Mozart and Great Music

From the book, Mozart and Great Music: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen, Book 4.

04-Mozart-Thumb

Introduction

The meaning of music lies not in the fact
that it is too vague for words,
but that it is too precise for words.
Felix Mendelssohn

YouTube – Playlist 0: Mozart and Great Music

If you learn one thing only from this little book, then let it be this:

You can directly experience
heavenly states of consciousness
listening to Mozart.

Contrary to popular belief, truly Great Art (such as that created by a Shakespeare, a Mozart, a Michelangelo, a Sesshu, an al-Mutanabbi) is more objectively great than most people realize, not just a matter of subjective opinion.

True, some people have preferences that may exclude Great Art. They may even have profound, sublime experiences with the works of artists that appear simplistic and trite to others.

Some insist that Pachelbel’s Canon in D, a favorite at weddings, is heavenly:

Pachelbel Canon in D
https://youtu.be/jdRNTXaweoo

Pachelbel’s Canon can be moving and beautiful.

But it is not objectively Great Art. Not in a world that includes Mozart. Is this merely my subjective view? We will see in Chapter 1. But first, one question must be answered:

What makes Great Art great? The answer, paradoxically, points to how Great Art induces in someone rare and powerful subjective experiences.

Great Art transports one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Great Art can imbue a spiritual revelation
each time one experiences it.

Great Art carves out states of consciousness
that transcend the human.

Great Art embodies an eternal mystery.

Great Art catalyzes, transforms, and transfigures.

And more often than not, Great Art requires you to meet its demands before it unlocks its transfiguring mystery.

People who have never tried to meet the demands of Great Art (through education or training), or who have tried but stopped before the door opened, may call all art a matter of opinion. They may believe it all to be mere preference, without one preference being greater than any other.

Not true.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D may provide extraordinary pleasure for some, but it cannot possibly be defined as Great Art. The same can be said for most popular music today.

These works do not transport one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Don’t get me wrong. I spend more time listening to popular music than music that is Great Art. I love jazz, pop, ambient, rock, metal, alternative, and many genres beyond and in between.

I love The Beatles, John Coltrane, The Cars, Evanescence, Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Enya, Led Zeppelin, U2, Al Di Meola, Fever Ray, Robbie Williams, Devin Townsend, Steve Morse, Yes, Cirque du Soleil, Jon Mark, Peter Murphy, Rodney Jones, Larry Siegel, Dean Martin, Todd Rundgren, Adele, Blue Oyster Cult, Keith Jarrett, and many more artists.

But rarely do their creations rise to Great Art. (Occasionally, in my view, some jazz greats achieve it, like John Coltrane, Charlie Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie.)

Examples of Great Art include the likes of the already famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), 1st Movement allegro. (The “K” stands for the Köchel number, created by Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who catalogued Mozart’s works.)

525: Serenade in G major, Eine kleine nachtmusik, 1st movement (with score)
http://youtu.be/YqN-5EujyaM

Or the achingly beautiful 2nd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. This video with an animated graph helps you “visually hear” the individual instruments.

467: Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement, (Serkin)
https://youtu.be/cHpfjehLSzA

Or the groundbreaking Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (The term “G minor” refers to the musical key in which the symphony is composed.)

550: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, 1st movement (with scrolling score)
https://youtu.be/xvtoqE33iZg

These pieces of music have been played so much that, as beautiful and profound as they are, they have almost become cliché. So we will focus on other music, less popularized, to achieve some freshness in recognizing Mozart’s heavenly beauty.

Among the many composers who consistently create Great Art, Mozart stands alone. The unique Danish comedian, conductor and pianist Victor Borge, sums it up best:

“I always thought that if you went to heaven,
you would meet all the great people;
anybody who came up there
would all gather in huge rooms.
But Mozart has a room all by himself.”

The great conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim gives us in these two short videos a description of how to begin telling the difference.

“How to Listen to Music” by Daniel Barenboim
https://youtu.be/LCKZDSIHV80

Barenboim Talks about Music
https://youtu.be/bCwthMqPGYo

How This Little Book Can Help

The aim of this book is simple—to give you a direct personal experience with a heavenly state of consciousness while listening to Mozart’s music.

Or if you already have access to Mozart’s heavenly mansion, to provide you a glimpse into more rooms within that mansion, with greater appreciation.

Fortunately, YouTube provides all the musical examples we need to unlock the doors to the mansion. Throughout this book, I will link to YouTube videos that offer inspired performances. And inspired performances make a difference.

Mark Twain once said:

“The difference between the right word
and the almost right word
is the difference between the lightning
and the lightning bug.

And so it is with great music:

The difference between the right performance
and the almost right performance
is the difference between heaven
and a dictionary definition of heaven.

Also, at the beginning of each chapter I provide a link to the YouTube playlist that includes all the pieces of music mentioned in that chapter in order. (Note: If a video becomes unavailable, an alternative can usually be found by searching YouTube using the Köchel number.)

Links to the playlists, and much more, are also available at:

https://markandrealexander.com/one-click-to-mozart/

Listening to inspired performances is crucial.

Not all recordings are inspired.
Not all do Mozart justice.

But lucky for us, intrepid lovers of Mozart have made available many of the performances I had hoped to find.

But be aware of the limitations.

Mozart’s music, like all great music,
is best experienced by an inspired live performance
in a great concert hall or chamber venue.

Next best, on a great sound system in stereo. Or on headphones.

Therefore, YouTube can only offer a small experience of that heaven. Be prepared to track down and purchase inspired recordings, recommended by me or by some of the guides listed in “Recommended Readings and Recordings” near the end of the book.

Here’s a glimpse into what follows:

Chapter 1: Why Is Mozart Great? surveys what people from several professions think of Mozart, indicating a broad appeal.

