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jonathanconway

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Everything posted by jonathanconway

  1. When encountering critiques of Objectivism, I've found the idea of holding an idea without accepting it both very powerful and very true to life. The following two quotes express it for me: "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." - Aristotle "At the root of every significant philosophic theory, there is a legitimate issue." - Ayn Rand I have found this true in work for example. If I encounter difficult systems or difficult interpersonal interactions, rather than trying to escape or deny them, I have found it much more helpful to approach them and work towards understanding them. This isn't quite the same as accepting or resigning myself to them - ultimately I may seek to influence and change them. But it's more about being willing to begin with perceiving and conceptualising them in my own mind, in a way that integrates with the sum of my knowledge. Likewise, in encountering critiques of Objectivism, I've been trying to understand any critique, and the ideas behind it, as clearly as possible. I don't see this as a fruitless exercise, but rather, understanding that there is likely to be some very real and important issue underlying the critique, I try to probe beneath the surface to uncover that issue. The resolution to that issue, if someone has discovered it, might come out of Objectivism, or it might come out of some other school of thought or area of knowledge. Holding a metaphysics of objective reality, I don't see any ideas as completely groundless, having just arbitrarily arisen out of some kind of 'nothingness'. Unicorns don't exist. But neither are they entirely arbitrary and groundless. Rather, they combine, in an imaginative way, elements of perception, which themselves do come out of reality (horses, horns, etc).
  2. jonathanconway

    Classical music

    Ok... I really have to put in a word for Pierre Boulez. I was confused for a while, because on the one hand, Boulez (and much other modernist music) seemed dazzlingly complex and admirable in its ambitions and scope, from stretching the tonal system to its limit to experimenting with electronics. But on the other hand, I had read parts of Rand's writing (I think it was in the Romantic Manifesto), where she refers to incomprehensible squawks, shrieks, etc of much modern music. In the years since, I've listened more to Boulez, Stockhausen and others, and also heard better and better performances, like this performance of RĂ©pons in 2015, and come to the conclusion that this music is really a great achievement (thought I don't claim to yet entirely understand it), and that audiences of the future will appreciate it more and more. How do I square this with Rand's views expressed in the Romantic Manifesto? Simple: she only ever claimed to be a philosopher and novelist. She never claimed to be a musician or a musicologist, in fact, she (quite rightly) left the vast field of philosophy of music to future specialists to discover. So it would be unfair to expect her to have had a sufficiently thorough knowledge of musical theory, history, etc. as to be able to grasp and appreciate the greatness of (some) modern music, especially at a time when it was so nascent and undeveloped, particularly in the performance aspect. She was right to listen to music that both she loved and that was legitimately good music, which I think Rachmanninoff is. One can treat her preferences in music the same way as, say, in food. The best (and I mean, objectively best) chefs of her time might have found her food choices objectionable, but that would have had no bearing on her primary field of focus, which is philosophy and literature. I suppose one could criticise her for expressing any opinions at all on something outside of her primary field, but I think that'd just be nit-picking. What matters is the essence of her philosophy, not details she might have missed out due to lack of knowledge. After all, you could say the same of Aristotle. He was no doubt wrong about many aspects of science / the natural world. But what endures and remains of value - his ideas in metaphysics - is no less an achievement.
  3. jonathanconway

    Classical music

    Couldn't agree more. It looks passive to be just sitting there in the audience, but so much is going in the mind, if you're really listening. Bruckner's (and so many others') music is something that's been with me in so many moments of my life, both difficult and triumphant. Music is really there for me sometimes, in a way that people in my life can't always be (not faulting them for that). Beneath the religious elements, which are certainly there, Bruckner's music for me speaks of the hope of a better world, of a brighter future, and of great passion, conviction and dedication to ideals.
  4. jonathanconway

