The melodies in intelligence are legion when we listen intensively to the world — when we really harken to its inner and outer harmonies!
Guy Murchie, Music of the Spheres (p. 593)
The next volume on my Guy Murchie reading list is the second volume of Music of the Spheres: The Material Universe-From Atom To Quasar, Simply Explained.
As I recently wrote, I’ve had difficulty keeping my interest up through Murchie’s Song of the Sky, but I’ve had no problem completing this volume of Music of the Spheres. It’s not an easy 370 pages, to be sure. This is a book about expanding intuitions about physical phenomena with mind-bending insights, and I can attest to Murchie’s skill in explaining a wide variety of difficult ideas in a way that makes those ideas not merely comprehensible, but interesting and relevant. There are several discussions wherein I believe Murchie could have perhaps done a better job on — he tends to digress, his discussion on polarization leaves room for improvement, and perhaps he could have done a better job of tieing the principles of music together — but in general terms, Music of the Spheres is a remarkable piece of science literature, even now — 42 years after its second and final edition.
Yes, this book was published before string theory was developed, but Murchie discusses the string-like character of the atom.
This gives the atom the harmonic resonance and integrity of a plucked string … (p. 407)
This was before the word “black hole” was coined, but Murchie discusses the trapping of light and causation in an intense gravitational field (pp. 582–3). And this was before men stepped on the moon, before pulsars, dark matter, dark energy, and plate tectonics. Even though Murchie wrote this book back when Bertrand Russell and Werner Heisenberg were still walking the Earth, yet he crafts a lesson on the physical world that remains current. I expect that some of Murchie’s general discussions will remain pertinent for quite a long time into the future.
Murchie was of course a religious man, or at least a believer, so there are moments when Murchie digresses into religious language and characteristically Bahá’í statements about God and religion. He mentions that one 15th Century thinker believed in the oneness of religion, and in the final chapter, Murchie uses a discussion on the eternal nature of life to segue into an assertion that science and religion are complementary, that is, mutually supportive. On the whole, though, he is remarkably clear-minded and uncompromising about the science itself.
… some light must be from one slit obviously must be combining with light from the other at such a distance that the two wave frequencies were 180° out of phase, inevitable canceling each other and producing a band of darkness! (p. 421)
So much for the medieval Islamic mystic’s “light upon light.” It appears that even light has a dark side!
… light actually drops … (p. 581)
As a follower of `Abdu’l-Bahá’ who made statements such as “when we observe the phenomena of the universe, we realize that the axis around which life revolves is love,” Murchie might have been tempted to defend the classical notion of universal attraction, but he embraced Einstein’s spacetime geometry instead. Whereas `Abdu’l-Bahá’ spoke of a universal force, Murchie delights in geometry instead.
… gravitation commonly amounts to a repulsion as well as an attraction, … (p. 575)
Likewise, he might have been tempted to defend the 19th Century notion of a luminiferous aether, but he cast that aside as an outmoded remnant of the old absolutism of classical physics.
Perhaps the most striking sign of Murchie’s intellectual independence is his argument that “the material world” is fundamentally a geometrical, harmonic world. Evidently, he chose the Pythagorean term “music of the spheres” because he believed that the material world isn’t really so material, and he didn’t passively conform to the spirit-vs.-material dualism common among Bahá’ís. He wrote of the mentality and music of the material world itself, and avoided dualistic “spiritual” talk.
Murchie was, on balance, fair-minded in narrating the wonders of science. He was, no doubt, a credit to his religion. He was a man of ideas and opinions, and he didn’t appear to feel constrained by the norms of his religious community or the scientific community. There are certainly scientific points on which I personally disagree with him, but given his evident fair-mindedness, I do not consider those disagreements strikes against him. For example, one of Murchie’s central arguments, akin to his assertion that the world is geometrical and musical, is “that the world is profoundly abstract.” I do not wholly disagree with this point. I do believe that Murchie made a great case for the world’s multifarious capacity for abstraction, but I think it is going too far to suggest that the world itself is abstract simply because science has done such a marvelous job of abstracting its character.
To sum up, Murchie was essentially saying that the material is actually mental. Music of the Spheres can thus be seen as an argument for philosophical idealism, the school of thought that declares that existence is fundamentally mental. To be clear, though, the idealism of Music of the Spheres is not a magical, subjectivist idealism; rather, it is a rational, objective idealism.
I very much look forward to reading Murchie’s The Seven Mysteries of Life. I suspect that work will prove more controversial — burdened, I suspect, with more magical thinking, but I look forward to following Murchie go into more detail with respect to his ideas on life, consciousness, and immortality. I expect to learn a thing or three.