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Music and objectivity

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Ok, I don't buy the idea of a "right" judgement about music, unless you mean "what the composer intended"? Even so I'd say such terminology is incorrect, but I'd like to discuss it more to see what you mean. What'd be an example of a "Right" judgement about, say, Beethoven's 9th? Mozart or Verdi or Berlioz's Requiem? Or, something different - Britney Spears? Country-western? New age relaxation music? Miles Davis? Heavy metal? What are the "meaning" of such sounds, to use your terminology?

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

That is not how it works.

... 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.

Do you agree that harmonious sounds gives a pleasant feeling, and that a dissonance give an unpleasant feeling, no matter your person or your values?

If you don't agree - you need to explain why this is how it works for all men, in all cultures, and even some animals - react in the same way to this distinction. It isn't possible that all of them have the same values!

If you agree - then you must agree that at least part of the emotions that arise from music are:

BAM! Emotion--and without any connection to values, at that.

What possible value could you hold that affects your judgment of mathematical relations between different sounds you hear? When did you acquire that so-called value?

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I think that in order for a piece of music or a song to be considered of value, it has to be judged by how well the creator translated his vision or idea to the medium, and if the message was worth anything. But then you run into the problem of how do you decide what message is and or isnt worth conveying. Then that makes it a more subjective judgment.

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Do you agree that harmonious sounds gives a pleasant feeling, and that a dissonance give an unpleasant feeling, no matter your person or your values?
I would say that it is probably reasonable to expect that to be included in any objective criteria, yes.

If you don't agree - you need to explain why this is how it works for all men, in all cultures, and even some animals - react in the same way to this distinction. It isn't possible that all of them have the same values!

But there are differences in musical tastes, granted, they are generally regarding something more specific than harmony vs. dissonance, but they exist and they exist plentifully.

It should be pointed out that I believe that the main cause of these differences is step 2--the listining part--not the emotion itself. I merely mentioned that descrepencies are possible in the emotion part, since it is dependant on your mind, as well. That was, however, not my main point (which you have ignored in your response, by the way).

If you agree - then you must agree that at least part of the emotions that arise from music are:  BAM! Emotion--and without any connection to values, at that.

No, I don't. It cannot be BAM! anything, since it is not mere sensual hearing that causes emotion. In order for emotion to arise one must first be consciously aware of that which one feels emotion towards; one must first listin to music, before one may feel anything as a result of it. It is in this stage that most of our diagreements about music arise; it is in this stage that we initially mix what our ears provide us with what we already know; it is in this stage that an objective criteria first becomes necessary to any objective judgment of music.

The fact that hardly anybody is deluded--or that most people are deluded, as the case may be--in such a way as to reverse harmony and dissonence, is not proof that this stage did not take place, or even that they have performed it properly. Rather, it merely suggusts that they generally perform it similarly enough for the most basic question to be answered the same.

If everyone was judging the distince between X and Y, most of them would, correctly, say that X is to the west of Y. This does not mean that they have an automatic distance judging capacity, just that they aren't dumb. And don't even bother saying that music is different, since it deals with emotion... I am comparing the above to the part before the emotion, so that does not matter.

Also, in what way non-volitional animals react to music is not relevent to the question of how volitional animals ought to.

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Do you agree that harmonious sounds gives a pleasant feeling, and that a dissonance give an unpleasant feeling, no matter your person or your values?

I disagree. Most jazz harmonies are built around dissonance. Sevenths, ninths, diminished chords and augmented chords are all perfect examples.

P.S. Harmonious isn't really the word you want to use there. Assonance is the opposite of dissonance. Harmonious can apply to either.

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Fine. I'll give you what you want:

Since no large-scale scientific experiment was made to discover the effects of certain combinations of sounds on the human brain - I will say it differently.

You can judge a man only if he admits of feeling the same emotions/sensation you get from the piece, but still forming a different, illegitimate opinion on it.

I will get back to my Trance music example: most people who like it agree that it "makes your mind stop" - or something equally horrendous. But instead of running away from it they seek it. So in this case it's not "every man for himself". They admit of feeling the same thing as you - so there's no room for subjectivity anymore.

The same is true of the critics of Rachmaninoff who complain that his music is "too heroic", for example.

If, however, they are arguing with you about the very feeling or interpretation of the piece - it's a different thing altogether. Until and unless we have more information, we cannot judge them for interpreting it differently.

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I've read some of the previous posts in this thread and noticed that I might have something to add.

I believe that the emotions a person will experience while listening to music are related to other values a man has. For example - I am a programmer and as such, my job is to find certain principles or patterns in the way things function, and translate them into a language the computer will understand. As a result, I may like music that has a repeating pattern. I find that I generally do. The more complex the pattern, the more I like the music. A philosopher (take objectivist as an example) would like the music that sounds "heroic," which changes constantly in its beat and melody, yet in some sensible way as if the music itself had a guiding principle behind it. A doctor may like something more... well, organic. A physicist perhaps something relaxing, a music that speaks of the vastness of the universe in great detail.

