Why Is Mozart Great?

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

Why Is Mozart Great?

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination
nor both together go to the making of genius.
Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”
Mozart

Chapter Playlist 1: Mozart and Great Music (3 videos, 17 min)

“In art there is Leonardo da Vinci,
in literature there is Shakespeare,
in music there is Mozart.”
Itzhak Perlman

Why is Mozart great?

Louis Armstrong was once asked, “What is jazz?”

He answered, “Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.” Perhaps he would have said something similar about Mozart. But I think we can attempt a partial answer.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman puts Mozart in the company of Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. And with good reason. Let’s look at Shakespeare and da Vinci.

Shakespeare seems to have surveyed the entire human experience, emotional and intellectual, in his drama and poetry. Later writers see Shakespeare as the banquet of writing in the English language, and they are left taking mere crumbs from his table. In other words, Shakespeare makes later writers feel like there is little left to write about.

One academic, Harold Bloom in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, goes so far as to claim that, in Western culture, Shakespeare has created humans as we know them today.

Da Vinci is the polymath who makes other polymaths appear normal. He transcends as a painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He climbed several artistic peaks.

Mozart climbed a musical peak during the Classical era (1730-1820). Unlike many artists today, he was not much interested in charting out his own territory. Like Shakespeare before him, he took what already existed and refined it into greatness. And those who follow feel like there is little left for them.

That’s why beginning in the Romantic era (1780-1910) we begin seeing composers shift into approaching art as self-expression, trying to chart out new territory that has not been conquered.

The end-result in the twentieth century includes works like John Cage’s classical work 4:33 in which four members of a quartet come on stage and sit, playing nothing, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Or extremely dissonant atonal music that requires educated listeners for full appreciation.

All three—Mozart, Shakespeare, and Da Vinci—
are singular in their respective arts.
To others they appear more than human.

As American biographer Robert Gutman says of Mozart,

“Like all geniuses of his rank,
he stands as a law to himself:
incommensurable, incalculable, sublime.”

But Why Mozart?

Some may wonder why I’ve chosen Mozart rather than Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven.

First some background and dates.

There were four great musical periods in Western classical music before modern and contemporary music. I’ve included a few of the great composers of each period:

  1. Baroque era, 1600-1760
    Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
    Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
    George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  2. Classical era, 1730-1820
    Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, also part of the early Romantic era)
    Franz Schubert (1797-1828, also part of the early Romantic era)
  3. Romantic era, 1780-1910
    Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
    Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
    Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
    Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
    Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
    Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
  4. Impressionist era, 1875-1925
    Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
    Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
    Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
    Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Among all of these great composers who composed Great Art, Mozart stands unique.

How?

Perhaps the only way to get at the answer in words is to see how various musicians, composers, conductors, biographers, and philosophers have attempted to explain Mozart. No other composer generates the kinds of responses that Mozart did.

Two words keep coming up when people speak of Mozart. The first word is some form of the word perfect.

“There is nothing perfect in this world
except Mozart’s music.” 
Thomas Love Peacock,
English novelist and poet

“Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows,
expressing himself with a spontaneity and
refinement and breathtaking rightness.
What we expect to find in Mozart is perfection
in whatever medium he chose to work.”
Aaron Copland,
American composer and conductor

“Mozart’s music is on the one hand so accessible,
so beautiful and so apparently simple that it can be grasped.
But at the same time and enjoyed on its first hearing,
it is so deep, so profound, so perfect
that one can spend a lifetime in it and continue
to be fascinated with it, even if it’s the
hundredth time you’ve performed it.”
James Conlon,
American conductor

“He is up to the present the most
perfect manifestation of musical talent…
His sense of form is almost superhuman.
Like a masterpiece of sculpture or art, his art,
viewed from any side, is a perfect picture.”
Ferruccio Busoni,
Italian composer

