I spoke on my new book "Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science" (Video Part 1 is my talk, Part 2 is the Q&A)
The Triple Book Party we held on May 14 in NYC was great fun. Here are the videos of the talks.
I'm pleased to announce that the Kindle version of my new book "Emotion in Life & Music" is now available.
I've been holding off announcing the publication of my new book "Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science" because the Kindle edition isn't out yet. (The Kindle edition will include links to musical examples.) But in the meantime, the physical book shot up the rankings to become the #12 book in Aesthetics, and the #1 "Hot New Release" in Aesthetics. If you do want to jump on the bandwagon and get the physical book, check it out here.
My book will be published this month! Stay tuned. Here's the blurb/description:
Emotion in Life & Music: A New Science
by M. Zachary Johnson
What does it mean for music to be emotional?
How can these mysterious feelings be understood and validated?
Some modern thinkers, unable to find an answer, have gone so far as to declare that music must be pure form, without emotion. Yet philosophers from Confucius to Plato and Aristotle, religious traditions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Christianity, all regarded music as a profound form of moral-emotional training.
Can we link the ancient spiritual purposes of music to our modern secular and scientific understanding of man?
This book argues we can, presenting a new theory that music produces the psychological signature of emotion—a motion of the mind with a distinctive set of mathematical characteristics. This theory provides a new way of making sense of musical emotion, a rational framework for understanding and validating it. It thus holds the promise of restoring the importance of music as a humanistic art form, and a vehicle for expressing and rewarding the good.
Tonight I attended a talk in NYC on "Western Civilization on the Brink: Why Defending our Culture Matters" by Dr. Victoria Coates, who just published the book "David's Sling: A History of Democracy in Ten Works of Art." (She also happens to be a foreign affairs advisor for the Ted Cruz campaign.)
The book tells the story of the propagation of Western Democracy through works of visual art through the ages. In the presentation tonight, we heard Dr. Coates talk about a few of these works in vivid detail and in historical context. It definitely got me interested in the book.
The audience (a packed house) seemed to be mainly Western Civ advocates like me, so it was a nice group of people to meet. I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in the heritage of Western culture.
Some complain that Ayn Rand rejected people, and threw them out of her circle and her movement, because they "didn't like the right music," etc. This includes, for example, Murray Rothbard's short play, Mozart was a Red.
In going through some old papers, I found a discussion I had with long-time Ayn Rand fan Betsy Speicher about this. Betsy quoted Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand's executor:
On a daily one-hour show where he was doing an on-air biographical interview with two reporters from the Orange County Weekly, Dr. Peikoff was asked whether Ayn Rand rejected people who didn’t share her tastes in art. Here’s what he had to say, transcribed verbatim:
“If it were true that Ayn Rand kicked out of her circle or denounced or would not tolerate anyone who disagreed with her on things like music and painting, I’d like you to account for my continued existence as a close friend of hers for over thirty years plus being designated as heir.
“I loved Beethoven. I have a vast Mozart collection of which she knew perfectly well. I love Somerset Maugham whom she hated. [ …]
“She knew in great detail of the conflicts--such conflicts or disagreements as there were--and as long as you could specify what you liked in terms that were understandable in reason (and that were not an assault on reason, as I indicated to you before) there’s no such thing. It’s a complete, total lie.”
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As confirmation of this fact, give a listen to Ayn Rand’s “Fiction Writing” course which was taped at her apartment. There is one place where she discusses four love scenes. After the reading of one she asks: “Is there anyone who like this?” Her voice is dripping with utter disgust. There is dead silence on the tape for a while and then you hear Ayn Rand chuckling and saying, “Leonard, you would!”
Betsy has a book of her own out now; here it is: The Whys Way to Success and Happiness
Now that it is painfully clear who the presidential nominees will be, I find it necessary to point out: Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are both Baby Boomers, just like George W. Bush was. As grateful as I am to my parents (both Boomers) for bringing me into the world, I will be glad when their generation finally retires.
Boomers were the first post-Western or anti-Western generation, the hippie generation, the first generation not of Beethoven, but of "Roll Over, Beethoven." The kids who wanted to tear down the establishment (including every vestige of the Enlightenment), and who used their numbers to that end, now *are* the establishment.
We will be much better off when the Boomers are off the scene, out of the positions of cultural power and influence. And we will have an amazing cultural opportunity when the generational change of power comes. It's not here yet, but it is coming soon.
Ladies and Gentlemen, after more than 15 years of work, I just finished my book "Emotion in Life & Music." (Only a little line-editing remains.) Get ready for the bomb to drop.
