Harmonices Mundi

  Music is in the world and the world is music. 


  For many years philosophers wrote about music as an integral part of the mathematical sciences along with geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy.  Music was described as having its theoretical basis in the ratios of intervals and from there building its way to theory of notes, scales, modes, and harmony.


  Along with this also came the harmony of the spheres; that the mathematical ratios of intervals first described by Pythagoras can be observed in the celestial bodies in our universe.


  Even Johannes Kepler when setting out his theories, which would become laws, of planetary motion references it.  One of his books is called Harmonices Mundi, or The Harmony of the Worlds.

  But just as Kepler’s astrology was divorced from astronomy, so was his Harmony of the World relegated to the scientific refuse pile of the occult.

  Now, though, we have String Theory, which at least from its metaphorical terms seems to bring its back to the concept of music and science coexisting in nature: the metaphysical, the natural, the musical; the Music of the Spheres.  Or as Brian Greene likes to call it, “The Cosmic Symphony.”

  Setting aside String Theory for the moment, let us consider a more terrestrially bound thesis: music can be found all around us.  It is one that 20th Century composer John Cage exemplified in 4’33”.  Now whether you consider Cage genius or fraud is a question of personal aesthetic taste, but for my taste, and this thesis, we shall consider him the former.

  As I write this I am sitting in a room in supposed complete silence, but is there truly such a thing?  What Cage was aiming for in 4’33”, at least in my view, was for us to consider the sounds around us; the music that occurs when we truly listen.  Music is not just organized noise.  Music is the sound of the world around us, both natural and man-made.

  We only don’t consider it such because it lacks the rational, logical, organization hand of a composer.  Well, Cage gave us that with 4’33”.

  But what about in a more abstract sense?  Our lives, our culture, even our many religions are filled with musical metaphors or terminology related to music.  We talk of things being in harmony or discord.  Something is like a symphony, or someone is like a conductor.  Granted, we also like our war metaphors, or comparing things to famous historical events or figures, but music allows us a more transcendent metaphor not only because of its status as an art, but also because, even without knowing it, we still associate music with the cosmos.  We still carry a cultural memory of the Music of the Spheres.


From many religious creation myths to more contemporary examples like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth creation story, Ainulindalë (The Music of the Ainur), music is a powerful force, one that can be seen as providing the bridge between the sacred and the profane, heaven and earth.  “Life has a melody…A rhythm of notes which become your existence once played in harmony with God’s plan,” extols the Number Six cylon to Gaius Baltar in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  It may be a fictional television show, but it is a popular and powerful metaphor upon which an entire cosmological musical metaphor is built upon.


Music is in the Universe, and the universe is music.

Music is math made audible.

Music is the universe made audible.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.