But what do we call “music theory”? Part Deux
I just read an excellent essay that reminded me of the discussion about music-theory qua Big-T-theory that we had three years ago started by @Nicolas Meeùs ('But what do we call “music theory”?' and 'Music theory vs music analysis [Was "But what do we call music theory?"]'). The essay is here:
Philosophy of Physics by Robert P. Crease (Stony Brook)
Our previous discussion kept getting stuck on ideas about purportedly different conceptions of 'theory' between science and music such that one couldn't be applied to the other - as if music theory, at its most fundamental level, is incompatible with science theory. E.g., many kept getting hung up on 'falsifiability' as a sine qua non for a theory to be 'scientific' & obviously this doesn't work for music. But experimental verification is not at all a necessity for theory in physics. Theory in science quite often gets way out in front of experimental data or even the possibility of falsifiability via experiment. Verification of string theory, if possible at all, is in an unforeseeable future - but it's still the most generative idea for the questions it addresses. The following about physics hit home for me about music:
[T]heory-making is not always a matter of seeking something provable and applicable to the world, but can involve articulating a sense of the world that has not yet taken shape, yet nevertheless resonates with current practice in a way that ends up furthering it.
This puts 'theory', while certainly related, out in front of 'analysis' as I was previously trying to insist. 'Theory' does not need to comport with a pre-existing (observed) object, but can define an object yet to be discovered (created). Theory is the basis for all original composition: THIS is how we get from JS Bach to Elliott Carter. Anything else requires a leap of musicological faith - i.e., nonsense. One cannot analyze what does not yet exist, but one CAN theorize it into existence.
Before replying, please read the essay which supports other similarities between music theory & physics theory.