Chapter 2: Hearing Mozart, Part 1: Serenade No. 10 for Winds, “Gran Partita” focuses on one piece of chamber music to illustrate how Mozart provides a harmonic approach to music rather than a purely melodic one.

Chapter 3: Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man details his childhood accomplishments while also subverting the man-child myth.

Chapter 4: Hearing Mozart, Part 2: The Magic Flute, Overture extends the idea of listening to Mozart differently in a harmonic, multi-level way, even when he is composing something especially melodic.

Chapter 5: Mozart’s Piano Concertos covers some of Mozart’s greatest contributions to music, pitting a solo pianist against an orchestra, foreshadowing a composer like Beethoven who extends the distinction even further.

Chapter 6: Hearing Mozart, Part 3: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat introduces the idea of musical rhetoric, and classical music as oration and conversation.

Chapter 7: Mozart’s Chamber Music: “A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness” strives to illuminate Mozart’s incredible range of music for small ensembles: sonatas for two players, trios, quartets, and quintets.

Chapter 8: Hearing Mozart, Part 4: Singular, Idiosyncratic, and Special-Occasion Gems surveys a range of unusual compositions that illustrate Mozart’s wide range of musical interests.

Chapter 9: Mozart’s Symphonies points to a few symphonies, with greatest emphasis on his final one, the “Jupiter.”

Chapter 10: Hearing Mozart, Part 5: Symphony No. 40 in G minor dives deep into a symphony regarded as Mozart’s finest.

Chapter 11: Mozart and Opera: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) touches on his seven great operas, with the great The Marriage of Figaro as the main attraction, thought by many to be one of the finest comic operas of all time.

Chapter 12: Mozart’s Heavenly Mansion provides a special listening session of heavenly musical architecture.

Next you will find “The Mozart and Great Music Checklist” and “Recommended Readings and Recordings.” There is also an appendix that offers a compilation of links to online resources for audio and video recordings.

Several chapters include an “Extended Discussion” section for readers interested in going more deeply into a particular piece of music or some other musical fundamentals.

The recommendations in this book, faithfully applied, do deliver. They will help you experience Mozart’s heavenly music in ways that may transfigure and transform you.

So let’s begin this marvelous and very dear musical adventure.

***

What Is Happiness?

Figuring out the definition of something often means comparing it to, and contrasting it with, other things to see how it is different.

Is happiness the same thing as contentment or satisfaction or pleasure?

Or are they all different things?

Let’s compare and contrast each of these to happiness:

Can you be satisfied and not be happy?

Can you be content and not be happy?

Can you experience pleasure and still not be happy?

Another way to explore the question of happiness is to ask…

Can someone be struggling or suffering hardships,
yet still be happy?

The answer to these four questions should be “yes” for anyone who thinks them through.

Yes, you can be satisfied but not happy. You have heard of people who have made all the money they need, but end up killing themselves.

Yes, you can be content but not happy. Like being satisfied, being content is a small state of consciousness. You’ve just made a good bargain, perhaps buying something valuable for a price far below what it is worth. You are content.

But does that feel like happiness? Doesn’t happiness feel like it should be something larger?

Yes, you can experience pleasure and not be happy. You just ate a good meal, heard good music, or experienced great sex.

Does that mean you are happy? Does the pleasure stay or go away over time? Isn’t there something about happiness that is more…permanent?

Yes, you can struggle and suffer hardships and still be happy. Talk to parents who have successfully raised children who have gone on to successfully raise their own children. They may have suffered and experienced loss, yet they see that they have had a complete life. Despite the struggles, they are happy.

Why?

Exactly what is happiness? That is, true happiness, not anyone’s relative, momentary personal opinion of happiness?

Is it possible to define this kind of happiness?

A Short History of Happiness

The ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, had different, though related, definitions of happiness.

Plato, in the Euthydemus, acknowledges that happiness seems to rely on acquiring good things. But in the Symposium, he makes clear that a balance is involved:

Happiness is spiritual well-being.
A harmony in the Soul,
an inner peace arising from
a proper order of all parts of the Soul.

In The Republic, Plato goes so far as to say that a happy person would receive an injustice rather than inflict an injustice on another.

In Plato’s world, a happy person would never forcibly rule over another.

Aristotle, in his Nichomachean Ethics, provides another angle on the definition of happiness:

Happiness is living a complete life;
the ultimate purpose of life being
an activity achieved by exercising
positive virtues, even in difficult situations.

It is a life of purpose and noble achievements, even when recognized by no one but the happy person.

Those virtues, according to Aristotle, include Courage, Generosity, Justice, Friendship, and Citizenship.

There are hundreds of books on happiness. But it seems that many of today’s writers have little to add to Aristotle.

Perhaps the key to Aristotle is to understand what he implies but never directly states, at least in modern terms. But we will get to that at the end of this chapter.

Dennis Prager, in his book, Happiness is a Serious Problem, believes that happiness cannot be defined for everyone. However, he does think that achieving happiness in its full form requires wisdom, and the hard work and self-discipline to put that wisdom into practice.

You can get an idea where he aims the reader by some of his chapter titles:

“Happiness is a Moral Obligation”

“Unhappiness is Easy—Happiness Takes Work”

“Comparing Ourselves with Others”

“Equating Happiness with Success”

“Equating Happiness with Fun”

“Seeing Yourself as a Victim”

“Develop a Perspective: Cultivate a Philosophy of Life”

“Life is Tragic”

“Find the Positive”

“Accept Tension”

“Everything has a Price—Know What It Is”

“Seek to Do Good”

“Find and Make Friends”

His chapter on friendship is particularly interesting, with subtitles like “Family,” “Marriage,” “Finding Friends,” and “Keeping Friends.” Aristotle’s definitions of friendship can be seen implied in this chapter.

