Posts by Nate

    That's really fascinating! The opinions of laity really differ from the opinions of learned clergy, like Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and even Evangelic preachers. A lot of Christians have absolutely no interest in exploring the history of the tradition to which they claim obsessive allegiance, and it shows when they not only lack knowledge of other religious traditions, but utterly misinterpret their own theology. For example, recently, I learned that the idea of an "immortal soul" isn't compatible with classical Christian theology – that's a misinterpretation of contemporary Christians who view their tradition through the lens of pop culture, filtered further by Greek and Latin renderings of Hebrew and Aramaic literature.

    To flesh out that statement, the word "soul", as used throughout the Bible (especially the Old Testament), is never connected with the concept of a life force disconnected from the human body. That idea seems to come from Plato's concept of the intellect, and perhaps, shaped by Gnostic literature from the first few centuries which utterly rejected the reality of material forms. Within the literature, the "soul" called Adam did not exist until God injected part of his Spirit into dust, and formed the first human. While "immortality" is used extensively with regards to the Christian afterlife, it indicates a resurrection of the human form, including the personality, and physical traits the individual developed throughout life, not just a glowing ball of spirit that floats out of the body for judgement after the body dies.

    Another fun tidbit I came across has to do with the popular interpretation of the character called Lucifer. He doesn't exist – I mean, not just to people like us, but within the context of the Bible, itself. "Lucifer" was only ever employed to refer to planet Venus. Church Fathers who wrote several hundred years after the Biblical canon, began to poetically connect the concept of Satan (represented as an adversarial dragon, thrown from Heaven) with the unique movements of Venus during morning hours. Even so, the notion of Lucifer as an angel thrown from Heaven for disobeying God is simply not an idea theologians believed. It was a medieval metaphor that took on a life of its own in contemporary pop culture.

    ... but walk into any Church and ask any random person "who is Lucifer?" and "what is the soul?", and they'll provide explanations and definitions that are completely incompatible with the theology to which most Christian clergymen subscribe. Their conception of Lucifer is most likely informed by popular media they've seen; their conception of the Soul comes also categorically from Plato's conception of the Intellect, a conception that Catholic priests (specifically) reject, because of the Church's need to distance itself from the impurities of the "pagan" philosophies of ancient Greece.

    We also see this in the "miracle" of the resurrection – what is significant about this event is that Jesus' physical form was supposed to have been literally raised from the dead, not just a disembodied soul that is separate from the body. Furthermore, one of the classical ideas of early theology supposed that Hell is not the negative to Heaven's positive, in which Satan rules as King, versus God's Kingship over Heaven. Rather, Hell is the historical default state of not-having-an-afterlife (like a kind of nothingness), not a place of torture and punishment as depicted in contemporary media; but if you ask most Christian laity, they believe Hell is like the unbearably hot inside of a volcano, full of meddlesome demons (where'd they even come from?), which would suggest a negative afterlife, and not simply no-afterlife.

    All that being said, there are hundreds of Christian denominations, billions of Christians, and thousands of clergymen, so opinions differ. Nonetheless, the aforementioned descriptions are closer to classical Christian theology, whereas the opinions of most contemporary Christian laypeople is closer to something you'd see in The Exorcist, the Passion of the Christ, and the Supernatural series on TV (which my wife and I have been watching).

    Since The Economist requires a subscription, you can't click on then link to access it. However, if you do a Google search for the title of the article in a private tab, the text will load long enough to copy/paste it all.

    "In Catherine Wilson’s manual on 'the ancient art of living well', her guide is the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who advocated a calm life of modest pleasure. By explaining how the world was, he thought philosophy could show people how to live. Ms Wilson, an Epicurus specialist, agrees. Her intelligent and readable book lies, she says, somewhere between technical philosophy and “advice columns”.

    To latter-day secularists, Epicurus’s formula for a happy life has obvious appeal. Step one was to see the world for what it was. Everything was made of matter, including mind and spirit. The only life was this one. The gods took no interest in humans and were neither vindictive nor demanding. Life’s aim was happiness, understood as tranquil pleasure and freedom from pain. The pain that most concerned Epicurus was 'mental terror': anxieties rooted in false beliefs about 'the nature of things' (the title of the grand philosophical poem by his Roman follower, Lucretius). Step two was applying such knowledge to human existence. That meant not expecting too much, finding simple satisfactions and not agonising about mortality.

