Sunday, 1 February 2015

Diana Damreau's Queen of the Night (Mozart's Magic Flute) - as an operatic performance, on a scale of one to ten, this one goes to eleven


Having just heard the first act Queen of the Night aria thrown-away by Wilma Lipp on the Karajan recording; I turned again to this simply wonderful, just perfect, acting-singing performance.

This astonishing aria - far superior to the more famous Die Holle Rache - combines cynical psychological realism, with beauty (this is Mozart), and hair-raising demonic venom.

The Queen of the Night is manipulating the ardent young hero Tamino to do her dirty work by an intoxicating mixture of covert sexuality and hammed-up sentimentality. I love the part when she sneaks a glance to check that her performance is having the desired effect.

Her hatred begins to consume her as she abandons the slow lyrical first part of the aria and launches into just about the best bit of coloratura writing ever; during which loses control, tries to get a grip, then becomes carried-away into a almost orgasmic fantasy of hatred and revenge. Meanwhile singing with incredible control, subtlety and power.

Thrilling and chilling. And as a live operatic performance, I don't think this can ever have been bettered, or ever could be. Matched, yes, perhaps - but of its kind this is as good as it is possible to be.


Explaining luck in an animistic world

We recognise in our lives periods of good and ill luck - and secular mainstream society can only regard these as being either an illusion due to misreading randomness or else a psychological projection of our own state of mind. Religious people may add an explanation relating to the will of god/s and demons - and/ or an element of getting what we 'deserve'.

Indeed, in the end most explanations of luck reduce to either randomness or desert - and if randomness there is no meaning to the whole thing except to undermine our confidence in our own judgement: to persuade people that they live inside a bubble of delusion (yet, somehow and self-refutingly, manage escape these delusions for long enough to realise correctly that they live inside a bubble of delusions...).

If luck is what we deserve, then who are the agents - in particular ill-luck: who is punishing us when we have periods of bad luck?

First of all, bad luck may not be truly bad, considered in the full perspective of our pre-mortal and post-mortal lives. In other words, that which makes us suffer and be miserable (to some extent) on earth may in some unknown way be good for us (and/or for other people) in the wider frame.

However that does not seem to account for everything - in particular we sometimes feel we are 'at odds with' things in general - we feel as if we are in an antagonistic position with respect to our environment, and in a way that certainly feel bad - and certainly does not feel like any kind of positive or creative struggle.

If we try to explain this with reference to God's will then this leads to a punitive and unloving God; if to demonic will then to a God who allows the devil negatively to wreck our lives - which again seems unloving.

Another possible source of apparent malevolence of our surroundings, oft neglected, could be from the 'animistic' world view that all things are living and 'conscious' (to some extent, often very small). SO - the world is not divided into a few living conscious things (mostly humans) and innumerable dead and inert things - but rather the world is made up entirely of living conscious things, but with life/consciousness on a very large continuum so that some things have much, much more of this property than others.

By this account, there is a primordial consciousness in the stuff of the universe which does not derive from God (and therefore cannot be attributed to God or blamed on God) but was already-there before reality was shaped from chaos (which was the act of creation).

When we feel at odds with reality; it may therefore be that we have put ourselves into an antagonistic relationship with the millions and billions of micro-consciousnesses which constitute our environment.

In other words - we are always in communication with everything in our environment, but most of these things with which we communicate are much lower, simpler and weaker consciousnesses so much of their communication is reactive - we set the tone, and they respond.

So when our attitude to our environment is aggressive, exploitative, or even simply passive - then the environment will respond defensively against us as individuals - and the same thing will happen to humans as a group, nation, species or at any meaningful level of communicating-aggregation.

By this account, luck is real, and objective in the sense that there really are more positive and more negative relationships with our environment- the environment really can be more helpful to us or more aggressive against us - and we 'make our own luck' but not psychologically but in terms of the quality of communication with the mega-multiple intelligences which surround us.

The test and proof of this is that if, or when, we can get into a set of positive harmony with our environment then our luck will turn - and even 'misfortune' takes on a very different quality: it stirs us and mobilises our inner resources; rather than inducing despair and anger.

The living world responds positively to our attitudes of love, respect, concern toward it; and negatively to the opposite - and that is 'luck' (or one form of it).


Saturday, 31 January 2015

New name for this blog - Bruce Charlton's Notions

I've been wanting to change the name of this blog for a while, because most people don't know what a miscellany is; but especially since Adam Greenwood (of the Junior Ganymede blog) came up with this Notions suggestion that links this blog to my Tolkien blog (The Notion Club Papers) - and has been (unilaterally) using his suggested name to link this blog for some time.

Anyway, now that this 'blog' is becoming even less blog-like, by stopping comments (recognizing a de facto state of affairs by which commenting has been dwindling for considerably more than a year - but the amount of work/ angst in moderating has not diminished), I thought that the time had come, and I might as well make the change - which will at least please me...

I should thank Dennis Mangan for giving me the 'miscellany' name idea (I mean, I stole it from his Mangan's Miscellany blog without asking) which served this blog well through its heyday and beyond.


Why are secular people so reluctant to recognise evil? (Such as the concept of 'diversity')

By 'evil' I mean that a person, or group, is motivated by wanting to destroy good.

That this is a significant factor among the modern ruling elite is something that few will even contemplate. ("Conspiracy theory!") Instead, the motivation is nearly always ascribed to some combination of economic selfishness and short-termism - and almost any decision can be understood as selfishly benefiting the decider, if enough factors are considered.

So many of the critics of Leftism and Political Correctness in fact use a quasi-Marxist analysis of the modern elites - that is, they have a built-in assumption that the rulers are motivated by their own mostly-economic self-interest.