“When it comes to Mozart, you’re speaking of
the most extraordinary perfection that exists.
There isn’t anything that is more perfect in music.
And then on top of it the music is so complete;
there is never a piece of music by Mozart,
it doesn’t make any difference if he is 4, 5, 6, or 26,
it’s perfect, totally perfect.”
Pinchas Zukerman,
Israeli violinist and conductor

“It is hard to think of another composer
who so perfectly marries form and passion.”
Leonard Bernstein,
American composer and conductor

“As an artist, as a musician,
Mozart was not a man of this world.
To a certain part of the 19th century his work seemed
to possess so pure, so formally rounded,
so ‘godlike’ a perfection that Richard Wagner,
the most violent spokesman of
 the Romantic Period, could call him
‘music’s genius of light and love.’”
Alfred Einstein,
German-American biographer

The second word that keeps coming up when people speak of Mozart is some form of the word beauty. Not just that the music he writes is beautiful, but also that the music itself somehow embodies the ideal of beauty, the thing itself.

“Mozart’s music is so beautiful
as to entice angels down to earth.”
Franz Alexander von Kleist,
German poet

“Mozart is the greatest composer of all.
Beethoven created his music, but
the music of Mozart is of such purity
and beauty that one feels he merely
 found it—that it has always existed
as part of the inner beauty of the
universe waiting to be revealed.”
Albert Einstein,
German-born physicist and violinist

“Mozart does not give the listener time
to catch his breath, for no sooner is
one inclined to reflect upon a beautiful
inspiration then another appears,
even more splendid, which drives away
the first, and this continues on and on,
so that in the end one is unable to
 retain any of these beauties in the memory.”
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf,
Austrian composer and violinist

“He is the most generous composer who ever lived.
He showered upon us melody after melody,
character upon character, beauty, upon beauty.”
Robert Harris,
English music critic

“What was evident was that Mozart
was simply transcribing music
completely finished in his head.
And finished as most music is never finished.
Displace one note and there would be diminishment.
Displace one phrase and structure would fall.
I was staring through the cage of those
meticulous ink strokes at Absolute Beauty.”
Peter Shaffer,
English playwright (Amadeus)

“In Mozart’s music,
all intensity are crystallized in the clearest,
the most beautifully balanced and proportioned,
and altogether flawless musical forms.
For one moment in the history of music
all opposites were reconciled; all tensions resolved;
that luminous moment was Mozart.”
Phil Goulding,
American classical music journalist

“Mozart’s mature instrumental music
represents our civilization’s sign for the beautiful.
We cannot think of him without thinking of beauty;
we cannot refer to beauty without recalling his music.
I believe this is so, not necessarily because his works
are more beautiful than those of other composers,
though this may well be true, but because he created—
or, at least, brought into the forefront of
aesthetic consciousness—a special kind of beauty,
one that thenceforth came to exemplify
the idea of superlative beauty itself.”
Maynard Solomon,
American musicologist and biographer

“If we cannot write with the beauty of Mozart,
let us at least try to write with his purity.”
Johannes Brahms,
German composer

But there’s more…

When speaking of Mozart, more than any other composer, people are likely to invoke heaven, the divine, God, miracles, or some other reference to, or experience of, the ultimate.

“Mozart has reached the
boundary gate of music and leaped over it,
leaving behind the old masters and moderns,
and posterity itself.”
Alexander Hyatt King,
English Mozart scholar

“The Mozartian legacy, in brief, is as good
an excuse for mankind’s existence as
we shall ever encounter and is perhaps, after all,
a still small hope for our ultimate survival.”
H. C. Robbins Landon,
American musicologist

“Mozart’s music is the mysterious language
of a distant spiritual kingdom,
whose marvelous accents echo
in our inner being and arouse
a higher, intensive life.”
E.T.A. Hoffmann,
German author, composer, music critic

“The most tremendous genius
raised Mozart above all masters,
in all centuries and in all arts.”
Richard Wagner,
German composer

