Exposing PseudoAstronomy

September 17, 2015

Podcast Episode 141: The Physics of the A=440 Hz Conspiracy

Four-four-zero Hertz:
The sound of angst and control?
Or a false ideal?

And now for something completely different: Music theory conspiracy. But with physics!!

I’ve heard this idea a few times on various conspiracy outlets, that there’s a big conspiracy about how all of modern music was designed by Nazis to make us angry and warlike and controllable. Or something like that. This is most often told by Dr. Leonard Horowitz (where Doctor = former dentist). I don’t go into the origin of this claim or Horowitz at all in the episode, so to quote very briefly from The Skeptic’s Dictionary:

Leonard Horowitz is a former dentist, anti-vaxxer, promoter of various “natural cures,” and self-publisher of books and pamphlets expressing such unfounded beliefs as that the AIDS and Ebola epidemics were intentionally caused by the U.S. government.

Yeah …

Anyway, this let me discuss music and some stuff that I’ve never gotten into on the podcast nor on this blog, so let me know what you think of the subject matter. It’s really something completely different, especially in comparison with recent months.

And as opposed to the recording quality. I had the microphone’s gain set too low and didn’t realize that until the end, and Audacity couldn’t increase the volume without it being really scratchy. Sorry. 😦

The logical fallacies segment also discusses something I’ve not been able to do before: The Natural Fallacy, or Argument from Nature.



  1. Interesting diversion on this one, but a good episode.
    I was able to tell that there was difference in the pitch of the notes and was surprised at how close they were.

    Comment by Trebor — September 18, 2015 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  2. Interesting episode, I’m going to say that I found the second of the tones at the end to be the more ‘jarring’ of the two played, but that could just have been due to my playback equipment (Portable speakers).

    While I can certainly testify to the emotional power of certain music, it really does tend to be more of a subjective than objective experience.

    Comment by Graham — September 18, 2015 @ 8:57 am | Reply

  3. I said “Lower” the moment the second tone started, I’ve done a lot of damage to my hearing over the years and can’t believe I got it right. I could never live without my electric tuner for my guitar, guess I should get my hearing tested to see what’s going on.

    Comment by Damon Schooler — September 18, 2015 @ 2:17 pm | Reply

  4. I can just imagine it–
    “Mein Führer, Success! We have split the Uranium atom! This means that…”
    “Shut up! I’m listening to this beeping sound… Yes, yes, I hear the difference! You are a genius! Get Joseph in here now!”

    Comment by Yakaru — September 19, 2015 @ 3:24 am | Reply

  5. The 2 tones got my dog’s full attention. I dk why. It’s really odd that someone could think there’s a conspiracy about a pitch. Musicians will make whatever sounds or noises they want, with no regard to what anyone else says about A-440. Did the French gov’t actually legislate the value of “A”? To what purpose?

    Comment by unicorndaniel — September 23, 2015 @ 7:09 am | Reply

    • According to Wikipedia, yes, they did, due to protests about the pitch continuing to increase.

      Comment by Stuart Robbins — September 23, 2015 @ 1:20 pm | Reply

  6. I could definitely tell the difference between the two pitches, and I could tell that the second one was lower. I don’t know if it may help that my son plays the violin, and I have spent years tuning it with him.

    Comment by Brent — September 26, 2015 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a former vibration engineer I cringe whenever I hear these claims. The next time I encounter someone in real life proclaiming the “vibration” of anything I will demand they produce both the eigenvalues and eigenvectors of those frequencies. They had better be cognizant of Euler’s Formula and Fourier transforms just to start!

    Comment by Chris — October 2, 2015 @ 10:08 pm | Reply

  8. I could hear the difference right away and knew the second one was lower. Like Damon above, I use a guitar tuner a lot.

    As an aside, tuning forks at A4 are part of what drove me away from the guitar for a few decades. It’s hard to explain, but tuning a lower string relative to a higher one is much more difficult than the other way around. You have to tune the note a fifth (or sixth, once) below the note before you check it. My ear was not good enough as a kid.

    Comment by Hiram Goldberg — October 8, 2015 @ 9:21 am | Reply

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