The idea on the Right is that the ruling elites are strategically and systematically (i.e. prioritizing one social system and institution after another) destroying The West from reasons of economic selfishness.

(Note:I totally agree that the mega-rich elites are destroying The West; but I totally disagree that the reason is economic selfishness. They are using their vast wealth primarily as a means to the end of destruction - not using their wealth as a means to make more wealth.)

But this quasi-Marxist analysis is an absurd form of self-blinding! When we see a consistent, long term pattern of destruction it is surely natural to assume that this destruction is intended!

And when it is recognized that the ruling elites are capable of creating and holding-to self-serving strategic, long-term, economic policies - why is it not also recognized that these same people cannot see that these same policies will also destroy that same elite's long-term self-interests?

(Why would an economically motivated strategic elite want utterly to destroy the very basis of that economic functionality upon which their economic position depends? Yet they are aggressively and incrementally destroying the very basis of their own prosperity - in multiple obvious ways. Thus they are not primarily motivated by economic self interest.)

And when we see all the very obvious destructive faults of previous elite policies not only denied but redoubled; surely it is reasonable to assume that these destructive faults are not being regarded as errors by those who make them; but that the destructive outcomes are simply the intended results of destructive policies!

Thus the recent expansion of already-destructive negative policies of policies anti-racism and anti-sexism and the sexual revolution into the hyper-destructive positive goal of diversity.

Surely there is nobody who is in a position to affect real world decisions that really believes that a policy to 'create diversity' is anything other than a policy aimed at comprehensive societal destruction? - surely this is obvious at every level? The idea of diversity being 'a good thing' doesn't even make superficial sense!

("Err, how shall we improve this government/ laboratory/ corporation/ university/ hospital? I know! Let's appoint women/ low status ethnic minorities/ people of unconventional sexual preferences to all the important positions! Let's stop even trying to do the job, and instead start trying to be 'diverse'! Yes, that'll fix everything, for sure...")

'Diversity' is probably the most absurdly and transparent false idea ever to have had significant influence among the powers of the world. Even to debate such a ridiculous notion is to accord it plausibility.

As a momentary fashion or fad, I suppose diversity would have been no sillier than many other crazes - such as pet rocks, or deely-boppers - but now diversity is being incrementally ratcheted-into all significant Western nations and institutions by the ultra-rich, by governments and the mass media. If you have eyes to see, we are seeing evil in action in the open field.

We are seeing long-term, strategically-directed and deliberate destruction of good: that is, destruction of truth, beauty and virtue. This is obviously what will happen when wicked nonsense is enforced as the highest good.

Why is this evil of imposing 'diversity' not recognized for the evil it is? I can only assume the answer is that secular people operating in a secularized public domain cannot recognize or acknowledge the reality true evil - therefore they necessarily fail to see evil, and must explain-it-away with soothing quasi-Marxist economic explanations.

For secular people self-interest is the true and only bottom line of all possible morality - so naturally they cannot perceive anything else.

The secular Right objection to the politically correct elites is merely that we have the wrong bunch of short-termist  and selfish people in charge. The secular Right think that they could implement a system of markets and laws which will transform selfish short-termism into something that looks-like altruistic long-termism - regardless of the personnel who comprise the system.

The secular Right believe(to quote TS Eliot) they can make a system so perfect that Men will not need to be Good. In other words, the secular Right are fundamentally - at the deepest level - identical with the Left (which is why they always, always, always sell-out to the mainstream Left when they get a sniff of power).

Meanwhile deliberate, strategically-destructive evil continues to operate openly (or rather, under the flimsiest and most transparent of pseudo-rationalizations): being rendered invisible in plain sight by re-labelling its evil as merely economic self-interest; and thereby philosophically sustained by many of those who imagine themselves to be opposing it.


Friday, 30 January 2015

Desert Island Discs - Record five - Wagner's Ring conducted by Georg Solti


1979-80 was undoubtedly the apex of my musical life, and it began with listening to the complete Ring cycle of opera's by Richard Wagner - on vinyl LP and a state of the art HiFi system, with a couple of friends, following the whole thing on scores, cocooned by the sensory isolation of a soundproof room in an underground 'bunker' administered by the Music department. In between we talked and read Wagner

The impact of living and breathing the mythic world Wagner for these four days was overpowering - and the mood lasted for several weeks afterwards - I recall a walking holiday in the English Lake District with my brother when almost everything seemed to remind me of the Teutonic woods and landscape, and I was continually more-than-half-expecting to find nymphs in the streams and wicked dwarves popping out from behind rocks.

The following year I was sharing a flat with some music students, one of whom was one probably the most 'musical' person I have ever known - he later became a BBC Radio Three producer, and then bought his own concert hall and recording studio.

I attended pretty much all the classical music concerts in the city and university - selling programmes at the main concert hall to get free tickets. I sang in tow Gilbert and Sullivan shows in lead parts (high baritone/ tenor) and sang tenor in large choral works with the auditioned Newcastle Bach Choir, and in a Chamber Choir of just twelve voices which was founded by the music students (and is still going, 35 years later).

Other highlights included attending a rehearsal with Sir Charles Groves conducting Das Rheingold, giving Sir Michael Tippet a birthday present on his 75th birthday, and later attending his birthday concert in London - travelling back five hours on the overnight train to arrive in Newcastle at 05.00h and going to medical school lectures the next day after only two hours of sleep!

Outside of classical music I played folk music on the accordion - at one point accompanying an impromptu ceilidh in the depths of Northumberland playing with the Duke of Northumberland's official bagpiper, busking for the Rag charity, and playing 'Scotland the Brave' in a country dance band made up entirely of my six flatmates (accordion, clarinet, guitar, piano, snare drum and double bass) at my 21st birthday party.

