Given that her "hypothesis" about music appears no better or worse than any of her other theories, it is difficult to explain why she would consider it a mere hypothesis. Rand's theories of concepts and value are also mere hypotheses. Her attempts to "prove" or "validate" them are no more convincing than her hypothesis about music. So why did she recognize the hypothetical character of her theory of music while ignoring the fact that the rest of her philosophy was also hypothetical?
Oddly enough, her theory of music at least attempts to make use of scientific evidence (which cannot be said of most of her other theories). To be sure, the scientific evidence she references is very old: namely, Helmholtz's 1863 Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik (On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music),
She presents her hypothesis as follows:
From the standpoint of psycho-epistemology, I can offer a hypothesis on the nature of man’s response to music, but I urge the reader to remember that it is only a hypothesis . . .Even as a hypothesis, this is pretty wretched stuff. It is not even consistent with Rand's own pronouncements about music.
One may listen to noise for an hour, a day or a year, and it remains just noise. But musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result—the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity: a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.
Helmholtz has demonstrated that the essence of musical perception is mathematical: the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones. The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance, but not of eight to nine. . .
The psycho-epistemological meaning of a given composition lies in the kind of work it demands of a listener’s ear and brain.
A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships—or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity. It may demand a process of building an integrated sum—or it may break up the process of integration into an arbitrary series of random bits—or it may obliterate the process by a jumble of sounds mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate, and thus turn into noise.
The listener becomes aware of this process in the form of a sense of efficacy, or of strain, or of boredom, or of frustration. His reaction is determined by his psycho-epistemological sense of life—i.e., by the level of cognitive functioning on which he feels at home.
According to Rand's hypothesis, the "psycho-epistemological sense of life" evoked by music depends on the ability to resolve the complex mathematical relationships of musical tones. What this suggests is, first of all, that musical response depends on the level of an individual's cognitive functioning. Since cognitive functionality presumably differs from one individual to another, this means that musical values are relative, rather than objective (i.e., they are relative to the individual's level of cognitive functioning). Although Rand does not explain how music conveys either a benevolent or malevolent sense of life, the unstated implication is that it has something to do with the ability to resolve complex mathematical relationships and to the process of building an integrated sum. This would suggest that an individual with a benevolent sense of life would respond to music which, given his level of cognitive functioning, demanded his full capacity at resolving complex mathematical relationships and building integrated sums. In other words, music which he would perceive as having a benevolent sense of life would be just the sort of music that most he found most challenging to process and resolve. This ability would differ from person to person. An individual with a low level of cognitive functioning might find a popular song challenging and therefore "benevolent." The same individual would, however, be frustrated in his attempt process and resolve a Beethoven string quartet, which he would therefore regard as "malevolent." A person with a higher level of cognitive functioning, on the other hand, would find the popular song boring, and therefore "malevolent," but the Beethoven quartet challenging and therefore "benevolent."
As Rand was never very good at ferreting out the more problematic implications of her theories, she failed to notice these implications in her hypothesis about music. If she had noticed them, it's hard to believe that she would have presented this theory, even if only as hypothesis. In any case, it should be obvious that this hypothesis is not consistent with her own aesthetic judgments about music. Rand believed (although she could not prove) that Sergei Rachmaninoff was "objectively" the greatest of composers. If, however, one's response to music depends on one's the level of cognitive functioning, than the objectivity of musical values, as I have already noted, is no longer warranted. Even relative to a specific level of cognitive functioning, Rand's judgment is problematic. After all, is Rachmaninoff any more complex than Arensky, Cui, Balakirev, Medtner, Miakovsky, and any number of composers who wrote in a similar style, yet who are generally regarded as his inferior? Since the complexity of many of the works of these composers is about on par with Rachmaninoff's best works, there doesn't seem to be any reason to prefer one over the others. Rand's hypothesis doesn't actually provide a basis for musical values or judgments about music. So even as a hypothesis, it's a complete failure.
There is further problem with Rand's hypothesis. What on earth does Rand mean by the phrase "mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate." Presumably, she is referring to "dissonant" modern music, particularly the atonal music of Schoenberg and the high modernists. However, it should be noted that nearly all serious music contains dissonances (i.e., chords that are "mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate"), and that Rand's implied criticism of modern music could be applied to classical music en toto. Dissonances are essential in developing drama, tension, and resolution in serious music. Such dissonances are resolved, not by integrating their notes (which is, after all, "physiologically impossible"), but by juxtaposing them with consonant chords. Moreover, there is absolutely no evidence to support the notion that listening to physiologically unresolvable chords or melodies necessarily leads to frustration or boredom, as is suggested in Rand's hypothesis. Experiments have demonstrated that prolonged exposure to atonal music develops the ability to listen to music without expecting harmonic resolution.
