Friday, November 18, 2005

Folly

I haven't read Plato in four years. If nothing else, he is a wonderful rhetorician, he escapes most of the hopeless situations he finds himself in by shifting the vocabulary towards more mystical, loosely defined terms. Nevertheless, I remember being very open to his brand of thinking when I read him at 19. Now I find myself frustrated and yearning for a less ambiguous language. I guess this is basically also the history of philosophy as it moves toward (I couldn't help but peek), the last chapter: symbolic logic. Well, we'll get to that...



Russell covers briefly the evolution of scientific thought concerning the motion of the planets. The Pythagoreans hypothesized that the planets move in circles around the sun, but the idea was made unpopular by Aristotle, who argued for a geocentric model of the universe. The heliocentric thesis was later revived by Copernicus, then overturned by Kepler, who found that the planets move in ellipses around the sun. Later, Newton discovered that the movements are not even exact ellipses.

All this serves as a metaphor for the evolution of Plato's idea of the Good. Although not a very good idea (hah), it gave philosophers a starting-off point. In other words, "This piece of scientific history illustrates a general maxim: that any hypothesis, however absurd, may be useful in science, if it enables a discoverer to conceive things in a new way."

This seems to fit art as well as it does science. I had been thinking about it not too long ago as it pertains to music. A musical hypothesis might consist in particular melodic, timbral, rhythmic, harmonic move; a certain way of introducting or resolving tension, etc. Many of these "hypotheses" will not turn out, but only through great folly will something truly great be discovered. This seems to me the most adequate argument in favor of avant-garde or experimental musics I can offer, the occasional feeling of stunning, though unpolished innovation.

To begin, to hypothesize is absurd and can be quite embarrasing. Indeed, how difficult it is for something to be created from nothing. Just look at the folly that resonates throughout this first post. Let our errors verge on cataclysm!

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