I suppose this was 'living at concert pitch' - and there were plenty of other non-musical activities going-on as well; not least learning medicine; and the frenetic year was followed by a bit of a collapse of morale and optimism which took a bit of getting-out-of. Such is what happens if one comes to rely on sequential powerful external pleasurable stimuli for personal happiness - the stimuli inevitably lose their potency, and there comes a point when the dose cannot be increased any further.

As for Wagner, and the Ring cycle - I never really appreciated them again with the same depth and intensity - except for Das Rheingold, which I still regard as a magnificent and mythic achievement.


Commenting suspended until further notice

Comments have been suspended until further notice. In the meanwhile, if you wish to communicate with me, you are welcome to e-mail to brucedotcharlton atoutlook dotcom.


Thursday, 29 January 2015

From one to a billion in one month: or, Side-stepping the mass media: or, "We don't need The Megaphone". The power of exponential growth applied to word of mouth

Forget the mass media.

Suppose I had a really important and necessary idea on the first of April (Fool's Day!), and on the second of April I told two people.

And on the third of April each of those two people told two people - and so on...

By the end of the month more than a billion people (1,073,741,824) would know.

Who needs the mass media?

If ever there is something important enough, about which people care enough - the whole world can know about it in thirty-three days; without breaking a sweat.


Why Christians cannot trust *any* Secular Right political parties or movements - and it makes no matter whether they claim to be 'sympathetic and supportive' towards Christianity or Religion

The reason is quite simple and is shown by an analogy.

Supposing that there was an election for the position of supreme Dictator, and the two candidates were one who was the usual politically correct Leftist.

And the other was someone who claimed to be on the Right, and opposed to Leftism (was fully of mockery and loathing for Leftism) - and he was who (like many or most mainstream secular Right politicians and theorists) stated that he was sympathetic and supportive towards Christianity - but who was Secular in the sense that he did not put religion first, but put politics first.

Suppose that (as usual) this mainstream Secular Right candidate was secular in that all his policies ignored any justification in terms of what was necessary to God's wishes or will, or the divinely-ordained order; that the policies did not derive from spiritual justifications - that is to say, his economic, social, legal and all other policies were justified in terms of the same 'utilitarian' criteria as the Leftist candidate (which is making most people happier or reducing suffering (in this life and this world); or making them safer or more secure; or being for justice or against injustice (in some vague and undefined fashion); or more rational, or more effective, or more efficient)...


Well, what are we to make of this putative Secular Right candidate's stated sympathy towards and support of Christianity?

Well, what he is saying is - first beat the Left, then we can talk about religion. He is saying: first give me power, and religion will come soon afterwards.

He is saying: "I am not a Christian now, because obviously it would be unreasonable/ inefficient/ counter-productive for me to be a Christian already; but trust me - very soon after I have obtained power I will become a Christian - or the next best thing."

He is saying: "Put-off conversion until after we have sorted out the constitution/ economy/ national security/ the police/ the legal system/ education/ health care/ the mass media... and as soon as these are sorted then we shall immediately spring into vigorous action and support Christianity."

He is saying: "Men's hearts do not matter. It is not necessary for the nation to repent and awaken to Christ - because with proper policies, we can get the benefits of being Christian without actually being Christian.

He is saying: "There is no need for Men to be Good if the system is good."


I think it is obvious what any serious Christian would think about such a candidate for the Dictatorship.

But what is true for a person is true for a party or a movement: if they are not Christian now, then they are not Christian at all. And if they are not Christian then it does not matter what they say (or even what they believe) - under the conditions of modern politics - if they actually get power, then they are going to be anti-Christian.

And since, if Christianity is true, it is the most important thing - and if it is not the most important thing then it will surely be opposed - then the Politically Correct Left and the Secular Right are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.


Words are cheap, 'promises' can be bent or broken, vague good intentions are meaningless - because when all your priorities are secular, you are de facto anti-religious; whether you claim to be on the Right, or not.


Wednesday, 28 January 2015

My suggestion for finishing Tolkien's Notion Club Papers posted at the Superversive Blog

I am rather proud to have an essay posted at the new 'Superversive' blog project, hosted by L Jagi Lamplighter and supported by her husband John C Wright:


Why creative genius is like a 'genie'

Genius can be conceptualized as a 'genie' within us - the word genie being derived from the Roman concept of a guardian and tutelary spirit, akin to the Greek 'daemon' (like Socrates's daemon who advised him and give him insights) - the concept then gathering connotations of creativity, and then 'genie' being used for the Arabian Jinn, which are autonomous supernatural entities (some good, some evil).

I am coining a usage which somewhat playfully takes all these elements so as to indicate the way in which the creativity of a classic genius:

1. Guides the genius - not in all the minute and specific details of living, but in a long-term, strategic fashion

2. Has apparently 'supernatural' powers - since real creativity is ultimately mysterious, and

3. Acts somewhat like an independent and autonomous personage - with whom the conscious and rational mind must build a relationship (the conscious rational mind may influence but does not control the genie, and cannot force the genie to do his will).


My understanding is that - in the above sense - almost everybody will have a genie of creativity - but the genie will vary considerably in power and dominance - in most people the genie has modest power and is usually ignored or suppressed; in a great genius the genie will have great power and will tend to dominate life strategy in many ways.

(Other in-between and dissociated states are presumably possible.)


The genie of a normal (non-genius) person will only be apparent in short bursts and perhaps in a crisis. In a short term crisis a person may demonstrate remarkable and seemingly-inexplicable powers or abilities (which can look like sheer luck). This could be explained in terms of them drawing upon the mysterious insights, intuitions, and knowledge of their genie.

