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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: March 2008

25 - Acoustics and Optics

from Part III - Dividing the Study of Nature
This chapter describes the major achievements in seventeenth-century acoustics and its relationship to music theory, with particular attention to the problem of consonances. According to the Pythagorean worldview, the essence of musical phenomena, indeed of all cosmological phenomena, consisted of numerical ratios. Vincenzo Galilei had some reasons that made him favor a more empirical approach to the science of music that reflected an approach to music theory more consonant with the Aristoxenian tradition. The development of optics after 1600 was one of dramatic empirical discoveries and theoretical innovations. Johannes Kepler extended the boundaries of prior optical knowledge to effect an optical revolution. The first optical phenomena that seemed prima facie to challenge this principle were the diffraction phenomena investigated by Francesco Maria Grimaldi and published in his Physico-mathesis de lumine, coloribus et iride. The refraction gave rise to the spectrum of colors, and Newton noticed something puzzling about the spectrum.
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The Cambridge History of Science
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