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One is a science, the other an art; one useful, the other seemingly decorative, but mathematics and music share common origins in cult and mystery and have been linked throughout history. Emblems of Mind is Edward Rothstein’s classic exploration of their profound similarities, a journey into their “inner life.” Along the way, Rothstein explains how mathematics makes sense One is a science, the other an art; one useful, the other seemingly decorative, but mathematics and music share common origins in cult and mystery and have been linked throughout history. Emblems of Mind is Edward Rothstein’s classic exploration of their profound similarities, a journey into their “inner life.” Along the way, Rothstein explains how mathematics makes sense of space, how music tells a story, how theories are constructed, how melody is shaped. He invokes the poetry of Wordsworth, the anthropology of Lévi-Strauss, the imagery of Plato, and the philosophy of Kant. Math and music, Rothstein shows, apply comparable methods as they create their abstractions, display similar concerns with ratio and proportion, and depend on metaphors and analogies to create their meanings. Ultimately, Rothstein argues, they reveal the ways in which we come to understand the world. They are images of the mind at work and play; indeed, they are emblems of Mind itself.  Jacques Barzun called this book “splendid.” Martin Gardner said it was “beautifully written, marvelous and entertaining.” It will provoke all serious readers to think in new ways about the grand patterns in art and life.  “Lovely, wistful. . . . Rothstein is a wonderful guide to the architecture of musical space, its tensions and relations, its resonances and proportions. . . . His account of what is going on in the music is unfailingly felicitous.”—New Yorker “Provocative and exciting. . . . Rothstein writes this book as a foreign correspondent, sending dispatches from a remote and mysterious locale as a guide for the intellectually adventurous. The remarkable fact about his work is not that it is profound, as much of the writing is, but that it is so accessible.”—Christian Science Monitor


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One is a science, the other an art; one useful, the other seemingly decorative, but mathematics and music share common origins in cult and mystery and have been linked throughout history. Emblems of Mind is Edward Rothstein’s classic exploration of their profound similarities, a journey into their “inner life.” Along the way, Rothstein explains how mathematics makes sense One is a science, the other an art; one useful, the other seemingly decorative, but mathematics and music share common origins in cult and mystery and have been linked throughout history. Emblems of Mind is Edward Rothstein’s classic exploration of their profound similarities, a journey into their “inner life.” Along the way, Rothstein explains how mathematics makes sense of space, how music tells a story, how theories are constructed, how melody is shaped. He invokes the poetry of Wordsworth, the anthropology of Lévi-Strauss, the imagery of Plato, and the philosophy of Kant. Math and music, Rothstein shows, apply comparable methods as they create their abstractions, display similar concerns with ratio and proportion, and depend on metaphors and analogies to create their meanings. Ultimately, Rothstein argues, they reveal the ways in which we come to understand the world. They are images of the mind at work and play; indeed, they are emblems of Mind itself.  Jacques Barzun called this book “splendid.” Martin Gardner said it was “beautifully written, marvelous and entertaining.” It will provoke all serious readers to think in new ways about the grand patterns in art and life.  “Lovely, wistful. . . . Rothstein is a wonderful guide to the architecture of musical space, its tensions and relations, its resonances and proportions. . . . His account of what is going on in the music is unfailingly felicitous.”—New Yorker “Provocative and exciting. . . . Rothstein writes this book as a foreign correspondent, sending dispatches from a remote and mysterious locale as a guide for the intellectually adventurous. The remarkable fact about his work is not that it is profound, as much of the writing is, but that it is so accessible.”—Christian Science Monitor