However, this state can seldom be maintained over the long term, because most people are set-up to be dominated not by the genie but instead by more 'normal' motivations - such as social esteem (e.g. the striving for status and admiration), familial and sexual motivations, comfort, convenience, excitement etc.


So, creative genius is quantitative - the genie varies in power and dominance - at at a certain degree of power and degree of dominance the genie will have 'taken-over' the life strategy of a person (not completely, but primarily) - and such as person is A Genius.


Why is this important?

Because we live in a society where, for whatever reason, genius tends to be unacknowledged, denied, ignored and even (but usually indirectly, for other and usually 'political' given-reasons) actively persecuted.

Also, because the world-historical geniuses, which for the past four hundred years used to be common in all major domains of life in The West - art, literature, science, medicine, law, politics, the military, and religion - has become extremely rare; indeed has almost disappeared.

Therefore - if modern society wishes to avail itself of the benefits that genius (and only genius) can bring (e.g. solving unyielding problems by intuitive insights, making breakthrough discoveries), then modernity needs to become more sensitive in its detection, acknowledgement and recognition of genius: this is so even from the perspective of pure self-interest.

Perhaps a starting point is to recognize our own individual creative genie - no matter how relatively feeble it may be, and how infrequently it becomes apparent - we may notice it when, in a crisis, we may, briefly, be able to do something rather extraordinary and inexplicable.


Desert Island Discs - Record Four - JS Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book One, played by Glenn Gould


When I attended a comedy revue and Hamlet parody called Hamalongayorick at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1978, I enjoyed the interval music in which a jazz piano trio played Bach - and soon afterwards I bought an LP of Jaques Loussier's jazz trio (which was presumably being emulated); but also Glenn Gould playing Bach's Well Tempered Clavier Book One. 

Buying this double album was a double act of rebellion, since until then I had been a purist who insisted on Bach on harpsichord (and who indeed indeed was mildly hostile to the piano); and a rebel also in buying Glenn Gould's performance since the British musical establishment were barely aware of him, but when his performances were reviewed in The Gramophone they were usually given only two stars (out of five) due to their many eccentricities.

Insofar as the British establishment knew of Gould, they were hostile- and focused only on spiteful gossip. For example there was a false rumour that the fugues on his recording of the Bach 48 Preludes and Fugues had been recorded multi-tracked, with Gould playing one voice at a time. Of course, this was inadvertently very high praise of his ability to perform counterpoint!

But Gould and Bach's keyboard work provided my first serious, long term, and still-enduring instrumental obsession in classical music. I will listen to these pieces by Bach performedby many artists, on many instruments and combinations. And as for Glenn Gould... there were periods over the next few years when Gould - both his performances, and his example, became almost a life-line to me: a model of how I hoped, ideally, to live.

I have many memories of solitary times in various places (including Toronto - Gould's home city) listening to Gould and Bach with a luminous note-by-note intensity; projecting myself into that musical world as a place of detailed meaning and exalted inspiration.

At first I had to mail order Gould's LPs because they were not stocked by British shops, I bought some more on trips to the USA and Canada - but by the time he died four year later Gould had become almost a household name - and his star has continued to rise for many years. I even contributed a small piece to the edifice of his posthumous fame:

I find Bach's pieces, and especially (most of) Gould's performances, are just about the only music that never stales for me, no matter how many repetations - probably because its appeal is rather subtle and deep, so I never feel close to plumbing the depths.

Its appeal is also ascetic, monastic; and this is the best music for the enjoyment of solitude - even if that solitude was a moment grabbed from an over busy life, in a tiny room in a tower block in a city... Gould and Bach can make it as deserted as an island.


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The mystery of creativity - a 'genie' within that uses us, we do not use it

In considering creativity from a scientific perspective, much can be said - but at the heart of the phenomenon there is a mystery.

I have said that the truly creative essence of creativity is a 'black box' - in the sense that there cannot be a scientific description of genuine originality; but creativity is less like a black box than a living thing - a 'genie' within.

But this is not a genie who can be commanded like the slave of the lamp; but a genie who must be respected, nurtured and coaxed in order that he yield-up his gifts.

Indeed, in the case of a genius, the genie is the one in control. The genie ensures that he gets what he needs from his genius host - that the genie may find and follow his destiny; that he is fed with the knowledge, pictures, experiences he requires; that he is allocated enough time, the right situation, energy, attention...

And when the genie makes a discovery and gets a result; he ensures that the genius is flooded with happiness as reward; and that the genius is motivated to realize, and to communicate the genie's results.

In his essay On Fairy Stories, JRR Tolkien talked of subcreation; and suggested that it was an instance of Man emulating the divine Creator. Exactly so - Man is divine, not just in potential but in actuality - albeit feebly and partially and corruptedly; and creativity is a property of Man's divinity, just as much as 'free will' (or 'agency') is a property.

And creativity is a divine attribute, and the genius who lives in accord with his creative genie is a type of God-attuned Man: genius is a spiritual path; a path with the potential pitfalls of all spiritual paths, especially spiritual pride - but in its essence Good.

It is therefore an error to see a true genius as selfish. Insofar as he is humbly and faithfully serving his genie of creativity - he is following a divinely appointed destiny - for the ultimate benefit of all.

Whether or not a genius succeeds in making a recognized discovery - 'the way of the subcreator' is an intrinsically valid form of human life.


Monday, 26 January 2015

The background to all choices...

The background to all choices within life was our pre-existence choice to experience mortal incarnate life.

Without awareness of this context, our choices in life cannot be understood.