All of the above was under assumption that these people were honest, meaning they are doctors because they want to be, not because "the world needs them," etc.

Now, if you are willing, test yourself (I'll suppose that you are honest with yourselves) and tell me whether anything I said is true, whether the kind of music is anything similar to what you do. Does it evoke similar or same emotions? Do you think of the same thing when you work and when you listen to music? I'd just like to know if there's any validity in my theory. :D

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Not exactly, Richard.

I thought then, and still think, that it is highly probabe that all men interpret the emotion of a musical piece basically the same, and only their evaluation of it is different.

I noticed that in my previous posts I wasn't clear on this point. I think it is probable, but not scientifically proven (which I said from the start) - and therefore judging a person for his musical taste will be wrong IN CERTAIN CASES, where he in fact does not agree with your very interpretation of the piece, not just your evaluation of it.

But I guess now harmony is back to this forum. :D

P.S. - I think it's not hard to prove scientifically, though. You don't even need to understand how the brain works in order to inductively prove an objective relation between certain combinations of sounds and certain emotions.

It just haven't been done yet.

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I'd be very careful of judging somebody on the basis of their reaction to any artwork. Too much of the factors involved are subconscious and automatized. You could have a perfectly good person who, for psychological reasons, likes very crappy art. (There are limits to this, but I wouldn't try to draw a very fine line.)

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You could have a perfectly good person who, for psychological reasons, likes very crappy art.

Well - I never judge anyone merely on this ground. But sometimes the crappy art fits into a crappy personality, in which case this is one more supporting fact of a general picture.

However, I don't think I can ever be real friends with anyone who doesn't like the art that I admire.

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erandror:

My problem with that is, basically, that it requires one of two things...

1. That emotion spring directly from sensual perception, not conscious awareness. While I have no actual evidence that this is not the case, it seems downright absurd as a theory about the workings of the mind. In fact, it seems to be contradictory of focus as the primary volitional choice--or as a volitional choice altogether, for that matter.

2. That everyone must focus in exactly the same manner--or at least in some automated, mechanic manner, which most people have in common. That, once I choose to focus, everything from there is automatic. Basically, that the most basic level of awareness has nothing to do with the rest of the mind.

I reject both ideas, for reasons which should be obvious, and therfore, I reject your theory as well.

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Your theory, source, is of interest, but is not the primary question of this topic. This is probably why it has not garnered a response.

Here is my response:

Your theory is that people who like X like X in music. This theory makes perfect sense, and I imagine, would proven true (to a degree) if tested.

The only thing I would like to add is that people who like X usually like other things as well. So you (as an objectivist) should not only like repeating patterns, but heroic music as well. Pehaps you will prefer heroic repeating patterns?

The point is... your theory is somewhat oversimplified, but probably accurate to the degree that it is not.

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1.  That emotion spring directly from sensual perception, not conscious awareness.  While I have no actual evidence that this is not the case, it seems downright absurd as a theory about the workings of the mind.  In fact, it seems to be contradictory of focus as the primary volitional choice--or as a volitional choice altogether, for that matter.

2.  That everyone must focus in exactly the same manner--or at least in some automated, mechanic manner, which most people have in common.  That, once I choose to focus, everything from there is automatic.  Basically, that the most basic level of awareness has nothing to do with the rest of the mind.

That some processes of the mind are automatic is a fact, and it does not contradict volition. When you are stabbed you feel pain. When you hear a sudden, loud sound you are startled (so does a baby). You didn't learn these things. They are a part of your basic equipment. Volition simply means you are free to use your equipment in any way you like, within the limits of its nature.

As for all men focusing in the same manner - I did not say that. But when focusing on a piece, I think it is the basic equipment of the mind that tells you if this is a pleasant, or unpleasant, sound. If the tune is happy or sad. These are very basic things - contingent on the pace, the physical relations between different sounds, the loudness, the vibration.

To prove you don't need to be focused on a piece, or even conscious of it, to be affected by it - I give you the example of cinema. A man on the screen enters a house. He opens the door and hangs his jacket. You hear a suspenceful melody - but are not necessarily conscious of what you hear. You focus on the scene - but the melody gives this rather neutral scene a sense of suspense.

Where did that suspense came from? Where is your free choice in the matter?

You could argue, and I will accept it, that this could be a mixed result: part born, part acquired. For example: fast rythm is inherently more exciting, but we learned to associate some sounds with sadness. That may be the case, but I'm skeptic.