30 review for Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Politics of the Aesthetical The title comes from Wordsworth’s poem, Prelude, which was written and revised from 1798 throughout his life until his death in 1850. On an early morning trek up a Welsh mountain, Wordsworth has an epiphany: the sudden appreciation that his vision of the moon, and the mist in the early morning light wasn’t something ‘natural.’ These things fit together in such a moving way because he was doing the fitting. The vision he had was an artifact, a projection, or better, The Politics of the Aesthetical The title comes from Wordsworth’s poem, Prelude, which was written and revised from 1798 throughout his life until his death in 1850. On an early morning trek up a Welsh mountain, Wordsworth has an epiphany: the sudden appreciation that his vision of the moon, and the mist in the early morning light wasn’t something ‘natural.’ These things fit together in such a moving way because he was doing the fitting. The vision he had was an artifact, a projection, or better, an emblem of his own mind. It was, he realised, a choice he was making. And if he made this one he could make others. He wrote his poem about the experience. Aesthetics was beginning to be recognised as a Power in the world. This is a book about a personal aesthetical experience similar to that of Wordsworth. But it is not a vain, narrow exposition by a bloke who happens to like music and mathematics. It is an important case study in the the field of aesthetics. It’s importance is its demonstration of both a method and a possibility. The method is one of mutually confronting contrary aesthetics with each other, evaluating an independent discipline of thought with criteria from another independent discipline. This confrontation demands, in the first instance, an articulation of the aesthetic already in use for each discipline. In itself this is a significant contribution. The possibility that Rothstein raises is even more exciting, not merely from an intellectual point of view but also in terms of the formal and informal politics of daily life. Through his careful analysis of the two fields he knows well (he has after all committed a substantial part of his life to them), he is confronting himself with what is effectively a political division in his own psyche. This division provokes a rather admirable response in a man like Rothstein: How do these two parts of my life fit together? Is there a unifying commonality of which these two passions are expressions? Answering such questions is more significant than just as personal therapy. It is an experiment in a political ethos. If he can confront himself with his own apparently contrary interests and resolve them, there is no reason in principle why he can’t do the same when confronted with another human being, and expect a similar result. The prize is a new ‘higher’ understanding of their mutual aesthetics. This synthesis of perception is something that has been sought for centuries, totally unsuccessfully, in epistemology. Rothstein shows that an alternative using aesthetics is both feasible and productive. A very exciting prospect indeed. A more general treatment of this attempt may be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... Emblems of Mind is also a very interesting book if you simply like music and maths.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Toria

    Very good introduction to Math and Music. Won't be interesting to people not interested in thoroughly analyzing both. Includes much on the philosophical side, tackling the meaning of truth and beauty. The last few chapters are worth getting through the analyses. I found the chapter on Math more interesting than the chapter on Music, but that is probably due to the fact that I knew everything in it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    booklady

    One of my favorite former book catalogs was The Common Reader. When they went out of business, I went into mourning! This was one of the books I bought on their recommendation. I am not mathematically, nor musically, inclined, yet their write-up of this book (which I wish I still had!) was so good I bought it anyway. The book is about the mysterious connections between music and mathematics. I'm not sure how much someone as unmusical and poor-at-math as I am will be able to understand, but God One of my favorite former book catalogs was The Common Reader. When they went out of business, I went into mourning! This was one of the books I bought on their recommendation. I am not mathematically, nor musically, inclined, yet their write-up of this book (which I wish I still had!) was so good I bought it anyway. The book is about the mysterious connections between music and mathematics. I'm not sure how much someone as unmusical and poor-at-math as I am will be able to understand, but God willing, I am going to read this book someday!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenae

    Overall impression: insightful, enjoyable, and fairly easy to digest for amateurs and intermediates in math and music. The author used a lot of examples to clarify points made in the text which were always helpful, but made for some long reading. The structure or path of the book was periodically revisited, to remind the readers where they have been and where they are going, which also added heft. It also made the final conclusions perhaps the smallest bit anticlimactic but it didn't ruin the bo Overall impression: insightful, enjoyable, and fairly easy to digest for amateurs and intermediates in math and music. The author used a lot of examples to clarify points made in the text which were always helpful, but made for some long reading. The structure or path of the book was periodically revisited, to remind the readers where they have been and where they are going, which also added heft. It also made the final conclusions perhaps the smallest bit anticlimactic but it didn't ruin the book for me.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marc

    Lots of interesting stuff about the connections between music and math. Much of the core of this book may be familiar (or intuitive) to any thoughtful musician, but there's also some cool math stuff, and Rothstein does a very nice fleshing out the interrelations between the fields on a number of levels (e.g., neuro-biological, music-theoretical).

  6. 5 out of 5

    John

    liked this one more than "this is your brain on music", even though the writing is drier.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Claire

    I don't remember many of the details, but it was interesting. Worth a reread.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lana Klipfel

    So far this book is good....it is very tough though... understanding the words sometimes. But it is very well written.

  9. 5 out of 5

    S.

    Interesting!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Eaton

    This book isn't for everyone, but if you have a fair amount of math background and some music background, it's great!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Anne Ku

    I had so looked forward to reading this book. I picked it up from the campus library on Friday of Labor Day weekend but found it hard to get through. It goes deep into mathematics. Then deep into music in the next chapter. I suppose I was looking for light reading. Maybe there is another book about music and math out there that doesn't go so deep.

  12. 4 out of 5

    mm

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  14. 5 out of 5

    Garrett

  15. 5 out of 5

    Alex Korbonits

  16. 5 out of 5

    Eid

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  18. 4 out of 5

    David

  19. 4 out of 5

    Mεδ Rεδħα

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bill Benzon

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vic Dillahay

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jao

  23. 4 out of 5

    Leonard

  24. 5 out of 5

    Tony Dubitsky

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Farris

  27. 4 out of 5

    Chad

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rosemarie Boll

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adam

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris Lang

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