floating on the dark pond
As the coronavirus count continues to mount globally, PPE (personal protective equipment) shortages continue to negatively impact our healthcare professionals on the front lines. Thankfully, concerned individuals from both within the medical sector and without, are coming up with creative solutions to a very serious problem.
Apparel manufacturers are getting involved, for example, Cut Form LLC in Garland, Texas is now producing protective shields for employees of the UT-Southwestern system. A University of Florida professor of anesthesiology demonstrated that an improvised mask could be made from the wrapping utilized in the sterilization of hospital surgical instrumentation (tens of thousands of which are disposed every day). Countless others are putting their sewing skills to use manufacturing masks on their kitchen tables.
Several individuals and organizations have proposed utilizing air conditioning filters for masks. This is also a great idea as, as of yet, people have not made runs on these and, ostensibly, there is a surplus of these regularly-used items. What I like about this creative use of an everyday object is that it just might be one of the better options in terms of wearer safety. Many, if not most air conditioning filters, are large enough to cut and render at least 8-12 masks (depending on filter size of course). Also, they tend to have a fine mesh wiring for structure and stability and this permits both flexibility and hold when used in the construction of a face mask. Ideally, one would cut the filter in an adequate size (a common surgical mask size is 4.5” x 7.2”) and then stitch this inside of a cloth pocket with ties (ties over elastic ear loops for greater control over the fit and seal). A stiffer, yet still flexible piece of wire could be placed at the top and bottom of the mask permitting for a customized fit and further improvement upon the seal.
If such filters are utilized, it must be understood that not all filters are created equal. The higher the filtration rate, the better. For example, MERV-rated (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) 13-16 are often utilized in healthcare settings such as the surgical suite. I typically utilize an 11-13 in our home, depending on season. In a home, the higher rating isn’t always better in that the higher the filtration parameters the more strain placed on the air conditioning system rendering it less efficient. For the home, balance is important. In the case of coronavirus, the higher filtration rating would be the preferred.
HEPA filters such as those commonly found in home air purifiers might also be utilized and, arguably, would be more effective, however, these tend to be smaller, more costly, and more rigid.
Some caveats must be made. Firstly, MERV filters (even the highest rated) will mostly likely not capture the coronavirus completely (especially if utilized as discussed above). The benefit is that such filters will catch the carrier droplets and substantially minimize the exposure (i.e., viral load, the extent of which is associated with severity of illness). Secondly, use of PPE of any type, particularly improvised PPE, is no guarantee of not catching the virus. Countless healthcare providers have become ill with COVID-19 despite the appropriate use of PPE. Lastly, a disclaimer of sorts—I am not advocating the above (or any other improvised PPE solutions in place of legitimate PPE from authorized vendors). And makers/users assume all risks associated with improvised PPE. When effective, OEM PPE is available, use it!
But, as you all know, we find ourselves in unprecedented times. In regular times, the successful individuals and businesses are those who identify problems and create innovative solutions. Now is the time for us all, as we face many problems resultant from the coronavirus, to put on our thinking caps and use our innate creativity to overcome this challenge and change the world.
Feel free to share your ideas and suggestions in the comments below.
As I write this, there are now 290,388 official cases of coronavirus and 11,963 deaths with, no doubt, many more as of yet unidentified. On a positive note, 93,618 of these have made a full recovery. Though I am now in the habit of checking for updates online on a daily basis via reputable public health services (e.g., the CDC and WHO), I have stopped watching and reading the news or even checking my social media due to the mix of sensationalism, doom and gloom, finger pointing, and general nastiness.
This is a pandemic and, arguably, the worst global crisis of my generation. It may get better soon, or, it might just get worse. No one can predict with absolute certainty at this particular juncture. The thing about pathogens that cause pandemics is this — they care nothing about politics, nationality, race, sex, age, religion, social, or financial status. They infect, sicken, and even kill all indiscriminately. We humans have been given a great opportunity (yes, an opportunity!) at this point and time in history…an opportunity to set aside prejudices and opinions and to come together as one people united by a common enemy. We can talk about all of the negatives associated with coronavirus but we can also speak just as much to the opportunities. What can we learn from this? How can we grow? How can we mitigate such occurrences in the future?
In this article, I won’t delve into the projections, forecasts, or present any pretty charts (this has been done already by people far capable than I in the realm of data science and epidemiology). Suffice it to say that, if we act and act swiftly (and we in the U.S. are already behind the curve) then things will improve much sooner than later. If don’t act aggressively now, we will pay the price very soon and people who don’t have to get sick will get sick and many may die.
Clean Hands, Healthy Body
The number one thing that you and I can do to protect ourselves and others is to simply wash our hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Sounds simple enough but, before the coronavirus crisis, how many of you could honestly say that you took this seriously and did so? As a former infection control professional, I can tell you that even professional healthcare workers neither washed their hands often enough or long enough (this is something that I had to audit regularly). Chances are, most of you didn’t either. The odds are good now that the general public will improve upon this habit as at least a basic understanding of germ theory and microbiology is emerging. Let’s hope that we don’t forget this and slip back into old, bad habits once this has passed.
What else can you do to limit and/or stop the spread of coronavirus? Below are a few general-consensus recommendations:
Redeeming the Time
So now everyone is on semi-lockdown and those who can are working remotely. What now? No doubt, many of us will have a little more time on our hands sans commute and other pressing engagements. Other than sleeping a little longer and later, what can we do to bide the time and redeem it even? Since time is all we have, best to use it wisely.