The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance,
Or as it is commonly known, the octave...
but not of eight to nine...
Or as it is commonly known, the whole tone or major second; the younger children may know it as the difference between DO and RE.
Or as it is commonly known, the whole tone or major second...
Yes, that is true; but I wonder if Rand had any real understanding of Helmholtz's theory. I'm no expert at harmonic theory or on Helmholtz, so I'm relunctant to comment on this. But the fact that Rand would give an octave as an example of an integratable ratio suggests to me that she had only a superficial grasp of the theory, indeed, a grasp even worse than my own. Obviously, a 1:1 ratio is easy to "integrate." But what about 8:5 or 9:5? My understanding is that Helmholtz regarded 8:5 as consonant (and therefore, in Rand's language, as integratable) but 9:5 as dissonant. But what makes 8:5 "mathematically resolvable" and 9:5 not "mathematically resolvable?"
Not that any of this really matters. Complaints about dissonant music sounding like "noise" has nothing to do with integrating intervals or chords. Dissonances are often used as expressive tools, as when, for example, Mahler added an "atonal" chord to his 10th Symphony to express what he felt after discovering that his wife had been unfaithful. Mathematics may be involved in the perception of musical tones, but the expressivity of music is not based solely or even primarily on mathematics.
But the fact that Rand would give an octave as an example of an integratable ratio suggests to me that she had only a superficial grasp of the theory...
So really, the valuable lesson she is teaching here has nothing to do with music; it's the classic "don't think because you're clever in one area that you know everything." I think a close modern equivalent is "five minutes with Wikipedia does not make you an expert."
8:9 specifically caught my eye because it's used in Pythagorean tuning*, so has been part of music theory since the Greeks invented music theory. I suppose this would reinforce the idea of "superficial grasp."
* Pythagorean tuning uses 3:2 ratios throughout; two such ratios give 9:4, which is outside the octave and halved to 9:8. For example**, starting at C, the first 3:2 is at the fifth or G, and the next 3:2 is at G's fifth or D; do-re.
** Let's not get into equal tempering...
A friend of mine, a jazz musician and piano technician (he rebuilds, restores, and tunes pianos for a living), once showed me a couple of pianos he was working on. One was tuned with the aid of a digital tuner so that the the keys were at the exact mathematically perfect interval from one another. Another piano was traditionally tuned, i.e., tuned by ear according to methods dating back to the instrument's invention, which meant that the intervals weren't mathematically perfect.
Because he's a jazz musician, he's called upon to play the same song in different keys depending on what key the other musicians know it in. He played a few songs for me in multiple keys on each piano. The "scientific" piano has a perfect, crystaline sound, a bit sterile, and the songs sounded the same from key to key.
However, on the traditionally tuned piano, because the intervals were mathematically perfect, the same song would take on different subtle moods depending on key. What sounded bright and shining in C major, took on a certain storminess and angst when transposed to E-flat major even though he played same song in the same way, and as a musician, he much preferred the traditional tuning because it allowed him a larger palette of sonic colors to choose from (if I may indulge in some synesthesia).
Anyway, my point, which may as well be my eternal refrain when it comes to Objectivism is this: It's More Complicated Than That.
What is considered to be consonant or dissonant is rather arbitrary. In early music only fifths and octaves were considered to be consonant intervals. In Baroque music the Picardy third was often used in music in a minor key to give it a more consonant ending. In later periods people got more and more used to intervals that used to be felt as dissonant, so that the division between dissonant and consonant continuously shifted. I think Rand would never have guessed on hearing the delicious minor ninths in Chopin's Berceuse (officially 32:15, never mind equal tempering) that these were dissonant far beyond her 9:5 limit and could therefore according to her ideas not be "integrated".
You guys are giving me a headache... start from first principles, not Helmet... A is A.
Actually, Xtra Laj, "A is A" is a terrible place to start with music. When you compare A's from different places and times, you get a tone anywhere from 415 to 455 Hz (with even more baroque outliers, ha ha). Standardization is only about a hundred years old. As with all standards, there have always been several to choose from, and there is still no universal agreement.