Charles Murray has written a wonderful little book: The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life.

This book is a must for young people looking to make their way into the working world.

Here’s a glimpse of the kind of profound, solid advice he gives to the youth. Although he offers this advice in a chapter other than that on Happiness, it applies to anyone seeking happiness:

You probably possess two of the most important personal qualities for success—high cognitive ability and good interpersonal skills. But it is unlikely that you have already developed another important trait: resilience.

Murray provides the dictionary definition of resilience as the ability of a material to return to its original shape after being stretched or deformed in some way.

Young people who have not exercised their capacity to be resilient are more like crystal glasses. But they have the potential to exercise resilience and learn to bounce back like a Super Ball.

He continues:

… if you’ve grown up in a loving and untroubled environment, that potential is unrealized. Here’s the problem: You can be sure that your resilience will be tested sooner or later. When it happens, you don’t want to shatter into glittering shards. If my description fits you, now is the time, when you’re still single and more or less without responsibilities, to start exercising your elastic limit.

Such character traits as resilience, tenacity, focus, independence, self-reliance, and many more need exercise to develop.

Good parents, teachers, and friends
actively help you build these character traits.

Each of these character traits has a role to play in a life that can truly be called happy.

In the section Murray titles “On the Pursuit of Happiness,” he provides some advice that hits true (built right on Aristotle’s definition of happiness: “lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole.”)

He develops six ideas. Check out his book to appreciate how he eloquently develops each idea:

1) Show up.

2) Take the clichés about fame and fortune seriously.

3) Take religion seriously, especially if you’ve been socialized not to. (Murray describes himself as agnostic.)

4) Take the clichés about marriage seriously.

5) Be open to a startup marriage instead of a merger marriage.

6) Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly.

If you have never seen the movie Groundhog Day with Bill Murray, put it at the top of your movie list and watch it as soon as you finish this book.

Hugh Hewitt, who teaches constitutional law, frames his book The Happiest Life around gifts and givers. For him, generosity is the precondition for happiness.

He first works his way through “The Seven Gifts”: Encouragement, Energy, Enthusiasm, Empathy, Good Humor, Graciousness, and Gratitude.

Of these seven gifts, he says:

Everyone is eligible to be a giver of these gifts. Everyone. You don’t need wealth. You don’t have to be twenty-one. You don’t even have to be literate.

And if you’re not giving these away, you are being a miser.

Then he follows with the seven kinds of givers we can be:

The Spouse, The Parent, Family Members, Friends,
The Coworker, Teachers, and The Church.

And to be a giver, you not only need to have generosity, but also courage. He starts the introduction of the book with a quote from the ancient Greek General, Thucydides:

The secret of happiness is freedom,
and the secret of freedom is courage.

Hewitt then writes:

You have to have courage to give away what you hold dearest, again and again and again. Every day. Remarkably, self-sacrifice and generosity produce the greatest, most enduring happiness.

Hewitt’s book is warm and wise, and full of illustrative stories to provide a sharp and insightful definition of the gifts.

For example, to bring home what empathy actually is (as opposed to sympathy), he shares a conversation he had with a rabbi.

Sympathy is sharing suffering at a distance.
Empathy is sharing suffering up close.

The rabbi said simply, “Show up and shut up.”

You don’t have to tell the suffering person that you know what they’re going through. You don’t know.

You don’t have to tell them it will be all right. You don’t have to share your own experience with suffering.

As Hewitt says, “The gift of quiet, advice-free companionship in the midst of suffering is a gift of the highest order.”

He makes the point that empathy is a costly gift because it means “reliving past sorrows and entering into new ones.”

Balance

Why so much talk of happiness in a book about sex and romance?

Simple: We seek sex and romance, not as ends in themselves, but as means to happiness. And often, thinking sex and romance are central to happiness, we discover they are only the beginning.

Although happiness is composed of many parts, knowing those parts and seeking a balance among them may help you move closer to happiness.

******

From Sex and Romance: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen

03-Sex-res100

Secrets to Male Consciousness

I just feel like every kid is growing up too fast
and they’re seeing too much.
Everything is about sex, and that’s fine for me.
I’m not saying I don’t like it.
But I don’t think it should be everywhere,
where kids are exposed to everything sexual.
Because they have to have some innocence;
there’s just no innocence left.
Ellen DeGeneres

Male consciousness tends to be externally oriented, linear and focused on a goal, direct and explicit in expression.

Life is full of variety, more than we know or recognize. Male consciousness tends to manifest in male bodies, and female consciousness tends to manifest in female bodies.

But both can exist in each. Often, one predominates. But the potential is there.

If you think about it, you have seen female consciousness expressed in a male body, and male consciousness expressed in a female body. Furthermore, sometimes even strong males display a female side to their consciousness, just as occasionally females display a strong male side to their consciousness.

In this chapter we focus on the characteristics of male consciousness.

Symbolically,
male consciousness tends to be a line,
while female consciousness tends to be a circle.

It seems nature exhibits these symbols in male and female anatomy.

Both male consciousness and female consciousness have positive virtues while being quite different.

Here’s a humorous video about one characteristic of the male consciousness. The video is called IBM – Keep It Simple:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoj5Scm7HaY

Male Consciousness: External, Linear, Focused, Direct, and Explicit

Male consciousness tends to focus on the external world. Men gravitate toward:

— external activities,

— sports and politics,

— tools and electronics,

— cars and machines,

— mechanisms and wireless controls,

— building things and taking them apart,

— model ships and airplanes,

— remote-control cars, airplanes, and helicopters,

— playing soldier, shooting guns, fishing, hunting, running around, and being rowdy.

Many men find joy in putting together complex electronic equipment, and then mastering the complexity of a sophisticated remote control.