    Epicurus opened his school, the Garden, outside Athens early in the 3rd century bce. Followers, it was said, included women and slaves. None of his 300 or more works survive; his thoughts came down through Lucretius and, later, biographers.

    Christian thinkers considered him an atheist and amoralist. In Jewish tradition, 'apikoiros' meant a heretic. Dante put Epicureans in hell for denying the soul’s immortality. In popular lore, Epicurus was patron to gluttons, publicans and brothelkeepers. The 'sensualist' slur stuck. Later 'epicure' came to mean an aesthete or foodie. Epicurus’s scientific speculations—on atomism and natural selection—sound uncannily modern but rested on brilliant inference, not experiment. Read today, the detail sounds barmy.

    The life-advice, by contrast, sounds like common sense for people thrown onto their own ethical resources without traditional guidance, as is widespread now. Epicureanism spread as the Greek city-state fell into decline, empires emerged and social authority grew distant and impersonal. Although Ms Wilson does not stress it, the parallel with the current disoriented mood is striking.

    In her book’s first part, she sketches Epicurus’s proto-democratic world-view. The senses, which are the source of knowledge, are common to all and reliable. Each knows what pleases or pains them. As people know their own minds, they cannot easily be bossed about by presumed betters.

    'Living well and living justly', part two, builds on the Epicurean picture of morality as useful rules for reducing harm. Be canny about your pleasures. Don’t stress over worldly success. Be good to friends. Enjoy sex but beware its risks. Don’t expect too much of parenthood. Above all, stop worrying about death. As Dryden put it, when translating Lucretius:

    'What has this bugbear death to frighten man,

    If souls can die as well as bodies can?…

    From sense of grief and pain we shall be free

    We shall not feel because we shall not be.'

    In her last two parts, Ms Wilson probes the philosophical underpinnings. A handy, schematic table contrasts Epicureans and Stoics. Ms Wilson notes Epicurean contempt for religious superstition, self-serving clergy and faith-based warfare, but sees common ground with believers in the shared conviction that 'morality matters'.

    She notes and answers doubts that have dogged Epicureanism, but urges readers to make up their own mind. Is death truly no harm? After all, it cuts short plans, projects and responsibilities which give lives purpose. For his part, Stoic Cicero complained that Epicurus wanted happiness to be both virtuous and pleasant. Yet being fair, firm or a good friend—to take three common-or-garden virtues—need not be pleasant and may be taxing. Can everything today’s liberal-minded Epicureans tend to approve of—human rights, abortion, social justice—really be reconciled with the idea that pleasure is all?

    Floating over Epicureanism, for all its appeal, is a sense of loneliness. Family life is inessential. Friends are merely instrumental. Everything comes back to “How is this for me?” Perhaps not philosophy but an over-defensive temperament is at work. Could it be that in arming themselves so well against life’s anxieties, Epicureans overlook its riches?"

    This reminds me of the Romulus and Remus Hypothesis which suggests that recursive language was created by two or more children who carried a genetic mutation that gave them the opportunity to develop their prefrontal cortex about seventy-thousand years ago. They note that complex structures, symbolic paintings, ceremonial artifacts, and the beginning of religion only appear after this period. They conclude that the distinguishing feature of a modern human is an active imagination. […of-human-imagination.aspx]

    In general, it was much more faux pas for ancient Greeks to claim hedonism than atheism, which was a fairly acceptable theological position to take (and Epicureans were very comfortable claiming hedonism). It is not likely that they were trying to avoid charges of impiety, especially when Epicurus expressed that he "never yearned to please the masses since what pleased them was not understood by me, and what I knew was remote from their comprehension".

    It's reasonable to suppose – in an infinite universe – that beings who enjoy perfect, constant pleasure (or, in other words, beings who enjoy atomic blessedness) can exist. If it were not the case, and such a being could not exist, then it might be foolish for us to pursue pleasure in the first place, because it would be fundamentally limited.

    It's just weird for us to think about a "God" that (1) is not responsible for creation or creative acts, (2) does not set a moral standard for the cosmos, (3) does not care about humanity, (4) does not judge, reward, or punish us, and (5) a "God" that cannot perform supernatural acts. Monotheism has really ruined some rather interesting definitions and conceptions of "God" and "the gods", because we default to thinking about theology only within the context of monotheism.

