Waves Passing in the Night: Walter Murch in the Land of the Astrophysicists

Lawrence Weschler. Bloomsbury, $25 (176p) ISBN 978-1-63286-718-6
An amateur scientist investigates oddly musical mysteries in the motion of the planets in this scintillating true-astronomy saga. Journalist Weschler (Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonders) profiles Walter Murch, a celebrated Hollywood film and sound editor (for The Godfather and other movies) and renaissance man bent on rehabilitating a long-discredited 18th-century theory that the orbital distances of planets from the sun have fixed ratios. (The ratios also crop up among moons, asteroid and comet belts, and planets in other solar systems.) It’s a beguiling theory, well explained in Weschler’s brisk, lucid exposition, with possibly cosmic implications about gravity waves or dark matter and a piquant relationship to musical intervals, which have similar ratios between individual sound frequencies. The author sounds out astrophysicists on Murch’s theory and gets almost uniformly negative critiques—some orbits don’t fit the ratios; it could all be chance; gravity waves are too weak to corral planets into specific orbits, and there’s no other plausible mechanism to explain the ratios—to which Murch responds, often cogently. Weschler remains sympathetic to both sides in this debate between an inspired novice and skeptical pros, expanding it into a fascinating lesson on the nature of scientific understanding and the ways people seek it. Photos. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 10/17/2016
Release date: 01/31/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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