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Music and the Making of Modern Science$
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Peter Pesic

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780262027274

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262027274.001.0001

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Descartes’s Musical Apprenticeship

Descartes’s Musical Apprenticeship

Chapter:
(p.89) 6 Descartes’s Musical Apprenticeship
Source:
Music and the Making of Modern Science
Author(s):

Peter Pesic

Publisher:
The MIT Press
DOI:10.7551/mitpress/9780262027274.003.0007

René Descartes began his career writing about music, which affected his innovative natural philosophy throughout its development. His first book was about music, addressed to another natural philosopher interested in it, Isaac Beeckman. In this book, Descartes used music as an exemplar of the approach he would take to mathematics and physics. This book remained important in Descartes’s correspondence with Marin Mersenne, which included musical as well as scientific topics. This chapter reads this lengthy correspondence as showing the interaction between musical, mathematical, and philosophical themes in Descartes’s work. Musical observations led to Descartes’s initial observations of the overtones of vibrating strings, which in turn led to wider consideration of mechanics, motion in a vacuum, and eventually to his continuum theory of the universe. This chapter argues that Descartes’s rejection of the vacuum came in the context of musical-physical problems. Descartes’s theories emerged in constant dialogue with musical issues and problems. Throughout the book where various sound examples are referenced, please see http://mitpress.mit.edu/musicandmodernscience (please note that the sound examples should be viewed in Chrome or Safari Web browsers).

Keywords:   René Descartes, Isaac Beeckman, Marin Mersenne, Music, Overtones, Vacuum, Continuum theory of matter

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