The Pseudoscience of Rock


Last week the number crunchers at Overthinking It produced this chart correlating the production of oil with creativity in rock. According to "The Hubbert Peak Theory of Rock, or, Why We’re All Out of Good Songs,” rock creativity topped out relatively soon after U.S. oil production (at least in the lower 48 states) – at least according to Rolling Stone's list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Based on the assumption that Rolling Stone's collective critics know whereof they picked, it's a depressing chart that penalizes new music simply for being, well, new. On the other hand, they don't call it "classic rock" for nothing. And those early rock hits were all originally released on vinyl, which is made from oil, so...

Underwhelmed by this coincidence, I poked around for other unorthodox musical indicators. According to the Wave Principle developed by Socionomic Institute Executive Director Robert R. Prechter, society's general mood causes trends in popular music that are also reflected in the stock market. As this clip from the institute's self-produced movie, History's Hidden Engine, indicates, a positive social environment leads to happier, more upbeat sounds. So the pop, bubble gum, and British invasion sounds that followed the market's rise in the late sixties gave way to the hard rock, heavy metal, and punk rock of the late seventies when it declined. Pop, disco, and dance music rose during the eighties and nineties and, presumably were replaced by hard rock, gangsta rap, and emo after the downturn of 2002.

The Socionomic Institute argues that all aspects of society are in accord with the Wave Principle, which follows a fractal model. "This is not a coincidence," says Prechter. "This is the entertainment industry giving the public what it wants, when it wants it." People want to wear colorful clothes, shake their booty, and buy stocks in good social mood. When things are grimmer, like now, not so much.

The slightly weird part is how the Wave Theory aligns with late psychdelic guru Terence McKenna's Timewave Zero. Inspired by a meeting with a remarkable mushroom, McKenna's theory is based on the I Ching and postulates that a steadily increasing rate of novelty, either on Earth or in the space-time continuum as a whole, will eventually reaching a singularity of infinite complexity in December 2012. And as many current 2012 hucksters realize, that's snake oil you can take to the bank.

The Socionomic Institute also believes anti-drug laws in the US tend to coincide with high share prices, and legalisation with low -- good news for the legalize-it crowd. Alcohol was legalized just as the Depression bottomed out and, according to Socionomics researcher Euan Wilson, "The current mood is very similar to the 1930s." We look forward to the screwball comedies, big-band dance music, and legal bong hits that await us.