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No. 94: Jul-Aug 1994

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Music And Theories Of Everything

Warning: We never promised that Science Frontiers would be easy or even compatible with your world view! Furthermore, archeology is more than shards and arrowheads.

Today's physicists enjoy speculating about Theories of Everything, but they really don't nean everything ! They just mean physics and cosmology. Some 5,000 years ago, the Sumerians constructed a remarkable Theory of Everything based upon music, a base-60 number system, and symmetry concepts. These Sumerians didn't have supercomputers but they were able to incorporate into their theory much more than physics and cosmology. Below, E.G. McClain provides some insight into ancient Sumerian thinking:

"In ancient Mesopotania,music, mathematics, art, science, religion, and poetic fantasy were fused. Around 3000 B.C., the Sumerians simultaneously developed cuneiform writing, in which they recorded their pantheon, and a base-60 number system. Their gods were assigned numbers that encoded the primary ratios of music, with the gods' functions corresponding to their numbers in acoustical theory. Thus the Sumerians created an extensive tonal/arithmetical model for the cosmos. In this far-reaching allegory, the physical world is known by analogy, and the gods give divinity not only to natural forces but also to a 'supernatural,' intuitive understanding of mathematical patterns and psychological forces."

To understand the role of musical theory in modeling the cosmos, one must realize that it involves: "the definition of intervals, the distance between pitches, by ratios of integers or counting numbers." For the ancient Sumerians music was a tool that helped them describe the cosmos.

(McClain, Ernest G.; "Musical Theory and Ancient Cosmology," The World and I, p. 371, February 1994. Cr. L. Ellenberger)

Comment. Five thousand years ago, the Sumerians were (supposedly) just emerging from barbarism. What did they need all this musical and mathematical modeling for? Why did their sophisticated analytical talents evolve at all? They would seem to have little survival value.

From Science Frontiers #94, JUL-AUG 1994. 1994-2000 William R. Corliss