Measure for Measure

Measure for Measure : A Musical History of Science

3.8 (25 ratings by Goodreads)
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This is an account of how scientific thinking has developed from the discovery of the musical scale by Pythagoras to the use today in research of genetically engineered mice. Thomas Levenson traces the history of science through the creation of both scientific and musical instruments: the organ, the still, scales, Stradivari's violins and cellos, computers, and synthesizers. What emerges is a portrait of science itself as an instrument, our single most powerful way of understanding the world. Yet perhaps the most important invention of modern science has been the power to countenance its own limitations, to find the point beyond which science can explain no more, to rediscover that science, like music, is an more

Product details

  • Paperback | 352 pages
  • 130 x 194 x 22mm | 258.55g
  • Oxford University Press
  • Oxford Paperbacks
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 39 b&w halftones, bibliography, index
  • 0192880497
  • 9780192880499

Table of contents

Introduction. Part 1: By Design. A Perfect Order. All is Founded in Perfection. Nothing in Vain. Interlude: Sound and Light. Part 2: An Unbounded Prospect. It is a Great Secret. Our Powers Increase Without Limits. The Exactitude of Their Proportions. Interlude: We Cannot Go Back to That. Part 3: Making sense of the whole. Light in the Cave. We need New Instruments Very Badly. Finale: Description is Revelation. Acknowledgements. Bibliography. Indexshow more

Review Text

A look at the history of ideas as a marriage of music and science. Levenson (Ice Time, not reviewed) chronicles the human quest for order in the world, from the idealism of Pythagoras to contemporary computer programs for musical composition and performance. Pythagoras is credited with the discovery of the harmonic series, the basis for the musical scale, which, writ large, suggested a music of the spheres - the eternal, unchanging perfection of the universe. And so for a millennium, during the Church's iron rule, the dominant music was Gregorian chant and "science" was considered "revealed knowledge" - something more spiritual than material. But musical horizons were broadening; notation and polyphony and duration were invented, and instruments grew in sophistication. The measurement of time, the invention of clocks and other mechanical devices, laid the groundwork for the experimental science of the Renaissance. Levenson pairs developments in music and in musical instruments with the development of science and scientific instruments like the microscope and telescope. The music/science metaphor continues with parallel chapters of latter-day developments, concluding with such striking inventions as genetically engineered mice that, lacking their own immune systems, accept fetal human immune cells and are now used to study AIDS. He concludes with a history of synthesizers and computer-aided compositions such as those played by Yo Yo Ma on an electronic cello. Ultimately, his point is that art and science come together as acts of human creativity that satisfy aesthetic demands. In so doing, science strives for beauty while recognizing that its truth is ever evolving, substituting a truth for the truth. Levenson occasionally dwells too long on the details of instrument-making and could well have indicated other parallels to illustrate his theme - the history of painting and sculpture, for example. Still, his theme and variations are very well orchestrated and worth hearing. (Kirkus Reviews)show more

Rating details

25 ratings
3.8 out of 5 stars
5 16% (4)
4 56% (14)
3 24% (6)
2 0% (0)
1 4% (1)
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