BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

"... to the uninitiated marvelous gibberish ..."

I am allowing the possibility that much of Ernest G. McClain's Myth of Invariance: The Origins of the Gods, Mathematics and Music from the Rg Veda to Plato might be comprehensible for somebody with a background in musical theory, but to me it was less-than marvelous gibberish.

I have to admit that, despite many attempts over my 50 years, I have never been able to "get" music and it has always seemed an incomprehensible jumble of unnecessary complexity (why isn't a sound a certain discrete number of cycles per second, reproducible via electronics? what the hell does it mean to be flinging around ratios like 531441:524288?) to describe something that I can hum ... heck, I had to go look up even as basic stuff as which little doo-dad meant "sharp" and which meant "flat" (I will credit the author with at least cogently explaining to me what something being sharp or flat actually meant, a factoid that had previously not managed to sink in).

I have had dozens of people try to explain key, notes, etc. to me, and (aside from the basic "timing" elements, i.e. that a particular form of note represents a sound held for a particular duration) it has never made a lick of sense to me. As such, I'm probably not the ideal person to offer up opinions on a book which is deeply enmeshed in music theory. However, I know a lot about Gods, Indian classics, and am at least conversant in a wide array of ancient cultures, so I figured I'd finally give this one (which has been sitting around on shelves and in boxes for over 20 years) a go.

This starts plausibly enough, as the Rg Veda has been preserved as a sung piece, and so there could well be some musical theory enmeshed in the (admittedly odd) text. And the early bits of building a "tone mandala" from various pebbles or whatever seemed reasonable enough in the context of ancient India. And I'm assuming that some of the circular "mandala" charting, etc., is standard in music theory, but, really ... this is even hard to talk about given that HTML doesn't really even have "sharp" and "flat" characters ... what does one make of:
To appreciate the necessity for "sacrifice" and the elegance of the Kalpa and Brahma yantras it will help to examine the various approximations to Ab = G# = √2 = 1.414+. We have never used 7/5 = 1.4 which looks so very convenient; its reciprocal would require our "cosmological numbers" to be multiplied by 7, and to no advantage, for the ratio 45/32 (= 740/512) = 1.40625 is closer to √2 and has been with us since Chart 8. Our new "Brahmin" G# computed directly from the reference D, our "linch-pin", gives the ratio 729/512 (i.e., 36 divided by the nearest power of 2) = 1.423, a slightly worse value, and its reciprocal will require a still larger yantra to be "put to sleep" in integer form.
Interestingly (or, perhaps, frustratingly), the author was going to end the book once he'd gotten done trying to attribute each and every numerical mention of anything in the Rg Veda to some obscure musical datum. However, in discussing the book with an associate, the suggestion that YHVH of the Hebrews was simply an echo of this Indian "system" arose, and so he launched off after other cultures, first looking at calendrical systems (which "of course" were based on music theory ... huh?), the Book of Revelations (which is, admittedly, as incoherent as the Rg Veda with blithering numerology), backtracks to Babylon and Sumer, returns to Mt. Meru (which he suggests is simply one of his "yantras"), then plows into Plato with a re-framing of the Atlantis myth as simply some complicated "yantras" or "mandalas" conveniently convoluted to fit the numbers, and finally ending up in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, where he posits this whopper:
The seventy-two conspirators who helped Typhon dismember Osiris must have known that 72 is the least common denominator by which the Osiris pentatonic scale can be expressed in integers which remain invariant under reciprocation
Yeah ... somehow the line "sorry, Apu, you can't come along, that would make 73 of us, and that would screw up the math! just never made it onto the temple wall.

Frankly, reading this was like taking a long car trip with an old (and mathematically-obsessed) friend of mine who would see four Chevys and a stray dog and be convinced it was a SIGN from the Universe about some insane thing or another. Heck, most of this book reminds me of a story about UFO fanatics who, when finally convinced that the cloud they photographed was not, in fact, a UFO, claimed that the sneaky aliens were hiding behind the cloud. Again, this may be because I just don't "get" Music, but the numbers in here seem to be totally arbitrary, it doesn't seem to matter what exponent of 2, 3, or 5 is taken as long as it can be tortuously warped back around to some pre-determined ratio! I guess it's a good thing that (seemingly) in this "music math" any number can be twisted around to equal anything one wants.

Needless to say, I can't recommend this one to anybody. If you are mathematically or musically inclined, I'm guessing that there are as many glaring incoherencies in this as I see from a religion/culture basis. It does, at least, seem to be out of print, and the new/used vendors are asking insane amounts (from $60 to $200 for a used copy and more than $400 for a new one!), which should be enough to dissuade anybody from harboring lingering thoughts of "gee, that could be interesting".

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Tags: book review
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