“Mozart is an utterly unique phenomenon,
indisputably and forever on the
credit side of life’s ledger, so sovereign
and omnipresent that he reconciles
us somewhat to the debit side.
Indeed, Mozart seems to be reconciliation
itself, a kind of redeeming miracle.”
Wolfgang Hildesheimer,
German biographer

“Mozart resolved his emotions on a level
that transformed them into moods
uncontaminated by mortal anguish,
enabling him to express the angelic anguish
that is so peculiarly his own.”
Yehudi Menuhin,
American-born violinist and conductor

“In Bach, Beethoven and Wagner
we admire principally the depth
and energy of the human mind;
in Mozart, the divine instinct.”
Edvard Grieg,
Norwegian composer

“Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally;
divine Mozart—less a name, more a soul
descending to us from the heavens.”
Charles Gounod,
French composer

“Mozart’s joy is made of serenity,
and a phrase of his music is like a
calm thought; his simplicity is merely purity.
It is a crystalline thing in which
all the emotions play a role, but as if
already celestially transposed.”
André Gide,
Nobel Prize-winning French author

“Mozart makes you believe in God
because it cannot be by chance that
such a phenomenon arrives into this world
and leaves such an unbounded number
of unparalleled masterpieces.”
Georg Solti,
Hungarian conductor

“It is thanks to Mozart that I have
devoted my life to music…
Mozart is the highest, the culminating point
that beauty has attained in the sphere of music.
Mozart is the musical Christ.”
Piotr Tchaikovsky
Russian composer

“This is the music that they are going to
play for me when I enter heaven,
or wherever Mozart may be.”
Marcel Maurice,
French clarinetist on Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet in A

“The angels, left to themselves, play Mozart,
and the dear Lord likes especially
to listen to them then.”
Karl Barth,
Swiss philosopher

“Others may reach heaven with their works.
But Mozart, he comes from there.”
Joseph Krips,
Austrian conductor and violinist

“Once, when filling out an application for a summer job,
on that line next to ‘other’ under the heading of Religion,
I wrote Mozart.
The personnel officer was not amused,
but then, I hadn’t intended it as a joke.
For there was a time when I was convinced that Mozart
was at least as divinely inspired as Moses,
Christ, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, or Mohammed,
and I suppose I still am. For in no other works
of the human imagination can the divine spirit
be heard more distinctly than in the
miraculous music this often vulgar, unpleasant,
and difficult man produced during
his pathetically brief thirty-five years.
Were this book to do him justice,
the section devoted to Mozart’s music
would take up more than half the total pages.”
Jim Svejda,
American music critic, in the 3rd edition of
The Record Shelf Guide to the Classical Repertoire

Are these writers over the top in their praise? Perhaps.

But there is something about Mozart’s music, given enough time and exposure, that elicits such intense reactions.

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, there is a scene where an innocent man convicted of his wife’s murder goes into the warden’s office and locks everyone out.

Why?

To play a Mozart duettino (a song with two singers) for himself, and eventually, to play it for the entire prison population.

Watch what happens:

Video 1: “Duettino – Sull’aria” from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), from The Shawshank Redemption

Mozart, when conveyed through inspired performances, is capable of a kind of transport, a sublime movement, into a heavenly experience that transcends physical, emotional, and mental limitations.

Where others are loved for the mental and emotional craft of their music, with occasional passages and moments that arrive in heaven, Mozart appears to naturally dwell there.

Here’s one of the best examples of how a great composer takes listeners on a journey into a heavenly world of emotional and noble passions. In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the transition at the end of the 3rd movement into the 4th movement marks one of the finest transitions ever composed into one of the most heavenly final movements ever.

Video 2: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, 4th Movement Allegro

Mozart does not take one on a journey to heaven as much as he is already resident there at the start, unlike so many of his fellow musical composers.

And thus Mozart is unique among musical artists. He is the Shakespeare, the Michelangelo, the Da Vinci of music.

Perhaps there is no way to explain Mozart. Perhaps all we can do is accept the inevitable, as expressed by one Japanese classical pianist and conductor:

“Mozart is inexplicable.”
Mitsuko Uchida

But we are going to give it a try.