They can love the competitiveness of sports, memorizing baseball statistics, reciting a litany of background data on players and teams, their history, and wins and losses.

Males are goal-oriented problem solvers. This is an evolutionary advantage that is useful when they need to hunt for food or protect their family or community.

They like to solve problems
and fix things.

They love to achieve goals and win.

When men speak as boys, they may tend to be too direct and unsophisticated. They need to be “civilized” into being more aware and sensitive to the effects their words have on others.

Male consciousness tends to be relatively simple, playful, and action-oriented. Self-reflection, consideration of feelings, and examination of inner motivations are rarely the male default setting. Often those behaviors need more attention.

Once a high school graduating class was taken on a camping trip in the desert.

A creative writing teacher decided to lead the students on an exercise to develop their imaginations, to make them more sensitive.

They were given notebooks, pens, candles, and matches. The instructions were simple: Walk a short way into the desert, find a place alone, and proceed to “discover yourself.”

What did the girls do?

They followed instructions.

What did the boys do?

Since the assignment baffled them, they gathered together, piled up their notebooks, lit them with the matches…

…and started a bonfire.

In Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, the author tells a story that illustrates, in a funny way, one key difference between male consciousness and female consciousness.

A young man and a young woman have been dating each other for many months.

One evening while he drove her home, she says, “You know, as of tonight, we’ve been together for six months.”

Silence.

She begins thinking that what she says bothers him, that perhaps he thinks she’s placing some kind of obligation on him, pushing him into something.

And he’s thinking, Wow. Six months.

And she goes off examining their relationship and her motives, where they are going…

Marriage? Children?

And he’s thinking, Six months. That means we met after I took the car in for service, and…wow, look at the odometer. I’m way overdue for an oil change…

And she’s thinking about what he might want from the relationship, issues of intimacy and commitment and…

He’s thinking about how he may have been ripped off by a car mechanic…

And she’s thinking, He looks mad…Perhaps I said something too soon…

When the two of them start actually talking again, is it any surprise that the young man essentially says, “Huh?” while she’s trying to explain that she didn’t mean anything by what she said.

My synopsis cannot do justice to the original story. Dave Barry’s book is very funny precisely because, as outrageous as it sometimes is, he bases his humor on some very true and fundamental differences between male consciousness and female consciousness.

Male consciousness tends to be, and expects others to be, explicit. Male consciousness is not naturally responsive to subtext.

We will save examples of this distinction for the next chapter on “Female Consciousness.”

******
From Sex and Romance: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen

03-Sex-res100

What Is Wealth?

It’s not money that makes life better, it’s wealth.
You don’t have to have a lot of money;
you want wealth.
Richard Maybury, Early Warning Report, June/July 2008

What is wealth?

If you answered “Money,”
Bzzzt! Wrong.
Thanks for playing.

Money as it exists today can be a sign of wealth. It can be used to measure or trade wealth.

But money is not wealth. Knowing the difference can make all the difference in how you choose to make a living. And how you choose to view people with wealth and those who want your wealth.

Later, we will talk about what real money is. First, let’s look at wealth…

Here’s a clue:

If governments could create wealth,
they would have no need for taxes.

Wealth is goods and services—food, clothing, homes, tools, auto repair, plumbing services, literature and the arts, entertainment, personal and professional skills—just about everything that makes life better is wealth.

Money makes trading wealth easier. I can use money to specify the value of my professional skills and physical work in relation to the products you are selling.

A monetary value can be placed on goods and services; therefore, money is one method of measuring your wealth.

Money can also predict your ability to acquire wealth. If you have a wage or salary, you have an idea about what kinds of, and how much, wealth is available to you.

But money itself is not wealth.

Let’s break it down…

Imagine three small islands, each with a village of about 100 people:

  • Gold Island
  • Silver Island
  • Iron Island

The people on Gold Island are, by nature, good and ethical people who trust each other. They appear good, and are good inside. They all have to work hard just to survive day to day.

They live by a high standard of ethics.

The people on Iron Island are just the opposite. They are bandits and pirates: dishonest, ruthless, manipulative, selfish, and dangerous. They appear bad, and are bad on the inside.

In other words, they are openly bad, and do not care who knows it. They form thieving bands that believe in “honor among thieves,” mostly. They do not want to work hard to survive. They enjoy taking from others who do have to work hard.

The people on Silver Island are a mix. They are inherently both good and bad, and everything in between. Some of them can appear good, but be bad on the inside. Some of them are good on both the outside and inside in some situations, but not in other situations. They can work hard to survive, but cut ethical corners when the opportunity arises.

Let’s first focus on the people of Gold Island.

Each day in order to survive, each person on Gold Island has to catch one fish, get one coconut, and drink two gallons of water. It takes twelve hours of work each day on average for each person to get the food to survive.

Everyone barely manages to live.

One day, one man, let’s call him Tor, gets an idea. Tor labors extra hard to get an extra fish, an extra coconut, and extra water. He now has enough for a free day.

He spends that day inventing a fishing pole. He practices with the fishing pole until he develops the ability (the skill) to use it. The next day he catches ten fish.

This man, this inventorusing his imagination and creativity, and sacrificing for his visionjust created wealth. Specifically, labor-saving wealth.

Labor-saving wealth is created out of two things:

  1. A valuable labor-saving idea
  2. The work necessary to manifest that idea

Wealth is created out of
imagination and work.

Labor-saving wealth often saves people time,
freeing them from mere survival.
Wealth has inherent value to you or others.

Notice that money is not necessary to create wealth. If you have good ideas or good skills, you can create wealth out of your work, or out of the work of others.

On Gold Island, both the fish and the ability to catch fish are actual wealth.

