“All humans of normal intelligence can learn any language, provided they start at a young age. After the age of five or six, a child can almost never become perfectly fluent in a language, and the ability to learn it can completely disappear soon after that. After puberty, it is almost impossible to perfect the pronunciation of a second language.” Gene, Peoples, and Languages, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza.
Do we speak because we think, or do we think because we speak? How does our thinking depend on our language? Did we become smart because we can talk, or can we talk because we are smart?
To Noam Chomsky, we speak because we think, and we think . . . linguistically . . .not because it helps us speak, but because it helps us think. Life is about characters and events, situated in the past, present, and future, and so is our thinking. We function in social groups, with goals of survival, children, cooperation, and deception. We live stories, and so we think stories. Our minds are literary. We are playwrights, and we are one of our characters. Language is always and everywhere structured for stories.
For Chomsky, speech came later, an output of thinking, like a printer is to a computer. Unlike for thinking, there are physical constraints on speech delivery, so speech is less than thinking. By speaking our minds with others, we expand our knowledge. Speaking empowered thinking. Thinking and speaking feedback to enlarge our intelligence and our scope of collective action. The rest is history. We vanquished the bigger and stronger Neanderthal, and everything else. We have taken over the planet.
Noam Chomsky started linguistics in the 1950’s, when the human mind was considered a blank slate, to be filled up with culture and learning. He noted, however, how easily and fast children acquire language without specific instruction. They acquire the skills of language fare faster than it can be taught. He wrote a ground-breaking work, Syntactic Structures, in 1957, in which he posited an innate language ability with a ‘language acquisition device’ in the human mind – a universal, innate and hard-wired brain system that unfolds a language ability – in a child, as it is activated, not learned, by exposure to speech in the early years of childhood.
This was at last a theory of nature and nurture in human development, not one or the other. Chomsky’s theory up-ended the blank slate foundational theory of social science, and launched the field of modern brain science. He is, today, the sixth most cited person in scientific literature . . . of all time . . . just behind William Shakespeare.
People vary in their ability to convert thought into speech. Chomsky, himself, is master thinker/speaker. No one can speak more clearly, more comprehensively, or more spontaneously, or enunciate streams of information as they support reasoned conclusions and opinions about very complex ideas, than Noam Chomsky. He can drive people crazy.
Politics is a different matter.
This great linguist theorist of biological human language is a . . . radical socialist anarchist. Famous for repudiating behaviorism, the blank slate theory of social science, he strangely applies behaviorist rationality to human political nature. Seemingly blind to the biology of tribalism and political behavior of non-linguistic human nature, he forever condemns illogical politics as immoral. . . .
“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” St. Augustine of Hippo.
Everywhere in archeology, in the pyramids of Giza, the stones of Stonehenge, the observatory of Chichen Itza, or the temples of Angkor Was, humans have worshiped the heavens. But. . . not the sun or the moon or the stars themselves. No, humans have been worshiping their . . . predictability. Humans express reverence for this mysterious truth of nature . . . the past informs the future. And for their gift of memory, humans give gratitude to the . . . gods.
Rocks smash or get smashed. Life can get out of the way.
“Brains are predictive devices, and exploit the fact that recurrence is a fundamental property of the world around us. Experience and memory allow the recall of similar situations and the deployment of previously effective actions.” Nature, Vol 497, May 30, 2013.
Memory recall can be unconscious, but with consciousness, memories can more powerfully be re-lived. This may be what consciousness is for. Consciousness sorts the past, present and future, and with it comes a sense of a continuous, uniform, forward-flowing time. Isaac Newton declared that this time was an absolute. For Einstein, time only existed as a part of SpaceTime, not as an independent entity, and only a local one.
“Only ghosts can hear the sounds of an eternally, uniformly occurring tick-tock. Ask an intelligent man who is not a scholar what time is and you will see that he takes time to be this ghostly tick-tock There is no audible tick-tock everywhere in the world that could be considered as time.” Albert Einstein
For Nicholas Humphrey, the sensation of time is a tool of the mind for organizing memory and experience.