Reality as a communication from God

18th Century Natural Theology was in profound error: Nature is not evidence of the existence of God; Nature is a communication from God.


The real world is a communication on behalf of God: reality is something which God wished to say... And we, as individuals and collectively, are those to whom God wished to say it.

Therefore, the significance of 'everything' - all reality, all events - is the response being made to this communication from God.

(That is: everything that is, is 'merely', or in essence or ultimately, communications.)

The communication of reality is like a vast book, or lecture, or a symphony - reality (like a book, lecture, symphony) communicates at many levels of detail and of generality.

These communications are rocks and landscape, tress and rivers, animals and people; also everything made and done by people. Properly understood, we would realize that they are all lessons.


(In practice, of course, we can never understand all the lessons; and even misunderstand what it is that is the lesson - or see a specific lesson when the lesson is more general - or vice versa.)


Reality is not the physical things of the earth, reality is not the physical human body.

What God is teaching is therefore not the explicit content supplied by the world, but something else of the nature of God; evil propaganda and pain are therefore not teaching us evil and falsehood. The teaching is always of Good.

Much depends on understanding the nature of the lessons which reality teaches us - but most of all depends on understanding that reality is a lesson.


Suppose we knew a book only as its shape, dimensions and colours; or a symphony only as the volume and frequency of its sounds; or the smell of a rose only as a molar concentration of specified chemicals - well that is analogous to the situation of modern Man in a world of which he denies that it is communication.


If we wish to understand our-selves as significant entities, as souls; then we must accept that the world and everything in it (including our bodies) is a communication from God which it is our job (or destiny, quest, task) to acknowledge and do our best to understand (understand by sympathy rather than striving).

This is a factual statement of why so many people find no meaning in life: because they have chosen (without realizing it) to deny any meaning to life - because meaning is consequence of communication; so if life is not regarded as a communication then life can have no meaning.

But when communication is acknowledged as happening, then we may choose to see our role as understanding, participating and cooperating with this communication.

To acknowledge reality as divine communication is the first step (but only the first step) to escaping the living-death of alienation, and knowing we are truly alive and part of the living, meaning world.


The above perspective is derived from A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974) - page 134 onwards.

Desert Island Discs: Record number three - Mozart's Magic Flute


I did not touch the sublime in music until I experienced opera in my mid-teens - and the first time that opera hit me with full force was in watching TV.

There were two: the funniest opera - The Barber of Seville by Rossini, in the performance conducted by Claudio Abbado and starring Berganza, Alva and Prey; and then there was Ingmar Bergman's Swedish-language movie version of the best opera/ the best piece of music ever written - namely Mozart's Magic Flute.

When I got from the record library the Magic Flute excerpts conducted by Georg Solti I felt for myself musical greatness - as in the above-linked performance of Sarastro by the gigantic Finnish Bass Martti Talvela.

This is music which Bernard Shaw, the greatest British music critic of his day (as a young man) said was the only music which it would seem appropriate to hear from the mouth of God.


Mozart's Magic Flute is both the simplest and easiest, most child-like of the canonical operas, and also the deepest, most heavenly. Through its five contrasting main characters it touches on the most important human emotions and types - Tamino, the heroic poet; Papageno, the earthy, lusty, family-loving Everyman; Pamina the innocent maiden; Sarastro the noble sage; and Queen of the Night, the beautiful, insightful, gifted, proud demon.

Bergman's film version is not just the best of all opera films, and a fine musical rendering (with good although not great singers) - but Bergman's subtle reworking of Schikaneder's inspired but chaotic libretto matches more closely the depth of the music with the words. For instance, Bergman unforgettably makes Sarastro into Pamina's father - which makes perfect dramatic symmetry.


The role of the Magic Flute in my life was spiritual, as well as aesthetic. I recognized, but struggled to make sense of, the vision of something higher and beyond. It is to my credit that despite professed atheism I did not reductively explain-away this experience of the transcendent - but unsuccessfully tried to articulate it within my covert and imprecise belief in Creative Evolution (a doctrine which was also derived from Bernard Shaw - especially as it was put-forth in my favourite play of that time: Shaw's Man and Superman, an explicitly Mozartian drama).


My enjoyment of The  Magic Flute and Barber of Seville led onto an intense period of opera exploration on LP recordings, with the vital assistance of the Bristol City library - such that over the next four year I listened to the whole of the canonical opera repertoire from the classical and romantic era. Sometimes I was seeking aesthetic experience, often it was a love of singing - especially technical aspects of the tenor voice.

Music, especially opera, became a serious activity: a religious activity. As often as not I would borrow a musical score of the opera - and read that as I listened; if not, I would follow the libretto; and while I listened my focus was intense - I would not be doing anything else.


Naturally I wanted to participate in this world of classical music, and did so in the only way I could - by singing in choirs and choruses, and on my own at home - which was unsatisfying but better than nothing. I had vague, unformed, but important-to-me notions of doing something musical more seriously at some point - perhaps being a music critic.

The best of Classical Music, especially opera, was the highest thing I knew, and I deeply wanted to be 'inside' it - somehow.

But at the same time I always held back from commitment, somehow knowing that even if the luck went my way; music could not provide me, with my nature as it was, and very limited aptitude and inadequate training, with what I sought.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

A theory of creativity based on a new understanding of the nature of high-Psychoticism

If the standard 'natural selection' model of creativity is regarded as deficient, as previously argued - I mean the 'Simonton' model in which creativity is explained as a product of the high-Psychoticism-trait (high-P) personality producing wide-ranging and abundant random variations on old ideas, and high intelligence sieving and sorting-through these abundant randomly-varied ideas on the basis of coherence and memorized knowledge - then what do I propose to put in its place?


