Groundbreaking New Book Explores Music’s Influence On Science

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Peter Pesic’s “Music and the Making of Modern Science” Published by The MIT Press. Innovative e-book edition allows readers to interact with the text through sound, animation and touch.

Music and the Making of Modern Science

This is a deeply learned and splendidly written book, which stakes out an exciting path through the history of science.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE; September 30, 2014—Santa Fe, New Mexico—St. John’s College, Santa Fe is proud to announce faculty member Peter Pesic’s provocative new book exploring music’s formative effect on the development of science. In Music and the Making of Modern Science, Pesic argues that music has not been just a charming accompaniment to thought, but a conceptual force in its own right.

Music and the Making of Modern Science explores a series of episodes in which music influenced science, moments in which prior developments in music arguably affected subsequent aspects of natural science. He describes encounters between harmony and fifteenth-century cosmological controversies, between musical initiatives and irrational numbers, between vibrating bodies and the emergent electromagnetism. He offers lively accounts of how Newton applied the musical scale to define the colors in the spectrum; how Euler and others applied musical ideas to develop the wave theory of light; and how a harmonium prepared Max Planck to find a quantum theory that reengaged the mathematics of vibration. Taken together, these cases document the peculiar power of music—its autonomous force as a stream of experience, capable of stimulating insights different from those mediated by the verbal and the visual.

The book is available in both hardcover format and in a new, innovative e-book version available for iOS devices. The e-book edition allows readers to interact with the book through sound examples that can be played with a touch and show the score in a moving line. The book is available through The MIT Press and in the iTunes iBook store.

Praise for Music and the Making of Modern Science:
"This is a deeply learned and splendidly written book, which stakes out an exciting path through the history of science. With unique erudition and breadth of vision, Peter Pesic uncovers the extent to which modern physics has been guided by the ancient idea of a world harmony governed by mathematics. Here sound and musical consonance—all too often treated as minor areas of study—emerge as crucial phenomena driving science toward major discoveries."—Daniel Heller-Roazen, Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature and the Council of the Humanities, Princeton University, and author of The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World

"Scientists are embedded in material and social culture, and this has shaped their knowledge and practices. The recent turn to the senses and the emergence of 'sound studies' reminds us that scientists, too, utilize many senses and are embedded in many sonic cultures. In this important and provocative book, Peter Pesic traces in myriad ways and with many examples how throughout history, science and scientists have utilized their knowledge of music and sonic experiences to provide key insights into our understanding of the natural world."—Trevor Pinch, Goldwin Smith Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Cornell University, and co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies

"’Mathematics and Music! The most glaring possible opposites of human thought!’ Helmholtz’s exclamation in 1857 may still ring true to our ears. But after reading Peter Pesic’s brilliant study, no one will be able to make such claims in good faith anymore. In a fascinating exploration of philosophers and scientists from Plato to Planck, from Heraclitus to Heisenberg, Pesic’s magisterial book rediscovers the multifaceted and age-old connections between musical thought and the natural world. In eighteen lucid vignettes Pesic explores the important role music played in key moments in the history of scientific thought: the establishment of irrational numbers, planetary motion, optics, electromagnetism, and quantum physics. Pesic is as fine a musician as he is a historian of science. He nimbly demonstrates how music has served throughout the ages as a linchpin bridging sensus and ratio, the perceptual world and the realm of numbers, and reconnects the spheres of nature and culture, as spheres that were never truly separated."—Alexander Rehding, Fanny Peabody Professor of Music, Harvard University; author of Hugo Riemann and the Birth of Modern Musical Thought; and co-editor of Music Theory and Natural Order from the Renaissance to the Early Twentieth Century

About the Author:
Peter Pesic is a faculty member and Musician-in-Residence at St. John’s College, Santa Fe. He is the author of Labyrinth: A Search for the Hidden Meaning of Science; Seeing Double: Shared Identities in Physics, Philosophy, and Literature; Abel’s Proof: An Essay on the Sources and Meaning of Mathematical Unsolvability; and Sky in a Bottle, all published by the MIT Press. He received the 2005 Peano Prize and is a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Pesic is also the recipient of the 2012 Price/Webster Price and the 2013 Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize, both from the History of Science Society.

About the Book:
Music and the Making of Modern Science
By Peter Pesic
The MIT Press/August 2014
U.S. $40.00
ISBN 978-0262027274
360 Pages / 8” x 9”


ABOUT ST. JOHN’S COLLEGE: St. John’s College is a private liberal arts college with campuses in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM. At St. John’s, students engage directly with the original sources of the ideas that have shaped our world. The collaborative study of seminal works of literature, philosophy, politics, mathematics, science, and music distinguishes the liberal arts at St. John’s. Small classes foster thoughtful and spirited discussions that enable students to wrestle with complex problems and to develop penetrating insights. Students learn to reason carefully, think boldly, and lead perceptively, as they cultivate the excellence of intellect and imagination for which St. John’s graduates are known. In 2014-2015, the college celebrates the founding of the Santa Fe campus. To learn more about St. John's and the 50th anniversary celebration of the Santa Fe campus, please visit

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