    Part of nature is knowing our limitations. Epicurus wasn't omnipotent, and such a concept is abominable to us. Recognition of humbleness, of curiosity, of our continued commitment to explore, to learn, to grow, and prosper is as natural as anything. We're not here to provide an answer to the ultimate questions of speculative metaphysics. We're here to learn, and that means challenging ourselves, revising our mistakes, and persisting in our search, even when the inevitable acknowledgment of our smallness and ignorance leads us to despair. As Merlin says in "The Once and Future King":

    "'The best thing for being sad,' replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, 'is to learn something. That's the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then – to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.'"

    Our pursuit is pleasure – raw, unadulterated, invaluable pleasure. I say: leave the exactitude of "infinity" to the mathematicians. While they juggle with abstractions, we tan in the sun, and sip a cool drink with a friend.

    I'd say it's about the willingness they show to learn new things, and the enthusiasm they demonstrate through a conversation. If they've already decided what Epicurean philosophy is, and who we are, and they are unwilling to learn about the principle doctrines, then we'll have better luck communicating with our beloved pets.

    If they are unwilling, I think an appropriate response is to share Principle Doctrine 39, which demonstrates that Epicureans have no desire to instigate a fight for the sake of winning a fight. Unlike many religious traditions, our understanding is independent of the faiths of idealists. Nature is the greatest teacher, and God is an absent teacher.

    Another helpful point for detractors and antagonists to learn is that Epicurean physics functionally explains the world for all perspectives. You don't have to believe in Epicurean philosophy for physics to be universally applicable. Rejecting gravity doesn't nullify it; but God doesn't work unless you join his fan club. Atomism works, no matter who you are.

    The same can be said of our ethics. God doesn't tell you to go to the bathroom, your bowels do. God doesn't tell you to eat, your stomach does. The Bible doesn't tell you when to sleep, your body does. No idealists out there claim to rely on Divine Reminders to satisfy their natural needs and cravings. Unilateral faith does not change one's needs.

    Until an intelligent, humanoid extraterrestrial breaks bread with a fundamentalist, their crowd will deny the tools that we will use to verify any extraterrestrial existence – they will do so in the same way that the Inquisition refused to look through Galileo's telescope, and justified it by suggesting that the new tool was fallacious, and contained witchcraft.

    Even then, even if they were abducted, or had a full conversation with an extraterrestrial in their own language, they would still only choose to understand them within the context of religious mythology. They might say that the creature is one of God's righteous angels, or they may identify them as fallen angels (I think the latter, most likely).

    The tendency of a fundamentalist is to reject the vocabulary of the contemporary era to digest new discoveries. They will always reduce their understanding to one that must, necessarily be compatible with an inerrant, religious framework.

    I received a terse reply:

    I said you sound like one [a religious fanatic] not that you are one, important distinction.

    Also, do you know history? Do you know the importance of Christianity? It built the western world. It is anything but irrational. I recommend you do some research on the impact of Christianity. You seem to be one of those internet atheists that knows no respect and continously bash other peoples faith, the same faith their ancestors had.

    You saying that having a faith means you are unable to reason, are superstitious and have a risky sort of thinking? It seems like you truly don't know what you are talking about. The greatest scientists, name it, was man of faith.

    What can a person, a normal person do besides "thoughts and prayers"? Oh a hurricane happened? you want them to send their entire savings to that cause instead? what would you do? donate $10? oh please. For those saying "thoughts and prayers" it actually means something for them. Of course you wouldn't know that with your 200IQ God of Reason mentality.

    I took this as a teaching opportunity, and responded without taking the sarcastic bait:

    It sounds like you're having a really rough time in life. I'm sorry if that is the case! I can certainly empathize. No worries, though! Let's turn this into a learning experience!

    Typically, when I start throwing insults at complete strangers, it's because I am dissatisfied with my own circumstances, and am acting irrationally. I think you can benefit from digesting Epicurus' 39th Principle Doctrine. He recommends:

    "He who best knew how to meet fear of external foes made into one family all the creatures he could; and those he could not, he at any rate did not treat as aliens; and where he found even this impossible, he avoided all association, and, so far as was useful, kept them at a distance."

    Life is about pleasure, and instigating conflict with a complete stranger is a sure way to distance yourself from happiness. If you cannot treat me with decency, then, like I respectfully requested before, "keep it to yourself".

    There is no benefit to making enemies, and even less benefit to instigating conflict with them. If you have decided that I am your antagonist, and cannot treat me with respect, then, like Epicurus suggests, keep me at a distance.


    Absolutely––I watch it for encouragement:

    (The language contains some seeds of nationalism, so I'm including the bits that inspire me, regardless of national identity; and, I think, the attitude can inspire others as well.)

