Term Paper: Knowledge Views on the Nature

Pages: 17 (5893 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Music  ·  Buy This Paper

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[. . .] The subjectivity of the social scientist can be carried even further with some of the other examples. A musicologist studies music and the history of music. Music, unlike regular historical events, can be quantified without much argument. The different notes in a musical scale can be said to correspond to specific oscillations of sound waves, numerical and physical values that can always be exactly reproduced. Whew! At least that was an easy one! But wait a minute...what was that about a musical scale? Yes, that's right, there are many different musical scales. In the Western World, we typically use a heptatonic scale that can be further broken down into major and minor chords. This however, is not the only heptatonic scale that has been or could be used. The Gregorian Chant of the Church uses a heptatonic scale with different modes, as do certain other musical scales. And, not leave anyone out, most non-Western people use scales that are not even based upon a system of seven notes. Chinese music, for example is typically pentatonic. Each of the notes in each of these many different systems would produce different tones that, yes, can be rendered as a certain number of oscillations of sound waves, and once recorded, can be reproduced. So, OK then, music is based upon exact, and duplicable facts so long as we are talking about the exact mathematical measurement of sound waves, and not about something arbitrary, or culture-specific like specific systems of musical notations.

All right then, since the total number of sound wave oscillations in The Beatles Hey Jude adds up to a more perfect number than the total number of sound wave oscillations in The Backstreet Boys Drowning we can confidently conclude that the Beatles' composition is superior to that of the Backstreet Boys. Superior? Hey, what are you talking about? The Backstreet Boys are my favorite group! Ah, we have another problem, two of them in fact. In the first case, what is a "more perfect" number, and in the second why does or should the total number of sound wave oscillations in a musical composition have anything to do with whether one song is better than another....Because I said so. Were it that easy...but unfortunately it is not. The concept of a perfect number has no objective validity in and of itself. Mathematicians define a perfect number as an integer that is the sum of its proper divisors: 6 = 1 + 2 + 3, 28 = 1 + 2 + 4+ 7+ 14. But, is this what we meant when we just said that the number of sound wave oscillations in Hey Jude added up to a more perfect number than the number in Drowning? Probably not, that is unless we could somehow draw a correlation between a "more perfect number" and a "more perfect" piece of music. In order to do so, unfortunately, we would first have to define a perfect number, as obviously a number's being either more or less perfect must somehow bear reference to a number that is perfect in the absolute. So, what should it be? Good thinking...the perfect number, or should we say, "more perfect number" is much closer to the number arrived at for Hey Jude than the number we counted for Drowning. Still, how do we figure out the perfect number? Is the perfect number a mathematical absolute, one that can always be exactly reproduced, or is it simply the number of sound wave oscillations in our favorite song?

Thus, the social scientist arrives at the problem of standards. Even by the standards of a mathematician, there is no such thing as the perfect number. By the above definition, many numbers are perfect. The ancients believed that the perfect numbers had mystical significance. No doubt, they also believed that some numbers were more significant, or more powerful, and thus more perfect than others. Still, how does one pick the most perfect number? The ancient priests of Zeus may well have believed that, as king of the gods, whatever number was his perfect number was the most perfect of them all. Similarly, three might be considered perfect by Christians as it is the number of the Trinity. Jews might choose twenty, as the name of God in Hebrew is written with two of the letter that also stands for the number ten (yud). Numerology is fascinating, isn't it? Yet, as can be plainly seen already from these few examples, there is no such thing as an absolute perfect number. Well, at least not any definition that cuts across all social, cultural, and sectarian lines.

More to the point though would be our second question, for even we could somehow decide on an absolute perfect number, there is no particular reason to think that the very best song ever written must conform to that number in terms of the total number of oscillations in all of its musical notes. But why not? If it's the best song, it must have exactly the right number of notes, and in exactly the right combination? Right? Not exactly. To use an example from the realm of both architecture and history, we might look at the canons of proportion formulated by great Renaissance architects like Vasari and Palladio. These two Renaissance men, like many others of their time including, Leonardo, Rafael, and Michelangelo, carefully examined the famous monuments of antiquity. Carefully measuring them and working out virtually all the possible mathematical relationships between these measurements, they made a number of observations. Among these, were the discoveries that the various parts of a building, and even the different parts of the parts themselves, bore specific mathematical relationships to one another. The height of an Ionic column was always in a specific ratio to its breadth. The length of the ideal Greek building, for example the Parthenon, was a specific multiple of the width of the building. Buildings looked better if their parts balanced - they had two identical-sized bays on each of the two sides of the main building. These principles of proportion and symmetry also held true for representations of the human form. Limbs, torso, and head had to be in the appropriate proportions in order for the figure to be considered beautiful or handsome. Conversely, these proportions could be distorted or even reversed to create the effect of ugliness, or evil. These and other Renaissance artists discovered that in the handsome face, the brow projected beyond the jaw - not too much - but a little. By switching around these proportions and painting a face with a receding forehead and a protruding jaw, Giotto captured the essence of the evil Judas. So it was that Vasari and Palladio and their like came up with the canons of proportions that they saw had been applied to the most perfect ancient buildings, ancient buildings by their very nature being inherently more perfect than modern (Renaissance) buildings. Now...that was an easy one!

Wait a minute! What? You did it again. You said that Vasari's Lives of the Artists talked about the most perfect buildings in the ancient world and the most perfect works of art. What's that supposed to mean? Who says what's perfect? Exactly. Giorgio Vasari's definition of what is admirable and perfect in art and architecture is not only a matter of personal opinion, but it is also culturally biased. Chinese Architecture, Indian Architecture, and Islamic Architecture - among others - each operated according to its own rules. Each of these nations had its own "canon of proportions." Each of these peoples as well, looked back to its won "classical" era and to what it thought to be the finest works of art humankind had ever produced. The Taj Mahal is an entirely different building from St. Peter's in Rome. The Alhambra in Cordoba looks nothing like Versailles, and the Forbidden City in Beijing is entirely unlike one of Leonardo' drawings of the ideal Renaissance city. The same goes for the different cultures, or rather different periods, within Western history. Had he lived only two hundred years earlier, and in say, England, or France, or Germany, Vasari would have been designing towering cathedrals covered with airy tracery, buildings whose walls were like curtains of lace filled with windows of brilliant stained glass. And no doubt, he would have thought these buildings "perfect." And though this a subject open to debate, most modern artists and architects entirely reject the notion that a building or a statue must be correctly proportioned - that is, that it must reflect traditional assumptions about how these things are supposed to look, or, in the case of representations of the human form, that these images are supposed to represent the true proportions of the human form. Why, many modern artists don't think that portraits or pictures of real people and events should even look remotely like the inspiration for the painting.

Therefore, it should be obvious by now that all this talk of perfection,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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