Because our inventor, Tor, can now catch ten fish in the time it used to take to catch one fish, he has more free time. (Fishing used to take four hours; it’s hard to catch a fish in the ocean with your hands.)

He and his wife Sophia can now go several days without having to fish (if they salt the fish).

In fact, Sophia doesn’t have to fish or get coconuts anymore. Tor is skilled at getting coconuts (two hours on average to get one). His wife is strong, and willing to walk the six hours, round trip, to get enough water for them both.

Meanwhile, in his free time, Tor is fixing the roof and building an additional room, since Sophia is newly pregnant.

One day Sophia has a good idea. She’s been thinking of ways to get coconuts more quickly. Throwing rocks at coconuts works sometimes when they are overly ripe. But often, coconuts grow higher than her husband can throw. And the ones that are ripe will not always drop when hit by a hand-thrown rock.

Sophia dreams up the idea of a slingshot.

Working together in their spare time, they create the slingshot. They both practice until they have the skill to knock down ten coconuts in the time it once took to knock down one.

Tor and Sophia now have even more wealth, more time to do other things.

Wealth is one of the most important things anyone can create.

Wealth frees people from drudgery.
Wealth grants time to do other work,
or time to play.
Wealth is essentially good.

In other words,

Wealth grants freedom.

There are other kinds of wealth.

Ver is a great storyteller. He can gather the community together around a bonfire and begin telling tales of old.

Tales of monsters and heroes, and stories of great passions, both hateful and loving.

Ver has the extraordinary ability to voice many characters. He can act out the parts. Villagers from miles away will come to hear his stories.

Ver enriches everyone’s life with sorrows and tears, and laughter and joy, and all the passions his characters experience.

His tales provide moral examples of what happens to those who do right. And what happens to those who do wrong.

And because he is such a unique and wonderful storyteller, he becomes known as Ver the Great Storyteller.

The villagers are willing to give him food and drink and other goods in order for him to keep telling his stories.

People who are free from constant labor may write a song or a book, or may paint a picture that someone else wants. These provide pleasure. They may not create something that saves time and labor, but they may still create something that others want.

Something others value. Something that enhances their lives.

Great music, great art, great literature, great storytelling: these are all kinds of wealth that, when created with noble ideals, can uplift, improve, and generally better people.

Leisure-enhancing wealth.

When someone like Ver the Great Storyteller creates something that others value, they have created wealth. Not necessarily labor-saving wealth, but it is still a kind of wealth. It has value, or at least someone sees value in it.

Wealth has intrinsic value;
that is, wealth has value in and of itself.

Ten salted fish have value when others know that they have to work four hours to catch a fish. Even if no one else wants the fish I have, I can eat it. It has intrinsic value, not just an official value that some authority, like government, declares it to have.

The same is true of gold or silver. If someone has it, they can make jewelry out of it. The value is intrinsic, in the thing itself.

People use their imagination and develop skills to create, out of thin air in a sense, things with intrinsic value. Wealth. Both labor-saving wealth, and leisure-enhancing wealth.

Like debt, wealth is a habit.
Wealthy people realize
that life is more than luck.

Life is action. Life is imagination.
Active, hardworking people create wealth.

******

from Money and Wealth: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen, Book 2

02-Money-res100

The Secret of the Reticular Activating System

A truly creative person rids him or herself
of all self-imposed limitations.
Gerald Jampolsky

Your mind has a powerful filtering system that creates blind spots.

Have you noticed how when you read a book and the story fills your imagination, the outer world begins to fade away? You don’t hear the traffic outside or someone calling for you. They have to speak more loudly just to get through to you.

Have you noticed how you can be at a party with everyone talking and you can hardly understand what anyone is saying? But when someone mentions your name, that gets through to you?

Have you noticed how when you fall asleep your senses slowly shut down, your body loses sensation, and then you are off to sleep? Then almost nothing gets through to you?

Our senses take in 11 million pieces of data in each moment, but we can only consciously process up to 40 pieces per second. The part of your brain working as a filter to manage sense perception is called the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

If the mind didn’t have the RAS, you’d go crazy. Think of all the information coming in through all your senses. The sights, the sounds, the tactile sensations.

Think of all those little hairs on your body. If you focus on any part of your body, you would become aware of the sensation there.

The RAS is a network of cells in the center of the brain associated with waking, sleeping, attention, and focus. It physically filters irrelevant sensory input.

The RAS allows you to focus. It functions like an executive assistant, a kind of censor of what’s not important. It screens out the junk.

The RAS determines what information
gets through to you.

What you Value,
or what you think is a Threat.

RAS2
As we focus on something important, things that are less important, things that we Devalue, fade away. Important information gets through, whatever we consider valuable or threatening.

This explains why teenagers can be watching TV or playing a video game, and a parent can call them to dinner and not be heard. The Value of the parent’s voice goes down in proportion to the importance of the TV.

This explains why eight people at a large dinner table can have cross conversations with each other and still carry on. As you focus on something important like your own conversation, the others nearby fade because they lose Value to you.

This explains why a new mother sleeps through the alarm clock going off, the jet flying overhead, and the truck driving by, but when the baby starts crying, she wakes up right away. The other sounds are not a Threat so they don’t get through the censor, but the threatening sound of the baby gets through.

What you Value gets through.
What you Devalue gets filtered out.

I knew a couple with a barking dog that kept half the neighborhood awake. The owners were never bothered by it. However, the barking threatened the neighbors’ peace of mind so it got through their mental filter.

But the owners loved their dog and were comforted and felt protected by its barking. They would have no problem sleeping through the night. Their neighbors may also have slept better if they understood that any burglars in the area would be warned off by a barking dog.

Once I worked at a company that decided to move my group to a different building. I was placed next to a service elevator.