    With regards to Epicurean philosophy, it particularly reminds me of the courage and boldness of Epicurus to have founded a school against the prevailing ideologies of the time, and the hardships against which he struggled.

    "We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a State noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. [...] condense, if you will, the 50,000 years of man¹s recorded history in a time span of but a half-century. Stated in these terms, we know very little about the first 40 years, except at the end of them advanced man had learned to use the skins of animals to cover them. Then about 10 years ago, under this standard, man emerged from his caves to construct other kinds of shelter. Only five years ago man learned to write and use a cart with wheels. Christianity began less than two years ago. The printing press came this year, and then less than two months ago, during this whole 50-year span of human history, the steam engine provided a new source of power. Newton explored the meaning of gravity. Last month electric lights and telephones and automobiles and airplanes became available. Only last week did we develop penicillin and television and nuclear power, and now if America's new spacecraft succeeds in reaching Venus, we will have literally reached the stars before midnight tonight. [...] Surely the opening vistas of space promise high costs and hardships, as well as high reward. So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But [...] this [...] was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them [but] by those who moved forward - and so will space.

    William Bradford, speaking in 1630 of the founding of the Plymouth Bay Colony, said that all great and honorable actions are accompanied with great difficulties, and both must be enterprised and overcome with answerable courage. [...] man, in his quest for knowledge and progress, is determined and cannot be deterred. [...] it is one of the great adventures of all time [...] We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained [...] But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? [...] We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too. [...] The growth of our science and education will be enriched by new knowledge of our universe and environment, by new techniques of learning and mapping and observation, by new tools and computers for industry, medicine, the home as well as the school. [...] if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun [...] and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out - then we must be bold. [...] Many years ago the great British explorer George Mallory, who was to die on Mount Everest, was asked why did he want to climb it. He said, "Because it is there." Well, space is there, and we're going to climb it, and the moon and the planets are there, and new hopes for knowledge and peace are there. [...]"

    I mentioned it in passing at the end of July, but a large section of Kennedy's "Moon Speech" to Rice University really encourages Epicurean attitudes, so I whole-heartedly agree that astronauts are great points of focus to use.




    De Rerum Natura; I : 72-74

    Being hypoglycemic, fasting becomes dangerous for me within 4-6 hours.

    This is a good example of the importance of the individualized, hedonic calculus.

    I tend to identify with Cassius, that I associate fasting with Christian monasticism and Indian ascetic practices, which marginalize the importance of the body. Clearly though, there seem to be reasonable applications.

    I suspect our general capacity to tolerate fasting corresponds with the evolution of hunter-gatherers and agriculturalists. Hunter-gatherers would have had to have adapted to days of movement without significant calorie intake. If we weren't engineered to "fast" at a certain level, we would never have made effective hunters. Similarly, agriculturalists had to wait for the maturation of crops; a dry season could lead to a dangerous decrease in calorie intake. Fasting––as a physical act, removed from the theological context––seems to be a trait that many humans would have been forced into through multiple periods of natural history. It seems likely that a large portion of contemporary people have inherited this tolerance.

    So, even though my mind associates [ fasting = illness],it seems reasonable that others could benefit from whichever physiological switches click according to the anticipated response in our bodies––BINGO. I didn't even mean to use that word, but, again, it seems automatic to acknowledge that our genetic nature "anticipates" the possibility of fasting, and is geared to respond to the emergence of this possibility according to billions of years of genetic "anticipation".

    Surely, there are some positives to fasting for many.

    I can agree that the intentional, storytelling art of sound we call music does not have "by itself" any inherent "power" besides the mechanical energy of a waveform, because music requires an audience who can interface with the acoustic narrative. If––like the crew of the Voyager––we are unable to interface with a composition that seems alien, then the narrative will be lost to us; thus, the "power" of music is only apparent to the human soul which interfaces with it. To those who can interface, the "power" is in our minds' ability to remember, and to imagine (not some mystical dimension or forms).

    It's exactly like spoken language: if Elli speaks to me in Greek (of which I am not fluent), then my experience of her speech is simply the experience of a human female making labial, alveolar, velar, and glottal noises from her mouth, in my direction. Her words (music) therein have no "power" (because I cannot interface with them), and are reduced to grunts (sound). Certainly, if her grunts are meant to convey "Run! There's a fire!" then her words would have enough "power" to stir my soul to pump adrenaline through my muscles so I can escape the flames (but that's my mind, not her noises).

