Monday, April 25, 2011

Many Mansions

Currently I am reading Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Along with teaching me how to correctly spell the word “maintenance,” it has:
  1.         Made a motorcycle the new #1 thing on my list of wants.
  2.       Created an immense craving for backpacking.
  3.       Kept me calm in stressful times. 
  4.       Made me want to be a rapper so I can use Phaedrus as my alias.  
  5.        Been one of my main sources of inspiration.
Pirsig and Chris 

Number five is true in many different cases, and it accomplished one of those cases by introducing me to Albert Einstein speeches. A few lines that Pirsig quoted from a specific one stood out to me, so I looked up that speech. It was from 1918 and was his address in Berlin for Max Planck’s sixtieth birthday, but it’s much, much more than an I-just-wrote-this-on-a-napkin-five-minute-ago birthday speech. Here is a passage:

In the temple of science are many mansions, and various indeed are they that dwell therein and the motives that have led them thither. Many take to science out of a joyful sense of superior intellectual power; science is their own special sport to which they look for vivid experience and the satisfaction of ambition; many others are to be found in the temple who have offered the products of their brains on this altar for purely utilitarian purposes. Were an angel of the Lord to come and drive all the people belonging to these two categories out of the temple, the assemblage would be seriously depleted, but there would still be some men, of both present and past times, left inside.

Now, I suppose these words could really apply to area of study, but music immediately popped into my mind when I read this. All the statements, when applied to music, present two argumentative sides and are incredibly debatable. 
There are certainly fair shares of people who feel superior with the music that they compose/listen to, whether it’s because of its academic value, its confusing nature, or simply because it’s unique (I think we have all experienced the latter).  Or perhaps it’s because of the reason presented by Einstein: that it’s our “own special sport,” something that we can claim and feel familiar inside of. Sometimes this is a wonderful feeling—it’s like living in a cabin in a hidden area; only we can access it. On the other hand, it can sometimes turn others off, this attitude of eliteness. That is one of the stereotypes that classical music resides with, but I have found it to be subconsciously true in many cases. Then there are the ones in the temple who are there for the utilitarian purposes. And, if we follow the form that Albert has set up, there are the ones that would be there if these two categories were wiped out. These people could be argued to be the ones who pioneer purposefully or create music for a cause—and I suppose there is where a small division between science and music comes to into play. Music can certainly be meant to accomplish something or to make strides in the arts world, and these pieces usually do just that. But there are also pieces created just to be—sometimes these make more of a difference than anything else.

Man tries to make for himself in the fashion that suits him best a simplified and intelligible picture of the world; he then tries to some extent to substitute this cosmos of his for the world of experience, and thus to overcome it. This is what the painter, the poet, the speculative philosopher, and the natural scientist do, each in his own fashion. Each makes this cosmos and its construction the pivot of his emotional life, in order to find in this way the peace and security which he cannot find in the narrow whirlpool of personal experience.  

Einstein must have just gotten distracted when writing the list of other occupations that apply to this paragraph and forgot to mention “musician.” Everyone has their own cosmos naturally that follows them from birth, whether it is an optimistic one, pessimistic, introverted, observant, or any other form. One of the greatest goals of a musician is to shape this cosmos with their art and aesthetic and to fill it to the brim. This cosmos is a place where we want to reside because, no matter how individualistic one is, it’s always a comfortable feeling to be defined (to some extent). Hopefully the cosmos is forever malleable, because being concretely defined is never fun.
The final quote:

…he must content himself with describing the most simple events which can be brought within the domain of our experience; all events of a more complex order are beyond the power of the human intellect to reconstruct with the subtle accuracy and logical perfection with the theoretical physicist demands.

And there’s where music beats science. 

Read the whole speech here. 

To follow along with Pirsig and to insert my Hommage à John Stewart: ladies and gentlemen, your moment of (somewhat energetic) Zen:

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