You can imagine what that means. All day long, every day, I would hear that elevator opening and closing, opening and closing.

What did I do?

Because I knew about the RAS, I immediately told myself, “That elevator doesn’t matter to me.” When people asked me, “Isn’t that elevator going to bug you all day?” I’d answer, “No, I won’t even notice it.”

And almost from the beginning my RAS screened it out. It never bothered me.

A colleague who used to have an office was now in an open cube. He did not know about the RAS. He was used to closing the door and having quiet.

He would hear me talking on the phone over two cubes away and he would stand up and say, “Mark, you are talking too loud.”

Every sound was a threat to him, so every sound got through.

The key is knowing that you control what gets through.

It depends on how you
psychologically evaluate the sensation.

This fact is particularly important to teachers.

How often do we accuse a child of not paying attention to the teacher? But what if the teacher is not making the history lesson, or math lesson, or science lesson interesting to the child?

The teacher and the course material
fade away.

The child can be looking right at a teacher as the teacher explains something and not get it. (We all have experienced this. We lose interest, our minds wander, the filters kick in because we become interested in our own thoughts or daydreaming. And minutes go by where nothing the teacher/boss/television/ politician says gets through.)

What happens when the child sees no Value in what the teacher is saying?

The child’s RAS screens out the teacher. It’s the teacher’s job to make sure the class material is perceived as valuable by the child.

So the question is, what do you Value in life? And what do you Devalue?

Because now you know that if you devalue important things, they will not get through your mind’s automatic filter.

What do you Devalue?
Could what you Devalue actually hold Value?
How will you know if you are blind to it?

***
from Creating Your Life: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen, Book 1

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Shakespeare and Plato: The Poet-Dramatist

There is a natural tension between the poet and the dramatist. The dramatist plays with appearances, illusions, masks. The poet aims at essential truths.

The dramatist is about seeming. The poet is about being.

This is true for both Shakespeare and Plato. First, Shakespeare.

Shakespeare’s plays are a study in the exploration of appearances, in seeming in all of its manifestations. Characters often pretend to be people they are not, such as in As You Like It (where Rosalind and Celia pretend to be Ganymede and Aliena) and Twelfth Night (where Viola pretends to be Cesario).

In later plays, Shakespeare explores more serious levels of seeming. Hamlet seems mad. King Lear’s older daughters seem loving. Iago seems to be a good friend to Othello.

And out of seeming comes some of Shakespeare’s best Shakespearian Irony, where Shakespeare demonstrates how something appears to be one thing but is actually another, to the alert playgoer or reader. In Macbeth we know that Macbeth will betray and murder the good King Duncan. Shakespeare dramatically provides the audience with an ironic preview of coming attractions. Duncan speaks of a traitor he just had executed:

DUNCAN: There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.

Enter MACBETH

The irony lies in the fact that Duncan will put absolute trust in Macbeth. He relies on Macbeth’s seeming, and fails to see his being. Shakespeare signals the irony in a simple stage direction.

There is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. Enter Macbeth.

Knowing the difference between seeming and being can determine one’s survival, as people devoted to the political arts well know.

As a playwright, Shakespeare tells overt stage lies. As a poet he tells hidden truths. As a dramatist, Shakespeare can show the audience the popular lie. As a poet, Shakespeare can tell the alert reader the unpopular, hidden truth.

The Merchant of Venice continues to be the finest example of how, even today, playgoers and critics buy in to Shakespeare’s seeming (the play is about Shylock and is anti-Semitic). It is interesting how rare people recognize what Shakespeare is doing as a poet, and what the hidden truth of this play is.

First the title. Who is The Merchant of Venice? It’s certainly not Shylock, who is a moneylender. The merchant is Antonio. So this play is actually about Antonio, and by extension, his friends.

Next, notice the melancholy in what Antonio and his friends say when they are first introduced:

ANTONIO: In sooth, I know not why I am so sad:
It wearies me; you say it wearies you;
But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,
What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,
I am to learn;
And such a want-wit sadness makes of me,
That I have much ado to know myself.

***

BASSANIO: Good signiors both, when shall we laugh? say, when?
You grow exceeding strange: must it be so?

***

PORTIA: By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of
this great world.

There appears to be a dark stain in their souls. What could be the source of that darkness?

When Bassanio approaches Shylock for a loan to help out Antonio, here is part of the beginning of the exchange:

SHYLOCK: Antonio is a good man.

BASSANIO: Have you heard any imputation to the contrary?

SHYLOCK: Oh, no, no, no, no: my meaning in saying he is a
good man is to have you understand me that he is
sufficient.

Shakespeare plays on the double-meaning of the word “good” to signal that we should wonder if Antonio is in fact the good man that he appears to be. In fact, we learn later that Antonio insults Shylock in public, spits on him, and kicks him like an animal.

Furthermore, the Christians–Antonio, Bassanio, and Portia–all condemn Shylock the Jew without any reason other than that he is a Jew who lends money with interest. Yet Antonio freely enters into a contract with Shylock, when it suits him.

And notice that it is not Shylock, but Antonio who sets the terms of the agreement, as Harold C. Goddard points out in The Meaning of Shakespeare:

“You spat upon me, kicked me, called be a dog,” is the gist of what [Shylock] says, “and for these courtesies you now expect me to lend you money?”

“No!” cries Antonio, stung by the justice of Shylock’s irony, “I want no courtesy or kindness. Friends take no interest from friends. Let this transaction be one between enemies, so that, if I forfeit, you can exact the penalty with a better conscience, and so that I … may retain my right to spit on you.”

But you might say, “Shylock knew that he would be able to get his pound of flesh!” Yet read closely and you will see that Shylock has no reason to believe Antonio’s ships won’t come in. Shylock’s view is that this is a contract that reveals Antonio for what he is, not that Antonio and his Christian friends take notice.