This Too Shall Pass
Nothing is permanent and change itself is the only unchanging certainty. This virus will eventually run its course and, when it does, we have the choice as to whether or not we will return to the previous status quo or, perhaps, come out of this more united than ever with a different and even brighter future that we may have imagined just a short 4 months ago. So just what might the future hold (note: I am not clairvoyant, these are just my best guesses)?
o Improves employee satisfaction scores.
o Frees up time, e.g., time spent commuting, that could be used for exercise, sleep, more time
o Saves gas and reduces carbon emissions (fewer people commuting and sitting in traffic) and
benefits the environment.
o Saves organizations money (less office space required, lower electricity bills, less equipment
Above, I have reflected on what we can do today and what the future might hold. In the end, it is up to each of us just how this plays out and where we go from here. So, let’s each do our part, cast aside selfishness, and work together as one species for a change and see where that gets us. The benefits of such an experiment far outweigh any disadvantages.
What qualifies me to talk write about coronavirus? I am a curious polymath with a diversity of interests but I am also a clinical systems analyst and RN who, in a past life, worked in hospital sterilization and infection control. I am currently participating in the COVID-19 Modeling - Spread in the US Working Group.
The so-called romantic period of music, in contrast with the previous, classical period is, if nothing else, a period of reaction.1 This reaction was not limited to the arts but was, rather, more universal in nature, an overall paradigm shift in which the western worldview was in flux.2 As is often the case, changing philosophical morays resulted in foundational changes in other areas of thought and practice and resulted in the musical product of the period now referred to as the romantic period.
It was at the interim of these two, opposing periods that Beethoven emerged and as such he is often credited as being a major transitory figure, an issue which is part of an ongoing debate. In the following discussion, an argument for Beethoven as transitory figure in the interim between the classical and romantic periods will be discussed in light of his “Eighth Symphony.”3 Before proceeding further, it will be helpful to inform of the contrasts between the two periods in question.
The classical period was a period of formal, i.e. ordered and rational music. Music was penned in what was held to be a common, universal language and thus an expression that varied little by way of nationalistic influence and difference. The musical theory of the day was sufficient such as little needed be added and as such, a simpler style in which an emphasis upon structure and clarity as prime aesthetic qualities emerged.4 Primary musical qualities of the classical period are: affective contrast between movements, homophonic texture, and a principled development of the sonata.5 Favored by the classic composers were:
…multimovement genres such as the symphony, concerto sonata, and quartet, and the idea of a musical work developed into a balanced, complementary, set of movements: a powerful and intellectual first movement (always in sonata-allegro form), a lyric slow movement, a dancelike third movement, and a brilliant finale.6
Some characteristics of compositions of the romantic period, in contrast to the musical works of the classical period are: a reactionary disorder toward the formalism of classicalism, emotional intensity and expression vs. the affective moderation of classical works, structural dynamism vs. classical structural stasis, an increase in harmonic color over classical homophony, imputation of individual and nationalistic themes over classical universalism, to name but some of the more clearly contrasting points.7 One might suggest a whimsical heir in romanticism vs. the reserved austerity of classicalism.
In Beethoven’s “Eighth Symphony” there is clearly a sense of disorderliness and a dynamic intensity that at once counter positions this particular piece from classicism and, arguably, places it among the catalog of romantic compositions.8 This is manifest in the very opening, an intense and overpowering introduction, which then proceeds to give way to rising and falling whimsicality throughout.
An additional, more concrete factor in classifying the “Eighth Symphony” as a romantic period composition is the work’s very uniqueness. Not a uniqueness solely based on romantic parameters (which it does satisfy) but in terms of Beethoven’s own catalog. Of the works of Beethoven, this particular, whimsical symphony was not at all as well received as were his earlier works and this so even among some of the more recent works of the same period. In fact, the initial reaction to the piece was one of confusion due to its interlocution between his heavier Seventh and Ninth symphonies.9
In contrast to Beethoven’s previous pieces, which do tend toward a classicist classification (he does clearly follow his teacher, Haydn), the “Eighth Symphony” manifests no traditional (on classical terms) progression from a light introduction, movement to tension and or climax, and then a gradual return to baseline. From the symphony’s outset, the emotional stage is set and there is a consistent emotiveness to the piece not found in works deemed “classical.” Contrary to the classicists’ proffering a host of affective qualities in their works, the romanticists preferred adhering to one affect and the “Eighth Symphony” does just this.
The above considered, it seems easy to place the first movement of Beethoven’s “Eighth Symphony” under the classificatory umbrella of romanticism as it manifest the definitive qualities of works of the period, e.g., disorderliness, intensity, dynamism, emotiveness, a certain irrationality, color, a level of arbitrariness, uniqueness, and an essence that is truly organic in nature.10 The piece does seem to be lacking in any obvious qualities that would allow one to classify the work as classic.
However, to argue that Beethoven, or even the “Eighth Symphony,” were transitory entities between the two periods seems a stretch, and this so in light of Beethoven’s previous catalog of work and those published post this particular symphony. Beethoven clearly sits among the pantheon of the great, classical composers and the majority of his catalog resides among the great classical works. But definitely, whether intentionally or otherwise, the “Eighth Symphony” manifests, if nothing else, the spirit of romanticism such that this particular piece alone could call into question Beethoven’s allegiance to the musical zeitgeist of a an era past or one, in his time, in bloom.
Gibbs, Christopher H. “Notes on Beethoven’s Eight Symphony.” Web. 12 June 2006.
Randel, Don Michael, ed. The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians.
Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999.
Rowell, Lewis. Thinking About Music. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1983.
Sahakian, William S. History of Philosophy from Earliest Times to Present. New York: Harper
and Row, 1968.
1 The classical period lasted from approximately early 18th century into early 19th century with the romantic period occurring between the early 19th and 20th centuries. Despite the clear contrast in both philosophy and manifestation of product of both periods, the transitory period was a gradual one. Ludwig von Beethoven is often considered a key transient figure of the in-between era.
