussion shows readers that a wealth tax would be difficult to sustain. The Sixteenth Amendment avoided imposing restrictions on unapportioned taxes for income defined as incomes from whatever source derived. The Sixteenth Amendment would probably not support a Wealth Tax because such a tax is a tax on capital, not income. Additionally, a wealth tax likely would be considered an unapportioned direct tax and, therefore, unconstitutional. Some believe a wealth tax could be sustained based on an early Supreme Court decision in Hylton v. United States, which upheld a tax on the carriages for the conveyance of persons (an early excise tax on consumption transactions).[17]  In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co, the court took the view that Hylton sustained the carriage tax as a tax on the use and an excise.”[18] To validate a wealth tax, it would be necessary to overrule Pollock, a tactic urged by some. [19]


A discussion of the implications of the Sixteenth Amendment might take up millions of pages, as does the code and its interpretations. For now, it is enough to know that this one Amendment opened up a new taxation regime to fund an expansion of Federal power. It also created an entirely new area of the law that occupies thousands of lawyers, accountants, and others daily. Its importance cannot be overstated.

Copyright 2023, G. Christopher Scruggs, All Rights Reserved

[1] I would like to emphasize that this paragraph is not meant to indicate that the tax and the emergence of America as a world power were bad things. In fact, the reasons that progressive Americans gave for the adoption of the tax are as valid today as they were then. In fact, the emergence of the “super-rich” internationally gives reason to ponder the reasons for the adoption of the income tax and the potential application of those reasons today.

[2] Act of Aug. 27, 1894 9, § 27, 28 Stat. 509, 553 (1894).See, “Constitutional Amendments – Amendment 16 – “Income Taxes” at (Downloaded September 16, 2023).

[3] Springer v. United States, 102 U.S. 586 (1861).

[4] Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., 157 U.S. 429 (1895), on rehearing 158 U.S. 601 (1895). Both decisions are collectively referred to as “Pollock.”

[5] U.S. Contusion Art I, Section 8: The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;….

[6] Eisner v. Macomber 252 U.S. 189, 206 (1920).

[7] Id., at 207–08. The court adopted the view that “Income may be defined as the gain derived from capital,

from labor, or from both combined,” provided it be understood to include profit gained through a sale or conversion

of capital assets,….” In so holding, the court overturned an attempt to tax stock dividends where there was no realization of profit. The court continues to have to apply the term income in complex situations and the holdings of the court are not uniform. See for example, United States v. Phellis 57 U.S. 156 (1921); Rockefeller v. United States 257 U.S. 176 (1921); Marr v. United States 268 U.S. 536 (1925),  Miles v. Safe Deposit Co., 259 U.S. 247 (1922).

[8] Eisener v. Macomber, at 207.

[9] See for example, United States v. Phellis 57 U.S. 156 (1921); Rockefeller v. United States 257 U.S. 176 (1921); Marr v. United States 268 U.S. 536 (1925),  Miles v. Safe Deposit Co., 259 U.S. 247 (1922).

[10]  Internal Revenue Code 26 U.S.C. Title 26 (2018).

[11] Scott Greenburg, “Federal Tax Laws and Regulations are Now Over 10 Million Words Long”

(October 8, 2015) . (downloaded September 16, 2023)

[12] Bowman v. United States, 920 F. Supp. 623 n.1 (E.D. Pa. 1995). Congress has upheld the 1803 admission of Ohio. Five United States Presidents have been from Ohio, and its citizens have paid substantial income taxes.

[13] Brushaber v. Union Pacific R.R. 240 U.S. 1 (1916).

[14] Sochia v. Commissioner 23 F.3d 941 (5th Cir. 1994) Miller v. United States 868 F.2d 236, 241–42 (7th Cir. 1989) (per curiam), United States v. Stahl, 792 F.2d 1438, 1441 (9th Cir. 1986), United States v. Foster 789 F.2d 457 (7th Cir. 1986) Knoblauch v. Commissioner 749 F.2d 200, 202 (5th Cir. 1984).

[15] United States v. Lee 455 U.S. 252, 260 (1982), Jenkins v. Commissioner 483 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2007), United States v. Indianapolis Baptist Temple224 F.3d 627 (7th Cir. 2000), Adams v. Commissioner 170 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 1999), United States v. Ramsey, 992 F.2d 831, 833 (8th Cir. 1993), Wall v. United States 756 F.2d 52, 53 (8th Cir. 1985, United States v. Peister 631 F.2d 658 (10th Cir. 1980).

[16] United States v. Lee 455 U.S. 252, 260 (1982), Jenkins v. Commissioner 483 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2007), United States v. Indianapolis Baptist Temple224 F.3d 627 (7th Cir. 2000), Adams v. Commissioner 170 F.3d 173 (3d Cir. 1999) United States v. Ramsey 992 F.2d 831, 833 (8th Cir. 1993),Wall v. United States 756 F.2d 52, 53 (8th Cir. 1985), United States v. Peister 631 F.2d 658 (10th Cir. 1980), Salzer v. Commissioner T.C. Memo. 2014-188, 108 T.C.M. (CCH) 284 (September 15, 2014).

[17]  Hylton v. United States 3 U.S. (3 Dall.) 171 (1796).

[18] Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. 157 U.S. 429, 574 (1895).

[19] See, Greg Roselsky, “Is a Wealth Tax Constitutional?” Planet Money (December 17, 2023) (Downloaded September 16, 2023).