    Sound "by itself" can only stir the senses to perceive. Indeed, it "'is unthinkable [...] that sounds which merely move the irrational hearing [faculty] should contribute'" or, conversely, corrupt the virtue nested within the soul of the listener. The soul's capacity to process mechanical energy through the eardrum, and relay it as various volumes of pitches does not require the mind to identify those mechanical impulses as anything except for the experience of processing mechanical energy as sound. Agreeably, "it is impossible to imitate things by voice and sounds; it is only possible to imitate their voices and sounds", because an event is an event, not a sound. Only a sound is a sound. Only a song is a song––that's why the music that does have "power" over us is what we remember from youth: it's not music anymore, it's memory.

    This observation also demonstrates how violent video games are not the cause of mass shootings, and why gangster rap is not responsible for inner city violence––only personalities who can interface with that media can cause violence. The media, itself, is without any inherent moral or ethical dimension. We don't have any 'Justice' bosons that create 'Moral Fields' in which those ethical particles can be measured. The "power" of these things begins and ends with the subject's mind. "[I]t is possible for varying impressions to be received corresponding to predispositions".

    I wish Philodemus were still around to tell Marvel and DC fans to respect each others: "[T]hus both in the case of the [scales] people differ, not in respect of the irrational perception, but in respect of their opinions [...], some [...] saying that [one] is solemn and noble and straightgorward and pure, and the [other] unmanly and vulgar and mean, while others call the [one] severe and despotic, and the [other] mild and persuasive; both sides importing ideas which do not belong to either scale by nature."

    The author elaborates on a few things I mentioned in the original posts, where Plato calls the Phrygian mode sober and resigned, while Aristotle thought it to be "ecstatic". He includes another anecdote that "'Plato associated our modern key of C major with sorrow, weakness and self-indulgence, while Helmholz associates it with brightness and strength, and Pauer with purity, innocence, manliness, and other virtues." For context, John Lennon's song "Imagine" was written in C major. As one of his sources wrote, "'the whole matter is one of subjective imagination [...] based in the first instance on association'".

    It sounds like Musicis is to Acoustics what Astrology and Alchemy are to Astronomy and Chemistry. We can expect materialists to be critical of the musicis tradition––it attempted to equate the moral ideals implied by spoken words with the geometric ratios of acoustic instrumentation. Philodemus was correct to accuse the practitioner of this tradition of "'seeking a knowledge of the non-existent'", just as Epicureans were correct to accuse Platonists of seeking non-existent Forms, and correct to accuse religious populations of superstitiously responding to delusional fears.

    Philodemus responding to Platonic and Peripatetic interpretations of modes reads to me like a physicist in the 1990s using a technical analysis of acoustics to show Biggie Smalls and Tupac how stupid the East Coast-West Coast hip hop rivalry was. Music, itself, is not emotional, because we are emotional. Music, itself, is not ethical, because we are the agents of ethics.

    Let me add these to visually demonstrate the thesis: "Majors" and "Minors" are subjective reflections of our language and culture, and not of an inherent mathematical purity.

    For example, consider all notes modeled on a circle that grows as it proceeds, like a spiral. Consider it spirals from the center. Now, consider, like a clock with 12 hours, that each tick-mark represents a different note of 12 tones.

    If we diagram a "Major" chord, being the root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth, it looks like this:


    If we diagram a "Minor" chord, being the root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth, it looks like this:


    BUT, if we diagram the messy, weird-sounding "Augmented" chord, we have perfect symmetry:


    So, there isn't something physically pure about "Majors" and "Minors"––they just work really well with classical music, and contemporary, popular music (to our ears). Plato and Aristotle would have heard the "Major" chord to be absolute garbage (sort of how we hear an augmented chord), while they may have found the weird, augmented chord to be rather beautiful.

    Let me add these to visually demonstrate the thesis: "Majors" and "Minors" are subjective reflections of our language and culture, and not of an inherent mathematical purity.

    For example, consider all notes modeled on a circle that grows as it proceeds, like a spiral. Consider it spirals from the center. Now, consider, like a clock with 12 hours, that each tick-mark represents a different note of 12 tones.

    If we diagram a "Major" chord, being the root note, a major third, and a perfect fifth, it looks like this:

    A Major Chord (Ray Diagram).png

    If we diagram a "Minor" chord, being the root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth, it looks like this:

    A Minor Chord (Ray Diagram).png

    BUT, if we diagram the messy, weird-sounding "Augmented" chord, we have perfect symmetry:

    A Augmented Chord (Ray Diagram).png

    So, there isn't something physically pure about "Majors" and "Minors"––they just work really well with classical music, and contemporary, popular music (to our ears). Plato and Aristotle would have heard the "Major" chord to be absolute garbage (sort of how we hear an augmented chord), while they may have found the weird, augmented chord to be rather beautiful.

