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Music and objectivity

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I think there are three levels on which a music piece can be judged objectively: complexity, emotion, and value.

Complexity is fairly simple: some pieces, like Rachmaninoff's 3rd, are extremely complex and require some level of intelligence to decipher. People of below average intelligence hear it as pure noise, or something too complex to be understood. For them it has no value - and this is quite an easy thing to measure objectively.

Emotion is also pretty straight forward. Leaving the complexity issue aside (avoiding very complex, or very simple pieces), the same piece seems to produce the same emotion in the overwhelming majority of people (except certain border-case pieces). This emotion can be joy, fear, strength, weakness, victory, defeat, boredom, overwhelming exhiliration - or even a meaningless, empty smugness.

Value is the phase we decide, according to the complexity and the emotion of the piece, its value. Is it an undying masterpiece of courage, or a boring little tune of feeble, meaningless emotions? How valuable is it to a rational man's life?

The first two parts were never scientifically proven, as far as I know. They are based on my own observations. The third part is simply judging the piece, after establishing its objective influence on the human mind, according to an objective code of values. This should be easy for Objectivists. :)

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Of course it must.  Otherwise, we would simply hear all music as the same.  There are qualities which seperate one peice from another.  We know those qualities to be identifiable because we routinely identify them--on some level or another--when comparing two peices.
Humor me and offer some examples of these qualities, please.

All things which exist have an identity.  The only question is whether or not we have identified that identity, not whether it exists.  Nothing "currently lacks identity," and thus your point is invalid.

I think you missed my point. My argument is not that some things lack identity altogether, rather that some things lack objectivity that contributes to that identity. My ultimate question: is it therefore possible that the objectivity lacks while leaving a subjective identity intact (Such as art? ie. what constitutes art)?

As for your question about emotions, you should look around the forum for discussions about that, and, if you can't find an answer to your question, ask it again in one of those discussions.  Short answer: yes.

Thank you, I'll check that out

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Consciousness is identification.  Consciousness on the conceptual level is objective identification.

It is possible to abstract from the percepts of music.  It's just harder, I suspect, because there are no visual clues.

It really isn't hard at all, provided that one learns how to do it correctly. :) In this regard, I know of no better practical guide than Aaron Copeland's What to Listen for in Music, which should be available in the music books section of any good bookstore such as Borders or Barnes & Noble. A good introduction to this book would be Ayn Rand's discussion of music in her article Art and Cognition.

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Humor me and offer some examples of these qualities, please.
Various notes and harmonies, and sequences thereof.

My argument is not that some things lack identity altogether, rather that some things lack objectivity that contributes to that identity.

So your argument is that A may be non-A for some people, that something which metaphysically exists may do so without objective definition... :). Observe what this means:

Erendror:

I think there are three levels on which a music piece can be judged objectively: complexity, emotion, and value.

Emotion and value are not objective... they are subjective.

The goal of objective judgement is not to identify what emotion most people do feel when listining to a peice of music, but to identify what they should feel. It is to identify what actually exists in a peice of music, apart from what our minds put there.

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Emotion and value are not objective... they are subjective.

The goal of objective judgement is not to identify what emotion most people do feel when listining to a peice of music, but to identify what they should feel.  It is to identify what actually exists in a peice of music, apart from what our minds put there.

At this moment, I don't think we have the scientifc tools to determine the emotion one SHOULD feel when listening to a piece, except by induction. Meaning - if 99% of listeners hear a certain string of sounds as sad, it is likely to be a product of our basic hearing/interpreting mechanism.

Therefore, if one man hears that same tune as light-hearted and joyous, we know that something is at least irregular with this person.

Also - in a sense nothing exists in music except what our mind put there. Unlike a painting or a film, or even a novel - the sounds, as they exist objectively, represent no concrete, no principle, no truth. It is only after being interpreted by our minds that the string of sounds represents some abstract emotion. The objective understanding of a musical piece is inexorably tied to an objective understanding of the interpreting mechanism of sounds, in our own brains.

As for values being subjective - it depends what you mean by that. Of course, one man's values may be different from another's. However we as Objectivists believe that certain values are OBJECTIVELY good, while others are OBJECTIVELY evil.

For example - some Trance music is specifically designed to numb the mind into a sub-human unconsciousness. I can, and do, morally judge people who profess to enjoy this unthinking state of mind (this kind of music is often accompanied by drugs).

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For example - some Trance music is specifically designed to numb the mind into a sub-human unconsciousness. I can, and do, morally judge people who profess to enjoy this unthinking state of mind (this kind of music is often accompanied by drugs).

This is precisely the reason Trance is looked down upon within the electronic music community, while more "mature" music such as house, downtempo, and drum & bass maintain respect and dignity.

P.S. It's interesting that you bring up trance to make this point. Are you active within the electronic music community?