One thing to keep in mind is that musicians and conductors can look at a musical score and hear the music as they read the notes. Just as you can read a novel and hear people talk or see what they are doing.

Musical notation is a real language
with as much variety and communication
as the words, sentences, and
subtle meanings written on this page.

Let’s watch Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts in the movie Amadeus as he reads the scores and hears the music:

Video 3: Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts, from Amadeus

What is Salieri hearing? What moves him so profoundly? He knows that what he is hearing is the Divine Voice, and sadly, that he will never get as close to it.

In the next chapter, we focus on one musical example, going more deeply into key aspects of one work. In this way, you will begin to hear things you have not heard before, and you will capture a better picture of what a composer is capable of doing with such an abstract thing as music.

The chapters on Hearing Mozart may be more challenging for some readers. But your efforts will be rewarded. With a little bit of close listening, we can begin training your ear to hear in new ways.

***

Why Is Shakespeare Great?

“Shakespeare is like life. There are almost as many ways of taking him as there are ways of living… The lawyer believes he must have been a lawyer, the musician a musician, the Catholic a Catholic, the Protestant a Protestant. Never was there a more protean genius. Whether his dramas should be taken as plays or as literature has been disputed. But surely they should be taken as both. Acted, or seen on the stage, they disclose things hidden to the reader. Read, they reveal what no actor or theater can convey.” ~Harold C. Goddard, The Meaning of Shakespeare

* * *

Imagine that you have entered the small lecture hall of a crotchety, old, dinosaur professor at a major university. It’s near the end of class, so you find a seat in the back and look around.

The African-American professor stands behind a podium using lecture notes and does not look up when you enter. Fewer than half the seats are occupied. He wears a worn gray tweed jacket, faded blue shirt, and a thin, darker blue tie. His mottled speckled-gray hair is splayed out, part afro, part Einstein.

The students look like first-year university students¾bored, fidgety, a couple actually napping. In the middle of your aisle, you notice a young woman with short black hair, wearing a black dress and black lipstick. She has her hand raised, arm waving slightly, supporting it with her other hand, which suggests she’s been waiting quite a while.

“…presents the reader with many challenges, not the least of which is Elizabethan diction and Shakespeare’s poetic compression. But every reader willing to take the time will discover a bounty of humanistic treasures.” The professor stops and looks at her over his silver reading glasses.

“Yes?”

One word conveys his lack of good cheer. Questions are not encouraged.

“I’m sorry, professor, but I just don’t get it.” She exudes the sweet naivete of intellectual youth. “Shakespeare represents the view of the classic white-male Eurocentric patriarchy, in a dated vocabulary that’s hard to understand. What’s his relevance today? I mean, what could Shakespeare possibly have to say to me, a Chinese-Hispanic lesbian?”

As she speaks, the professor’s eyes glaze and his head lowers slowly until he is staring down at his podium. He gives every appearance of being an old man in constant mental and physical pain. A curmudgeon.

Several students murmur at least partial agreement. The professor stands silent for almost a minute before turning to the blackboard. He picks up the chalk with a trembling hand and writes two words on the board—chair and stool. He turns and stares at her.

He speaks softly.

“Would you say, Miss…..”

“Ms. Powers.”

“Would you say, Ms. Powers, that the words chair and stool distinguish two similar things?”

“Uh, I think… yes, of course.”

“And do you think, Ms. Powers, that these represent a distinction worth preserving? For example, if I were to ask you to bring me a chair and you brought me a stool, would we have reason to believe there existed between us some failure of communication?”

“Yes.” Her tone embodies confidence.

“What would be the nature of the failure?”

“Uhh… a chair normally has a back for support while a stool does not.”

“Good. So you concede, Ms. Powers, that vocabulary helps us more clearly distinguish the specific differences among like things?”

“Yes.”

“Is it a good thing to distinguish more clearly the specific differences between like things?”

