REVIEW of The Harmonic Origins of the World

During the latter part of the twentieth century, three divergent speculative perspectives opened up on the ancients’ cosmology: astronomical, musical, and metrological. The astronomical perspective found its classic expression in von Dechend and de Santillana’s Hamlet’s Mill. The musical perspective was spelled out, almost single-handedly, by Ernest McClain, beginning with his work The Myth of Invariance. The metrological perspective diverged into the practical (descending from Alexander Thom’s surveying in the nineteenth century), and the more theoretical work associated perhaps most famously with John Michell’s View Over Atlantis.  

These three perspectives shared an awareness that number was an indispensable guide. Number is invariant; three is always three, and always one plus two. Mathematics is a realm of order, and recurrent patterns like the seasons or the harmonic scale call for mathematical descriptions precisely because such descriptions find stability in change. 

As scoffers and skeptics like to point out, however, where there is pattern-finding, there is also often unconscious wishful human ingenuity. Moreover, because the astronomical, musical, and metrological perspectives were carried on sometimes in isolation from one another, their results diverged, and an apparent incommensurability emerged: how could they all be true? This gave scoffers an argument that was, on the face of it, difficult to answer: why not none of them instead? Perhaps the real answer was the skeptical shrug: the ancient myth-tellers and builders of stone circles were acting more or less haphazardly or moved by very terrestrial, local, and historical concerns. Was this not the simplest explanation?

Richard Heath for a quarter of a century has been building towards a case diametrically opposed to this.  From the beginning he worked with Thom’s practical metrological results, bringing them into dialogue with Michell and John Neal; then later with a further expansion of astronomical results that far outpaced von Dechend and de Santillana’s speculations on the precession of equinoxes. In The Harmonic Origins of the World, Heath goes a further step, bringing McClain’s results into dialogue with his previous work. Heath provides ample demonstration that the results of these various perspectives can clearly be seen to not diverge from one another. Suddenly it is very plausible that they might indeed “all be true,” because they were never, for the ancients, separate at all. 

According to Heath, there exists in our solar system a harmony of extraordinary beauty among planetary cycles. This harmony was observed by ancient astronomers, and enshrined in megalithic monuments; it was transmitted in oral and literary culture via a musical grammar of proportion, easily reproducible across various cultures, which informs scripture and speculation (in McClain’s phrase) “from the Rg Veda to Plato.”  These assertions are of course controversial and deserve scrutiny. But they give the lie to any facile dismissal of ancient cosmological sophistication on the grounds that reconstructions are inconsistent. Astronomy, metrology (practical and theoretical), and music are all comprehensible under a single analogical system. They hang together in a coherent, living dialogue.

This book is the most recent chapter and the most comprehensive introduction to a vital adventure in ideas. It is a detailed account of how human beings on the ground could make sense of the sky by way of the octave. In it, rigor and common sense meet wonder and awe. 

Harmonic Earth Measures

The Size of the Earth’s Meridian

It appears the ancient world had unreasonably accurate knowledge of the size of the earth and its shape: Analysis of ancient monuments reveals an exact estimate for the circumference of the mean Earth, a spherical version of the Earth, un-deformed by it spinning once a day. Half of this circumference, the north-south meridian, was known to be about 12960 miles (5000 geographical Greek feet of 1.01376 ft), a number which (in those Greek units) is then 60^5 = 777,600,000 geographical Greek inches. One has to ask, how such numbers are to be found very accurately within a planet formed accidentally during the early solar system?

Figure 1 The Earth as a circular Equator and a spherical Mean Earth, whose half circumference approximates the non-circular distance between north and south poles

John Michell’s booklet on Jerusalem found (in its Addendum) that the walls of the Temple Mount, extended for the rebuilding of the Temple of Solomon, was a scaled down model of the mean-earth Meridian in its length. These walls are still 5068.8 feet long, which is the length of a Greek geographical mile. This unit of measure divides the meridian into 12960 parts, each a geographical Greek mile.

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Use of Ad-Quadratum at Angkor Wat

The large temple complex of Angkor Wat ( photo: Chris Junker at flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )

Ad Quadratum is a convenient and profound technique in which continuous scaling of size can be given to square shapes, either from a centre or periphery. The differences in scale are multiples of the square root
of two [sqrt(2)] between two types of square: cardinal (flat) and diamond (pointed).

The diagonal of a square of unit size is sqrt(2), When a square is nested to just touch a larger square’s opposite sides, one can know the squares differ by sqrt(2)
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