(Roughly) Daily

“The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.”*…

The Pythagoreans believed that the motions of the heavenly bodies, with just the right ratios of their distances from a central fire, made pleasant music — a concept that evolved into the “music of the spheres.”

As Tom Siegfried explains, the “music of the spheres” was born from the effort to use numbers to explain the universe…

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the music of the spheres,” your first thought probably wasn’t about mathematics.

But in its historical origin, the music of the spheres actually was all about math. In fact, that phrase represents a watershed in the history of math’s relationship with science.

In its earliest forms, as practiced in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, math was mainly a practical tool for facilitating human interactions. Math was important for calculating the area of a farmer’s field, for keeping track of workers’ wages, for specifying the right amount of ingredients when making bread or beer. Nobody used math to investigate the nature of physical reality.

Not until ancient Greek philosophers began to seek scientific explanations for natural phenomena (without recourse to myths) did anybody bother to wonder how math would help. And the first of those Greeks to seriously put math to use for that purpose was the mysterious religious cult leader Pythagoras of Samos.

It was Pythagoras who turned math from a mere tool for practical purposes into the key to unlocking the mysteries of the universe. As the historian Geoffrey Lloyd noted, “The Pythagoreans were … the first theorists to have attempted deliberately to give the knowledge of nature a quantitative, mathematical foundation.”…

More at: “How Pythagoras turned math into a tool for understanding reality,” from @tom_siegfried in @ScienceNews.

Apposite: Walter Murch’s ideas on “planetary harmony” (and Lawrence Weschler’s book on him and them)

* Henri Poincare


As we seek beauty, we might recall that it was on this date in 1595 that Johann Kepler (and here) published Mysterium cosmographicum (Mystery of the Cosmos), in which he described an invisible underlying structure determining the six known planets in their orbits.  Kepler thought as a mathematician, devising a structure based on only five convex regular solids; the path of each planet lay on a sphere separated from its neighbors by touching an inscribed polyhedron.

It was a beautiful, an elegant model– and one that fit the orbital data available at the time.  It was of course, nonetheless, wrong.

Detailed view of Kepler’s inner sphere


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