“I suppose.”

“And that it would be better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary than a mind with a smaller one?” Although he still speaks softly, the air begins to thicken.

“But just because someone has a better vocabulary doesn’t mean that they are a better person.” She speaks with less confidence now.

“Ms. Powers.” His voice is a bit louder. “If we are going to understand each other, it is best that you respond to what I actually say rather than what you think I am saying. I did not say anything about a better vocabulary or about being a better person.”

She stays silent.

“I asked if you thought it better to possess a mind with a larger vocabulary rather than a mind with a smaller vocabulary. Especially since you have already conceded that it is a good thing to more clearly distinguish the specific differences between like things. Or do you see another way of distinguishing specific differences in ways other than a versatile and specific vocabulary?”

“No.”

“Ms. Powers, suppose you and I walked into a garden, and while I was a novice in gardening, you were an expert gardener who had a command of the technical language and knowledge of botany and horticulture. Would our experience of a particular garden be any different?”

“Uh….” She senses a trap being set for her. She tries to avoid it. “Yes, a little. We would both see the same thing, but I would probably be more knowledgeable about it if you asked me questions.”

“No, Ms. Powers.” His face is reddening, his voice gets louder. “I’m afraid you are entirely mistaken. We would not be seeing the same garden at all. I would merely see pretty flowers, maybe some trees and grass. I may be able to tell the difference between a rose and a tulip, but that is all. I would see the mere surface of the garden. Its mere appearance. But you, Ms. Powers…”

She shifts with discomfort.

“You would see an entirely different garden. You would be able to penetrate its depths. You would be able to recognize not only the different flowers—the carnations and snap dragons and pansies and hyacinths and lilies—you would also recognize the relative health of each of those flowers. You would recognize any pests or diseased plants. You would be able to spot where each plant and flower was in its life cycle.”

More students perk up. They suspect something big is coming.

“By their arrangement and care, you would know their past. In some cases, whether or not they were recently planted. You would know how much the person who tends the garden knows about his or her occupation. You would also know the difference between annuals and perennials. And this knowledge would allow you to see not only the present garden, but the future of that garden. You could predict its course and suggest actions to alter that course.”

She stares back at him.

“No, Ms. Powers, you and I would not see the same garden at all. Because a true and rich vocabulary opens one to higher levels of perceptual and conceptual awareness. A specific vocabulary rewards you, not only with a greater awareness, but also the possibility of a deep causal awareness. The ability to distinguish true causes and their array of effects. And, were you so inclined, you would naturally begin seeing the world in terms of the garden. You would begin constructing analogies and similes, perhaps even metaphors, connecting life to that garden through an array of subtle similarities.”

He pauses and surveys the room. He is speaking to everyone, although he continues to use her name.

“Do you know the number of distinct words in the average person’s vocabulary, Ms. Powers? About three thousand words, assuming that all forms of a word—like run, ran, running—counted as one. Three thousand words, enough to get an average person through the day, and through their lifetime.

“Do you know how many distinct words are in the King James Version of the Bible? Around four thousand three hundred, not counting names. That means that all of the history and philosophy and meaning, all of the variety of ideas expressed in the Bible, can be transmitted in a vocabulary of forty-three hundred words. Enough to challenge the average reader.”

You suspect that there is a university committee somewhere that can’t wait for this professor to retire.

“Soon we will get to John Milton’s Paradise Lost. John Milton commanded an incredible vocabulary. He mastered several languages, including Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and French. He wrote not only epic poetry but many rigorous political tracts. Some of his sentences are so powerful and complex in their vocabulary, grammar, and meaning that they contain several dozen clauses. John Milton was a genius who mastered and crafted meaning out of a vocabulary of almost eight thousand words, more than almost all living writers.”

He pauses, and looks out through slitted eyes.

“But Shakespeare.” He chuckles. “Shakespeare exists in his own genus. When a rhetorician reads Shakespeare, she points out that Shakespeare was a master rhetorician, who knew not only all the technical terms, ancient and modern, but was a master practitioner who applied that knowledge throughout his poems and plays, in ways that have stood as examples for generations to follow.

