Musical Math or Nah?


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Music, through its various understandings of math, helps us to understand nature.  This is the argument that Douglas Adams makes in an excerpt of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, an argument that I do not agree with. Through further picking of the excerpt one can see that Adams does not have the necessary evidence to prove his argument.

Adams starts by saying that math is responsible for the way that nature occurs, from the shapes to the processes that many plants and animals go through. He states that while we consider them very complex, that they are only obeying a simple set of rules. Adams then proceeds to state that the closest that we have come to understanding this set of rules, is through music. He says that music, like nature uses math and doesn’t have a purpose other than to exist. He then goes on to say that even through a reduced view of music as mathematics, it still contains emotion, which is the beauty of music. He tries to tie all of these arguments by quoting the poet Keats “what the imagination seizes as beauty must be the truth”, which is in fact an opinion, not a valid source of evidence, and he uses this to say that since emotion brings out the beauty in music which can be reduced to being viewed in a mathematical sense which helps us to understand the way that things naturally occur unstructured in nature must be a part of each other.

I disagree with this because math is not used to understand the way that nature occurs, it is used to understand the way that things occur in nature. Science can prove why nature occurs through its understanding of the processes that manifest themselves in nature such as photosynthesis or the life cycle, etc. His statements about music are also invalid because even though emotion does bring beauty to an otherwise mathematical form of art, he provides no evidence of this; he simply states that there is music in math. There is no reference to syncopation or the counting of rhythms and measures and beats of s song, he simply says that math is there. Once these two are proven to be unrelated, then the argument in its entirety cannot stand. If science already proves what he says that math proves, then there is nothing to connect nature to music, therefore making his argument invalid.

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Musical Math or Nah?