2 The crux of the shift was, as is often the case, philosophical as the rationalism of Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza (itself a reaction to a mortified scholastic philosophy) was countered by the British empiricists (e.g., Hume) and the German idealists (e.g., Kant). Over reason, the senses now reigned supreme (though Kant would in fact argue for a synthesis of reason and sense as the more profitable epistemology). Art was now something more than that which would be simply parsed and reduced per the rational model but rather more emotive and transcendent in essence. For a more thorough account, see William S. Sahakian in History of Philosophy From Earliest Times to Present, 93-180.
3 Beethoven composed this particular symphony in 1812 at the crossroads of the classical and romantic periods.
4 See Lewis Rowell’s Thinking About Music, 113-114.
5 The Harvard Concise Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 141.
6 Rowell, 114.
7 See Rowell, 117-119.
8 Rowell, 117.
9 See Christopher Gibbs’ “Notes on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony.”
10 Rowell, 117-119.
*Author's note: I currently, fundamentally disagree with the conclusions drawn in this paper but have re-posted it as I believe that qualia play a fundamental role in undermining pure materialistic attempts to address qualia and other consciousness issues. Other minds is not a pseudo problem but a real problem on traditional and contemporary materialists models. Particularly, the problems, in my estimation, center upon rationality and intentionality.
The problem of other minds, simply stated, is the problem of one not being able to assent to the (seemingly) commonsensical belief that another has a mind of his own, at least not on a rational basis. Individuals are intimately aware of their own subjective, first-person inner life experience (i.e., the mind) but, so the argument goes, have no access to this perspective in others.1 It is merely assumed that others have minds but, it turns out, so argues the skeptic, that this is an unwarranted assumption in as much as there is no rational basis for such a belief.
The current, more prominent attempt at solving the problem of other minds (among philosophers at least) is a version of the analogical argument referred to as the inference to best explanation argument.2 The inference to best explanation argument, simply stated, says:
This however, is merely a weak form of argument from analogy in that it focuses upon the mental states of others (as its inferential starting point), which is at heart of the issue in the discussion of other minds, i.e., the mental states of other and the inference from those to behaviors, even if a good explanation, doesn’t solve the problem, or at least not in any strong sense. If an argument from analogy is going to be the point of appeal, the content of the analogy should be more substantial.
Starting with an argument from analogy, rather than taking the tedious and spurious route above, one might attempt, at least, a stronger version of analogical argument. There might be one to be found in the doctrine of identity theory.3 Clearly, if the mind just is the brain then there can be no problem of other minds. Individuals (pending they have brains of course!) have minds by virtue of having brains. Mental states do not exist as phenomena distinct from brain states but, rather, mental states just are brain states.4 However, if one can discredit identity theory (materialist theories in general), then the problem of other minds might just remain problematic.
The problem of mind in philosophy is divided into two major components, the so-called hard problem and, respectively, the so-called easy problem.5 The easy problem is concerned with psychological issues whereas the “hard problem” is concerned with just how biological systems can give rise to conscious experience of any kind in the first place.6 In other words, why there is such a thing as subjective, first-person, conscious experience to begin with is a mystery when one considers it somehow (seemingly) emerges from that lump of gray matter which is the brain.
What causes the most difficulty for identity theorists (and materialists more generally), the contrarians maintain at least, are qualia and intentionality.7 Though discussions of qualia can be quite lengthy and complex8, for the intents and purposes herein, suffice it to say that experiences are said to be experienced in just a certain way—to have a particular, qualitative feel. As such, accounting for them in purely physicalistic terms is said to be quite difficult. Pointing to a scan of the brain and showing the area of cortex that “lights up” when a sip of wine crosses the taste buds is not identical with the qualitative, subjective feel of the taste of wine, or so the argument goes.
It has been argued that intentionality, the notion that mental states are distinct from physical states in that they have intentional predicates, i.e., they are about something. Mental states have the quality of “aboutness.”9 Further, it is this so-called aboutness that also provides for the quality of aspectualness. While purely physical states might be “about,” i.e., represent and stand in for Z, such does not allow for intentional reference to given aspects of Z.
George Graham uses the example of aiming, as say with a dart gun:
The physical process of aiming is not aspectual. If the dart gun points at Roderick, it does not point at Roderick as bald or having graduated from Yale; it points at Roderick full stop—whether he is bald, from Yale or whatever. By contrast, Intentionality or aboutness is aspectual. Carl entertains beliefs about Roderick under this or that aspect rather than another; not Roderick whatever he is, but rather as bald, as his uncle and so on.10
What Graham is saying is that the physical, in contrast with the mental, cannot account
for intentionality and, particularly, this quality of aspectualness. Even prima facie this doesn’t seem to be the case, especially in lieu of recent developments in the cognitive and computer sciences. For example, the development of facial recognition software (based on how the brain processes and represents such information) has demonstrated that physical systems can both represent (have intentionality, i.e., aboutness) physical instances and even particular aspects of those instances (account for aspectualness).11
So, as it turns out, qualia and intentionality are not the nail in the coffin to materialist theories of mind as opponents would have one believe. There is nothing logically inconsistent with mind-brain identity (or other materialist theories) and qualia and intentionality. If anything, qualia is the more persistent of the problems for materialist notions however philosophers have accounted for such phenomena in materialistic terms.12
If the mind and the brain are equivalent, as stated above, then there is, in fact, no problem of other minds. But what if the mind and brain aren’t identical one with the other? Where does this leave the materialist? Others have argued, though consciousness might be somewhat problematic for science at present, it cannot be denied that consciousness is, somehow, a product of, or, rather, a feature of the brain, particularly, biological brain processes.13 This makes perfect sense. Think about it. When anesthesia is administered to an individual undergoing surgery, consciousness ceases, i.e., when the brain is sedated consciousness is sedated (and this commensurate with the level of brain sedation).14 Therefore, at very least, the mind depends, in part, upon the brain.15 One may debate whether the mind emerges on top of complex bio-computational processes, supervenes upon generic neural operations, is simply a feature of biological brains, etc. What cannot be debated is that mind depends upon brain and, to make the point of the discussion at hand, as such, if this is granted, there is no real problem, at least not one of other minds. To have a brain is, in one sense or another, to have a mind.