“When a gardener reads Shakespeare, she says that Shakespeare must have been a gardener, because he not only displays the technical terminology of botany and gardening and herbology, he demonstrates the kind of knowledge that comes from working in or studying closely a sophisticated English garden.

“When a lawyer reads Shakespeare, she tells us that Shakespeare must have had a legal education because he not only displays an astonishing range and accuracy with his use of legal terms, be he also commands an understanding of the history and philosophy of law. And you can point to other professions: actor, soldier, physician, courtier, historian, politician.”

He pauses, taking a breath, and when he begins again, his tempo and volume increases.

“But that’s not all. In his plays, he explores the range and depth of human emotions and experience. He explores love, but not just the young romantic love of Romeo and Juliet. He explores love between siblings, and parent and child, and comrades in arms¾young love, middle-aged love, old love. Love between the low and the low, the low and the high, the high and the high, false love, true love, jaded love, betrayed love, self-love, love of good and love of indulgence. Like turning a diamond in the light, he explores every facet of love and hate and envy and greed and lust and jealousy and innocence and sweetness and revenge, and a hundred subtle emotional and intellectual states of which you have yet to take conscious stock.”

“His capacious mind wandered everywhere, and in almost every way he has arrived there before you have, articulating it with a mastery that leaves later writers sick with wondering what territory of the human heart, human intellect, and human action is left to explore. He seems to have experienced the full range and depth of common human experience and encapsulated that experience more beautifully than any other.

“Shakespeare, Ms. Powers, displays a vocabulary of well over twenty-two thousand words, almost three times Milton’s vocabulary, and you wonder why you find reading him challenging, and you dare to wonder if Shakespeare has anything to teach you?”

She sits frozen. You suspect she is considering filing a grievance. In the spacious silence, the professor speaks softly again, with a sardonic smile.

“May I suggest to you, Ms. Powers, that you have a choice. You can continue to dwell on the surface of life, holding up external appearances as if they were everything, parroting the rhymes and rhythms of a social media consciousness, flaccid and without true self-animation, smug in the knowledge that you have comfortably given yourself over to a group numbness, submitting to mere external authority—or maybe, just maybe, with personal effort, a healthy skepticism, and a sense of individual exploration, you may become your own authority, by expanding your mind in a constant effort to comprehend Shakespeare’s. That you may go on to explore Shakespeare’s artistic depths, his innovative characters, his invention of the human, as one lover of his work has said¾his carving out new states of poetic, dramatic and human consciousness, in which we all can play, learn, and grow.

“May I suggest that until you are well along into that journey, your mind and emotions may remain susceptible to every sophistic thought that knocks on your door, seeking to enslave you with its mere appearance of originality. It’s time, Ms. Powers, that you begin feeding on Shakespeare rather than on that damned fast food.”

He pauses.

“That’s all for today.”

_____

Secrets of Better Decision Making

In 2004, Annie Duke won the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.

She did not start out as a poker player. In fact, she had been working towards a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology when, in 1991, a month before defending her dissertation, she got sick and moved back to her home in Montana.

Her brother was a poker player, and she soon found herself in a new kind of lab, studying how poker players learn and make decisions. She writes in her book Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts:

“Over time, those world-class poker players taught me to understand what a bet really is: a decision about an uncertain future. The implications of treating decisions as bets made it possible for me to find learning opportunities in uncertain environments. Treating decisions as bets, I discovered, helped me avoid common decision traps, learn from results in a more rational way, and keep emotions out of the process as much as possible.”

She illustrates what she means by “decision traps” by comparing success in life to success in chess and success in poker.

Success in chess is about making quality decisions.

Success in poker is about making quality decisions
 AND luck.

For Annie, Life is Poker, not Chess. And understanding that difference makes all the difference.

