Physicists are perpetually searching for a simple and elegant ‘theory of everything.’ Currently, the theories for which we have a preponderance of evidence are the standard theory (which deals with the very small, and of which Quantum Mechanics is a part) and Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (which deals with the very large). However, neither theory can be a theory of everything, since the Standard Model breaks down when attempting to describe gravity, and General Relativity does not describe Quantum Mechanics. Black holes are a good example of why neither General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics are theories of everything, since they fall into both theories’ purviews (black holes are very massive, so they require Special Relativity, but can be very very small, requiring quantum mechanics to describe them), yet neither theory can describe them fully. Thus the need for a more fundamental theory than can describe both gravity and the very small (http://superstringtheory.com/basics/basic3.html).
One proposed theory to close the gap between Quantum Mechanics and Special Relativity is called ‘String Theory.’ Basically, the fundamental particles we observe are thought to be different ‘notes’ (or excitation modes) on elementary ‘strings.’ String Theory is very elegant mathematically and potentially describe interactions (including gravity) between elementary particles. Unfortunately, these ‘strings’ are extremely small (on the order of 10-33 centimeters) and current technology cannot detect them, leaving this theory untestable by current methods. However, M theory, which is a more fundamental theory that combines string theory with supersymmetry, may be able to be tested by the current Large Hadron Collider at its highest energies. (http://superstringtheory.com/basics/basic4.html)
How does all of the above complicated physics relate to Tolkien’s creation myth? Firstly, Tolkien himself argued in his “On Fairy Stories,” that in order for a secondary reality to be believable, it needs to have an internal consistency (Lecture, 4/2/14). The internal consistency of the primary reality is evident in the laws of physics: gravity, light, interactions between objects, etc. Tolkien’s Middle Earth obviously follows at least some of the same physical rules that the primary reality does: there is gravity (since people do not float), there is light, air, water, and day and night. More convincingly, Tolkien viewed his histories of Middle Earth as just that: the history of the primary reality (Lecture, 4/21/14). Therefore, the internal consistency of Tolkien’s secondary reality (Middle Earth) needs to at some point meet up with the internal constancy of the primary reality, i.e. the laws of physics. Some facets of the secondary reality’s internal consistency, such as the sun, the moon, stars, and a round world, obviously blend with the primary reality’s physics later and at different points in Tolkien’s timeline, but the most fundamental (potentially) consistency, String Theory, is manifest from the very beginning of Tolkien’s mythology: the Music of Creation.
In Tolkien’s creation story, as in the Catholic creation story, Eru, or God, is the ultimate creator, and thus the source and maker of the rules of inner consistency. In the Silmarillion, Eru declares his rules through a “mighty theme” and instructs the Ainur to “make in harmony together a Great Music” (Ainulindalë, Silmarillion). However, “music” here should not be taken in the literal, human sense of air waves of different frequency vibrating the ear drum. As Flieger argues, the speech, and thus song, of Eru and the Ainur should be interpreted as “preverbal, as some kind of supersenible converse among unbodied spiritual beings.” There are two arguments for this interpretation. The first is Flieger’s: when Tolkien describes the music of creation, he uses similes. “Like unto countless choirs singing with words,” (Ainulindalë, Silmarillion) clearly does not represent an equivalent relation between the music of the Ainur and literal singing. Rather, the use of the similes likely came from the Valar attempting to describe the music of creation to the elves in terms they could understand. The second argument for the Ainurs’ songs to not be composed of sound waves is that during the music, the world has not yet been created and thus the void has not been filled. If one makes the obvious connection between the void and the vacuum of space (as one should in order to unite the internal consistencies between the primary and secondary realities), it can be argued that the Ainur cannot have been literally singing, as there is no sound in space since there is no air to carry sound waves.
If the music of creation is not song in the literal sound sense, then how is this ‘music’ represented? The simplest answer is that while the music of the Ainur is not formed of sound waves, it nevertheless shares many of the same properties, prompting the comparing their music to actual sound. Sound is composed of air waves. Music combines different frequencies of these air waves into patterns. Similarly, the music of the creation should be a pattern of different frequencies, but what exactly is vibrating to create these frequencies? It cannot be light or water, though while both of these are capable of oscillating, neither has been created yet. Perhaps the answer lies in something more fundamental: the strings of string theory.
The Ainur (and mostly likely Eru) have to be formed of something, for Eru created them and they exist, in contrast to the void, which is the absence of things existing. Yet nothing else has been created yet; in primary reality terms, there are no particles. But perhaps the Ainur are formed of strings, the building blocks of elementary particles. The Ainur can then create ‘song’ by vibrating themselves. When several Ainur vibrate together, then can create harmonies. However, before Eru reveals his great theme, there are no rules for the different frequencies to follow, so they cannot yet create anything more. When Eru relates his great theme and has his Ainur sing, that is the moment in which the rules of physics are set, and the ‘strings’ have the potential to sound ‘notes’ that become elementary particles and form atoms and, eventually, molecules. However, the world (or rather, the universe) is not yet created at this point, but when Eru says, “Eä! Let these things Be!” (Ainulindalë, Silmarillion), this is the Big Bang moment posited by the primary reality theories of physics, and the rules that Eru proposed and the Ainur sang are now able to act on the things that Eru caused to exist. The rules found in the music can cause things in the universe to act on their own, as strings form elementary particles, which then form light atoms such as hydrogen, which lead to the creation of stars and then heavier atoms through fusion. The Valar, though, obviously have some extra power to manipulate matter an energy. Perhaps the Valar can manipulate the strings themselves, changing their frequencies and combining them in harmonious ways to create what becomes Middle Earth. If string theory holds up to scientific testing, then perhaps the old idea of “heavenly harmony” is actually present in the primary world, and Tolkien’s Music of Creation is simply a beautiful and imaginative way of looking at the laws of physics.