Another indication that musical abilities are born are the musical geniuses that at age 2-3 can play the piano and compose (Mozart, at age 5) amazingly beautiful and complex pieces.

These children show no more emotional maturity, or a developed sense of life, than do other children. They are simply born with an amazing ability to understand, remember, and create musical pieces. I recently watched a show about one idiot-savant child who can't talk, can't move, can barely understand the world around him - but can compose pieces, and improvise like no mature, rational, educated man can.

He had a session with his teacher, a famous piano instructor, where his instructor would play a short improvisation, and the boy had to answer with a continuing improvisation. The teacher said the boy was toying with him. Continuously composing more complex improvisations, beautifully made, and gradually finishing his turn in a way that left the teacher in a harder position to continue. The teacher tried to do the same, but lost. He could not compete with this child's BORN ability to understand and create music. And remember - this is a child who was never taught how to play, and barely knows a few words in English.

This is not innate knowledge, in the same way that mathematical genius is not innate knowledge. Some children are BORN with an unbelievable capacity for mathematic calculations. Some geniuses can calculate at the age of 5 calculations that no adult professor of mathematics can.

They were NEVER TAUGHT to calculate like they do!

The reason has to be that the human mind contains some "built-in tools" in various subjects: spacial orientation, mathematics, interpretation of sounds and musical relations. This is not innate knowledge, but innate abilities - that a person can choose to practice and develop, or not.

And if I didn't convince you yet, I just checked what did Ayn Rand had to say about this. What did she say? Well first - regarding the objectivity of music's influence on human emotions, she said:

Music conveys the same categories of emotions to listeners who hold widely divergent views of life. As a rule, men agree on whether a given piece of music is gay or sad or violent or solemn. But even though, in a generalized way, they experience the same emotions in response to the same music, there are radical differences in how they appraise their experience - i.e., how they feel about the feelings.

Second, even though she did not claim to have to final answer to the question "How does music produce emotions?" - she ventured to begin to explain the basic facts involved, for which there are enough evidence:

We must remember that integration is a cardinal function of man's consciousness on all the levels of his cognitive development. First, his brain brings order into his sensory chaos by integrating sense data into percepts; this integration is performed automatically; it requires effort, but no conscious volition... The automatic processes of sensory integration are completed in his infancy and closed to an adult. The single exception is in the field of sounds produced by periodic vibrations, i.e., music.

Meaning - Ayn Rand herself thought that this process of musical integration is automatic. How does this integration takes place? She says:

One may listen to noise for an hour, a day or a year, and it remains just noise. But musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession produce a different result - the human ear and brain integrate them into a new cognitive experience, into what may be called an auditory entity: a melody. The integration is a physiological process; it is performed unconsciously and automatically. Man is aware of the process only by means of its results.

(The bold in the last sentence is mine. Italics in all quotes are hers.)

If you have, like me, the 1975 paperback version of The Romantic Manifesto, then the last 2 quotes are on page 57, and following them is a discussion on the relationship between the musical and mathematical capacities of the brain. It's fascinating and I recommend everyone to read this article, titled "Art and Cognition" in The Romantic Manifesto.

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A philosopher (take objectivist as an example) would like the music that sounds "heroic," which changes constantly in its beat and melody, yet in some sensible way as if the music itself had a guiding principle behind it. A doctor may like something more... well, organic. A physicist perhaps something relaxing, a music that speaks of the vastness of the universe in great detail.

I think music, in general, evokes only abstract emotions, and these are universal and not profession-specific.

However, there is something true about your observation: Ayn Rand identified that the subconscious continously brings up images and memories that corresponde to the music you are listening to.

In which case, a historian can have images from history, a pogrammer from computers, a physicist from physics, a doctor from biology or whatever - when those corresponde to the emotion of the piece.

They could even be motivated to listen to music that brings up images of things they love. So, in this sense, you are right in your observation.

I know that when listening to heroic music, for example, I "see" pictures from large battle scenes in movies or in stories I've read - or even from history. But does that make me prefer heroic music to other kinds just because I'm an historian? No, it does not. I like many kinds of music.

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That some processes of the mind are automatic is a fact, and it does not contradict volition. When you are stabbed you feel pain. When you hear a sudden, loud sound you are startled (so does a baby). You didn't learn these things. They are a part of your basic equipment. Volition simply means you are free to use your equipment in any way you like, within the limits of its nature.
These are not processes of the mind (to the degree that they are, they are dependant on what is in that mind).

When you are stabbed you feel pain, not as a process of the mind, but as sensory perception. When you hear a loud noise, you may be startled either because you have heard loud noises before, and understand their meaning, or because the loud noise caused pain in your eardrum (more sensory perception).

It is true that emotion is automatic, but that is not of relevence, since emotion still is effected by the mind, and so we need to use an objective standard in order to be sure we interpret it properly.