>Actually, Xtra Laj, "A is A" is a terrible place to start with music.
When you read you begin with A,B,C, when you sing you begin with...A=A.
One of the things that jolted me out of my stupor was reading Rand's comment that Beethoven had a Byronic sense of life, meaning one in which man is doomed to failure.
Now, I've been a real Beethoven nut since before I heard the name Ayn Rand, so this shocked me. His works span a wide range of emotions. But just where is this musical message "man is doomed?"
Take the symphonies, which are popular and well-known. Name one that has a "Byronic" sense of life. The Third evokes Beethoven's idea of romantic heroism, which was a major breakthrough for music. The Eighth is joyful. The Ninth, singing of the brotherhood of all men... transcendent. Even the Fifth Symphony, with its famously ominous opening, ends with a movement that can only be described as ecstatic triumph. And that's not a subjective judgement, either.
A few months ago I responded to a commenter on some Objectivist forum somewhere. This was his proof that Rand was right about Beethoven: In the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven says that he looks forward to death and barely has the will to live.
If either that guy or Rand had bothered to learn anything about Beethoven's life, they would have known that although he struggled with debilitating illnesses that may have brought him to his knees, the Heiligenstadt Testament was a major turning point for him. He rededicated his life to his work and went on to create works that were beautiful, innovative, and yes, BENEVOLENT, in spite of the huge limitations imposed on him by fate. Not unlike a Randian hero... But I guess it's just a mark of a depraved, malevolent soul for a composer who's going deaf and is crippled with pain to momentarily experience depression and wish for death.
And anyway, is it a crime to explore darker emotions? Is it "malevolent" to acknowledge that pain exists? If Rand stripped out all the "negative" stuff from her novels, the Fountainhead would be a pamphlet.
Rand's comments on Beethoven weren't just mistaken, they were STUPID and IGNORANT. And totally unnecessary. And arrogant too! I would respect her if she had said "I've only heard five minutes of the first movement of the fifth symphony, and that isn't enough to judge..."
I've seen somewhere that music has some effect on brain rhythms in humans and other animals. I would expect various mathematical sequences of notes to have different effects. But I also expect that it would have nothing to do with how we consciously analyze mathematics. For an example of how the brain analyzes a particular mathematical structure completely unconsciously look at how we predict ballistic arcs. This is something that humans are particularly good at. We have evolved to be able to throw hard and accurately.
There is no reason at all to expect the complexity of our reaction to music to have anything to do with the rest of our cognitive function. Rand is indulging in a non sequitur here
I would say Rand's problem with music is that it undermines her theory of emotions. She can't deny that people respond emotionally to music. But how can this be, if, as Rand insists, emotions are always a result of automatized value judgments and must always be based on cognition. It's relatively easy for her to appply this to art forms that typically include cognitive elements -- novels, plays, paintings -- and to decry as anti-art the numerous examples of such forms that lack sufficient cognitive elements for her taste.
But music is a problem because music qua music (sorry) has no cognitive content; it's just sounds. So she has to explain how an emotional response is possible absent cognitive content -- and why it's okay to respond favorably to music, despite the lack of cognitive content, while it's not okay to respond favorably to, say, a non-representational painting.
Thus the hypothesis that there must be some sort of cognitive process going on -- integrating the tones into "a new cognitive experience ... a melody." This hypothetical cognitive process provides the cover she needs; the value judgments arise from this cognitive experience, so music can produce feelings, and all is well in the Randiverse.
^^ I think you are spot on, Echo Chamber.
I remember once challenging my objectivist acquaintance, who complained about abstract visual art and poetry that 'didn't represent anything', by pointing out that a lot of music doesn't represent anything. When challenged as to why non-representation should be OK in music but not in other art forms, he came up with some waffle (that might have been a rand quotation) about music being "the form" where the emotions are evoked directly. As to why this couldn't be the case with other art forms, of course he had no answer because there is none.
There is no reason why one cannot respond to a piece of abstract art exactly as one responds to non-representative or "absolute" music.
My hypothesis is that the reason objectivists (and indeed, many others) object to one and not the other is that the "I can do that" factor plays a huge role in the appreciation of art. At least a certain amount of one's aesthetic response to a piece of art has something to do with how difficult it is perceived to have been to produce; hence most people would consider a pianist performing a Rachmaninov concerto more pleasing than a five-year-old knocking out 'Happy Birthday' on the same piano (the difficulty is not the only reason for this of course, but one of them). Wheras viewing a Jackson Pollok painting might provoke the response "it looks like what my five-year-old does at school", hence the scorn, regardless of whether the painting is pleasing or not. Hence the similar responses to certain modern music e.g. Stockhausen etc. which, to the untrained ear, might sound like random bashing at a piano (which anyone can do).