“Suppose indeed that human beings travel through life as in a “time ship” that like a spaceship has a prow and a stern and room inside for us to move around“. A History of the Mind, 2008.
And for artists too:
“Thus, what happens in the thick moment of conscious sensation, Monet seems to be suggesting, is not that we blend past, present, and future but rather that we take a single moment and hold on to it just as it is – so that each moment is experienced as it happens for longer than it happens. Seeing Red, 2006.
One physicist, Richard A. Muller, suggests that time very much does exist, and moves forward in the ongoing expansion of SpaceTime that has been happening since the Big Bang.
“Just as space is being generated by the Hubble expansion, so time is being created. The coninuous and ongoing creation of new time sets both thearrow of time and its pace. Every moment, the universe gets a little bigger, and there is a little more time, and it is this leading edge of time that we refer to as Now.” Now, The Physics of Time, 2017.
NOW may be what rides the crest of this wave of new SpaceTime continually being created by our ever expanding Universe, and we, with our conscious awareness, as unique riders on this surf.
“The evidence does cast enormous suspicion on Oswald. . . . leave him looking guilty of something. The evidence does not, on the other hand, put him behind a gun in the sixth-floor window.” Anthony Summers
At 11:45 am, Oswald’s co-workers on the sixth floor took the elevator down for lunch and to see the motorcade, leaving Lee without an elevator. His last words to them are: “Guys how about an elevator? Send one of them back up.”
At 11:45-11:50 am, Book Depository foreman Bill Shelley sees Oswald near a phone on the first floor.
At 11:50 am Charles Givens sees Oswald reading a newspaper in the first floor lunch room.
At 12:00 noon, Bonnie Ray Williams goes up to the sixth floor to eat his lunch, he stays there until 12:15 pm. He sees no one else while he is there. The remains of his lunch – chicken bones and lunch bag – are found after the assassination.
Between 12:00 and 12:15 pm, Junior Jarman and Harold Norman walk thru the second floor lunch room, and remember that there was “someone else in there”. During interrogation, in police custody, Oswald remembers two Negro employees walking thru the lunch room while he is there.
At 12:15 m, Arnold Rowland, standing outside across from the School Book Depository, sees two men in the sixth floor windows, one holding a rifle across his chest. Rowland points them out to his wife.
At 12:35 pm, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy is assassinated. His motorcade is five minutes late.
“I asked him what part of the building he was in at the time the President was shot, and he said he was having lunch about that time on the second floor”.
At 12:37 pm, Marion Baker, a motorcycle policeman riding just behind the President’s car, thinks the shots came from the roof of School Book Depository. He races over and into the front door of the building, less than one and a half minutes after the shots are fired. He tries to use the elevators, but they are both stopped on the fifth floor. he races up the stairs. On the second floor, he encounters a man with a coke walking away from him. He calls him to stop. Mr. Truly, the building supervisor, catches up just then, he has been racing ahead of Baker to the top floors. “That’s Lee Harvey Oswald, he works here”. Oswald is calm, no sweat on his brow, not short of breath.
At 12:40 pm, right away after watching the motorcade, and the shooting, Victoria Adams rushes down the back stairway of the Texas Book Depository, “to see what was happening”. She has been working that day on the fourth floor of the School Book Depository. She does not see or hear anyone on those stairs, the stairs a sixth floor gunman would have had to use to escape.
Just at the time of the assassination shootings, Photojournalist James Altgen takes a photograph of the motorcade, with the front door of the School Book Depository, in view, behind the oncoming motorcade. There is a small man in the doorway, shirt half open, leaning to look out.
Is… that …man . . . Lee Harvey Oswald?
“After all, he seems to have a lot to say about what can’t be said.” Bertrand Russell.
