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Mini-Interview with Spinoza Ray Prozak

More from the WTF files

I submit a semi-radical thesis: the music doesn't change, but the perceiver does. The goal is thus to remove that change in the perceiver and to see the music as it is really is.

Neo-Advaitin teacher, physician, and musicologist Jean Klein once said:

"The personality is not the constant we imagine it to be. In reality it is only a temporary reorchestration of all our senses, imagination and intelligence, according to each situation. There is no repetition in life and each reorchestration is unique and original like the design in a kaleidoscope.

"... Circumstances never repeat; life never repeats. It is only the ego which desires a known security that labels every being and situation. So live in your surroundings as if for the first time. Be without qualifications. In this nakedness you are beautiful and every moment is full of life." (Quoted from WHO AM I? THE SACRED QUEST)

I tend to agree--following Heraclitus, I don't think that it can properly be said that one hears the exact same music twice, or that one reads the exact same book twice. The CD and its contents may remain essentially the same throughout, but there seem to be many factors that go into a listening experience, and that many if not most of those factors have more to do with the individual listener/experiencer than the music proper: not only his understanding of music in general; his grasp of the themes, lyrics, and artwork of the record in question; or his knowledge of the band's history, but also his temperament, Weltanschauung, health, mood, life situation, the number of hours of sleep he got last night, and his most recent preoccupations, among other things. So many different elements, some more subtle than others, come together to make up a single experience. Those combined experiences, in turn, inform and shape one's perception and opinion of the record. (As you probably know, it is the Advaitin view that appreciation of objects comes from within, not the objects themselves--in other words, from Atman). No doubt that your 2,001st listen of Deicide's LEGION was considerably different from your 1,556th listen.

All this is fairly obvious when one stops to think about it, but I think it's also rather under-appreciated. What are your thoughts on this? Can you give me a general idea of how one listen of an album you enjoy compares and contrasts with another? What about albums you find inferior and difficult to get through? Does, say, Cynic's TRACED IN AIR or Dissection's STORM OF THE LIGHT'S BANE sound the same to you every time you listen to it? (And how often do you revisit such albums anyway?) Given the complex and arguably non-replicable nature of experience, just how objective can one be in appraising works of art? Are a few listens adequate for a fair critique?

Interesting question you raise. Basically, "Can you step in the same river twice?" for music. I submit a semi-radical thesis: the music doesn't change, but the perceiver does. The goal is thus to remove that change in the perceiver and to see the music as it is really is. Life is objective and music is an objective part of life. Allowing our altered perspective through time to influence us reverses the pattern we should follow, which is perceiving reality clearly and then applying our knowledge. As we mature, we become more able to do this.

Regarding personality, I cannot I agree with the thinker you have quoted. Personality is consistent, with two caveats: (a) it matures or improves its own ability to be itself and (b) its expression varies with the factors described above.

Your thesis seems sound. However, 1) what does it mean to "see the music as it really is" and 2) is it possible to do so?

All things in life are logical constructs. To see them, one must perceive and analyze. The fallacy that our society engages in is that one must be 100% accurate in doing so; accuracy varies with background, abilities, and so on. But that doesn't mean we do not perceive.

The self is not an illusion. The illusion is that the self controls the world. Almost all human activities are undertaken to hide that simple reality.

I take the view that there is no inherent meaning in existence, and that, in a similar way, there is no inherent meaning in a work of art, only *intended* meaning, and intended meaning, of course, is not the same as inherent meaning. So I would argue that the appraisal of art is predicated on human constructs, including definitions of what constitutes artistic merit. That is not, of course, to deny that there is a mathematical, objectively measurable aspect to this as well (e.g., symmetry, complexity of construction).

I agree. Seeing the music as a logical construct precedes its interpretation however. Further, communications can be interpreted. I don't think we need inherent meaning at all in this context.

Your description of personality quickly brought to mind something Schopenhauer wrote in "Essay on the Freedom of the Will":

"The character of man is CONSTANT: it remains the same, throughout the whole of life. Under the changeable shell of his years, his relationships, and even his store of knowledge and opinions, there hides, like a crab under its shell, the identical and real man, quite unchangeable and always the same. Only in respect to direction and content does his character undergo apparent modifications, which are the result of differences in one's age in life and its needs. Man never changes; as he has acted in one case, so he will always act again--given completely equal circumstances (which, however, includes also the correct knowledge of those circumstances). A confirmation of this truth can be gathered from everyday experience. But one encounters it in the most striking manner when after twenty or thirty years one meets an acquaintance again and soon catches him doing the same silly things as formerly."

Regarding this passage I will limit myself to these remarks for now: It seems to me that there is no such thing as "completely equal circumstances," to say nothing of full and accurate knowledge of those circumstances. And it may not be enough to cite "everyday experience" (introspection, in this case). As physicist-philosopher Victor J. Stenger points out in his refutation of the cosmological argument, everyday experience is the kind of experience that tells us that the earth is flat.

If Stenger was writing about this quotation, he missed the point. Everyday experience is everyday problem-solving in Schopenhauer's view. His argument is that character, and biological tendencies, UNLESS interrupted by superior force, determine how we respond to similar circumstances. I don't think the "exact circumstances" is even relevant here. People are creatures of habit and much of that habit is inborn.