My hypothesis is that the reason objectivists (and indeed, many others) object to one and not the other is that the "I can do that" factor plays a huge role in the appreciation of art.
That's an interesting hypothesis, and probably true up to a point, but I doubt it accounts for the main reason why Objectivists deplore non-representational art. The aesthetic effects of non-representational pictoral art are extremely subtle; so much so, that such art will only appeal to very small minority. I have no problem with Rand and other Objectivists not caring for such art. I think the problem arises when they use their aesthetic tastes as a pretext for making judgments about people who have different tastes themselves, as if to imply that the only reason why individuals would have different aesthetic tastes from Rand is because there is something psychologically or morally wrong with them.
Remember however that this dislike is not limited to non-representational art. Back in "Rand & Aesthetics 3" Dragonfly cited Rand's reaction to Rembrandt's Carcass of Beef, which is highly representational. She rejected it as an inappropriate subject for art.
From that case and others cited, it seems that Rand wanted art to be sanitized. It should only be used to depict subjects that she considered noble and proper, and should depict them in the best possible light. It sounds like she would also demand that the artist omit or alter any details (a mole, a deformity) that might portray the subject as less than perfect.
Ken said: From that case and others cited, it seems that Rand wanted art to be sanitized. It should only be used to depict subjects that she considered noble and proper, and should depict them in the best possible light.
This is interesting. Carcass of Beef is objective, representational, rendered in a "proper" style and yet, deemed to be an inappropriate subject by Rand.
Why should it be inappropriate to paint a cow carcass? This is how we get our food. This is a part of life. Calling it inappropriate sounds like the same sentiment you hear from the people who gladly eat meat but would never hunt or slaughter an animal themselves, because, well, it's icky and gross and violent and MEAN! But it's fine to pay for it to happen in factories far away and consume the results.
An Objectivist really ought to view the painting like this: "When I see Carcass of Beef, I see a product of a man who values his life and his survival over that of a mere animal. I see the productive cattle rancher whose efficacious mind sustained each cow for many years. I see the owner of the slaughterhouse, who does a job few want to do, and does it well -- and at a profit. I see the housewife, who traded value for value, choosing only the best nourishment for her growing family..."
@ Daniel Barnes
Actually, when you start with music, which is to say when you're learning music, you start with C instead of A. :)
By the way, that last paragraph of mine isn't how I speak!
From that case and others cited, it seems that Rand wanted art to be sanitized.
Broadly speaking, yes. However, I don't think it's possible to find a reliable rule of thumb to gauge Rand's aesthetic tastes. If all you knew about Rand's aesthetics were her actual theories; and if these theories were presented without reference to any actual works of art: then you'd be hard pressed to guess what kind of art she liked or approved of. You might guess Victor Hugo and Edmond Rostand? But what else could you possibly guess? Would you ever, in a million years, guess that her favorite painters were Vermeer and Dali? I don't think so.
Yet, on the other hand, you would do very well guessing her dislikes. Indeed, simply assuming she disliked all art would be a better strategy then trying infer her tastes from her theories. Her likes and dislikes have a large measure of the arbitrary in them, and are only incidentally connected with her theories.
What is innate humanity? Rand defined it as the ability to reason, and fit her aesthetics into her own axioms. Yet there is some evidence that music is older than speech, and thus that the communication of emotions came before the communication of ideas and the identification of concepts in words.Certainly poetry , which produced drama, was first sung long before it was written down.
Her refusal to identify her own, and all our own, ancestors as fully human, limits the category of human to an elite few.
[i]Calling it inappropriate sounds like the same sentiment you hear from the people who gladly eat meat but would never hunt or slaughter an animal themselves, because, well, it's icky and gross and violent and MEAN![/i]
I've come across this argument many times and never really understood it. Obviously, to think that killing animals is morally wrong but happily eating meat is ridiculous.
But to merely find the thought of doing it oneself distasteful - I don't see why one ought to be ready to kill animals oneself. There are lots of things I prefer not to do myself but am happy to reap the rewards of others' willingness to do - such as dealing with my rubbish and other wastes once they leave my house. If I were in a situation where I *had* to deal with my waste in the long term then I would do so, but would still find it distasteful.