The key relevant difference between my view and the natural selection view - and the difference which leads to the following alternative model for creativity - concerns the nature of the high-Psychoticism trait.

Eysenck sees Psychoticism in terms of a tendency towards loose or broad associations - in other words a partially-pathological state. Psychoticism is seen as a partial breakdown in the normally tightly controlled and narrow associations of ideas to a situation being more like we have all experienced in dreams, and some people have experienced in delirious states of illness or alcohol withdrawal, or psychotic illnesses such as mania or schizophrenia, or under the influence of psychosis-inducing drugs (such as mescaline or LSD).

By contrast, I regard high-Psychoticism-trait as being an innate, substantially heritable, hard-wired set-up of the nervous system in which some individuals experience a higher dominance by 'inner' states than do most normal people. High-P individuals are inner-attentive, inner-aware, inner-engaged and inner-motivated.


So how does high-P work in producing 'creative solutions'?

The short answer is that the creative insight is preceded by a period of focused 'quest' (which may last many years) during which the mind is filled with more-or-less relevant ingredients. The inner-directed processes then observe, work-on, try to understand these various facts and concepts - try to select among them, achieve a clear view of their proper or best organization or arrangement,

This means that such high P individuals are attentive to their inner states (i.e. their thoughts and emotions, their 'stream of consciousness'), they are more spontaneously aware of their thoughts and feelings, they find these inner experiences more engaging, spontaneously more interesting than external matters such as social and sexual interactions (which fascinate most people for most of the time) - and these inner states provide the dominating motivations for such people, such that they are therefore substantially autonomous - that is to say indifferent to, independent-from peer pressure and socialization.

The process by which the mind works on these ingredients to give a breakthrough is a 'black box' - so far as science is concerned. (Although it can be said that the inner, unconscious mind works by different rules than those of conscious logic.) But it is the high-P person who has the focused abstract interest to bring together the ingredients, to watch the processes of understanding and organization, and to get a clear view of the answer as it emerges; and then powerfully to feel the rightness of the right answer as energies and positive emotions are triggered and experienced.


Although this inner-dominance can be caused by diseases and toxicity or brain damage; which can cause any normal person to be overwhelmed by powerful and pathological inner stimuli, or cut-off-from outer perceptions - the idea of Psychoticism is that high-P is a relatively rare but hereditary personality trait - commoner in men than women, inborn, emerging in childhood and persisting through maturity and adulthood.

The reason that high-P is hereditary, is that it is an evolved adaptation with a useful functional role to play - i.e. creativity - and the reason it is rare is that not many (i.e. not a high proportion) of creative people are required by a society; and high-P tend to be associated with lower reproductive success overall (as would be expected when individual invest more time and other resources in the inner life, and therefore relatively less resource into social and sexual life).


So high-P creative people are sometimes very useful to a particular human society (assuming that society 'takes advantage' of their special abilities) but there cannot be too many and indeed not many are needed.

The reason that high-P people are needed, but not often, is that most socially relevant problems (of population survival and expansion) are dealt-with by habitual and traditional means - the individual is socialized into the usual way of dealing with problems through childhood, and these usually work.

But most human societies have recognized (whether explicitly, or more often implicitly, tacitly, that some problems do yield to tradition or habit, and other problem do not always yield to tradition or habit - and what then?

In a nutshell, then is the time to bring in the creative specialist - the Shaman, the mystic, the intuitive priest, the scientific or inventive genius, the Holy Fool: someone who has resisted socialization and instead thinks by different rules, because he is more engaged with the inner world


So the assumption is that high-P has evolved at a low frequency by some (unknown) group-selection mechanism that leads to a reliable but rare supply of high-P individuals to do this vital but infrequent job. And part of this group-selection must also be a recognition from the majority of low-P individuals that these high-P 'oddball' or 'eccentric' individuals must be tolerated, supported, and asked for advice and guidance in certain relatively unusual circumstances when their special abilities are the best (or only) hope for group survival.

Since the supposed mechanism is group selection, and different human group shave experienced widely different selection pressures; then it is likely that high-P is not found with identical frequency everywhere. This presumably explains why creative genius is very unevenly distributed by time and geographical space - and why its frequency varies over time within the same culture - not least because group selection is always open to being subverted by individual-level selection.

This group selected nature of high-P potentially explains why creative genius is all-but absent from many continents and nations, and also why it may appear in abundance (e.g. in ancient Greece) then disappear. However since genius also requires high general intelligence (high-g) then too low an average level of g, or a decline in g, may also be a cause of declining rates of genius.

But I think it fair to say that high-P is a more crucial aspect of genius than high-g, because any high-P individual who is sufficiently higher in intelligence than the majority of his group can perfom his creative social role; while a low-P person will not be creative, no matter how high his intelligence.

So I imagine that the 'shamans' of a recent hunter gatherer tribe will typically have had an intelligence level that is high for their tribal group, but of a lower than average level for a Western nation (as measured by IQ tests). However, such (by Western standards) 'low-IQ' individuals could nonetheless perform their highly valued and effective social function - so long as they had the high-P, creative personality trait.


Also posted at:

What is the cutting-edge and primarily 'creative' part of being a genius?

It is worth noting at the outset that here I am doing science, and science rules out using supernatural explanations - so if creativity really has something to do with divine or diabolical or any other kind of spiritual inspiration (as was generally considered to be the case from the ancient Greeks and Hebrews  onward) - then this is not going to be a part of a scientific explanation. So if inspiration is real, then a scientific explanation of creativity can only be partial.

