A view From the Bridge

Audiofile: Music and the making of science

Posted on behalf of Kerri Smith

© World History Archive / AlamyIs music simply a pleasant accompaniment to thought, or a driving force behind it? The third episode of Nature’s new podcast series on science and sound, Audiofile, examines music’s influence on the development of modern science and the foundations of acoustics (as did our essay series). It also suggests a tantalizing link between Galileo’s scientific mindset and his upbringing: his father, Vincenzo, was a lute maker who conducted what some suggest are the first experiments in acoustics. Father might have inspired in son the idea of measuring a physical system and producing a hypothesis from it.

Scientists often search for harmony and beauty, if not explicitly. But the link between music and other scholarly pursuits used to be much stronger. For centuries the Western academic curriculum blended music and science to a degree rarely experienced by today’s undergraduates. Students were taught the quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

Musical analogies continue to help scientists make sense of tricky concepts, as historian of science Jim Bennett explains in the podcast. “The insight – which plausibly came from music – that the world has a mathematical blueprint is fundamental to science.”

For more, listen to the episode or subscribe to the Nature Podcast.

For Books and Arts coverage of scientists and artists working with sound, see Q&As with electronic musician and computer scientist Tom Mitchell, audio sculptor Bill Fontana, acoustic archaeologist Rupert Till, sound artist Daniel Jones and bioacoustician Bernie Krause.  

For Nature’s full coverage of science in culture, visit www.nature.com/news/booksandarts.


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