Theory of special relativity explains how relative positions of observers can often lead to contradicting perceptions. For example, two actors who are in different inertial frames can both claim to be in a state of rest, or they both can observe that the clock possessed by the other one is running slower, or dispute the length of the stick they are carrying. The vantage point matters, but thankfully with physics we have an explanatory scheme, once we prove the consequences of space and time in special relativity we can appease both the actors.
Depending on the mental state of an observer his perspective about a drunk destitute can vary from absolute empathy to an outright contempt, to a certain degree even this perception is transient. Our emotions are also relative to some reference point, try describing happiness in absolute sense, actually a sub-saharan African nomad might just be more contented than a wall-street banker. Recently I watched a documentary which claimed the slum dwellers of Kolkata are on an average happier than the residents of the United States. Ignorance can be bliss, but it’s irrelevant because no matter how attractive this happiness may sound not many Americans will trade their suburbs for an Indian slum residence. Similarly, ranking emotive responses of various individuals after disregarding their relative mental benchmark is quite meaningless.
“We are studying mental and not physical events, and much that we believe to know about the external world is, in fact, knowledge about ourselves” – F.A.Hayek
In “Human Action” Ludwig von Mises elaborates on the epistemological problems of historical interpretations, and rightly so, because no matter how unbiased a writer might be his narrative has to be from a vantage point determined by the particular facts he had prioritized and picked for analysis. We can logically classify information as relevant only based on our relative experience and exposure to various coherent abstract patterns. For example, a person unaware of a right-angled triangle can never classify the structure nor derive its Pythagorean properties, for him it might be just another triangle. Our comprehension is indeed relative to the recognizable abstract structures developed in our mind, rest becomes incomprehensible jitters. Why do you think every time you reread a book or go back and listen to your favorite song you discover something novel?
Named for St. Cecilia, patroness of music and the arts, this blog, Spirit of Cecilia, highlights music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film. These fields of enjoyment and expression are creative and interactive, requiring both a transmitter and a recipient to achieve their fullest potential and profoundest effects.
It’s my hope that these fields, which we might usefully and with slight reservation label the humanities, can accomplish far more than partisan politics to expand the frontiers of knowledge and deepen our understanding of ourselves as human beings created by an awesome God. Anger is not a constructive starting point for connecting with strangers or political opponents if the goal is mutual understanding. Hard logic puts strangers and political opponents on the defensive, causing them to question the logician’s motives and work through whatever problems and challenges the logician has presented. But aesthetics: they provide pleasure and the kind of sensory experience in which people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs share and delight. This is not a grand claim about the universality of standards of beauty but rather a plain statement about the obvious draw of humans to phenomena that stir in them strange and wonderful emotions, that cause them to think about the timeless questions that the greatest minds over the centuries have contemplated with differing degrees of gravity and intensity. The fact that we have music, art, poetry, fiction, history, biography, and film at all suggests a certain commonality among human likes and desires across places and cultures.
I am an administrator in a law school, a recovering lawyer you might say, who happens to have earned a doctorate in English. I am grateful to Dr. Bradley Birzer for including me as a contributor to the Spirit of Cecilia and have high hopes for what it can achieve. Life is difficult for everyone at some time or another. Wouldn’t it be great if this site were a forum where friendships are built, ideas are exchanged civilly and in good faith, and a profound awareness of our shared humanity served as the predicate for our interpretations and communications? I look forward to writing in this space. May it flourish.
A verve-acious blog pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful and taking seriously music, art, poetry, fiction, essays, and film.
Guided by the Spirit of St. Cecilia, patroness of the arts. Featuring the writing of Carl Olson, Father Jay Watson, Paul Watson, Dedra Birzer, Bryan Morey, Kevin McCormick, Stephen Catanzarite, Tad Wert, Erik Heter, and more.