Other arguments could be advanced to support the idea that the problem of other minds is nothing more than a pseudoproblem at best. For example, one could apply the verificationist principle of meaning16 and demonstrate that talk of other minds is doing metaphysics and, therefore, ultimately, meaningless.17 One could also appeal to a version of the private language argument18 in which it might be argued that no individual could possibly be privy to a private conscious life because when one speaks of this so-called private life, he speaks in a public language, understood by all and with this understanding built into the very social fabric. Such a social context dictates the meaning of the language and, as such, each individual, in understanding another’s utterances regarding an assumed private, inner life, only does so because he shares in the same experience and in the common public language. If such a truly private life existed, a “secret” language of thought19, one might argue, there would be no possible way for discourse on matters related to the first person.
It is clear that there are many fronts on which the problem of other minds can be attacked and demonstrated to be nothing more than a pseudoproblem. Even then, it is truly only a pseudoproblem for the dualists and put forth as a challenge to materialists for, as the dualists see it, it poses many hurdles to a materialist theory of mind. As, hopefully, has been demonstrated above, the problem of other minds fails to do that which the dualists would have it do. And, as it turns out, it really isn’t a problem at all.
Audi, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2006.
Ayer, Alfred Jules. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover, 1952.
Brentano, Franz. Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. New York: Routledge, 1995 (first
published in 1874).
Burr, John R. and Goldinger, Milton. Philosophy and Contemporary Issues. Up Saddle River:
Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004.
Chalmers, David J. The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. New York:
Oxford University Press, 1996.
Dennett, Daniel C. Consciousness Explained. New York: Back Bay Books, 1991.
Graham, George. Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993.
Green, David W., et al. Cognitive Science: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers,
Hameroff, Stuart R., M.D. “The Entwined Mysteries of Anesthesia and Consciousness: Is There
a Common Underlying Mechanism?” Anesthesiology 2006; 105: 400-12. Print.
Searle, John R. The Mystery of Consciousness. New York: The New York Review of Books,
1 Robert Audi, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition, 746-747.
2 George Graham, Philosophy of Mind: An Introduction, 51-59.
3 In contrast to dualism, identity theory is an a posteriori, materialist attempt at solution to the mind-body problem, in which it is stated that the mind just is identical to the brain. I.e., consciousness can be explained in terms of scientific theory (if not yet, then there is hope for scientific advancement in the future). See E. Sober, Core Questions in Philosophy, 292-297.
4 Audi, 687.
5 David Chalmers in The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory, 24-25.
6 Chalmers, 25.
7 “Qualia” is a term coined by philosophers to refer to qualitative experience of X, where X = any facet of experience evoking consciousness. In other words, just why does a particular taste, olfactory, tactile, auditory, or ocular experience seem a certain way? Related is intentionality, the idea that mental states are about things and the problem of how to coalesce this with materialist notions of mind. See G. Graham’s discussion of Brentano’s thesis, 135-142.
8 See Chalmers, 247-275.
9 Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint, New York: Routledge, 1995 (first published in 1874).
10 Graham, 136.
11 See David W. Green, et al. in Cognitive Science: An Introduction, 84-119 for an introductory discussion on the cognitive processes involved in facial recognition.
12 E.g., Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained.
13 John R. Searle, The Mystery of Consciousness, 3-18.
14 Stuart Hameroff, M.D., “The Entwined Mysteries of Anesthesia and Consciousness: Is There a Common Underlying Mechanism?”
15 Searle has argued not to jump to conclusions of cause and effect but rather consider mind as feature of biological brain matter, 7.
16 The verificationist principle of meaning states that, for a given proposition to be deemed factually significant it must be, at least in principle, verifiable and/or falsifiable.
17 A.J. Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 19-20; 128-131.
18 The private language argument was first advanced by the Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).
19 Not to be confused with LOT (language of thought) as referred to the in the cognitive sciences.
When pondering Rowell’s “questions on the thing itself,” the whole lot of questions seems to hinge around the first question--What is its substance? In philosophy, the substance of a thing is equivocal with the thing’s essence, essence referring to that which makes a thing X just in fact X. So, what is it that we count the essence of Mozart’s “Minuet”?
We are tempted to, initially at least, describe the essence of the piece (or any other piece of music) in terms of the sum of its parts of expression or manifestation, i.e., the written score, the physical medium through which it is expressed, the causal effect of the musician upon a given instrument, the electrochemical neural cascades in the brain, etc. As we scrutinize this view more closely, we find it grossly inadequate as it seems clearly to us that there is something behind this limited picture, though what it may be we find hard to access and describe. It is tempting to speak of the substance of the musical piece itself as being transcendent but this is not without problems of its own as we cannot help but acknowledge the immanence of musical experience.
As we think of music in the above sense, one might be reminded of Plato’s theory of the forms in which there exists a world of perfect universals which are manifested, though imperfectly, as particulars in the phenomenal world, i.e., the world in which we live and experience. But just what would the form of music look like? In terms of modern philosophy, one might suggest, in a similar vein, that music exists in a realm all its own such as does mathematics (Pythagoras had much to say on both of these topics).