Ludwig Wittgenstein came from a very wealthy family of Vienna, in the time before WW I, a family of musicians, professors, and suicides. He went to the same grammar school as Adolf Hitler. His sister was painted by Gustav Klimt, and helped Sigmund Freud escape the Nazis. He fought in WWI, reading Tolstoy’s Gospel in Brief, while voluntarily manning the point, the most dangerous position, on the front. Beethoven was his hero. He was precocious in math, and obsessed by logic.
He would scrutinize his own thinking to find the hidden assumptions that underlie all thinking and the subtle ways that logic fails to be logical. He would puzzle over the use of words in speech – what is subconscious to most of us – and search for hidden patterns. He wanted to know how we know, what we know, what can be known.
“Sometimes my ideas come so quickly that I feel as if my pen is being guided.”
He was perplexed by the riddles of self reference in logic, the great stumbling block in Bertrand Russell’s attempt, in Principia Mathematica, to derive all knowledge from first principles of logic. Is the set of all sets that don’t include themselves, also a set?
He became anti-philosophical, convinced that philosophical questions were merely linguistic puzzles, and that language, with all of its mixing up of perceptions and conceptions, hopelessly impaired thought. Truth can only be known by experience, not with thinking, and only shown, with art perhaps, but not with words. Thought and speech are mere ‘social games’ for living a social human life. . . something, sadly, he himself was not much able to do.
“Whereof one can not speak, thereof one must remain silent”.
With his spooky certitude, and mesmerizing stare, he was considered brilliant. For a time, he was thought to have eclipsed all of conventional philosophy. He was lionized.
John Maynard Keynes: “I have met God, he arrived on the 4:30 train.”
He lived an eccentric, solitary life, much of his time in a remote cabin in Norway. At one point he gave away all of his enormous wealth, and lived thereafter in near poverty. He feared going mad, that he might commit suicide. Three brothers did.
He suffered a constant solipsism, an oppressive self consciousness, haunted by a loss of self connection. Is my thinking about myself also my self?
He was a disorder of self reference, like the paradoxes of logic that so obsessed him.
Insanity and genius are not the same thing.
“He has penetrated deep into mystical ways of thought and feeling, but I think (though he wouldn’t agree) that what he likes best in mysticism is its power to make him stop thinking.” Bertrand Russell.
“Peace in thinking is the wished-for aim of those who philosophize.”
He was trying to think himself out of thinking too much. He didn’t succeed.
Our solar system is not a perfect clock. There have been 16 ice ages in the past million years.
“Small variations in the tilt of the Earth on its axis and variations in the planet’s elliptical path around the sun are all that is necessary to plunge the planet in and out of the freezer. ” Tim Flannery.
Some 120,000 years ago, modern humans migrated out of Africa, and we kept going, first into the middle east, then on to southeast Asia, with a detour down into Australia, then up the eastern Pacific to the Bering Strait, and finally into North America. By 15,000 year ago, we reached the tip of South America.
We evolved in Africa, from a hairy, tree climbing, social primate ancestor. Somehow, over time, we lost most of our hair, gained a lining of body fat, developed upright walking, a descended larynx that enabled speech, special sweat glands for thermal regulation, and a diving reflex for swimming. We became like sea mammals, more suited for water than the forest or savannah. Dolphins are our close cousins in intelligence and communication, the whale is the only other mammal to have menopause. Where and when this happened is a mystery. The Afar Triangle of northeast Africa, on the way out of Africa, may have been a vast, flooded wetlands. We may have had to swim our way out of Africa.
We followed the coastlines, along the beaches and up rivers, as sea gatherers and fishermen. Food was plentiful, rich in value, and easy to harvest. The travel and protection were easier. We love the beach to this day.
Our journey was during a perilous geologic time. A warming earth was melting ice, rising sea levels, lifting and shifting tectonic plates, causing earthquakes and volcanoes. Released by the loss of the weight of the great ice sheets as they melted, continental plates heaved up, and the moon pulled stronger on the increasing tidal waters. The Pacific tectonic plate, being the largest and the thinnest – only 2.5 miles thick – moved and cracked the most, aggravating the ‘ring of fire’ of volcanoes, earthquakes, and tsunami’s that pound all the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.