    One final addition: there is a tremendous correspondance between sound, and evolutionary history. We're queued-in to listen to certain high pitches, because that is the sound our infants make. Cats know this, so they mimic the pitch of infants to get human attention. We have a tendency to appreciate rhythm, and low, percussive noises because––among other things––it acted as a social bonding mechanism for primate species. There are a number of evolutionary adaptations to music, and probably, the most important one is the development of speech as a way to communicate.

    However, I do not believe that ancient, evolutionary history impacts our perception of "major" and "minor". I assign responsibility to Pythagoras, and the Renaissance's refinement of his ideas.

    There are a variety of others, and I'd like to share my personal, artistic analysis of each of the twelve notes' relationship to the dominant root, or tonic, which determines the key of the song, and the relative starting point.

    r - This is our root, the Tonic, wherein any interval is in Perfect Unison. This is our setting, and our context.

    b2 - This is our minor 2nd, a perversion that mutates and distorts.

    sus2 - This is our major 2nd, a cushion that clouds, buffers, thickens, layers.

    m3 - This is our minor 3rd, a shadow which darkens, saddens, weighs, and depresses.

    3 - This is our major 3rd, a light that brightens, lightnes, gladdens, and empowers.

    sus4 - This is a perfect 4th, a reassurance that polishes, reinforces, and encourages.

    dim5 - This is our diminished fifth, an opposition that contradicts, opposes, sickens, and poisons

    P5 - This is our perfect 5th, a strength that dominates, reinforces, supports, cradles, and extends.

    m6 - This is our minor 6th, the augmentation that hints, twists, puzzles, and complicates.

    6 - This is our 6th, an enchantment that intoxicates and romanticizes.

    m7 - This is our minor 7th, a playful invitation that loosens and challenges.

    M7 - This is our major 7th, a beautiful, softening that inspires memory, familiarity, yet hesitation.

    r - We're back to our root, refreshed, balanced, centered, at musical equilibrium––we are home.

    Plato and Aristotle both came up with their own version of this. So did Goethe. (So has your mind!)

    Even looking through my old, written scribbles (which is where this comes from), I unintentionally use the word "shadow" with "minor" (when we say "minor" we are always specifically referring to the "minor 3rd"), and "light" with "major" (when we say "major" we are always specifically referring to the "major 3rd"). If each note is a character, then the Major Character and the Minor Character have the biggest personalities––so, too, do pleasure and pain. The root defines our position, and the "major" or "minor" determines our disposition. Everything else is a commentary on that disposition––in my completely subjective opinion . I herein purport that "Major" and "Minor" are––in a generalized sense––the values that we can, as a collective culture, identify as being the best reflections of pleasure, and of pain.

    Again, though, at some point, we're all just aliens on different planets. That's why we all have unique musical tastes, and interpret those very slight nuances in chord structure quite differently. However, like culture, there are dominant trends that seem to direct our thought through the use of common language.

    That is why "major" is "happy", and "minor" is "sad".

    So where do "majors" and "minors" fit into all of this? Prior to the Renaissance period, we would not have described any of the ratios that determine pitch by "major" and "minor". "Major-ness" and "minor-ness" come from tri-tones, or, a chord (multiple tones played simultenously) that changes the form of a sin wave. Prior to the Renaissance period, we weren't playing with tri-tones. Monks from the Medieval period mostly sang melodies with no accompaniment, and it took hundreds of years to develop the concept of "harmony". Western music didn't become what we hear today, with multiple instruments and movements, until the late-Renaissance period. While there are truly fascinating mathematical patterns in music theory, and while we can diagram each and every note, interval, and chord by a rather elegant mathematics, our perception of "major-ness" and "minor-ness" largely originates from philosophers who attempted to equate emotional qualities from acoustic structures. Ultimately, music is rooted in language and culture, and our music is rooted in Renaissance-era refinement of Pythagorean theory (you can see how completely appropriate this topic is for Epicureans. Literally, the revival of classical materialism lead to a revision of idealistic music theory to the messy, emotional, assymetrical music we know and love, today). Plato was one of the first to attempt to metaphysically link music and the human soul (and managed to be an uncompromising authoritarian while doing so). Without getting into a discussion of ancient Greek "modes" (which deserves its own thread), Plato considered––for example––the Mixolydian mode, in which the Seikilos Epitaph was written, to be an "effeminate" mode, that "discourages men" from "action". If he were around today, Plato would have been making speeches alongside Lynne Cheney and Tipper Gore to ban hip-hop, rap, metal, hard rock, punk––you name it. A lot of philosophers spent time assigning emotional qualities to mathematical ratios. Aristotle wasn't a cultural totalitarian like Plato, but he was equally prejudiced against certain forms of music. Of the Mixolydian Mode he said that it makes me "sad and grave". Fuck him, and fuck Plato. The Seikilos Epitaph is beautiful, and I think the Memento Mori expressions are empowering. But, within the context of our own bodies, we're both right.