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I'm just active in escaping from public places that feature this kind of stupefying noise...

<snip>

The only semi-electronic music I listen to is Portishead. And that's only when I'm in a dark mood. B)

:angry: @ stupefying noise.

If you like Portishead, you should check out Sneaker Pimps, Moonraker, and Everything But the Girl.

They are all part of the same sub-genre (trip-hop), but the ones I mentioned are significantly lighter. Sneaker Pimps are a little more *rocky* and Moonraker has a lot of jazz influence.

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For example - some Trance music is specifically designed to numb the mind into a sub-human unconsciousness. I can, and do, morally judge people who profess to enjoy this unthinking state of mind (this kind of music is often accompanied by drugs).

You're hinting at an important identification: the rave scene is today's variant of the hippies of the 60s and 70s. Their music, their clubs, their dancing are all anti-man, anti-mind, and anti-life. If you've ever attended an electronic music club (and I have unfortunately attended a lot of them), you'll see that everything is designed to destroy man's ability to think and value - the lights, the noise levels, the music, the drugs, and the raver philosophy. In fact, if you go back and read the section in The Comprachicos where Rand talks about hippies, she could easily be describing today's rave culture (except unlike the hippies they don't consistently hate technology and capitalism). It's a good sign, then, that the scene is dying.

This is quite apart from the actual music. As dondigitalia pointed out, there is perhaps some value to house music, D&B, etc (I will confess to enjoying Bad Boy Bill and Dieselboy, among others).

Don Watkins III

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What you are saying is true for the most part about the rave scene (there were some who were involved b/c of their love for music, not b/c of drug use, particularly in the beginning).

House music definitely has value (this excludes the farcity of "Progressive House," which is actually more akin to Trance). The entire genre is about the enjoyment of being alive, and the expression of that joy through dance. There have been many books written on the nature of dance music, House in particular. One that gives an excellent depiction of what dance music is truly about (and the place drug use has taken within the "scene") is "Last Night A DJ Saved My Life"

There have been many times that I've been brought to tears (and seen others in the same condition) in the middle of a dancefloor out of shere joy being brought to me by house music.

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At this moment, I don't think we have the scientifc tools to determine the emotion one SHOULD feel when listening to a piece, except by induction.
Quite right. We do not yet have an objective criteria for judging music. This is why, as of now, musical tastes are opinions, every man for himself.

Therefore, if one man hears that same tune as light-hearted and joyous, we know that something is at least irregular with this person.

Perhaps he is irregular, but perhaps he is right. Since we do not have an objective criteria for judging music yet, we cannot say anything about the correctness of his musical tastes, nor ours.

The objective understanding of a musical piece is inexorably tied to an objective understanding of the interpreting mechanism of sounds, in our own brains.

And the objective understanding of a painting is inexorably tied to the interpreting mechanism of color, and of proportion, etc... In fact, the objective understanding of reality is inexorably tied to the senses, as well. Does this mean that reality has no objective meaning outside of our minds? Of course it doesn't, it only means that, in order to objectivly understand something, we must identify which parts actually exist and which are added by our minds. Just as with music.

As for your "trance music," while I agree that it is no good, this is not an objective judgment, but an opinion. If you found someone who, besides liking this music, was perfectly moral, it would be a mistake to draw inferences about this taste in music.

This said, I think one would be somewhat safe to assume that, when and if an objective criteria is identified, this "trance music" would be objectively defined as "depraved."

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Perhaps he is irregular, but perhaps he is right.  Since we do not have an objective criteria for judging music yet, we cannot say anything about the correctness of his musical tastes, nor ours.

I don't agree with that entirely.

If 99% of listeners interpret a piece a certain way, and the composer of the piece intended them to inerpret it this way - then this is the right way to interpret it.

He may not be wrong, or immoral, if he interprets it differently. But he won't be interpreting it correctly, as the human mind should.

He may have a different structure, and that may be legitimate - but irregular anyway.

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“if he interprets it differently. But he won't be interpreting it correctly, as the human mind should”

There is no way to tell how the human mind should interpret it, at least not yet. You are attempting to give an objective outlook to music by using the opinions of others; the composer and the masses.

One may interpret the music differently than what the composer intended, but that does not mean the interpretation is incorrect. Until there is a way to objectify music, there is no correct way to interpret it.

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QUOTE 

I was attempting to use Spears as an example of how even Objective judgment may vary from person to person...

uhhhhh, wouldnt that make it "relative".

like duh!!!!

Yes, in the "of value to whom and for what" sense.

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There is no way to tell how the human mind should interpret it, at least not yet.  You are attempting to give an objective outlook to music by using the opinions of others; the composer and the masses.

No! That's not what I meant.

I don't care about their opinions. I believe this is not a matter of opinion. You don't listen to a string of sounds and then form an opinion as to whether it is happy, sad, or whatever.