As modern humans arrived along the South East Asian coast, some 70,000 years ago, the shallow, continental Pacific Sundra shelf waters were flooding, and a great volcano – perhaps the greatest ever volcano – Toba – in Indonesia on the island of Sumatra, erupted. The massive blast of volcanic dust blackened the sky, creating a volcanic winter and mass extinction. Human life all the way back to northern Africa was nearly extinguished.
The surviving humans were pushed inland and north, and eventually into the New World. Floods, tidal waves, receding waters, and exploding volcanoes filled their prehistoric consciousness. This has carried on to our day, in the creation stories of the world, told by their descendants.
The myths are not myths, they are history.
In the beginning the world was in water, and there was darkness. And then light came to the sky, and then the sun appeared and separated the earth from the sky.
Timing is in the brain, it is basic to how it works. Neurons prolong instantaneous stimuli, sending them down axon nerve wires, and releasing them at synapse nodes, in variable lengths requiring variable time, on to other axon network circuits. In this way, the brain creates temporal patterns out of instant sounds, and that is music. The brain is a musical instrument. It is a time machine.
And it can synchronize. The brain can do rhythm. And on top of rhythm, dancing with it, like ideas that play with words, the brain can do melody. Patterns on top of patterns create a live, unified, dynamic experience, like being alive itself. Body and mind, thought and feeling, rhythm and melody.
Jazz lives on the edge. . . having both rhythm and melody, and having neither. We like to go into, and out of, and back into, timing, and structure, and point/ counter point. That is what our lives do, and that is what our neurons do, and that is what we like our art to do. We seek order and we seek improvisation. Rhythm paces melody, and melody challenges rhythm. They swing apart, and back together, like partners on the floor. Catharsis and synthesis. It feels good. We play music and music plays us.
In the movie Whiplash, an elite music school teacher has a very skilled, musical ear. He has been thru the scores countless times, with countless students. He knows their ranges, he is primed to hear their mistakes. “This makes him a good teacher.” Don’t believe it. It gives him power, and he uses it. He uses it to humiliate them, to prey on their vulnerabilities. He makes them feel that their failures are their fault. A bully with relish.
I HURT YOU FOR YOUR OWN GOOD, AND YOU DON”T EVEN DESERVE IT!
He enjoys it. And he is good at it. Kind and considerate, in just the right doses, he keeps everyone uncertain. Good people are willing to doubt themselves.
A skilled liar, he announces that a former student, (a former victim), one who had eventually found musical success, has died. Misty-eyed, our teacher tells his class that it was an accident. He knows it was a suicide.
One student drummer, however, is very determined. He doesn’t just want to be good, he wants to be the best. Go around obstacles. If necessary, plow thru them. He becomes a targeted victim, but he doesn’t relent, he runs the gauntlet. He does what you have to do with the likes of this teacher, fight back. His sympathetic father sort of wants him surrender, but he refuses.
People like this teacher are everywhere, . . . in sports, education, business, politics. And they often get far. Good people will defer, they won’t fight, they dont want to judge. People like him somehow know that.
They have to be opposed.
Our drummer does it, in the end, with a unrelenting, exillarating, commanding, and triumphant crescendo of rhythm and drumming. . . and justice.
Newton’s first law of motion: an object is either at rest or moves at a constant velocity, unless acted on by an external force.
There is no escaping this law. It is true on earth, and it is true in space. George Clooney, in the movie Gravity, knows this, as he unhooks his tether with Sandra Bullock, to give her a chance to survive. With no hope for himself, he drifts off, above the beautiful, blue-green earth. He implores her to survive, and we last hear him calling out, in astonished awe, at his view of the sunrise on the Ganges River. He is the first man to go to heaven. . . still alive.
