Golden Ratios
April 7, 2007 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Did the roof of the Pantheon influence Copernicus? Are the planets of the solar system aligned in accordance with a nearly-forgotten hypothesis known (unfairly) as Bode's Law? A fascinating wide-ranging discussion on BLDGBLOG with Walter Murch, the visionary editor and sound designer for such films as The Conversation, Apocalypse Now, The English Patient, THX1138, and many others. [Murch's film work has previously been discussed here and here.]
posted by digaman (20 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
A fascinating interview with a genius.

How did you find this gem, digaman? This kind of exploration is why one visits The Blue . . .
posted by rdone at 8:54 AM on April 7, 2007

Exciting post digaman. Great interview! Rich conversation. I'm a huge fan of BLDGBLOG. When I lived in Rome years ago the Pantheon was one of my favorite buildings to spend time in (that and there was a marvelous cafe across the road with the best spaghetti alla carbonara and my boyfriend lived down the street too). In those days it wasn't so crowded or touristic, a peaceful place to experience awe.

A video of the Pantheon.

Murch has a delightfully alive mind! Wonderful to discover his writing online. Thanks so much.
posted by nickyskye at 9:06 AM on April 7, 2007

posted by empath at 9:22 AM on April 7, 2007

I had the pleasure of interviewing Murch for an article a couple of years ago. He had one of the biggest minds I've ever come across. I've been a little obsessed with Murch's Womb Tone [MP3 link], an effort to recrete the first sensory input that all humans experience.
posted by digaman at 9:27 AM on April 7, 2007

I'm also looking forward to seeing Murch talk here in San Francisco -- along with one of my favorite writers, Erik Davis -- later today! It would be great to see other MeFiers there.
posted by digaman at 9:31 AM on April 7, 2007

This is great. I read (almost) all of the interview and just loved it. Thank you.
posted by serazin at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2007

That was a really interesting read. I'm not entirely certain I buy all of it, but it was compelling argued.

My problem is that humans have a tendency to find patterns where none exist. It is possible that the Pantheon's ceiling is a representation of a heliocentric system, or it could be that it was a pleasing pattern to the architect. Perhaps he was trying to duplicate the pattern of ripples of watter when a stone is dropped into a pond, or any number of other things where there are expanding rings around a central point.

But I don't deny that it's an appealing concept. I would love to know more about a 2000 year old builder who designed a building which contained information that would not be widely accepted for another fifteen or so hundred years.
posted by quin at 10:07 AM on April 7, 2007

amazing interview. great post.
posted by farishta at 10:10 AM on April 7, 2007

Where he says that the ratio of planets to orbit is the ratio of notes in a Maj7th chord blew my mind.

That part about exactly how many new shots make an action sequence work...It's like an intellectual orgasm.

I think I'm going to order his book right now.
posted by Brainy at 10:42 AM on April 7, 2007

While it was certainly an interesting discussion, it really does seem like the kind of crackpot numerology you hear a lot. Ultimately, the numerical location of planets isn't really that interesting unless you can actually explain it via some physical law.

The fact that Bode's law worked out for some planets yet undiscovered (but not Neptune) is interesting, but the fact that this guy can "modify" it to make it work for other systems is not. It's always possible to "modify" or create a new formula that fits existing data. What this guy should have done would have been to do a computer simulation, and see if his formula applied to all stable solar systems that could be generated. (but, even then you would need to be careful, it's possible you can embed your own ideas into a simulation)

The bit about Copernicus was interesting, but ultimately unprovable. It's possible that the builders of pantheon and Copernicus just picked the same useful formula. His only claim is that Copernicus was inspired by this architecture which is both impossible to prove and relatively unimportant (if not uninteresting) if true.
posted by delmoi at 10:57 AM on April 7, 2007

Sorry, but that was a crackpot interview. This guy gets his theories heard because of his accomplishments in film. The Law has always been known as the Titius-Bode Law, despite his claims about the obscurity of Titius.

In its original formulation it was not centered on the A.U., as he claims.

Its interesting to note that the Wikipedia article on Titius-Bode Law adds that The planetary science journal Icarus no longer accepts papers attempting to provide 'improved' versions of the law.

