Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Out of the Files of a Psychologist

There is no hypothesis incredible enough, no argument weak enough, no idea ridiculous enough, that cannot be made palatable by its presentation. The enduring popularity of FMRI pictures attests to this. Thus the battle is won not by the men-at-arms, the wielders of the gun and the blade, but by the drummers, flag-bearers, and musicians of the army.


An acquaintance of mine once told me, with apparent self-satisfaction, that nothing offended him. I took this to mean that he had no deep-rooted beliefs, no worldview that mattered to him, no principles that he would defend or - more ridiculous still - even die for. What he was trying to advertise, in other words, was that he was uninteresting.


I abhor sentimentality, and I cannot forget that its name is pop culture.


One of the great errors of modern education is to mistake being well-read with being widely-read. There is no more irritating fellow than the one who blitzes through books (or, worse, online articles) as though they were something to be "got through," and then sits and expects wisdom to follow. The Greeks had a word for such learned fools: They were called sophomores.


If one were to ask me how to live, I would respond: Observe dogs at the park. Even a dog knows that play is nobler than work.


Ask any scientist why he is in this or that area of research, and, pushed for an answer, he will say "to help society," or possibly "to find the truth." But by this they always imply, consciously or not, that "success" is somewhere in the offing and sure to follow. Any observation of someone helping society or pursuing truth shows the opposite.


What one doesn't realize is that for something to be a fine art does not necessarily mean that it is fine, or even refined - merely that it is an end in itself (finis). The fine arts taught in our studios and universities, in other words, are useless; useless, however, in the best way possible.


The most sublime moment in all of art: The final dinner scene in Don Giovanni. Here the bow of feeling is stretched to its ultimate limit; here the dark theme from the overture reappears in all of its terrible glory; here Mozart at last brings all his musical artillery to the highest mountains of emotion, and need only fire blindly to inspire terror all around. The argument between Don Giovanni and the Commendatore - Don Giovanni as the impulse towards life, towards gratification of desire, eros personified, unwilling to surrender his hedonism and at last saying No, against the Commendatore's unyielding Yes. Have two words juxtaposed together ever been more pregnant with meaning?


  1. Someone's been sniffing the rarified, ultrahuman airs of Zarathustra at Dawn...

    (and that's just awesome)

    1. The first paragraph is actually a direct paraphrase of Hume, the last of Kierkegaard, but most of the rest is inspired by Twilight of the Idols; good catch! It's always encouraging to know that there are some individuals out there who still read that literature.