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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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Young’s Musical Optics

Young’s Musical Optics

(p.161) 11 Young’s Musical Optics
Music and the Making of Modern Science

Peter Pesic

The MIT Press

Building on the work of Leonhard Euler, Thomas Young advanced the wave theory of sound and light. This chapter describes how Young found his way to music against the strictures of his Quaker milieu. His new-found passions for music and dance informed his studies of sound and languages. His early work on the accommodation of the eye remained a touchstone for his later scientific development. At many points, his understanding of sound influenced and shaped his approach to light, including the decisive experiments that established its wave nature. His early investigations into the sounds of pipes led him to make an acoustic analogy that could explain optical phenomena such as Newton’s rings. He introduced a new system of temperament and used the piano as a scientific instrument. His comprehensive Lectures on Natural Philosophy included many plates that juxtaposed acoustic and optical phenomena. When Young turned to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics, he relied on sound and phonology. His final suggestions about the transverse nature of light waves again turned on the comparison with sound. 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:   Thomas Young, Quakers (Society of Friends), Eye, structure of, Optics, Sound, Newton’s rings, Temperament, Wave theory of light, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Transverse vibrations of light

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