Your standard mechanism does that without any choice on your part.

That's why I think 99% of the people interpreting a piece as sad, is necessarily a reflection on their mechanism - not some personal taste.

In order for this to be exact, you need to try people from different cultures, different social groups, different ages, even different races. If all these people, including people who are untouched by western civilization, interpret it the same way - then this interpretation is the normal product of the standard human equipment!

We will not know exactly why, or how - but at least we will know some of WHAT this interpreting mechanism does.

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I don't care about their opinions. I believe this is not a matter of opinion. You don't listen to a string of sounds and then form an opinion as to whether it is happy, sad, or whatever.
You do... until such time as you identify an objective criteria for the judgment of music, you have no way to identify whether the happyness or sadness you hear is in the music or your head.

Your standard mechanism does that without any choice on your part.

That's why I think 99% of the people interpreting a piece as sad, is necessarily a reflection on their mechanism - not some personal taste.

Here you are suggusting that emotion is non-personal mechanism, in the way that sight or hearing is; you are suggusting that emotion is, like the senses, seperate from the mind, and merely sends it information. The fact is, emotion is dependent on values, on experiences; the fact is, until an objective criteria is developed, you have no way of telling what is in the music, and what is added by your values and experiences.

In order for this to be exact, you need to try people from different cultures, different social groups, different ages, even different races. If all these people, including people who are untouched by western civilization, interpret it the same way - then this interpretation is the normal product of the standard human equipment!

What if 99% of the individuals are adding something to the music in their listining, in their judgment? What if the one who disagrees is the one who is judging most objectivly?

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uhhhhh, wouldnt that make it "relative".

like duh!!!!

That would make the good/evil judgment "subjective," yes. The objective judgment we are discussing is the consideration of what it is, precisly, that we are labeling as good or evil.

For clarification...

When I said:

I was attempting to use Spears as an example of how even Objective judgment may vary from person to person...

I meant something like:

I was attempting to use Spears as an example of how moral judgment--even that based on objective definition--may vary from person to person.

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I have a question about the origins of music, i.e., what prompted man to make music in the first place. This requires some preliminary information:

There is a neuroscientist at SDSU who says he can tell you specifically, why people react to Picasso. He has discovered that we have, as a physical part of our brains, certain basic patterns that allow us to begin our integrations of certain objects in reality, most importantly, the human face. (This is my uneven understanding of a part of his lecture.) So, he says, humans respond to a painting of a human face by Picasso because it subconsciously triggers this primative pattern. He asserts that all response to art may be a subconscious reaction in like manner.

I found his information interesting, not because I think that his interpretation of the facts is correct, but because of the objective facts he has discovered. As for his interpretation of this information, I think he may have found a component of why we respond to certain artforms, but I'm not sure how he far he takes this information. Obviously, as adults our responses are not the same automatic responses of a precognitive infant.

We know that there are certain primative emotions, such as fright or flight, etc., which we are born with. I suspect that the patterns this doctor has discovered is a similar kind of mechanism. Such attributes are precursors which allow us automatically to move from the sensory to the perceptual level of consciousness (or such is my understanding).

We also possess a like mechanism which allows us to integrate the sound of speech. If you've ever watched an infant, you might have noticed that the child waves his limbs about and displays a jerky activity with his whole body when he hears someone talking. Studies have been interpreted to say that this activity is the automatic integration of speech patterns and begins at birth (though some say that it begins in the womb after a certain embryonic phase).

Now my question: Could music be based in this speech mechanism, the way certain visual art is rooted in the primative patterns? Consider that people who speak vastly different languages also have music that is based on very different systems. Asian music may sound caustic to western ears and usually must be studied to be appreaciated. The western ear doesn't necessarily hear the sadness, joy, etc., in this music that a native would. (I use Asian here because I grew up in Japan after WWII and have some familiarity with it, but the same holds true for other languages.) The sound of this music is very like the sound of the language (putting aside the differences in basic systems, etc.).

Obviously, as adults we bring more than primative mechanisms to art no matter the artform. I'm trying to piece together bits of knowledge I have and apply to the genesis of music, so if I sound as though I don't know what I'm talking about, it's because I don't! I someone has more specific information, I'd be interested in hearing it.

(By-the-bye, if anyone is interested, I'll look up the name of the neuroscientist. It's a very long Indian name, it's late, and I'm too lazy to do it now.

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You do...  until such time as you identify an objective criteria for the judgment of music, you have no way to identify whether the happyness or sadness you hear is in the music or your head.

Here you are suggusting that emotion is non-personal mechanism, in the way that sight or hearing is; you are suggusting that emotion is, like the senses, seperate from the mind, and merely sends it information.

I don't need to identify the criteria to know there is one, and that it is not a matter of personal decision or interpretation. Why do I say that?