Why he says this is to point out that the human mania for freedom, free will, etc. is misplaced. We are our tendencies. These can be shaped, but only if noticed. And usually, people just keep doing the same stuff. All their lives, and in all the ages of humankind.

Some years ago, in an ANUS blog post, you mentioned a quotation by Tom Wolfe in which he cites E. O. Wilson's metaphor of a photographic negative as a description of the brain. This makes sense to me; I take the position that intelligence is largely inherited, and I like to cite the case of child prodigies (especially W. J. Sidis, though J. S. Mill may be just as good of an example) to support my view. Incidentally, I appeal to genetic and environmental factors in arguing against the existence of free will.

I agree, although I think rationalism defeats us. "Free will" is a binary (yes/no) when really we should be talking about degrees of choice. Do we need free will? No, we need the ability to calculate, to think, and then to choose one option over the other.

I'm not completely sure what to make of Klein's assertion myself. I will probably have to read through the book at least one more time to place the quote in proper context with full accuracy. However, I somehow doubt that he, as a physician, would've gone as far as to deny that there are no constants (i.e., the quality of the senses and imagination and level of intelligence) underlying the personality.

I agree. However, if you've read "The Blank Slate" by Stephen Pinker, you can see how the mania for free will is more like a religion than a scientific outlook, but also shapes how people interpret science.

There is also a book called THE SELF ILLUSION, which was written by psychologist Bruce Hood (see Advaita Vision's review at http://www.advaita-vision.org/book-review-the-self-illusion/). I have yet to read it, but I think one of the main points is that an individual takes on a different personality according to the needs of a specific type of situation, which seems similar to what Klein is saying.

I'd have to stick with Schopenhauer here. Most errors consist of people not noticing the changes in reality around them. I don't know if they adapt that much. Also, unlike the easterns, I notice that animals and people have distinct personalities. Plants might, even, but it takes patience to see that. The self is not an illusion. The illusion is that the self controls the world. Almost all human activities are undertaken to hide that simple reality.

However, if I had to identify my most significant influence, it is solitude. Solitude in the forest and solitude in the city's anonymous rooms, thinking over and over about structure and not appearance.

I am naturally curious as to how your style developed and evolved. I take it that some of your chief influences were Conrad, Emerson, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Nietzsche, and Williams, whom you mention in "Frustration with Politics." I would guess that Schopenhauer and Shelley are some others.

It's hard to tell. My writing style has been fairly consistent since I was young. I read the classics, widely, including Austen, who's a huge influence. I read a lot of 18th and 19th century materials. I eventually moved into philosophy and descriptive writing like what Christopher Alexander does, and a lot of the computer science materials attempt to do (usually failing -- nerds are chatty). My ultimate guide has been Plato, and his manic urge for simplicity through complexity (express a more complex idea succinctly and in isolation, and you have a whole thought, as opposed to chattering around a thought). I am very fortunate to have these influences and to have known many intelligent writers, teachers, thinkers, etc. in my life. However, if I had to identify my most significant influence, it is solitude. Solitude in the forest and solitude in the city's anonymous rooms, thinking over and over about structure and not appearance. This influence on my writing means I will probably never be rich from my writing, but I might end up mostly correct.

What are your writing habits? For example, when you sit down to compose a piece, do you start with an outline or do you just get down to it? For a while I've wondered how many of your articles were the direct result of a meditative walk in wild nature.

Almost all of the ANUS articles were composed while walking through the outdoors. The less civilized the better. I outline vigorously in my head, and then do a meta-outline based on "theme" which usually includes some sort of dominant metaphor, and makes special focus on beginnings and endings. As far as writing, the rule is this: find someplace you can work, find a door you can close, and the rest is discipline. I consider all the habit-stuff to be peripheral to these.

My favorite writings have occurred in a window overlooking some woods,with a door firmly shut and distanced from the karmic madness of the world and others in the household, while keeping myself in a near-meditative trance by focus on what I'm doing. You can execute this mindset nearly anywhere, but having fewer physical disturbances helps. It seems to me that most people engage in a lot of behaviors, including alcohol, which are superstitions regarding writing.

February 18, 2014

About ANUS

The American Nihilist Underground Society advocates nihilism, or a removal of interpretive layers from our perception of physical reality, as a means of transcending neurotic crowdism and thus achieving adaptive success. It has been online since 1995 and attracts thousands of readers daily with articles about philosophy, politics, music and culture. Every major internet filtering service bans anus.com, and many "anti-hate" organizations decry it as an anti-crowdist site which must be censored and its perpetrators bankrupted.


About Nihilism

Nihilism is the belief that nothing we perceive has Absolute value; reality exists, but beyond its inherent meaning to us as the physical container of our existence, it has no significance outside of what we perceive. "The world is my representation," indeed. When we strip away all of the values projected onto physical reality and its outcomes, we are left only with personal ideal and natural ideal, and bringing the former into adaptation with the latter is the lifetime task to which nihilism is a gateway.


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