    Now, I want to spend some time discussing my own, subjective music theory.

    There is nothing inherently absolute about "majors" and "minors", anymore than there is about "fifths" or "sevenths" or "sustained seconds" or "sustained fourths", with the sole exception––by the theory I derived–– of "augmentations". An augmentation has exactly three notes between each note, all the way up, and down the musical spectrum. It is the only one that does this. Also, it sounds weird, and really gross if you just play it by itself without context. It sounds like a mess. It is also more symmetrical to modern music than any of the other sounds. Many of us suppose a "major" chord to be the "correct" sound. It's not. It's no more special than a "minor", or than a "minor second", which also sounds like a weird perversion. My point here is that––in my opinion––any mathematically perfect chords in contemporary music ... sound gross. Now, grotesque sounds have a time, and a place, and, depending on what's around them, relatively, can actually sound beautiful. But that too is highly subjective. But human life isn't about perfect ideals. Maybe the Star Trek aliens like music to be written with correspondance to Prime Numbers, but we don't. Our lives are hormonal, sweaty, happy, horny, hungry, scared, frightened, elated, and empowered. Our music reflects the diversity of our lives.

    And, to get back to Cassius' original question, if I can answer this succinctly, "major" and "minor" are what they are because the expression of happiness (pleasure), and the expression of sadness (pain) represent the range of our colorful spectrum of our human experience, and have identified the sound of pleasure with brightness, light, gladness, and empowerment, while we identify that sound of pain as a shadow that darkens, weighs, and depresses. Subjectively, this language corresponds with the subjective experience of those sounds. So, we queue-in on those two chord structures.

    [Edit by Cassius: This thread was started in response to my asking about Major and Minor key, which came up in the discussion of Romanze in Moll (the Romance in Minor Key" movie. I asked:  Nate if you get a chance to glance at this thread: Can you explain to a non-musician like me what "minor key" is and how it is musically able to evoke sadness, as opposed to major key? I will look this up on Wikipedia but I would be interested in your comment.]

    Yes! So, to dive into this, I'd like to talk about two, different, creative arenas.

    First, we have an immediate phenomenology of music: what is music, and how do we experience music?

    Second, we need to explore the cultural environment in which the appearance of structures like "major", and "minor" arise (because they are not, themselves, universal variables). Furthermore, I'll discuss "major" and "minor" specifically, to explain why those two structures (of many) are the most useful examples for non-musicians to regularly cite to acknowledge how human emotion corresponds with soundwaves.

    First, what is music? Music is a storytelling art in which music-listeners accept sound as the medium through which the story is told; jumping deeper, sound is the reverberation of mechanical energy and, physically, mechanical energy is a sin wave. So, phenomenologically, music, as we experience it, is the story our minds spin when the mind anticipates patterns in the sin waves of mechanical energy (captured by the fleshy satellite dishes on either side of our cranium). Most of the time, we assume music to be an artificially-generated (i.e. intentional) composition––this is not always true, for Nature, itself, is inherently musical. The parts of our brain that register auditory impulses are simply looking for periodic (regularly patterned) sound waves. While most sounds we hear in nature are aperiodic (irregularly patterned) sound waves (which we call technically refer to as "noise"), that does not mean that natural patterns do not exist. For example, consider the "Wow! signal" [!_signal ]––which, in this case, deals with electromagnetic, and not mechanical waveforms, but still demonstrates the point, which is that the mind starts writing stories when it begins anticipating patterns, regardless of whether or not those patterns were intentionally-generated. To summarize, music is the story that our minds spin, according to the patterns it interprets and anticipates from sound waves.

