the sublime

flower tote

“Beethoven is not only about suffering — it’s about many emotions, true happiness and ecstasy.”

Arrival at Temple after Pilgrimmage

“It’s not true that someone has to have been through extreme emotions to play the music, but you have to be able to sympathize and have empathy with the emotions. If I play a piece of Chopin or Schumann, it’s a one-to-one confession all the time, but with Beethoven, the slow movements are not so much a confession but more a kind of preaching. He has a bigger message about humanity. Earlier, I didn’t really understand and appreciate that expression.”
~Leif Ove Andsnes

Penitence -- Pilgrim in Tibet

“In a case like Schubert, who died at 31, he had enough sorrow for a lifetime. There is something about the subtext of his music — people say you have to suffer a little more.”
~Jeremy Denk

Rose sheet music

“Musicians often state that they should wait until they ‘have something to say’ before tackling pieces like Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ or late Beethoven or Schubert, although for the pianist Richard Goode the phrase ‘having something to say’ suggests ‘an act of will — something extrinsic to a genuine involvement,’ he said.”
~Viven Schweitzer, Adapted from “Wait, You Need to Suffer Some More”

Prayer Flags in Tibet

“Which master managed, as Beethoven did in his late music, to weld together present, past and future, the sublime and the profane?”
~Alfred Brendel

horizon from plane

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expansion of time, part i

“Most of our current theoretical frameworks include the variable t in a Newtonian, river-flowing sense. But as we begin to understand time as a construction of the brain, as subject to illusion as the sense of color is, we may eventually be able to remove our perceptual biases from the equation.”

River in Tibet

“The days of thinking of time as a river — evenly flowing, always advancing — are over. Time perception, just like vision, is a construction of the brain and is shockingly easy to manipulate experimentally. We all know about optical illusions, in which things appear different from how they really are; less well known is the world of temporal illusions.”

Wall in Los Angeles

“If we inject a slight delay between your motor acts and their sensory feedback, we can later make the temporal order of your actions and sensations to appear in reverse… we [come to] find that ‘time’ is not the unitary phenomenon we may have supposed it to be. When a stream of images is shown over and over in succession, an oddball image thrown into the series appears to last for a longer period, although presented for the same physical duration. In the neuroscientific literature, this effect was originally termed a subjective ‘expansion of time.'”

Clocks in Black and White

-David Eagleman, Brain Time

The Enlightenment “I”

“The average person tends to fall back on the Enlightenment notion of the self — one mind, with privacy of thought and sensory experience — as a key characteristic of identity…

… That very impermeability is part of what makes the concept of the mind so challenging to researchers studying how it works, the neuroscientist and philosopher Antonio Damasio says in his book, ‘Self Comes to Mind.’

‘The fact that no one sees the minds of others, conscious or not, is especially mysterious,’ he writes.

We may be capable of guessing what others think, ‘but we cannot observe their minds, and only we ourselves can observe ours, from the inside, and through a rather narrow window.'”

Excerpted from “Could Conjoined Twins Share a Mind?” Susan Dominus, The New York Times. Published May 25, 2011

Fascinating article on how Krista and Tatiana, adorable 4 year old girls joined at the head, could possibly be sharing thalamic nuclei, which are in part responsible for the body’s perceptions and sensations. Thus, anecdotal evidence exists that a touch on one girl’s foot leads to the other girl’s giggles. Their shared sensations transfers across haptic (touch) and visual domains (so far also suggested anecdotally). No one knows for sure at this point, but the concept is fascinating to think about. What if you personally felt the external events experienced by another person? What if everything you experienced was brought upon someone else? Would you then be so sure of your preserved identity? I would highly recommend a full read of the article.

The most fitting photos from my collection that illustrate this philosophical ‘sense of self’ comes from my travels in Tibet two years ago. The beautiful people there – from monks in a rural monastery to Buddhist practitioners in the streets of Lhasa – seemed to be in touch with their inner serenity. A lot of implications for brain, mind, and behavior. More discussion to come, and suggestions as to future posts on this topic welcome.

portraits of genius

In a recent Wired magazine post, neuroscientist/journalist Jonah Lehrer asks, “Where have all the geniuses gone?” Lehrer, a Columbia University grad and a Rhodes Scholar, posits that perhaps we have become less talented.

“Oh no!” you think. “Not in the grand era of American ingenuity!”

It turns out that the idea stemmed from Gideon Rachmann’s column in the Financial Times. If you look at the dominating list of great thinkers in history, it appears to trump those of today. In 1939, for example, Einstein, Keynes, TS Eliot, Picasso, Freud, Gandhi, Orwell, Churchill, Hayek, and Sartre were in their prime. Can you think of their modern-day contemporaries?

Rachmann and Lehrer acknowledge that it is unfair to judge without the perspective of historical distance. Moreover, many fields – science especially – are increasingly collaborative and interdisciplinary, thus why the most prominent studies published in the top journals are by a cohort of authors, and not single ideas championed by individual thinkers, as in the case of Freud’s theories or Darwin’s On the Origins of Species, etc.

Moreover, the “complexity of our 21st century problems” requires a thinker to master the field – which takes years upon years and is ongoing – before he or she can create new knowledge. Thus, while it was the case that da Vinci was most prolific in his 20s, nowadays, the average age for a Principal Investigator to receive his or her first grant is hovering around 40.

The era of the “lone genius” is coming to an end, Lehrer concludes. Lincoln, being hounded here by the paparazzi here circa summer 2009, is becoming an anomaly.

Shakespeare, sitting here outside of the Carnegie Museums, watches hundreds of bright young minds rush past him on Forbes Avenue…

As individuals, we find small moments of introspection…

… and cherish the opportunity to learn from mentors…

… to learn an art, which may be regarded as “virtuosic” …

… or encounter beautiful situations that challenge our traditional notion of “genius” and “virtuoso” …

“I put all my genius into my life; I put only my talent into my works.”
— Oscar Wilde