I wouldn't like to kill an animal myself, and if it was a choice between killing an animal myself and taking the vegetarian option, it'd be fava beans for me simply because I don't consider meat so superior to the alternatives as to be worth it. But I don't consider the killing of animals in order to eat them *morally* wrong, so I am happy to eat them as long as others are happy for me to pay them do the killing on my behalf, just as I might pay someone to do a number of things on my behalf that I don't want to do. Don't see what's wrong or hypocritical about that.
While you might very well be right that there is nothing inconsistent about being disgusted with the process by which meat is obtained and eating meat with gusto, there is something problematic about that for someone that claims that all values are rational or should be rationally integrated.
I think that those who are disgusted by a productive activity and call themselves Objectivists should check their premises or even more importantly, look deep into their psych-epistemology for the repressed memories and ideas that lead to such irrationality!
A., I'm sorry, I should have been clearer in my post. I consider it hypocritical for Rand to have called the Carcass painting inappropriate and objectionable because of its subject. The fact is that a lot of our food comes from dead animals. We may prefer to have others do the dirty work for us, but I have a problem with this idea that a slab of dead beef not sitting inside a kaiser roll is just something inappropriate we shouldn't look at or know about.
You could make the case that Carcass isn't a great painting, that it's not transcendent or beatific or whatever. But it's definitely appropriate. This is life, this is reality. Supposedly Rand was a big fan.
Except, I guess, for those little corners of reality she didn't like.
"The Carcass of Beef" looks like a challenge of sorts to me. But since I know little about art, I'll leave it to the experts to argue over how difficult working on such a piece must have been, but to my eye, it looks even more difficult and more of a subtle display of incredible skill than many of those epic Soviet Realist art pieces.
"Carcass of Beef" looks confrontational, almost postmodern - recall William Burroughs Naked Lunch ( that moment when everyone sees that thing on the end of a fork). Also if you look at its symbolism from within the Christianity-saturated era it was produced in - is the semi Christ pose a denigration of the promise of eternal life, or a celebration of it? Rembrandt lost his wife and three out of his four children, as did so many in that era. Not sure when he painted it, but maybe this was on his mind. But obviously part of its genius is the richness of possible interpretations, in stark contrast to Rand's overly goal-directed, and thus monotonous and necessarily predictable approach.
I think that those who are disgusted by a productive activity and call themselves Objectivists should check their premises or even more importantly, look deep into their psych-epistemology for the repressed memories and ideas that lead to such irrationality!
Lucky I'm not an objectivist then!
But Rand's complaint about this painting is that skilled technique is used on a mundane subject. Ordinary everday life is too trivial to be celebrated. Only the heroic is worthy of our attention or respect.
A Russian I know has comnpared her writing to Socialist Realism. She was promoting a form of Romantic Utopianism. But then so were the fascists and the communists. Her ultimate motivations in fact are closer to these groups than they are to those of most conservatives or libertarians who are far less tempted by Utopia. Yes, her promoted policies are very different from those of fascists or communists but her obsession with the heroic is similar
Her ultimate motivations in fact are closer to these groups than they are to those of most conservatives or libertarians who are far less tempted by Utopia. Yes, her promoted policies are very different from those of fascists or communists but her obsession with the heroic is similar.
The similarities between Rand and various utopian ideologies, of course, runs well beyond a mere obsession with the heroic. There's another obsession which Rand shares even more intensely with fascists and communists: namely, an obsession with combatting dissent. While Rand (at least officially) didn't believe in using state power to enforce uniformity of belief, she used every means of social power at her disposal (which was considerable among her admirers) to intimidate all or at least most symptoms of dissent that came within her ken. And much of this mania for enforcing ideological correctness seems fueled by a strong belief in the power of ideology to mold individuals and society, which Rand seems to have shared with the Soviet communists under which she lived in early adulthood. So much of Objectivism seems to have the same form and modus operendi of the totalitarian left, except with all the political and moral doctrines reversed. You have the same rationalism, the same sloganeering, the same denial of human nature, the same belief that "intellectuals" are the handmaidans of history, the same reverence for ideology as such accompanied with a scorn for the intuitive wisdom and tradition.
And the same certainty that they are right. A claim that reason proves this. A claim that is actally rationalization. And the same belief that reasonable moral people must agree with them if their position is properly explained.
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