    Next, let's explore the perceived structures of music. Starting a few levels of scale above atoms, let's first acknowledge that our ears (the hosts of our internal auditorium) will only identify mechanical energy that vibrates between 20 and 20,000 Hz. That's the full sonic spectrum with which we have to paint. But we don't use that full spectrum––the full spectrum sometimes looks like 'Waves Crashing On Rocks' or 'Volcanic Explosions', a lot of musical colors (notes) that, together, just create dissatisfying messes of mutually-indistinguishable farts. Herein, the musician's job is to select a few musical colors (notes) that most adequately express the acoustic picture they are trying to audibly paint. Like the colors of the rainbow, which reduce the visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation vibrating between 430 and 770 THz to "Roy G. Biv", we identify the audible spectrum of sound by symbolic qualia. For example, the mind of a painter does not mathematically register light at 430 THz, but it does artistically know precisely what deep red looks like. Similarly, the mind of a musician does not mathematically register sound at 440 Hz, but we know exactly how 'Middle A' sounds. The qualitaties we use to express anticipatory patterns of mechanical energy (the C note), as with light (the color Red), correspond with cultural-linguistic symbols. So when we're talking about "major" and "minor", we need to discuss it within the system we call modern, "Western" music theory, and its antecedent.

    Once upon a time, Pythagoras realized that you can "double" the frequency (highness or lowness––pitch) of a plucked string by halving its length. In modern language, an example would be middle 'A'––it works out mathematically that 880 Hz is the 'A' immediately above the middle 'A' at 440 Hz––Pythagoras certainly loved numbers, which is where we derive the flexible number '12' notes per set of repeating values (12 is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6, and that was ... I don't know ... a source of arousal for Pythagoras? He based his entire music theory off of the ratio 3:2, which deserves a thread all on its own, but that's getting off-topic) . The original Hz for each note was based off of an explicit, mathematical ratio ... without delving into the volumes of information that describes the evolution of tuning, and the history of tones in Western music, let's just conclude that, by the 18th-century, musicians were using the standard tuning that we use today, because, earlier, purely ratio-based tunings would lead to ... sounds that aren't pleasing to contemporary ears (as unusual as I'm sure contemporary music would seem to ancient ears). I'm bringing up the following because we're Epicureans, and this provides some philosophical context into the history of music: in terms of metaphysics, Pythagoras freaked out when he realized that the very aesthetically pleasing number '2' did not have a perfect square root; similarly, he rejected certain pitches that could not be defined by the ratios of pure integers. This lead to an attempt, for centuries, by philosophers to harmonize number theory, music theory, humor theory, and celestial science––so we get weird ideas like the Celestial Spheres, and the Perfect Forms of the Heavens that correspond with ratios which sound is capable of audibly expressing. That is just an example of how the ancient Greek search for 'ideal forms' can generate mathematical ideals that may not be subjectively pleasing (at least, not to many of us).

    There's this brilliant episode of Star Trek: Voyager that beautifully demonstrates this: a planet of non-musical humanoids accidentally hear the ship's doctor sing an operatic piece. They are inspired by the music––utterly inspired. The inspiration echoes throughout the planet, and many of the alien beings begin attempting to emulate the operatic voice they so loved. Now, while these beings didn't sponsor the subjective art of sound we call music, they did have an advanced understanding of number theory, so they could only comfortable interface with human music through an intentional analysis of mathematics (like good old Pythagoras). Twenty minutes of plot or so later, the doctor becomes dismayed to find that he is no longer a planetary celebrity: local musicians have––according to their own tastes––surpassed the doctor's operatic baritone. The doctor is hurt, but respectfully agrees to attend a performance to which he has been invited. He sits with other crewmates, and they listen with anticipation ... and, to the surprise of their anticipatory minds, the alien opera sounds like abysmal trash. Rather than making the subjective switch that Renaissance and Modern artists made, the aliens took a queue from Pythagoras, and employed advanced differential equations to determine which notes would be sung, and in which order they would be arranged. To the crew, it sounded like a comptuer generating tones according to a string of prime numbers, which, though being intentionally-composed, periodic sound waves (i.e. music) has no ability to tell humans a story––it just comes off as a brown fart. What I want to convey with this example is that the aliens most certainly had "a specific musical structure that corresponds to the subjective expeirence of pain " as well as "a specific musical structure that corresponds to the subjective expeirence of pleasure", but they weren't the same physical structures as "major" and "minor", which technically do not even have relevance to all human populations, but only those that can interface with the music tradition since the 18th-century.