One decision trap is assuming that a bad outcome can always be traced back to a bad decision.

She gives an example of a controversial decision made at the end of Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 (the annual championship of the American National Football League).

The Seattle Seahawks trailed by four points and had 26 seconds to score a touchdown. Everyone expected the coach, Pete Carroll, to call for a running play.

Instead, the coach called for the quarterback to pass. The pass was intercepted and the New England Patriot’s won.

Next day, the media headlines called it “The Worst Play-Call in Super Bowl History” and “A Coach’s Terrible Super Bowl Mistake.”

There were a few dissenting voices, many of them pointing out the history of such interceptions in that situation was about 2%. But those voices were drowned out.

What did the coach get wrong? Simple. The play didn’t work.

Think about the headlines if that play did work.

“The Best Play-Call in Super Bowl History” and “A Coach’s Terrible Super Bowl Mistake” and “A Coach’s Incredible Super Bowl Win.”

As Annie Duke points out, “Pete Carroll was a victim of our tendency to equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome.” (My italics.)

She explains that as she was learning how to play professional poker, other pro players would warn her to avoid the temptations of “resulting.” Resulting means changing your strategy just because a few hands didn’t turn out well in the short run.

And she points out that Pete Carroll understood this critical distinction when he said a few days later, “It was the worst result of a call ever… The call would have been a great one if we catch [sic] it. It would have been just fine, and nobody would have thought twice about it.”

The media critics treated football like checkers. All the pieces are on the board and it is about making quality decisions.

In checkers you have all the facts.

But not in football. Like poker, winning is about quality decisions, but it is also about luck. Sometimes it does not matter how good the decision is—sometimes luck works against good decisions.

In poker, as in football, and as in life,
you do not have all the facts.

In life, what makes a quality decision great has nothing to do with a great outcome. Sometimes great decisions still land us in not-so-great outcomes.

When creating your life, even when you are end-result oriented, beware of “resulting.” Good strategies can have short-term failures while keeping you on the path to long-term success.

Stick with a winning strategy
and stand resilient against the failures.

 

1. Creating Your Life thumb

Secrets of Failure

Successful high performance thinkers and creators understand the value of failure.

The innovation team at the Silicon Valley company that employed me had a strong motto:

Fail faster!

The great inventor, Thomas Edison, understood this idea. He ended his life with 2,332 patents worldwide. You may have forgotten some of his inventions:

— The incandescent light bulb

— The phonograph record

— The motion picture camera

— The carbon microphone, used in telephones until 1980

— A system for electric power distribution

— The fluoroscope

When asked about his failures in inventing a working light bulb, Edison reportedly answered, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that did not work.”

In other words, his failures were a form of success.

So how did Edison do it? How did he become one of the most prolific inventors in history? In a word, attitude.

Here are some of Thomas Edison’s critical quotes:

Genius is one percent inspiration,
ninety-nine percent perspiration.

If we did all the things we are capable of doing,
we would literally astound ourselves.

Opportunity is missed by most people because
it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize
how close they were to success when they gave up.

I find out what the world needs.
Then, I go ahead and invent it.

Hell, there are no rules here—
we’re trying to accomplish something.

Edison had a rare quality—resilience.

Objects like rubber balls have resilience, the ability to spring back into its original shape.

Humans who are resilient have a strong capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, or in Edison’s case, from failures.

How did he do it? He simply did not recognize failure. And this is how the innovators at my Silicon Valley company thought. Fail faster means recognizing that when you are innovating, creating something new that’s never been done before, it is a natural fact that you have to move through a number of “failures” to get to success.

Failures are the norm for successful people.

They do not see failures as stumbling blocks.
They see failures as stepping stones.

from Creating Your Life

1. Creating Your Life thumb

Mozart and Great Music

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music 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: A Lifetime of Learning, Book 3

3. Sex and Romance thumb

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

2. Money and Wealth thumb

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

1. Creating_Your_Life_thumb

*****

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.

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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 to 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.

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