That is how I always understood it too. A honeypot for half-baked amateur theories.
posted by vacapinta at 11:59 AM on April 7, 2007

Also I like how he dances around this question:

BLDGBLOG: Have you discussed these ideas with actual astronomers? How did they react?

...I think it was well-received in each case, but it’s still a work-in-progress, and I’m looking for feedback from people who are interested in this kind of cross-disciplinary thinking. For most astronomers it’s hard to contemplate reviving a long-discredited 18th century law of celestial mechanics, let alone the music of the spheres! [laughs]

Ah yes, the close-minded establishment! He does manage to hit several key points in Baez's infamous Index.
posted by vacapinta at 12:04 PM on April 7, 2007

"What this guy should have done would have been to do a computer simulation, and see if his formula applied to all stable solar systems that could be generated"

Something like Fitting random stable solar systems to Titius-Bode laws? For the lazy, their conclusion is that "the significance of Bode’s law is simply that stable planetary systems tend to be regularly spaced".
posted by MetaMonkey at 12:45 PM on April 7, 2007

Cool post by the way, having done a bit of film sound work I always enjoy reading Murch, and playing with patterns between disciplines is always fun, regardless of how his ventures into astrophysics turn out.

It is odd that he is often mentioned in connection with his Titius-Bode theory, but the only glimpse of his actual work I could dig up on the net is a line in this curious page of astronomer Halton Arp on Le Sage Gravity.
"Shortly afterward O. Neto, Agnese and Festa, L. Nottale and A. and J. Rubcic independently in Brazil, Italy, France and Croatia began pointing out similarities to the Bohr atom in the orbital placement of the planets. Different variations of the Bohr-like radius = n2or n2 + 1 / 2n fit the planetary semimajor axes extremely well with rather low "quantum" numbers n. Most recently I have learned of a modification to the Titius-Bode law by Walter Murch where the planetary radii = 1+ 2n + 2n-1

This latter law fits the observed planetary positions exceedingly well for n = -1 to 6 with an average deviation of only 2.4 percent."
posted by MetaMonkey at 1:42 PM on April 7, 2007

I thought I once read a chapter by University of Colorado physicist K.T. Manthappa in which he claimed to explain that Kepler's model of planetary distances as Platonic solids inscribed within spheres almost worked because it was an approximation to some very complicated Group Theory analysis...

I wasn't sure if he was being serious though. The math seemed beyond me. I can't find it on the internets now either.
posted by Schmucko at 1:47 PM on April 7, 2007

I did not know this man's name, but damn if Apocalypse Now isn't the best film I've ever heard.
posted by Anything at 2:00 PM on April 7, 2007

I propose a new theory, called the coincidental numeric orgasim theory. Briefly people who discover coincidences in unrelated numeric systems have a sensation similar to orgasm. Frequently this results in misdirection where the person believes that the numbers are more significant then they actually are.
posted by delmoi at 2:40 PM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

On every occasion I've been lucky enough to be in the beautiful city of Rome, I've always made it a point to make it over to the Pantheon. The place is just really awe inspiring.

I don't suppose there are too many songs that include a reference to the Pantheon in the lyrics, but I recently posted one to MeFi Music that makes mention of the place:

"i feel like i've been severed down the middle
half of me wants to go back home
the other half wants to float up and away
through that hole in the roman pantheon dome..."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:55 PM on April 7, 2007

Walter Murch is a brilliant film theorist and practitioner. His sound work in the 1970's totally revolutionized how we do film sound. His audio montage in THX 1138 is still, even now, one of the more successful experimental explorations into cinematic audio.

quin - The point with the Pantheon wasn't that the original builder set up the rings in ratios that were actually the solar system, it was that when Copernicus went to draw out his vision of a heliocentric universe, it used almost exactly the same ratios. Plus, in it's original incarnation it was a temple to a sun god, so that the circle in the middle was originally intended to be the sun.
posted by MythMaker at 9:43 PM on April 7, 2007

His audio montage in THX 1138 is still, even now, one of the more successful experimental explorations into cinematic audio.

Absolutely true. Even after decades now of sampling, looping, scratching, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, etc. etc., the soundtrack of THX is still one of the most thrillingly dark and fucked up (in the good sense) tracks of audio I know.
posted by digaman at 11:31 AM on April 8, 2007

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