Knowledge Questions: What is art? What is the role of the artist’s intentions when interpreting art?
Discovering uncharted sounds became Cage’s trademark. Where other composers heard noise, he heard potential. Pots. Drum brakes. Rubber duckies. It wasn’t provocation; it was necessity. The world was brimming with sounds musicians had never used before—it was as if all the world’s painters had agreed to restrict themselves to only a few colors. Cage heard every squeak and honk as a possible ingredient for music…
People thought 4’33” was a joke or some kind of avant-garde nose-thumbing. During a post-concert discussion, as Cage biographer David Revill notes, one local artist stood up and suggested, “Good people of Woodstock, let’s drive these people out of town.”
In the Maverick that night, one could likely hear the sound of the breeze in the trees, rain pattering lightly on the rooftop, the chirping of crickets, a dog barking aimlessly somewhere in the distance, the sound of bodies shifting their weight on creaky pine benches, the sound of breath being drawn and being expired.
This was music for John Cage. And unlike compositions designed to make the outside world fall away, here was a music that, when it engaged you, made the present world open up like a lotus blossoming in stop-motion photography. It was all very much in keeping with Cage’s Zen world view, which emphasized the power of unmediated experience and direct perception of what Cage called the “isness” of life.
Hostility toward spiritual traditions may be hampering empirical inquiry.
Just as ancient doesn’t always mean wise, it doesn’t always mean foolish. The only way to determine which is the case is to put an idea — a hypothesis — to an empirical test. In my own work, I have repeatedly done so. I have found that religious ideas about human behavior and how to influence it, though never worthy of blind embrace, are sometimes vindicated by scientific examination.
The first story is what led to a lot of interesting pieces being written about Churchill and offers some interesting insights about the nature of history.
Winston Churchill was a villain, says John McDonnell
There has been renewed debate recently over the legacy of Churchill, who in 2002 was named the greatest Briton ever in a BBC poll. The Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan rebuked the Green party MSP Ross Greer on live TV last month after the politician called Churchill a “white supremacist mass murderer” in a tweet.
The Rest of Us Always Knew Churchill Was a Villain
His record in Britain’s former colonies more closely resembles that of a war criminal than a defender of democracy and freedom.
The Churchill row is part of the glib approach to history that gave us Brexit
The idea of history as composed of heroes and villains is infantile. Inside every hero lurks an opposite. The best answer to a stupid question is no answer, as McDonnell said when asked his favourite Tory. Fake history may be a clever way to engage the empathy of the young with otherwise difficult material. But if the purpose of history is to offer lessons for the future, distorting it is fraught with danger.
The current cult of identity politics is to rifle through the past careers of great men and women, not to ascertain accuracy but to sort them into friends or foes. Churchill has been accused of racism. He undoubtedly expressed racist views but they were uttered in very different times, in which such ideas were deemed acceptable by many.
The “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study” was a fascinating study in constructing knowledge in the human sciences but more importantly, using scientific methods to come to conclusions that seem to be completely counterintuitive: that mentorship programs can do more harm than not intervening in the lives of children considered at risk. The Freakonomics episode linked below gets into great detail about this.
Freakonomics Podcast: When Helping Hurts
Jump ahead to the 6 minute mark to hear about the “Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study”
Charities aren’t doing enough to determine if they’re really making a difference
First do no harm. It’s a basic tenet of medicine. When intervening in peoples lives – even with good intentions – we need to check whether we are doing them any damage. But sadly, this key principle from the medical profession has not been taken to heart by charities.
Similar to an older post “How do we measure the effectiveness of charitable giving?”
Worthwhile article that examines the nature of knowledge in the social sciences as well as its limitations caused by human limitations and the structure of our institutions that produce knowledge.
If moral arguments for equality or against corporal discipline are constructed on a foundation of faulty science, then the foundations of that morality collapse as the faults are exposed. It is far safer to ensure that moral arguments remain independent of scientific claims—to argue, for instance, that gender equality is a moral imperative irrespective of whether or not gender differences are biological, or that hitting children is wrong irrespective of whether it leads to negative outcomes for the child.
Interestingly, here is another post from the same publication coming to the opposite conclusion about spanking which also speaks to the nature of the production of knowledge in the human sciences
Many people assume that they perceive the world as it actually is—as if eyes and ears were windows that allow us to access an objective reality. But perception is not an accurate reflection of an externally existing world.