As the play advances, the hypocrisy of the Christians becomes more and more evident, and this hypocrisy becomes the dark stain on their souls. Events drive Shylock to distraction.

At trial Portia seems to be a lawyer. She asks Shylock, who has lost his daughter and is miserable and now revels in Antonio’s misery, to extend Christian mercy. And he rightfully asks, Why?

Portia then plays a judicial trick on Shylock, and then finds herself in a position to extend that same Christian mercy to Shylock.

And what does she do?

She mercilessly destroys Shylock to the very core, robbing him of his ethnic and religious identity by forcing him to become a Christian.

Finally, it’s worth paying attention to the story of the three caskets: Gold, Silver, and Lead. All I’ll say here is, following Goddard, Portia is the Gold casket “All that glisters is not gold…Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire”), Antonio is the Silver casket (“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves”), and Shylock is the Lead casket (“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”).

Now on to Plato.

Plato is a dramatist (the Dialogues are plays), but he is also a poet (despite that fact that he faults the poets, especially Homer and those who write plays for the Athenian public).

Plato, like Shakespeare, concerns himself with seeming and being. His dialogues are dramatic examples of the process, dialectic, by which people can engage in a one-on-one conversation to discover the truth, or at least to disclose their own ignorance and be free of false opinions.

Dialectic aims for what is, for being.

Why one-on-one? Because the alternative is rhetoric, one-to-many, where false opinions are made to appear true.

Rhetoric aims for what appears to be, for seeming.

Plato lived in a world that was changing, and not for the better. The Athenian democracy collapsed under the sway of Sophists who charged money to teach exploitive rhetoric to politicians, like Alcibiades, who persuaded the public to adopt destructive courses of action.

Socrates aimed at demonstrating the nature of rhetoric, its focus on seeming, and how dialectic brought about a higher understanding of knowledge, of truth. He charged nothing. And in the process, people became more humble because they became aware that the domain of their ignorance was larger than than they realized.

Socratic irony is different from Shakespearean irony.

Socrates will pretend to be doing one thing when in fact he is ironically doing something else. A fine example of this is in the Gorgias where Socrates faces the best and brightest example of Sophists, Gorgias.

Gorgias is much like Socrates in his brilliance and full awareness of what he is doing, but he has taken the exact opposite route. He is a full and conscious Nihilist. He cares as much as Socrates about Truth, but his conclusion is that at the end of the day, nothing matters. Here is an example of what Gorgias would argue:

I. Nothing exists
II. Even if existence exists, it cannot be known
III. Even if it could be known, it cannot be communicated.

Socrates and Gorgias are both noble souls, Socrates on the side of Good, and Gorgias on the side of Bad, going for full skeptical relativism. He is the one Sophist willing to go all the way to the dark side and be the anti-Socrates. And he completely believes in what he does. (I believe that both Socrates and Gorgias recognize each other, that they both carry a kind of melancholy that signals their kindred spirits.)

To Gorgias, there is no such thing as the one Truth. (Gorgias was the teacher of Meno, who became even dumber after being trained, and Agathon, the tragedian who in the Symposium wins the prize as a poet, but reveals that he cannot talk or think).

Gorgias deforms men’s minds by teaching them how to use rhetoric for power. Gorgias believes that he is improving his students, helping them acquire political and material power. Socrates is out to demonstrate otherwise, to show Gorgias how wrong he is.

Both Socrates and Gorgias bring their students to this dialogue. Socrates brings Chaerephon, and Gorgias brings Polus and Callicles.

The dialogue begins with Gorgias agreeing to participate in Socrates’ style of questioning. (The art of Socrates is the art of asking the right questions.) But before the main event, we get a preliminary bout.

Chaerephon, at Socrates’ urging, asks Gorgias, “Who are you?” (Compare the beginning of Hamlet.) Instead of Gorgias answering, his student Polus steps in and rather than answering the question, he makes a speech in praise of Gorgias.

As a student of Gorgias he has been well-taught. Chaerephon attempts to engage Polus in dialectic, but Polus insists on rhetoric.

Then the main bout: Socrates asks what Gorgias teaches and what is it good for. During the conversation (which on Gorgias’s side often diverts into rhetoric, because Gorgias cannot help but attempt to persuade rather than engage), Gorgias makes clear that he teaches rhetoric (not virtue–a man who believes nothing exists will not pretend to teach virtue). Gorgias admits that he is a teacher of men to win arguments, whether political or legal. His students may use it for good or bad, but he as the teacher is not responsible for what his students do with it.

Gorgias believes he is not a bad man. Socrates proceeds to show him that he is not what he believes himself to be. Socrates moves past Gorgias’s seeming and shows him his being.

Socrates finally gets Gorgias to answer questions, and in the process Gorgias finally goes silent, because the dialectic gets him to admit that the Sophist, the rhetorician, is an ignorant man who persuades other ignorant men to do what the truly wise man knows they should do. In other words, the rhetorician is at best merely an ignorant assistant to wise men. In this case, the wise man is a physician, a body doctor, but the same could also apply to the soul doctor, the philosopher, or the political doctor, the true statesman.

The dialectic also gets him to say that he is only interested in teaching his students to do good with their rhetorical training. He normally would not admit something like this, but it appears that Socrates shames him, and so he does say he teaches virtue, justice, and something good, but can’t be held responsible if his students misuse it. Socrates demonstrates how Gorgias is contradicting himself.

And Gorgias goes silent because he’s smart and knows he is losing the argument. Polus speaks up to rescue his teacher, and Socrates turns to Polus.

But the Socratic irony is this: Although Socrates appears to be talking to Polus, he is actually talking to Gorgias, and this is very funny. Polus is arrogant, crude, and not very bright.