    Classical music

    For my part, I can't resist chipping in a mini-eulogy to my favourite composer of all time, Anton Bruckner. (Much as I love so many of the composers mentioned in this thread, including Rachmaninoff, whose Piano Concerto 2 I have playing as I write this...) Bruckner's work has really added to my life perhaps almost as much as Ayn Rand's. All of his symphonies, for me, express emotions of glory, grandeur, awe and exultation. They all contain adagios which express a kind of sad wandering and yearning, but which gradually and inexorably build up and transform into crashing waves of ecstasy and resolution. They all contain scherzos bordered by the relentless energy of 19th century industrialisation, contrasted with inner islands of carefree melody. They always culminate in a massive monumental coda, always ending in a blazing major key, in an atmosphere of celebration and joy. In every moment of the music, there seems to be something greater being expressed. There is a pervasive "largeness", a sense of a greater unity that can only be appreciated after many listenings, when the music has finally surrendered all of its secrets, and all that's left is to marvel at a lifetime of driven, dedicated handiwork. The last 5 symphonies especially exhibit a cyclic, integrated design, in which elements of every part of the symphony interact throughout the work, and are finally brought together in the finale. The coda of the 8th Symphony does this in a particularly impressive and moving way. The guy spent his whole life studying and writing music. Clearly he had a passion for the work, and wasn't just trying to be popular or rich. He also spent a significant portion of his life in the Sankt Florian cathedral, an immense, beautifully ornamented structure, one which must have given him inspiration every day. He surely had traits Rand (and I) would disapprove of, particularly belief in God and a bit of an obsession for teenage girls. That said, I think the idea he was humble or self-doubting is a complete myth. The many alterations he made to his symphonies, rather than humility, seem to evidence a passion and love for the craft and a desire to constantly improve and strive toward perfection. They also offer a fascinating and enjoyable experience in their own right. How many other composers can give you glimpse into two or even three slightly alternative visions of how a single work might have been realised? I find it enriching to see the master reveal some of his process, not just the end result. I must also add a word of praise for a female composer who I think doesn't get enough attention: Lili Boulanger. The 'Old Buddhist Prayer' in particular strikes me as most exultant and uplifting. Obviously the reference to 'Gods' is a bit suss. But I do love lyrics like: "Let all those beings which exist -- without enemies, without obstacles, overcoming their grief and attaining happiness, be able to move freely, each in the path destined for them". That's the kind of feeling I like to have in my head when I wake up in the morning. I guess what I get most from both composers is the sense of a world that is large, awe inspiring and full of endless potential.
  5. jonathanconway

    When to take time off

    Hi everyone. I want to ask for any career and life advice you might want to offer. For the past 10 years or so I have been working as a software developer for various companies. During this time, I have generally focussed on maximising income and minimising expenses, in order to save as much money as possible. My ultimate goal is to have enough money that I can quit full-time work, live very cheaply and minimally, and spend my time on creative projects that don't necessarily pay off in monetary terms, but would be hugely enjoyable and give me a lot of life satisfaction. Essentially, projects that I can die feeling happy and proud about. These projects include musical work (I want to compose a symphony), technological experimentation (involving software, sensors, smartphones, decentralised systems, etc) and social design experiments (designing various kinds of structured communities, organisations, etc and finding ways to try them out). I don't necessarily dislike my current job as a software developer. I enjoy the creative/problem-solving challenges, the people are nice and easy to get on with, the pay is excellent, and there's a sense of progress and forward movement as new technologies and frameworks keep being born. (Reactive programming is fascinating!) At the same time, it can be frustrating having all my creative energy confined to a relatively narrow set of concerns that benefit my clients, in exchange for a fee. The tricky thing is - when do I jump off the conveyor belt of full-time regular work? On the one hand, I only have a finite amount of time left to live. I assume I'll live until 70-80, so that's about another 50 years, which I suppose is a fair amount of time. But still. On the other hand, I'm blessed to have such an awesome job and career in software development, and I don't want to totally lose that. I also don't want to risk running out of money for some unforeseen reason, and then be forced to go back into work after a long break, and perhaps not be ready for it. Have any of you faced similar decision-points in life? Do you have any words of advice? Many thanks in advance!
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