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Biology Over Art: What Modernism Misses
Sometime in 1952, the American experimental musician John Cage put the finishing touches on a composition that challenged the definition of music. It was a three-part movement written for any instrument or combination of instruments. He called it four minutes and thirty-three seconds (4:33) and debuted it at Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, New York. David Tudor, an experimental pianist, performed it on the piano.
When Tudor walked onto the stage at Maverick Concert Hall he sat down at the piano, opened the score and sat in total silence for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. When it was over, he left the stage. Tudor’s performance was flawless.
4:33 became one of the most studied and scrutinized pieces of music in the 20th century because Cage left the score blank; the job of the performer was to remain silent for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. I learned about Cage and his soundless composition from a music teacher in college. Cage initially struck me as one of those avant-garde types that only obscure art critics studied, but we performed 4:33 in a music theory class and I was immediately drawn in, seeing it as something more than nothing. Does silence count as music? What is music?
Cage was partially inspired by an American painter and graphic artist named Robert Rauschenberg who in 1951 created “White Paintings,” which were nothing more than a series of blank white canvas. For Rauschenberg, the paintings were the lighting and shadows of the room – the tiny atmospheric nuances that left the canvas not entirely white. For Cage, 4:33 was the murmuring of the audience or the natural ambience of Maverick Hall. It was a reminder that total silence is impossible.
By afflicting what is comfortable for the audience, Cage and Rauschenberg joined other modern artists who made careers by challenging our aesthetic preferences. For these so-called modernists, art was about rejecting traditions and pushing aesthetic boundaries to the limit. In The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker mentions the art critic Clive Bell, who went as far as to suggest that, “beauty had no place in good art because it was rooted in crass experiences” and abstract painter Barnett Newman, who declared that “the impulse of modern art was ‘the desire to destroy beauty.”
The philosopher Denis Dutton sums up the modernist doctrine in his book The Art Instinct:
Promoters of modernism cited Dadaist experiments to insist that beauty could reside in any perceptual object, that people could be “taught” to take aesthetic pleasure in any experience whatsoever. Once this fact was understood, so modernist hopes went, we would all become free to enjoy pure abstraction in painting, atonality in music, random word-order poetry, Finnegans Wake, and readymades, just as much as we enjoy Ingres, Mozart, or Jane Austen. “Difficult” modernist art, literature, and music could become popular – culturally dominant, in fact – given enough time and familiarity. As Anton Webern longingly imagined, the postman on his rounds might someday be overheard whistling an atonal tune.
For modernists, human nature is a blank slate. And with enough exposure we can enjoy anything - a silent piece of music or a blank canvas. Our ability to appreciate new kinds of art sees no limits.
The problem with this perspective is that it gets human nature wrong. We aren’t blank slates; our aesthetic preferences evolved just like our craving for salty foods and sex. As Dutton explains, “human nature… sets limits on what culture and the arts can accomplish with the human personality and its tastes. Contingent facts about human nature ensure not only that some things in arts will be difficult to appreciate but that appreciation of them may be impossible.” Take that, blank slaters!
Consider visual art. People all around the world prefer paintings that depict wide-open landscapes including fertile land, diversity of greenery, evidence of animal and bird life and a body of water from a high vantage point. Does culture explain this uniformity? Or do our visual preferences relate to the African savannas our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved in? Dutton goes with the later, stating that humans share an innate preference for African savanna-type landscapes in visual art because they are “not only the probable scene of a significant portion of human evolution, they are to an extent the habitat meat-eating hominids evolved for.”
If our appreciation of art has biological limits then why do modernists and the rest of those avant-garde types insist on transcending them instead of embracing them? A silent piece of music, a blank canvas… seriously?
A recent TED talk by experimental musician Mark Applebaum might explain why some gravitate towards the poles of our evolved aesthetic preferences. Applebaum’s Cage-esque projects include composing a score for three conductors to conduct but no musicians to preform, turning a wristwatch into a musical score and having an orchestra play gibberish while a florist garnishes a floral arrangement. Applebaum isn’t motivated to discover or reinvent music and he doesn’t come across as pretentious or critical of the mainstream. He’s inspired by whatever stimulates him. “Is it music? … This is not the important question,” he says. “The important question is: Is it interesting?”
Applebaum is driven by the same thing every other artist is driven by: novelty. We humans get used to songs, stories and paintings quickly. The Billboard top ten, New York Times bestseller lists, and MoMa galleries are in flux; mainstays are rare. The job of the artist is to introduce something new. But 4:33, “White Paintings” and wristwatches? The difference with Cage, Rauschenberg and Applebaum is they take it to an extreme.
Good art, then, finds a balance between these two perspectives. 4:33 and “White Paintings” are too novel and ignore innate preferences. On the other hand, artists like Bach or the Beatles embrace our evolutionary preferences - they introduced new and more complex sounds while maintaining some familiarity. With enough exposure, listeners adjusted and eventually appreciated the new sounds. We still return to them because there is something new with every listen; it takes many repeats for overabundance to downgrade its value. The same is true of visual art – Mona Lisa – and literature – Hamlet.
Does this mean Cage is doomed for irrelevance? 22nd century art critics will probably still be riffing on 4:33. I’ll go back to my pre-college days and appreciate it for what it is: nothing.
Here's an article by Adam Kirsch at TNR for further reading
Image via Wikipedia Commons
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought out the perception of selfishness among many.
- Selfish behavior has been analyzed by philosophers and psychologists for centuries.
- New research shows people may be wired for altruistic behavior and get more benefits from it.
- Crisis times tend to increase self-centered acts.