It is also - and for similar reasons - worth noting that science has, and can have, no explanation for real novelty, qualitative novelty, something absolutely new - but can only explain the present in terms of what is known of the past - so novelty will always be explained in terms such as new patterns of old facts, now shapings and combinations of previous forms and so on.

But, taking into account these limitations - how can we describe that actual, cutting edge, 'moment' of creativity - in which the creativity in itself happens?


The thing that needs to be explained with human creativity is not just novelty - newness - but useful novelty. There are an 'infinite' number of ways of being new and worse - and not many ways of being new and better - the problem is how the mind gets from the vast 'search space' of new and false ideas or new and useless discoveries to home in on true useful breakthroughs.


The mainstream idea in creativity research is associated with Dean Keith Simonton and endorsed by Hans J Eysenck in his 1995 book Genius is a variant of the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection: that useful creativity works by randomly generating large numbers of variations on old ideas, and then using memory and intelligence to test and sort through these ideas to find those few that are plausible in the light of previous knowledge and current observation.

The genius is explained at being better at making useful newness by having a Personality type which is better at generating multiple random variants of previous ideas due to having looser, wider, more far-ranging associations of ideas (which Eysenck explained in terms of the personality trait Psychoticism) - and then having high intelligence which leads to a well-stocked memory and the ability rapidly and efficiently to sort between these multiple random variants to check them for internal consistency and against previous knowledge.

This theory of creativity is coherent, but I think it is not true. The two reasons against it which seem to me decisive are 1. the open ended 'infinite' number of wrong and false ways that any random generator can produce variants, as contrasted with the finite capacity of any selection system for dealing with this endless abundance; and 2. that this description does not fit the phenomenology (inner experience) of genius at its most genius-like.


The characteristic of genius is not that of mass producing a near infinite number of failures and falsehoods; but instead an amazing swiftness and sureness of touch at creating or discovering new things that are useful and true.

The Natural Selection view of genius is that it is mostly errors and failure; and that the mental process of a genius is essentially a struggle for existence on the part of true, useful, beautiful and virtuous things against being overwhelmed by false, harmful, ugly and wicked things

But this is simply not how the greatest geniuses operate, when they are at their most genius-like! It is, indeed, almost the opposite to the subjective experience (or objective observation) of creativity.

Of course genius is not effortless - because the genius requires finding his destiny, and then embarking on a discovery 'quest' during which he fills his mind with relevant 'data; but the actual cutting-edge of creativity is an act of insight - of In-Sight - that is to say the genius usually 'sees' the answer all at once and whole, and knows by intuition that he has the right answer.

That is to say, from the mass of inner knowledge accumulated, the genius looks-within and perceives the 'one and only' answer (it may be modified in detail later - but the shape is seen as one).


What is astonishing about a genius like Mozart is how the work came to him complete; it is the facility with which they work which amazes us about so much creativity. Even when we see an artist 'struggling' - such as Beethoven - this is usually mostly a matter of an already-genius struggling to continue his work, and to be ever-original, when the pure and fertile imagination of youth has departed.

The youngest geniuses are perhaps the lyric poets - who are almost-always young men in the late teens or twenties, who fluently pour forth their songs and verses without strain or effort. Or the young mathematicians who just 'see' and 'know' things - which they may not be able to explain or prove.


So, I suggest that the creative bit of creativity does not resemble a process of trial-and-error; but is a moment of (near) instant insight; and the place it comes from is within; and the method it comes by is intuition; and intuition is a multi-faceted process including illumination, validation, conviction and drive or motivation.

The genius looks within for his answers - and when he finds the answer it is seen or felt as an over-powering insight; which floods him with a conviction of its right-ness and a desire to accept it, make it, live by it.

The above argument is continued at:

This is also also posted at: 

Desert Island Discs - Second record: Steeleye Span


One Misty Moisty Morning was the first Steeleye Span track that I heard, the first electric folk music, and it led onto the first time in my life that music became very important to me.

At the time I heard it I was, rather unhappily, 'into' underground and progressive rock music - none of which I have since regarded to with enjoyment. So I was listening to a late evening BBC radio programme which played mostly this kind of stuff - hosted by a DJ called John Peel. However, Peel had eclectic tastes and on this occasion played something from a new album by Steeleye Span: this signalled the kind of music that I had been waiting for. 

Because some time earlier I had discovered Tolkien; and that had changed my life - and the implication of Tolkien seemed very much against pop and rock music, whereas Steeleye Span sang epic ballads about elves and the supernatural, earthly songs about ordinary people such as milkmaids and sailors, and played jigs and reels and other Hobbit-like dances.

Of course, they did this with un-Tolkien-like electric instruments such as guitar, bass, violin, dulcimer... but somehow that made it better, because electric folk seemed to represent the infusion of modernity by folk influences, a saving of shallow civilization by ancient thoughts - for me, then, it seemed to be the future.

Staying with Steeleye Span I moved to explore other electric folk, and other folk music of all kinds; also I discovered medieval and renaissance music- and then Bach and Telemann as the first classical composers I engaged with, at least partly because they used the Treble Recorder which I had come to like through early music and folk.

So, this Desert Island Disc of Steeleye Span represents for me that teen period of musical exploration and expansion; during which music came to occupy a more central place in my life than before or since. And although Misty Moisty is a long way from being my favourite Span track, I do still enjoy it.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

They wanted freedom - but they got... the sexual revolution instead


If you look back at the heady days of early radicalism - which can probably be dated to the Romantic movement as it emerged in Britain with the young Coleridge and Wordsworth, and spread to Germany, the United States (Transcendentalism) and eventually everywhere else; and of socialism, communism and Leftism in general- it was apparently fuelled by a desire for freedom.