In the final analysis, regarding the substance of Mozart’s piece, we find that this is no easy question to answer and that it only sets the stage for further questioning. But this is the point, after all, for structuring such questions helps us to better understand the thing in question.
Another question that can be asked, according to Rowell, is whether or not the piece (or any other musical piece for that matter) has content, i.e., subject matter. It seems to me that music, generically and specifically, as in the case of Mozart’s “Minuet”, does have content. However, this is no doubt due to my upbringing in Western culture, a culture in which meaning plays a significant role in all that we do.
The real question, it seems to me, is not whether there is in fact content in Mozart’s piece but rather whether or not we as individuals can ever come to ascertain the meaning thereof or at very least the selfsame meaning Mozart himself ascribed to the piece. This is questionable (though highly likely), but the fact, at very least, that there is emotional content seems a safe assumption. And emotional content, though often hard to decipher and describe, at least accurately, is content nonetheless.
Is this piece beautiful? Instinctually, the piece seems beautiful to me though I have a hard time justifying just why this is the case. Perhaps, as a member of the musical canon of Western civilization, it meets the criteria of just what it means for a thing to in fact be beautiful and thus my presuppositions uphold my interpretation. Certainly particular aesthetic criteria are met, as Rowell points out, namely the piece manifests harmony, a measure of complexity, and a certain emotional intensity.
Does the piece have meaning? The notion of meaning is intricately bound up with the products of Western culture. It seems safe to assume that the piece has meaning and there are at least two ways of approaching the subject of meaning with the arts, to include music. First, we could consider the meaning that is found in the mind’s eye of the interpreter, i.e., the one experiencing the piece. Secondly, there is the intended meaning (intentionality) of the artist.
It is clear with any piece of art that the experiencer can take meaning from a work with or without knowledge of the intended meaning of the artist. Is meaning found apart from the intent or even in clear opposition to the meaning of the artist herself not still meaning and valid to the one having the experience? Or does meaning depend solely on intentionality, i.e., what was intended by the artist? A more reasoned view might be a synthesis of the two.
Most certainly Mozart’s “Minuet” has meaning though what it means to me might not be what Mozart himself, taken in the socio-historical context of his day, would have it mean. Perhaps the better option in ascertaining meaning from such a piece is a synthesis of the views. After all, art does not occur in a vacuum and part of the meaning just might be bound up in the ongoing process of experience and interpretation.
“Can my discussion of the work meet the demands of disciplined critical discourse?” asks Rowell. Though it seems to me that I am a technically competent reasoner on general matters and even particular matters philosophical, music, not at all unlike philosophy, is a highly specialized field. As such, one seemingly need be well versed in the language, history, theory, etc. of music to be able to reason about it on any significant level and in an intelligent manner.
Rowell asks if an individual must possess any specialized skills or knowledge with respect to making particular assertions about a musical piece, e.g., the composition has meaning, the music is good, the piece is beautiful, etc. Clearly if one possesses an inclination for music his or her perception thereof will be superior and it follows as such that assertions might be more descriptive of the piece than would those of an untrained listener and commentator. But it does not seem to follow that one cannot still see (and perhaps feel) the meaning, goodness, or beauty of a piece without such specialized skill or knowledge depending upon one’s own inherent system of values.
Related to context of the piece, we may pose yet additional questions. For example, what did Mozart’s piano sound like? Is such a question even important? Seemingly, no. This would only be important to us in as much we were alive in the time of Mozart and could hear him play this piece on the piano in question, and this only for historical purposes and edification. But the piece itself exists independently of any particular musical instrument and does not depend upon Mozart’s piano for its being and sustenance.
One might also question Mozart’s intention for the piece. Was there, in fact, a purpose or deeper meaning than appears on the surface? Such questions, at first glance at least, seem only to be important with respect to history but not so much to our actual appreciation of the piece. The music, though it emerges from the mind of an individual in a particular socio-historical context, exists independently and in its own right and as such can be evaluated as it stands on its own.
As Rowell suggests, any work of art should provoke in one a multitude of philosophical questions and music is no exception to this observation (9). To be certain, some of the questions raised by a given piece will be more difficult to answer due to the abstract and seemingly intangible aspects of art as a thing itself, and others more readily pondered and answered. Of the more difficult questions to answer are those which reflect on the nature of a piece of art itself. E.g., questions related to the substance of the thing itself, the nature and confines of its existence, the temporality of the piece, its ontological status, etc. (Rowell 9-13).1
There do seem to be questions on the nature of the thing itself which seem more readily answered, especially for the non-specialist, i.e. for casual the listener. Two of such questions are: What are the qualities of the piece and does the given piece have structure (Rowell 9-13)? Granted, notions of the quality and structure of any given piece of art will vary with one’s knowledge of the subjects. However, it does seem to be the case that even the casual observer or listener could express at least some insight into the quality and structure of a piece.
According to Rowell, referring to a piece’s qualities, there are parts of a work that can be quantified with precision by the musically inclined but when referring to the particular qualities of a piece, one tends to draw upon the more subjective experience of the piece. Art is dynamic and as such the experience of the same piece by multitudes can elicit a host of responses, especially when one brings to the fore the question of emotional content (12).
To follow are but some of the qualities of Mozart’s “Minuet for String Quintet in D Major” that might be described by one, at least one lacking the technical expertise of a trained musician or musical scholar. First, one could suggest the quality of the piece of being harmonious. Each of the five stringed instruments seems to work synergistically with the other so as to weave a richer musical tapestry, in contrast to the chromatic nature of Mozart’s “Minuet No. 6 for Piano.”
Second, the piece presents the quality of completeness, moving the listener from beginning to end over the course of the composition. There is also the quality of motion. The piece moves from a true beginning to an ending, yet there is momentum (musical and emotional) throughout with highs and lows that lift one up and then again return them to the point of origin. This sense of both completion and motion isn’t as obvious in the shorter “Minuet No. 6 for Piano.”