During this conversation, Socrates demonstrates that Gorgias’s good student is in fact a bad one, and that Gorgias has been a bad teacher. You can imagine Socrates looking over Polus’s shoulder at Gorgias, and Gorgias picks up on Socrates’ thoughts: “We talked about you as a teacher, Gorgias, so let’s look at this, your student Polus. Is this really an example of what you want people to know that you do?”

Later, Callicles tries to take up the mantle. I won’t explore that in detail other than to say, look at Callicles as representing the people of Athens, the people who later declare Socrates a Sophist and then have him executed. (Since the dialectic breaks down, Socrates ends with a speech, one that speaks of death and what the true philosopher prepares for.) Here, Socrates continues his conversation with Gorgias through a second proxy, and Plato glances at the Apology and Phaedo.

Plato’s art continually exposes the being behind the seeming to alert readers, readers who do not take everything at face value, who realize that Plato is a true artist, a true poet, who like Shakespeare artistically arranges his plays to reveal larger truths that may not always be apparent.

When one looks as Shakespeare’s works as an artistic whole, the mind and character of the poet-dramatist emerges. Plato’s dialogues are also an artistic whole, worthy of your time to see that artistic whole, and the mind and character of the poet-dramatist who crafted them.

*****

The Best Complete Plato

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The Humor of Socrates in the Euthydemus

Socrates is a funny guy. Yes, he is serious, but he is never solemn. You can be funny and serious at the same time. This dialogue, the Euthydemus, is a fine example.

First a little background: Socrates believes that Athenians are being poorly served by the Sophists, a group of self-proclaimed teachers of rhetoric (the art of political, legal, and philosophical persuasion). To him, Sophists pretend knowledge they do not have, and take money to “educate” those who know even less, but who leave their “teachers” thinking they know.

Sophists love to make speeches. They do not want to engage in the discipline of focused questioning and answering. They love to change topics, play with the ambiguities of language, entrance their listeners. They do not want to be shown that their words lack meaning.

Good education requires mental effort. When Socrates engages in conversation, he is looking for someone willing to exert themselves mentally. Someone willing to have humility and goodwill, someone willing to think through what they believe and change if necessary, someone willing to have the patience to focus on one thing at a time and come to an understanding of what that one thing means.

This is dialectic, a dialogue between two persons of goodwill who are able to exercise the patience, discipline, and mental focus and energy to clarify their understanding of a topic.

Rhetoric is the opposite. It’s not about coming together into truth. It’s about exploiting the ambiguities of language to gain the upper hand.

Dialectic is about acquiring knowledge.

Rhetoric is about winning.

In the Euthydemus, Socrates tells Crito about an attempt at dialectic he had with two brothers of a foreign land, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus. They are self-proclaimed Sophists and teachers of Eristic, that is, fighting with words. They used teach fighting with arms and armor. But they have learned from teachers of rhetoric, and for a price will teach anyone how to fight with words, how to win any argument.

Plato here immediately establishes the humor of the situation. Here are two young men who are not very bright. They think they can move easily from teaching fighting with arms and armor to fighting with words. You see, they realize that rhetoric is the Next Big Thing, the new money-making business, and one does not have to break a sweat to charge a fee and teach verbal swordplay.

This is like someone who thinks they can become a rocket scientist because they have fired rocket launchers!

These brothers use Eristic to exploit the logical ambiguities of words. Here’s an example of how the brothers play off the ambiguity of the verb is. They are talking about Socrates’ father, Sophroniscus:

Yes, I said, he is my half-brother, the son of my mother, but not of my father.

Then he is and is not your brother, said Dionysodorus.

Not by the same father, my good man, I said, for Chaeredemus was his father, and mine was Sophroniscus.

And was Sophroniscus a father, and Chaeredemus also?

Yes, I said; the former was my father, and the latter his.

Then, he said, Chaeredemus is not a father.

He is not my father, I said.

But can a father be other than a father? Or are you the same as a stone?

I certainly do not think that I am a stone, I said, though I am afraid that you may prove me to be one.

Are you not other than a stone?

I am.

And being other than a stone, you are not a stone; and being other than gold, you are not gold?

Very true.

And so Chaeredemus, he said, being other than a father, is not a father?

I suppose that he is not a father, I replied.

For if, said Euthydemus, taking up the argument, Chaeredemus is a father, then Sophroniscus, being other than a father, is not a father; and you, Socrates, are without a father.

Can you see what the brothers are doing here? They are not interested in an honest search for truth. They are using verbal wordplay and the ambiguity in the nature of the verb is to come to illogical conclusions.

The verb is can be used in two ways:

1) Identity: Something is. “He is Socrates.”

2) Relation: Something is in relation to something else. “He is a father.”

The word father describes a relation, not an identity. An identity applies in every case.

A relation only has meaning in terms of what it is related to, and it does not apply in every relation (in every case). But the brothers play on the word as if it were an identity.

And they can play with language in this silly way all day.

To Socrates and Plato, any idiot can use verbal wordplay to create an incoherent mish-mash of meaninglessness.

A Sophist says what he thinks other people will believe rather than what is true.

Socrates says what he thinks is true even though other people won’t believe it.

A Sophist trains others in a skill for money.

Socrates educates because it is good for people. He does not accept money.

Training is for workers and slaves.

Education is for free people.

Socrates then is a true educator in the original sense: Educare means “to lead people out of.”

For Socrates, true education leads people out of the slavery of false beliefs into the freedom of the truth.

To Socrates, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus are so idiotic that they are only dangers to themselves. Socrates plays with them and is gentle with them. He indulges humorously with them.

But with other Sophists, like Protagoras and Gorgias, Socrates is not so gentle.

Because they should know better.

*****

The Best Complete Plato

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