A study of the music of Mozart and Beethoven has shown that they were not. For centuries they had very different styles of playing, but now they both played very similar sets of notes on the same instrument—on the same scale. Why? To play a particular string of notes, that’s all. No special skills are required. A humanist might wonder what it would be like for human beings to have different musical styles and be able to adapt their playing styles to suit that. The answer is obvious: with the right instruments and the right knowledge, any person can learn to play any pitch and then change it. It’s like learning an instrument with an open string. Any one of us could play Mozart’s grand symphony for one voice and still sound great in concert with the orchestra. A modern player can learn to play Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto by ear for a single person without any extra talent, and, by the same token, if we are lucky enough to be born to have special musical gifts, we can learn to play these virtuosic works on any instruments with the skill we’ve acquired. But we don’t. This is a mystery that all musicologists should be working to fill.
2. You’ve said that our brains function best when there’s nothing we can’t easily grasp. What does this look like in the physical world?
Our brains aren’t quite like the brains in Star Trek where the warp drive or whatever is “hardwired.” In science fiction, this is generally referred to as the “hardware” part of the brain. This is a bit like being an engineer and being a computer scientist. All we can do is make what we see and imagine and do things and solve problems. The “software” part of the brain is there to do some things and then let those things run on their own without our interference.
3. Can we take a step back to ask why people feel comfortable making claims like this?
One reason is that if you do the math, no amount of scientific research is going to be able to make us feel good again about being alone. So, even if we were lucky enough to have an extra life-sustaining energy source coming from a distant star, the future doesn’t look promising. We will have to start taking action. In fact, the only solution that seems all but certain at the present time is to take action. All that we can do is to try to create more peace throughout the world
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