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

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

by Lawrence Weschler
 

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From Pulitzer Prize nominee Lawrence Weschler, a fascinating profile of Walter Murch, a film legend and amateur astrophysicist whose investigations could reshape our understanding of the universe.

For film aficionados, Walter Murch is legendary--a three-time Academy Award winner, arguably the most admired sound and film editor in the world for his work on

Overview

From Pulitzer Prize nominee Lawrence Weschler, a fascinating profile of Walter Murch, a film legend and amateur astrophysicist whose investigations could reshape our understanding of the universe.

For film aficionados, Walter Murch is legendary--a three-time Academy Award winner, arguably the most admired sound and film editor in the world for his work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather trilogy, The English Patient, and many others. Outside of the studio, his mind is wide-ranging; his passion, pursued for several decades, has been astrophysics, in particular the rehabilitation of Titius-Bode, a long-discredited 18th century theory regarding the patterns by which planets and moons array themselves in gravitational systems across the universe. Though as a consummate outsider he's had a hard time attracting any sort of comprehensive hearing from professional astrophysicists, Murch has made advances that even some of them find intriguing, including a connection between Titius Bode and earlier notions--going back past Kepler and Pythagorus--of musical harmony in the heavens. Unfazed by rejection, ever probing, Murch perseveres in the highest traditions of outsider science.

Lawrence Weschler brings Murch's quest alive in all its seemingly quixotic, yet still plausible, splendor, probing the basis for how we know what we know, and who gets to say. "The wholesale rejection of alternative theories has repeatedly held back the progress of vital science," Weschler observes, citing early twentieth-century German amateur Alfred Wegener, whose speculations about continental drift were ridiculed at first, only to be accepted as fact decades later. Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin says "It is controversy that brings science alive"--and Murch's quest does that in spades. His fascination with the way the planets and their moons are arranged opens up the field of celestial mechanics for general readers, sparking an awareness of the vast and (to us) invisible forces constantly at play in the universe.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/17/2016
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.)
From the Publisher

"Part scientific detective story and part reflection on science and its relation to its own history and social reality. . . . Absorbing. . . . Weschler is one of our great writers." - NPR.org

Waves Passing in the Night is an investigation into contemporary astrophysics wrapped in the compelling story of a Hollywood soundtrack composer turned renegade theoretician. It all adds up to a thrilling ride through physical and mathematical space, featuring eye-opening parallels that will challenge and enhance any open-minded reader's view of the heavens.” - Billy Collins

“An inviting portrait of an admirable and accomplished man. We come to see science as closed club, science as abstruse and narrow, science as caste. But Weschler allows that it could be the other way around, too: science as protector of truth and progress, science as guardian against kooks. What began as an exploration of a 'far out' but relatable idea from a 'far out' but relatable guy has become instead a study of the praxis of science. Weschler leaves us pondering how firmly we know what we think we know. Two of my favorite people have collaborated to produce a remarkable work.” - Errol Morris

“An amateur scientist investigates oddly musical mysteries in the motion of the planets in this scintillating true-astronomy saga. . . 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.” - starred review, Publishers Weekly

"[An] altogether engrossing and entertaining essay on fringe science." - Booklist

“A marvelous book, full of wonders and delights. Lawrence Weschler describes Walter Murch and his celestial theories in a way that lights up the reader’s mind like a pinball machine.” - Ian Frazier

“Riding waves and crests of inspired speculation, Lawrence Weschler's brilliant new missive takes readers to the outer limits of an astronomical theory abandoned long ago, as it finds wobbly new life in the mind of an unexpected tinkerer. This lively guide to film editor Walter Murch and his 'gravitational astro-acoustics' is a genuine treat.” - Geoff Manaugh, author of BLDGBLOG and A BURGLAR'S GUIDE TO THE CITY

Everything That Rises ultimately offers not just the quirks of one man's vision but a sublime way of seeing.” - Boston Globe on EVERYTHING THAT RISES

“Weschler's graceful collection of essays and interviews stands out like a rare bloom. Charming, idiosyncratic and deeply intelligent, the book will likely captivate even readers who usually bypass the art history section.” - starred review, Publishers Weekly on EVERYTHING THAT RISES

Seeing Is Forgetting and True to Life are not only about the artists talking to Weschler or, through him, to each other; they're about the artists talking to themselves. - David Ulin, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Weschler has charted [Robert Irwin's] journey with exceptional clarity and cogency. He has also, in the process, provided what seems to me the best running history of postwar West Coast art that I have yet seen.” - Calvin Tomkins on SEEING IS FORGETTING THE NAME OF THE THING ONE SEES

Kirkus Reviews
2016-10-26
An odd but appealing portrait of an Academy Award-winning sound editor fascinated with a simple 18th-century equation that predicts the distance of planets and satellites from the central body.Called Bode's law, its predictions are accurate—most of the time; sometimes it fails. As illustrated in Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder (1995), critic and journalist Weschler (Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative, 2011, etc.) has a taste for talented eccentrics, and Walter Murch (b. 1943), who has worked on Apocalypse Now, the Godfather films, The English Patient, and other acclaimed films, certainly qualifies. A brilliant polymath and perhaps the world's most respected film and sound editor, Murch has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and won three. Although his impressive Wikipedia entry fails to mention it, Murch has devoted 20 years to a private crusade promoting Bode's law in lectures, writing, and correspondence. Encountering him five years ago, Weschler was converted, and he devotes this slim volume to explaining Murch's efforts and interviewing scientists who are almost universally dismissive. "Numerology," one commented. Readers will have no trouble understanding the Bode equation, the mathematics of which is simple high school algebra. The author is convincing in his argument that the scientific establishment has treated Murch unfairly. There's no denying that some objections are petty—e.g., Murch's lack of academic training in the subject. There's also no denying that working scientists have plenty of experience with crackpots who obsessively promote one big idea. In fact, gravity and processes of planetary formation lead to some surprising regularities. Working astronomers don't ignore Bode's law but consider it an ingenious ad hoc invention that doesn't adequately explain anything. An extended New Yorker-style profile of a public figure who is charismatic and interesting enough to deserve a fuller biography.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781632867186
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
01/31/2017
Pages:
176
Sales rank:
365,336
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Lawrence Weschler is a critic, journalist, and author who was a staff writer at the New Yorker for more than twenty years. His books include Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder, for which he was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, Boggs: A Comedy of Values, and Everything That Rises, which received the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Nation, Vanity Fair, Truthdig, and Harper's, among others.

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