Measure for Measure: A Musical History of Science

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Simon and Schuster, Dec 5, 1995 - Science - 352 pages
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Two thousand five hundred years ago, Pythagoras discovered the musical scale and, with it, the first scientific theory of nature. Then, and for centuries after, music and science together made sense of the universe. By the twentieth century however, science stood alone, and our faith in its ability to uncover the truths of the natural world was, for a time, unshakable. In Measure for Measure, Thomas Levenson offers a compelling account of how scientific thinking developed from its Pythagorean origins to the present day. The story unfolds through the tales of both scientific instruments and musical ones: the organ, the microscope, the still, scales, Stradivari's miraculous violins and cellos, computers, electronic synthesizers - even a reconfigured animal that is mostly mouse, but a little bit human. Yet the tools that have enabled us to scrutinize nature ever more closely have also revealed to us the limitations of the scientific approach. In every age, they have provided new answers, but in the process they have rewritten he questions we thought we were asking, altering the shape and scope of scientific inquiry. What emerges is a unique portrait of science itself as an instrument, our single most powerful way of understanding the world. Levenson shows us how the virtuosos have wielded it, inspired by - and transforming - the ideas of their day. Galileo Galilei confronts the powers of the Inquisition at the moment he captures the moons of Jupiter in his telescope. Isaac Newton seeks in vain the alchemical secret of turning lead to gold - but his knowledge of the occult helps him to untangle the mysteries of gravity instead. At the edge of the future, scientists finetune such instruments as a computerized grand piano and a hand-built microscope so powerful it can see what some people believe is the physical site of memory. 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. And this is where Measure for Measure concludes: with the rediscovery that science, like music, is an art, not the perfect machine. We will never hear all there is to hear, see all there is to see, know all there is to know.
 

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Measure for measure: a musical history of science

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Associate producer for PBS's Nova series, Levenson (Ice Time, LJ 4/15/89) has written a probing account of the intertwining of science and music from ancient times to the present day. Levenson blames ... Read full review

Contents

Introduction
9
BY DESIGN
17
It Is a Great Secret
121
Our Powers Increase Without Limits
155
The Exactitude of Their Proportions
193
We Cannot Go Back to That
237
Copyright

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About the author (1995)

THOMAS LEVENSON is a professor of science writing at MIT and the author of three previous books: "Einstein in Berlin, Measure for Measure, "and "Ice Time. "He is also the producer of ten documentaries for which he has won numerous awards.

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