Structure is an obvious component of the piece in question as well (to both trained and untrained ear alike). As the minuet is a dance of the classical period, the composition moves forward in a fashion suitable of the dance style of the European aristocracy of its day. There is a distinct coherency to the piece whether or not one understands the appropriate musical notions (e.g., triple meter as 3 beats to a measure, a measure being the smallest unit of a composition, or other, more complex, musical notions) as there are patterns that are clearly recognizable whether or not one has the technical savvy to label them correctly. There is a patternized motion to the piece: a slow start, a rise in tempo, a high point, and then the listener is brought back down gently as the piece is drawn to a close. 2
Two questions of value that one might ask concerning the piece, as with any other composition, are: Is this piece a work of art? And, is the piece good? To address the first question, it needs to be stated that just what makes a piece of art “art” is itself a deeply contested philosophical question. Though Rowell discusses at great length the distinctions and commonalities of the so-called arts, there is little by way of definitive definition (20-36). For the intents and purposes of the current inquiry, it will suffice to define art simply as an expression of self (or society) via one of the following media: music, literature, poetry, theatre, painting, sculpture, etc. (not an all inclusive list to be sure).
The answer to the first question must be “yes.” This minuet is a work of art in as much as it is an artistic musical expression on the part of Mozart. This can’t be denied. As to whether or not the piece is “good,” this is a different question entirely and, as with the above discussion of the qualities of the piece, involves a subjective element and doesn’t seem to submit itself to objectification. One might think the piece good and another disagree. Important to note here the unlikelihood of any two individuals sharing a common conception of just what is good.
The listener can also ask the two following questions more clearly pertinent to the experiencer. How are my own emotions involved with the piece? And, does this piece matter? Both answers will be relative to the individual having the experience of the piece and likely no two will answer these questions in the same manner. Each answer will be unique as well as valid with respect to emotion elicited and meaning derived from the piece.
Just whether or not a piece matters will depend, in large part, on the meaning of the piece (intended, derived, or a combination of the two). There are different types of meaning (e.g., cognitive meaning, emotional meaning, prescriptive meaning, descriptive meaning, etc.), but for the intents and purposes of this discussion, the concern is with the baser notion of meaning (though the above are all clearly related and relevant to the topic at hand), that of meaning as comprehension of a conventional construction (Audi, et al. 545-550). The conventional construction here being that of music.
Minsky argues that a thing only has meaning when its cognitive representations are limited to but a few variances on the representation of the thing in question (2-3). This makes sense when one considers the construction of the human brain and the shared cognitive functions of all human beings. Representations need be limited (ensures a certain modicum of cognitive efficiency) and meaning can only be deduced when one has represented the thing in question correctly, i.e., just when the representations of a thing are veridical, then there is an objectified meaning.
Minsky, however great his exposition of the representation of musical language from the perspective of cognitive science, does not deal directly with notions of individual or subjective meaning. Clearly art is subject to subjectification and, as such, the notion of limited representations turns out to not be as relevant as in the above discussion as, quite simply, individuals will experience a given work of art on their own terms.
Context, of all the areas of question proposed by Rowell, seems the least important, at least as related to aesthetic experience and appreciation of a given piece. Mozart’s state of mind at the time of composition, his purpose for the piece, the instrument on which the work was composed, etc., play little relevance to one’s appreciation and first-person personal experience of a piece, unlike the questions posed above, which are all interrelated and don’t suppose a historical context. Context seems only important in matters of history.3
Rowell reminds that music is a phenomenon that occurs both in space and time as an aspect of experience, focusing his attention upon time (28-31). In the discussion of time, Rowell is not referring to the metrical patterns of music but rather to the concept of temporality itself. One of the questions posed is whether or not time is atomistic or continuous. Humans do tend to segment their experience and think, oftentimes, of time in an atomistic sense (Audi et al. 920-923). However, modern physics encourages one to think in terms of a space-time fabric, with time and space woven together into one contiguous and continuous tapestry (Hawking 15-35).
If this is the case, then one is inclined to view any given composition in terms of itself being a unified, coherent fabric with each note stitched together from beginning to end to form the work. Such a view also preempts notions of individual notes existing in their own space and time (segmentation) and solves, prima facie at least, the problem of motion—there is motion, not just the perception of motion (in terms of continuum, e.g., the space-time continuum).
What about the “now” of music (Rowell 30)? Philosophically, the notion of now is always escaping one as the now is always in motion and as soon as one attempts to apprehend it, it dissolves into the past. Such discussion of the now in music, namely Western music, follows suit with Western tradition and neatly divides time into past, present, and future. Eastern tradition knows no such distinction, particularly in Buddhist thought, as all that is believed to exist is the “eternal now” with respect to time.
Neither the past nor future obtain ontological status, i.e., neither exist (the past is memory and the future speculation). One is wrong, as above with respect to the physical theory of time, to divide time into segments as this is an artificial imposition at best. Rather, time, and one’s perception of time, should be viewed in terms of continuum. All anyone is ever cognizant of at any given moment is the now and as such, the now of music is any particular moment of apprehension and musical experience.
Wilfrid Mellers argues that for one to be aware of time (past, present, and future) is for one to be equally aware of passion and pain as both passion and pain are, more clearly than anything else, associated with beginnings and endings in human experience. The intermittent areas between beginnings and endings are so colored as well (Spence and Swayne 14-15). Such an understanding of time, one that more richly impacts humanity’s experience, is more descriptive of that experience than simple accounts of chronology.
Audi, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2006.
Hawking, Stephen. A Brief History of Time. New York: Bantam Books, 1998.
