A Universal Language

When you get down to it, all you’re describing is the vibration of air molecules, and how the pressure waves happen to resonate. If the emotional tie is ingrained in us, how would it have evolved? – Taken from Metafilter

Response: I hate the disenchantment of the world.

Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake

Is our emotional tie to music somehow inhuman if it not computable? Unfortunately for computationalists and physicists like Sheldon Cooper out there, the power of lyric-less music lies not in its “vibrations and waves”. If they really wanted something computable in music, I suppose they could examine the mathematical measurements of the rhythm and the logical breakdown of an orchestral written piece. However, the real psychological phenomenon is how it is able to call up images to the mind, how the tones may be understood universally, and how it evokes emotional behaviours without concrete cause.

Moreover, language is used as a practical tool for sophisticated communication. Is not physics or programming just as much symbolic on paper and avant-garde in its implementation as music? Can we not then call music the highest form, due to its complexity and ability to transcend language itself to communicate with the higher senses of human thought? For the exultation over solving a complex math problem must surely be on par if not surpassed by the exhilaration of listening to a classical masterpiece?

To spin this argument on its head, is not music then part of human biology if its understanding is indeed ingrained a priori in our human makeup? What is humanity without intuition and inspiration, if not robotic?

Striking a Balance

With the passage of decades, we learn what T.H. White calls the seventh sense of balance, referring to maturity and life experience. There is a point in our lives when we realize that our ideals that we held as children and young adults must either be abandoned or adapted to the practical, realist world. More eloquently phrased, we have at heart certain aims and visions of how our life should be, what virtues we will pursue with vigorous righteousness (such as justice or traditional notions of love) in what Plato would call our “perfect world”. These ideals set such pure minds apart, where their trail-blazing confidence and admirable pursuits appear noble and inherently good, untouched by the crude world or seemingly impervious to trials.

However, when we encounter real-life situations (usually in our twenties or thirties) where such values are compromised voluntarily or not, where the divine vision seems only illusory, intangible or inadequate for the current circumstances, then we feel the sudden burden of walking a very fine line. We are forced to concede to novel failures or shortcomings or weaknesses with intense gravity granted that they have caused us to make such a sacrifice of innocence or ambition. For some, this change may seem like a lowering of standards or the giving up of an integral part of oneself cheaply or callously. One may feel tarnished or bitter about having chosen wrongly or having chosen at all in such a crucial turning point.

After the fall and a period of commiseration (perhaps even leading a life in stark contrast to one’s values), we learn to get back up on that fine line and continue to walk, this time with our own burdens. Others abandon it altogether to pursue other paths, far from the road less traveled. Some hold the vision still in their hearts and however many times they fall again, they continue to rebuild their honour and press on. Perhaps their former virtue may shine through in their works albeit short of the ideal. We shall never know how we did until we can look back over the years and say, “Yes, I did my best”. Perhaps all that matters is getting to the end of that line, burdens and all. Our hearts still belong to the vision.

Never has any other truth become more apparent to me with each passing day. Though not an intuitive truth, it is certainly one that runs deeper than the realm of empirical analysis.

Suspending Time

My comprehension of the notion of eternity came fairly early in life. I was standing amid the exquisite verdure of a man-made island in the middle of a clear river that flowed through Stratford, Ontario. I was alone or my friends had passed on without my heeding their departure. Motionless, I watched the water’s flow, listening to its music, though a silence had fallen and covered all my mortal senses. I was unconscious of my breath, the time, aught else that moved, save that to stay there was inexplicable bliss.

Eternity is the notion of standing still while Time, Existence, History flows onward at its own excited, rushing pace. When we seek the objective, the Platonic form, we seek to know things as they truly are, whether they can be corrupted, transmuted,  or faded into obscurity. It is why we desire Beauty, Goodness, Truth, even Love to take on that immovable character, where all else passes in its course.  This is not to say that life or mortality itself are worthless things or imitations of the true forms (however weak) are cheap counterfeits, but it is the notion of eternity that gives such subjects their value and power. Our experiences of “perfection” are really the revelation or gift of an “eternal moment”, where Time stops and Mortality stays that we may reach at the sublime.