This freedom came in many forms - freedom from Kings, slavery, the lash of economic need, 'established religion' and its prohibitions and restrictions, escape from alienation into happy community - the freedom of art, literature, science to develop where it would...

It was a very big package of freedoms which were hoped for.

But nearly always, sometimes covertly or explicitly, there was a desire for sexual freedom - which means escape from the responsibilities of marriage and family, the severing of sex from marriage, new kinds of sex with new kinds of people - in essence a situation where there was a lot more no-strings sex all-round - the actuality of this for the leaders of radicalism, and the hope of it for the masses.

As the decades went by, the demands for sexual revolution became ever stronger, the the demands for other kinds of freedom began to be sacrificed to these demands more and more ruthlessly - until we get to where we are now in which the sexual revolution is the only kind of freedom.

So now there is less freedom of worship, of speech, less autonomy of marriages and families, less freedom from arbitrary prosecution and punishment and contract-breaking, less economic freedom - and in general a society absolutely stuffed to over-full with laws and regulations.

But despite the soft-totalitarianism of the world, we do have pretty much that sexual liberty the radicals practised themselves and claimed as the 'right' of others.Sex is freed from marriage, conception, and offers always expanding possibilities.

Yet, because all other freedoms have, in practice, been sacrificed to the sexual revolution - what we actually have doesn't seem very revolutionary: radical sex defined and enforced by the state bureaucracy, by state-funded agencies, in compulsory schools and en-thralled colleges; and its advocates and exponents given money, status, awards and honours - indeed, in Britain, the sexual revolutionaries are routinely medalled and ennobled by the Queen.

It is a truly extraordinary situation, in which to practice and propagandize sex is regarded as an intrinsically admirable and indeed literally noble activity; in which sexual radicalism is compulsory - sex of almost any imaginable kind, it matters little or nothing; just so long as that sex being praised and imposed is not within a true marriage and does not lead to a stable, loving and 'free' family!


Friday, 23 January 2015

Follow Your Bliss? Is everyone the genius of himself?


The mantra Follow Your Bliss comes from mythologist Joseph Campbell - he intended by it that Bliss be taken to mean something like your deepest sense of destiny - do what you feel you are 'meant' to do.

What did Campbell say would be the consequence? Essentially, that there would be unanticipated helps, that you would find doors open to allow you to progress towards your Bliss, and ultimately that your life would be happier and more fulfilled as a consequence. Perhaps also that you would do more good to others by Following Your Bliss than by directly trying to help others.


The intention behind this advice was that modern society was life-less and alienating, and that the big problem of life was to escape its soul-draining coils.

But the specific advice was very much concordant with the idea that everybody is, potentially, the genius of himself; everybody is an artist of his own life - and that this is is primary satisfaction: the idea is that we as individuals create the meaning and purpose of our own life as an artist creates it in his work. 

The proof? Essentially, all this is based on a (I would say dubious - indeed false) 'reading' of the lives of great artists, who are regarded as the paradigms of living a successful life- the best possible life. Other non-artist's lives are seen in terms of this 'aesthetic' analogy - for example the successful life of father or an ascetic Saint is seen asif it were an artistic creation designed and intended to provide the kind of complex satisfactions of a Shakespeare play or a Beethoven Symphony. And it is also assumed that complex aesthetic satisfactions are sufficient to 'justify' life.    


But this is a Catch 22 - if you need advice to Follow Your Bliss, then you are not a genius; because if you are a genius than Bliss Following is what you are doing anyway (unless something is actively stopping you) - being indeed internally-driven to do it.

Follow Your Bliss assumes that Bliss is the kind of thing that people most deeply want to follow, and they are prevented only by a lack of confidence or courage. But this would mean that the Bliss of one's own special vocation was reward enough in itself. But I don't see the slightest evidence that that is true.

Advice to Follow Bliss from someone who has been rewarded with high status, travel, adulation... well this is misleading, confusing - because these rewards are generally desired but they are not the Bliss.


What works for a genius does not work for most people, because most people do not find the Bliss of a Genius Quest to be sufficiently rewarding to make it the centre of their lives. They like the idea of being hailed as a Genius, they like the idea of doing what they most want to do and being well rewarded for doing it - but that is not what is on offer.

To follow your bliss means to give-up on the normal social rewards, in order to enhance inner rewards. Not many people want to do this, not many people have ever wanted to do it: they aren't built that way; nor is it their destiny.

Campbell was himself a kind of moderate genius, he followed his own path, for many years his rewards were internal; but he never acknowledged how unusual he himself was - and he tried to make himself an example for others to follow. This was flattering to them, no doubt - but inaccurate.

So Follow Your Bliss is - nearly always - bad advice.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

Desert Island Discs - First record: Overture to Rossini's opera The Thieving Magpie


According to the rules, the castaway can take eight records, one book (other than the Bible and Shakespeare, which are already provided) and a luxury item which must be of no practical value.

The conceit is that these should sustain life on a Desert Island, in practice the idea is to make a selection which provides pegs upon which to hang a brief biography.

I insist that my interlocutor should be the programme's originator, the gentleman-enthusiast Roy Plomley (or Roy Plum-in-the-mouth as I used to quip as a teenager).


First disc: Rossini's overture to The Thieving Magpie.

This was my favourite of four overtures featured on our family's one and only classical music record when I was a young child. I used to visualize the story of the opera (as summarized on the sleeve notes) as I listened - including a part which I added-in where a cat stalked the magpie. 

So it symbolizes my very happy early life, and the rhythm of its main theme - diddly dum-dum-dum daah - still has a function in being my favourite music used to wake up my wife and children - especially my daughter.

It is also a delightful piece of music; sunny, effortlessly tuneful, brilliantly orchestrated and very exciting!