Recall back to the threads on emotion we had on this forum earlier this month. Betsy mentioned that, when she first saw Ayn Rand on television, she felt a negative emotion towards her. Note that this did not mean that the negative emotion was the proper one, just that she felt it. Later, she realized that Rand had reminded her of her aunts, whom she disliked.

What makes music any different. I hear something, I listin to it--thus creating initial subconscious integrations--then I feel the emotion. In order to be sure that the emotion I felt was a proper one, I must check my integrations against reality, I must OBECTIVELY judge the thing which I feel emotion towards.

I think it is the basic equipment of the mind that tells you if this is a pleasant, or unpleasant, sound.

This means: I think that the first level of judgment after sensory perception is automatic, and independent of the contents of my mind. Basically: I think I have an organ which produces emotions from sensory perception alone, then feeds them to my mind, via a one way street.

Your barrage of "integration" quotes plays right into my point. It is these integrations which have the capacity to cloud our judgments of what exists in the music as opposed to what exists in our minds.

The key part in the first quote is "in a generalized way," I have already explained why most people would not greatly distort their perceptions about the matter, most aren't completly dumb. More specific discrepencies exist however, and are the matter of this discussion.

The second and third quotes speak of the automacy of the process, not of it being seperate from the mind, in fact, it speaks of integrations, so my previous point about integration applys here.

And your anecdotes about natural born capacity to understand/create music is not an issue, as they do not in any way disprove the above about integrations, which is (and has been) my primary point.

--on a side note: I may have been misleading with previous statments about "conscious" awareness. I used the term conscious too broadly throught this thread. "Conscious" should not have been used at all, as simple awareness (conscious or subconscious) is the issue. The point is, we are dealing with integrations in the mind, which, without objective criteria, can lead us to attribute something which is not there to an object we observe.

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Richard_Halley and erandror;

erandror, as Richard said, the theory is oversimplified. But the reason for this is obvious - you can't examine complex issues before you've examined simpler ones which are related to it. First you break up a complex issue into simpler issues and study its aspects. Then you make a theory that would unite all the simple issues, using which you can describe the complex issue in detail.

My theory was that the emotions a person will experience while listening to music are related to other values a man has. This doesn't mean what Richard said that people who like X like X in music. I only mentioned this as an example.

You've already mentioned that different people will feel different things in some kinds of music. So, my theory speaks of this - it says that somehow the emotions inspired by music are related to the individual's values.

Values are many. You probably value more than one thing in your life, so Richard was correct when he said that I would like repeating heroic patterns in music. So you'll like the music if it "reflects" your values and the more values it "reflects", the more you'll love it. Which is what brings me to erandror's first statement, that music evokes abstract emotions.

You don't necessarily feel while listening to music what you feel while working, because the music you listen makes you relate it to your other values.

Having that settled, now there's two things left to do - one is to show why one person likes a certain type of music because it evokes some heroic emotions and the other dislikes it for the same reason, and how does music make you relate it to the values you hold.

The first is obvious - if the first person, who likes the music, holds some values, then the second, who dislikes it, holds almost or exactly the opposite as a value.

The second is not that easy. It requires that the precise mechanism is described. I have found that I like looking for patterns, so I like patterns in music. It is not hard to recognize a pattern in music, but why do I like some patterns more than I like others? Why is it that I dislike some patterns and like some other patterns? Why is it that some sounds put together sound good and others sound discordant? Why do I not like the patterns which are made of such "discordant" sounds?

Why would we all aggree that the death march doesn't sound happy (even if we didn't know its name and purpose), no matter what our values are? (Or is it just that I hope we would) OK, the rhythm may have something to do with it - the music that's dragging slowly like a lazy deadbeat who'd be better off in a coffin can't sound happy unless you're suicidal or a case for observation, just as quick, lively rhythms can't be combined with something evoking sadness. So a person with a good sense of life will at least appreciate lively music. But what about when this "music" is just a pile of sounds jumbled up together? Or their tone being a result of some complex mathematical function, the result of which would sound as if they were jumbled and chaotic, but actually changing according to some logical law expressed in an equation? Even though the rhythm was lively, you wouldn't be able then to say that you like the overall composition, because for some unnamed reason it doesn't make sense. There is no melody to it, you'd say, it's just an incoherent jungle of tones, even though someone would be able to prove to you that the frequencies of those tones change in accordance to some mathematical equation, therefore it isn't incoherent.

So, the ultimate question would be which patterns of tones "make sense" and which "don't make sense" in music and why?

And, Richard, I think my post was very relevant to the primary question of this topic, because the person who created the thread wasn't asking our oppinions, he was asking whether music can objectively be said to be good or bad. By posting my theory, I did express my oppinion, but only for the hope of getting us closer to the objective answer to the initiator's question.

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