In the magical beauty of the earth’s orbit, in the great, pervasive mystery of space, Sandra Bulloch is alone, in terror. Death could come so quickly, so indifferently, as it has for her companions. Her anxiety is a storm. Life and rescue are still possible, her destiny is all up to her. She will have to save herself. She grabs onto any hold she can.
All the while, the earth is just there, in all its splendor, the place where everything has happened, and where everyone has lived and died. There are no signs, up there, of all the human trouble and misery, down there, just an aura of innocence and peace, as if humans never were.
This silent majesty is strangely comforting. The earth and the stars are right there, and they have the answers. A great. . . truth. . . is out there. Lifeless space, the living earth, the mystery of time. One senses that there is a knowing presence, filling the emptiness. It is so close, and yet out of reach. What, really, is this earth doing here? What, really, is gravity?
This story has biology, too, a man, a woman, and a child. The man sacrifices himself for her, men do that, and she grieves, terribly, for her child, who has died down on earth, sometime ago. Does she blame herself? A mother would. She has suffered love, a force we can’t see, a force that makes humans care more about others than they do about themselves. It is an attractive force, but it’s not like gravity, it is not inversely proportional to distance. Loved ones feel part of each other, across space and time.
In this unending, eternal present, why do humans suffer? The past and the future concern them, and bother them. It is life that feels and suffers the hopes of time.
Like the first sea creature that was able to get on to land, eons ago, she gets back on to earth, to solid ground, back from death and heaven.
Existentialism: “the unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad, a free agent in a deterministic, disorienting, and seemingly meaningless universe.”
In 1800, Daniel Steibelt, a celebrated European virtuoso, came to Vienna to duel Beethoven in an ‘improvisation contest’. With great pomp, in the first round, he won. Beethoven was not much interested in trying to impress aristocrats. For the second round, Steibelt was puffed up enough to use Beethoven’s own music in his challenge. This was a. . . mistake. Incensed, Beethoven snatched up Steibelt’s own music sheet, marched to the piano, turned the music upside down, went on to mock Steibelt’s ostentatious style, and then transform Steibelt’s music into a dazzling composition. Steibelt stormed out, refused ever to oppose Beethoven again, and eventually exiled himself to St. Petersburg, . . . for the rest of his life!
Such was the great Beethoven. He came to realize that he had achieved absolute musical mastery. He knew that he could do . . all that can possibly be done . . with music. Only a master genius can know what that is like, to have no peers, and no hope of being fully realized, in your own lifetime.
In 1802, in his ‘Heiligenstadt‘ Will and Testament, found only after his death, Beethoven resolved his loneliness and melancholy, and dedicated himself to music.
“Little was lacking to make me put an end to my life. Only art held me back, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world before I had brought forth all that I felt destined to bring forth”
And so ‘bring forth’ great music he did, for the rest of his life, taking long walks, writing down the music as it would came to him, in ever present notebooks, absent minded, stubborn, and eccentric.
His music is his autobiography. Hear the pain, in the Moonlight Sonata. The love of his life told him no. Feel the anguish in Pathetique. He realizes he is going deaf. The notes in these pieces are as much like words as any sounds can be, . . .the language of a human soul.
“The true artist has no pride. He sees unfortunately that art has no limits. He has a vague awareness of how far he is from reaching his goal; and while others may perhaps admire him, he laments that he has not yet reached the point to which his genius only lights the way for him like a distant sun.”
On May 7, 1824, perhaps the greatest day in the history of music, at the Karntnertor Theatre, in Vienna, he performed his last symphony, unaware, in his deafness, that he had raptured the audience and brought down the house. In its beginning, this symphony is thunderous, and startling, then it is combative and retreating, then accepting and aching, and then, like his life, transcendent in catharsis and joy, culminating in a . . . song, a song with an sweet, resonating melody that anyone and everyone can keep in their heads, and sing, . . .forever. On that night, in that theatre, Beethoven gave the everyday world, crafted with the greatest possible musical genius of any human composer, a magnificent and yet wonderfully simple, everyday, popular song. And we have been writing and singing popular songs since.
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