Today we live in an age in which people deeply accept metaphysical Subjectivism—the idea that reality is not an objective absolute, but a fluid and arbitrary construct of mind. On this premise, people think reality is either personally unique—you live inside your own self-created reality—or socially constructed—society somehow congeals its version of reality, which holds for only the members of that society.
People are drawn to this assumption of "Subjective Reality" because it enables them to make excuses for whatever irrationality they want to get away with.
One manifestation is what I call “subjectivist distancing”--a tactic for avoiding engagement with particular facts and arguments by dismissing them as “merely based on personal experience” and therefore irrelevant to anyone other than the speaker.
This is the pattern of "subjectivist distancing": A reality-oriented person offers facts and logical arguments. The subjectivist instinctively dislikes the absolutism and the challenge of that substance—and he seeks to distance himself from it by finding some way in which the reality-oriented person “just had a bad personal experience.” The subjectivist wants to avoid grappling with the specific facts and logical arguments offered, and he does so by ignoring them and implying that his opponent's judgment must be clouded and biased by his own subjectively constructed perception.
Here are some examples of Subjectivist Distancing from my own personal experience.
Each school year, I have a conversation with my graduating students—who will be going off to college the next year--about the nature and dangers of academia. We discuss the origins of academia in Plato's philosophy, embodied in his Academy, which was then re-created in the medieval Christian monasteries, which were eventually opened up to the public to become Universities. I warn the students about the dangers of living in a bubble cut off from the realities of life, without productive work to make a living, with all the concrete details of grocery shopping and paying bills managed by the great Parent which is the university—all riding on money that comes from commerce and industry, whether via private donors, government subsidies or grants, parental payments, or from debt which will be repaid by the student's own future work. I warn of the brainwashing indoctrination that students are subjected to, and explain in detail which ideas a pushed and how they are pushed. I warn about the dangers of false prestige, and the way “school pride” fuses your sense of self, your identity, with the institution and its doctrines.
One student, whose parents are piled high with academic credentials, and who was proud of being accepted to the prestigious Princeton University, found my message especially uncomfortable and fought me on it steadily. She particularly wanted to find out if I had had a bad experience in college—she half-heartedly acknowledged the facts I cited, but insistently pressed me about whether I had just had “a bad college experience.” When I told her that, yes, I did have a bad college experience, she was finally satisfied; she concluded—as she wanted to--that everything I said pertained only to me, was only relevant to me, that she did not have to deal with it or answer it, because my viewpoint was tainted by “personal experience.”
Another example: Several of my recent blog posts have condemned the Landmark Forum as a deadly and evil cult. I got a number of objections to those posts from people who had “completed” the Landmark Forum and wanted to shoot down what I said and reassert that they had “gotten value” from it and “suffered no ill harm” from it. Their objections were (quoting from one Landmark supporter): 1) “have you completed the Landmark Forum yourself, or is everything you have posted on the subject second or third-hand?” and admonishing me to “disclose that you never completed the program you are posting about and have no actual first-hand knowledge of it.” And 2) “You've not offered any sort of evidence except your perception/opinion of what is going on.”
Notice the double standard: if you do not have direct “personal experience” with the thing you are discussing, then your viewpoint is dismissed as not based on first-hand observation; but if you do have “personal experience” with it, then your judgment must be clouded and tainted by your own false private reality. There is no square inch of the human brain which is not destroyed by the premise of metaphysical Subjectivism.
My third example is about religion and worldview. I had a conversation with a Catholic friend—a very intelligent person with wide knowledge of science and the arts, but who was rigidly committed to the Catholic faith. I explained that I couldn't accept religion because it doesn't make any sense. We had fairly extensive conversations in which I pointed out the fallacies in the concept of God as an omniscient and omnipotent being, in which I pointed out the horrific implications of such things as original sin and the Ten Commandments (self-abnegation being the main theme). I was defending Ayn Rand's philosophy on the grounds of logic and facts.
But the final note of the conversation, pressed by my friend, was her assertion that I seemed to have had a difficult childhood, and therefore I needed a philosophy like Objectivism—whereas she had had a fairly good childhood, so she didn't have that need. She brushed aside the question of truth and rational validity to reassert the Subjectivist metaphysics: your reality is one thing, just for you, and my reality is another thing, untouchable by any of your observations or arguments.
This is how Subjectivism attempts to insulate irrational beliefs from challenge--to keep them impervious to reality. The subjectivist keeps threatening facts at arm's length from himself using, guarding against the thing he fears: objective reality.