Occult Arithmetic: Music, Mathematics & Mysticism

In 2009, Rob attended the SkyWay ’09 festival of light in Torun, Poland. Along with Alice Williamson, he presented to other academics and artists at a seminar devoted to collaborations between science and art. This article was inspired by the event and the collaborations Rob initiated there. Unfortunately, Rob died before he could finalise the paper. However, it was kindly finished and edited by Alice Williamson and published in Writing Visual Culture 5 (2010) (http://tvad-uh.blogspot.co.uk/2012_06_01_archive.html). It is free to download.

Occult Arithmetic: Music, Mathematics & Mysticism, Robert Priddey, ed. Alice Williamson, University of Hertfordshire


The ancient Pythagorean sect bequeathed an abstract concept of music – later known as musica universalis – music as pattern, flow, a direct embodiment of the fundamental processes and forms underlying reality, all beginning with the connection between harmonious musical intervals and simple ratios. Through the centuries, this beguiling notion continued to re-emerge; amplified, elaborated and reinterpreted in the work of the most prominent philosophers and physicists. To what extent could it still be said to hold? In what way can it stand as an archetype for the interaction between art and science? This paper seeks to answer these questions. Circling around the statement of Liebniz that music is an exercise of “occult arithmetic”, it considers – through a historically-driven speculation from Pythagoras to Schopenhauer – music’s capacity to enlighten us, and how it can correspond to concepts of order and chaos, intuition, creativity and metaphysical transcendence. Further questions are ultimately raised: what does art represent as opposed to scientific enquiry? How can science and art complement one another?

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.