Minsky, Marvin. “Music, Mind, and Meaning.” Computer Music Journal. Vol. 5, Number 3
Rowell, Lewis. Thinking About Music. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1983.
Spence, Keith and Swayne, Giles. How Music Works. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co.,
Zaslaw, Neal, ed. The Compleat Mozart: A Guide to the Musical Works of Wolfgang Amadeus
Mozart. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1990.
1 Rowell proffers other questions of importance relating to the nature of a thing itself. E.g., what are the foundational principles upon which emerges the thing in question? Can it be reduced into components or is it a unified whole? Is it complete? Is it real? Etc.
2 For a more detailed account of the structure of the String Quintet in D Major (K. 593), see Zaslow et al. 256.
3 For a discussion of the historical context of the piece see Zaslow et al. 256. Minsky, however, might argue that historical context is essential to limit cognitive representations and, as such, impacts meaning. For Minsky, it seems that meaning would be a synthesis of intended and derived meaning as both would be required in order for objectified meaning to obtain over a less substantial, subjectified meaning, whatever this might mean.
Privacy is a psychological necessity. Despite that, you often hear the argument that “if you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” Generally, that argument is made by those in power doing the monitoring. This line of reasoning is severely flawed, and can easily be flipped on its head. If you aren’t doing anything wrong, then why should anyone have the right to monitor you?
Most people tend to keep their doors locked and the blinds drawn even though they are doing no wrong. The desire for privacy is a natural inclination. Who wouldn’t feel awkward being watched during life’s intimate moments? Lastly, numerous studies have demonstrated the negative effects caused by a lack of privacy on psychological and even physical health.
Excerpted from one of my articles published on former CIA agent, Jason Hanson's site @ https://spyescapeandevasion.com/blog/2017/05/31/internet-privacy-future-freedom/
Note: This article was slated to be published on escapeartist.com in February.
Expats tend to be strategic thinkers, proactive planners and, above all else, action takers. However, I have discovered that, in my travels abroad, expats often overlook the importance of simple cyber security measures in their ventures. Why is cyber security so vital for the expat in particular? In the following, we will briefly survey the answers to this question and subsequently, in a following series on cyber security specific to the expat, provide a guide to cyber security solutions of vital importance to the expatriate. (Many of the solutions are free and open source and can be implemented readily by anyone who can turn on their computer and operate a mouse.)
Underdeveloped cyber infrastructure
“We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto.” Most expats hail from the major nations of the West, e.g., the U.S., UK, Australia, etc. Granted, the expat has many reasons for fleeing these proverbial coups but what these particular countries do have is a highly developed cyber infrastructure and have placed a good deal of engineering efforts into the area cyber security (true of most developed, Western nations).
On the flip side, many of the emerging nations to which expats relocate provide just the opposite in terms of network infrastructure. While the comms are there, security, if present at all, has been found to be woefully lacking. This has been the norm since the beginning implementation of networks. Convenience precedes security and thus cyber security is often but an afterthought—security is viewed as a final, ad hoc formality.
For example, I regularly travel throughout both Central and South America (most recently foraying into Asia). As an information security specialist and Ethical Hacker, I am always curious about the local networks and security architecture. From the local hotel to public Wi-Fi to local business, I have, to date, evaluated networks in Chile, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, Guatemala, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Japan. The common thread? When these networks are secured at all, it is usually with a weak and/or outdated encryption standard (e.g., WEP) or the access key is made publicly available which, in essence, provides the means for decryption on the part of a malicious party.
Without becoming overly technical at this point in the discussion, suffice it to say that, based on a flaw in implementation of WEP, any WEP password can be decrypted in about 30 seconds by anyone with enough skill to search for directions on Google. It is that easy. However, even the higher levels of encryption such as WPA and WPA2 can be readily decrypted if the key is discovered (which can also be quite simple given the right tools and know-how) or if you are simply sharing the network.
To illustrate this point further, have you ever used the Wi-Fi provided by a local restaurant or coffee shop (or other “Free Wi-Fi”)? If so, the chances are good that a malicious individual on the same network was monitoring your every online move from checking your e-mail to reading your bank statement all the while stealing your credentials and other valuable, confidential information. This is a common tactic of hackers as well as data and identity thieves. In a subsequent article in this series we will discuss how to mitigate and outright prevent such breaches.
Leaving one’s country for greener grass and brighter shores does not always mean forsaking the conveniences of home altogether. On the contrary for those who have departed from Western nations. Such expats continue to, in most cases, rely heavily upon country-of-origin financial institutions due to both the convenience thereof and, a modicum of confidence commensurate with those institutions. This, in and of itself, is not a problem.
The problem is that “All roads lead to Rome.” What this means is that, quite simply, anything connected to the Internet, whether a desktop PC, laptop, tablet, smart phone, web server, thermostat, etc., is just that--connected! And when a device is connected to the regular Internet (or the ever more pervasive Internet of Things) it is accessible and can be monitored by any other device that is likewise connected. Moral of the story, any time one connects to the Internet without taking the appropriate security measures, especially when accessing financial or other personal and confidential information, he or she is at risk of compromise.
For example, I am often called upon to provide security assessments and awareness training for my clients. It is a trivial matter for me to set up a wireless access point and broadcast an SSID (access point name) of “Free Wi-Fi” with my personal PC being used as a gateway for any traffic via any associations with the access point. As such, I am able to monitor every single bit that flows across the ether. I can capture e-mail usernames and passwords, banking information, monitor social network usage, redirect an individual’s traffic to sites of my choosing, and plant malware. All of this with ease.
Such attacks and attempts on your data are not isolated “It can’t happen to me” events. It is happening quite frequently and, chances are good that, even as you read this article, your computer is being probed by automated botnets designed to crawl the web and probe for vulnerable networks and network devices. In a forthcoming article in this series, we will discuss the means to mitigate such attempts on your confidential data.