1. Introspection: Identifying a piece as happy or sad does not require deliberation or conscious thought.

2. Induction: I have talked with many people about music, and I have NEVER encountered a case where to people interpret the emotion of a piece in an irreconcilable manner. They all agreed on the exact feeling, or on the rage of possible emotions of a piece.

3. More induction: many animals respond to music. Calm, harmonious music is said to soothe even wild beasts - which means it has a similar effect on some animals as it has on humans.

4. Some deduction: the theory of music found many rules of harmony, rythm and dissonance that are mathematical relations between notes. This rules work the same on everyone: a harmony is pleasant, calming - a dissonance is unpleasant, more agitating, different rythms have different emotional effects, and so do different musical ladders. It's easy to deduce these mathematical rulse must come not from some human choice (I choose to like all relations of 1st and 5th, and hate those of 2nd and 3rd - this is just an example, I didn't really learn these rules), but rather from the basic nature of our "hardware".

In the light of this I think that basically all men interpret the emotions and sensations of music in a very similar way, and our personal preferences are therefore mainly a result of different mental abilities (not anyone can handle a Rachmaninoff or even a Bach), and a different sense of life (not anyone likes to experience a sense of heroism, or even light-heartedness).

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I don't need to identify the criteria to know there is one, and that it is not a matter of personal decision or interpretation.

I think you misuderstand my point completly, as is shown by this statement, and the fact that your post is not comprehensible as a refution of it.

Of course there exists an objective criteria, and if one uses this criteria, than ones decision is not a personal one, it is not an interpretation, but an identification of fact.

The problem is that, when one recieves sensory data, unless one uses--not merely knows about--an objective criteria, one cannot be sure that one has identified the facts properly.

When one hears a peice of music, one knows the sounds for fact, and ones task is to identify the meaning of those sounds. Unless one uses an objective criteria, one has no basis on which to claim that the meaning one identified is the correct one. No amount of consensus about the matter can prove or disprove that identification, either. It is only when an objective criteria is in use that one may make any sort of claim about the correctness of that identification.

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Of course there exists an objective criteria, and if one uses this criteria, than ones decision is not a personal one, it is not an interpretation, but an identification of fact.

The problem is that, when one recieves sensory data, unless one uses--not merely knows about--an objective criteria, one cannot be sure that one has identified the facts properly. 

When one hears a peice of music, one knows the sounds for fact, and ones task is to identify the meaning of those sounds.  Unless one uses an objective criteria, one has no basis on which to claim that the meaning one identified is the correct one.

On the basic level I'm speaking of, there there is no right criteria. There is no right meaning. There is only a certain effect of the music on a certain automatic mechanism in the brain.

If in 99% of the cases the automatic mechanism works a certain way, then that's the way it is for 99% of the people. And if in 1% the mechanism works differently, then that's the way it works for 1% of the people. This is the way the mechanism works. It is just as neutral as the differences in eye or hair color.

What you are actually saying, as far as I'm concerned, is tantamount to saying that despite the fact that 99% of people's stomachs digest good in a certain way, we can't know if they do it the right way, because we don't completely understand the digestion process.

There is no right or wrong way to digest. There is only the way our stomachs digest. That's it. If your stomach works differently than the rest of humanity - you are not wrong or right - but simply abnormal.

So until we learn more about the mechanism, I would not venture to argue with a man who feels sadness at the sound of "Tiddly-Wink" music. He might have a different mechanism. However, I can surely say that as a composer I will aim at the common mechanism - which I believe at least 99% share.

Let me re-state my main point: I believe that all healthy, normal men automatically feel certain emotions as a result of certain strings of sounds, without there being a choice, or right and wrong (which come with choice). I believe that ALL personal judgments of music are formed AFTER this emotion is experienced. That only AFTER this emotion is experienced there can be right or wrong, correct or incorrect. Before that - there is only reality. This is how the mind works.

(And if you ask now - "But is this the way it SHOULD work?" then you are trying to re-design nature instead of understanding it.)

Again: the terms right, wrong, correct, incorrect - are inaplicable on the level of the automatic, animalistic response to music. This is just the way it is.

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Comparing emotion to hair color is not going to work.

This sort of comparision requires that the act of listining to music works like this:

You hear the music. BAM! Emotion--and without any connection to values, at that).

That is not how it works.

Let me lay out exactly how it does work:

1. You hear the music. This is the only part that has nothing to do with the mind, and therefore, the only part that can be compared to the operation of the stomach.

2. You listin to the music. This is the part where your mind first steps in, and the first part where, without an objective criteria, we have no objective understanding.

3. Emotion. Yes, this is automatic. However, this also adds even more of your mind's interpretation to the matter, as your values are added into the mix.

The fact is, the mind is involved in the judgment of music. And since your mind is not omnipotent or infalliable, you need to use an objective criteria in order to be sure that judgment is correct.

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