Not much really needs to be said under this point. The term government essentially includes intrusive as part of its modern definition. However, later in the series one article will be dedicated to just how the U.S. and other governments are monitoring and logging much of your personal data (without valid reason or warrant), exactly what types of data they are collecting, and what you can do to mitigate such intrusive government monitoring and, effectively, “go off the digital grid” without giving up the Internet. This is an ever-evolving and important issue, particularly for the expat, as home governments are even more interested in keeping up with those who have expatriated. The old cliche "you have nothing to worry about if you aren't doing anything wrong" is not a valid retort to the law abiding citizen--privacy is a psychological necessity.
There are many players at work in the Internet underground (or “Darknet”) and, as this is an introductory article to a full series on cyber security for the expat, we will not herein delve into the details of these varied and sundry individuals and groups. Further along in the series the reader will be introduced to: the hackers, the “carders,” digital pirates, major cyber crime syndicates, and the cyber jihadists. Particularly, the expat will learn just what such individuals want from them and how to best protect him or herself from exploit.
In the above, the reader was introduced to the primary topics of discussion in a forthcoming series on cyber security for the expat, an everything-you-need-to-know and how-to from soup to nuts on protecting your personal information, preventing prying digital eyes, and staying safe online.
“A proposition must restrict reality to two alternatives: yes or no” (Ludwig Wittgenstein).
One often hears the statement “It isn’t all black and white” supplemented with the
“shades of grey” utterance. But what exactly might this mean? As used in its appropriate
context (the context of attempting to weakly demonstrate that a given x is such that x is
less than clear and distinct, i.e., x is non-definitive) it seeks to present a form of relativism
(weak relativism to be sure).
The position can be stated as follows in the form of an argument:
(1) Some things are clear and distinct (read: black and white).
(2) Some things are not clear and distinct (read: shades of grey).
(3) Therefore, one cannot speak with certainty or exactitude about those things
which are shaded grey (neither black nor white).
(1) How does one know just which statements are black and white and which are
shaded grey? What are the determining criteria? If there is in fact a set of
criteria, can it be demonstrated as non-arbitrary?
(2) Is it the case that for that which is shaded grey to one might just in fact be
black and white to another (perhaps one with more background knowledge,
greater insight, or more experience)?
(3) Even if there are statements that are shaded grey, why could not one speak
with definitiveness about them? This seems less than necessary.
(4) Is the statement “It isn’t all black and white” coupled with “There are shades
of grey” itself black and white or shaded grey? If it is itself black and white (clear
and distinct) then there are in fact no shades of grey (self-refuting). If it is itself
shaded grey, then it is itself as well not clear and distinct, i.e., not black and white
and thus need not be taken seriously as we are uncertain as to its truth value as a
proposition. And, to utilize the principle behind the shades of grey argument, one
can’t speak with certainty regarding the principle that so certainly declares that
not all is so certain! For in so doing, one is presupposing black and white all
(5) On a formal note, premise (3) in the above argument does not clearly
follow from premise (2). Therefore, the argument isn’t deductively valid.
The shades-of-grey argument likely stems from a degree of indecisiveness or is used as a
justification for non-commitment on the part of its proponent (a psychological rather than
logical issue). The law of excluded middle states that either A or B but not both A and B
(exclusive sense of disjunction). (A v B) → ¬(A ⋅ B). One might take issue with this by
proposing a third option (we already have black and white and not black and white),
perhaps shades of grey is the third option. I think that this can be avoided by stating that
black and white statements are simply (or contain), in as much as they are reduced to
their logical constituents, either true or false propositions (in as much as the statements
satisfy the requirement of propositionhood). So-called shades of grey statements must,
necessarily and de facto, be either true or false as well--this can’t be avoided. So, as it
turns out, black and white statements and shades of grey statements are logical
equivalents with regard to truth value (the content of a proposition y is either true or false
as related to the facts of actual experience).
Now, it can be objected at this point that even though a statement z be true or false (in an
ultimate sense) it may not be the case necessarily that it be clear conclusively that such is
the case (z is a shade of grey in the immediate sense). This is the issue of practice vs.
principle. Even if z is less than clear with regard to its truth value in practice, nonetheless
it is knowable as true or false in principle and thus the objection is satisfied (if z can in
fact be said to have semantic significance (meaning) then z has a particular truth value).
It may be of some use to point out the failure of the analogy itself. Colors do in fact
occur on a continuum but not words; and if not words, then it follows not statements.
Words have meaning whereas what can be said about colors has meaning and not the
colors themselves. Colors are properties of things whereas words represent (stand in the
place of) things--even colors. Thus statements, in as much as they relate to the factual
world, have a particular truth value, i.e., they must be either true or false--nothing in the
middle. Representations are truth functional whereas properties are not (properties are
descriptive of representations and possibly the objects represented). The representational
statement of the instance of a pen having the property of blackness being at this moment
on my desk “There is a black pen on my desk” is either true or false; whereas simply
“black” is neither true nor false (“black” here not being a predicate of a thing). If a
statement corresponds to some fact or facts in the world, then it has a particular truth
value (cannot be shaded grey).
Now, one might argue that, ultimately, this isn’t a debate over whether or not there are in
fact propositions that are black and white and shaded grey but, rather, whether or not
there exist facts in the actual world that are themselves shaded grey and not black or
white. This can be dismissed rather easily. A proposition stands as a representation of
the facts of the world, thus, as propositions can be only black or white, i.e., true or false,
then it can’t be the case that there be facts that are shaded grey. The facts of the world
themselves have truth value (there are relationships that hold between the facts of the