An authentically powerful idea, evolutionary theory perhaps, strikes the mind with a particular beauty, namely that it changes the sign, the direction, the onward significance of everything without damaging the internal relational structure of what is already known, as when a fitted glove is turned inside out so that right hand becomes left.

That there is a fundamental distinction in the intellectual praxis of rationalists and empiricists I am inclined to doubt; though there is this superficial difference, that rationalists attempt to make a virtue of their empirical deficiencies.

Because of its coarse-grained and bludgeon-like referential character, music is not and cannot ever be an effective way of rendering public and available for discussion anything other than a tiny subset of all concepts, and for a randomly nominated concept it is all but useless. In this it differs from its near neighbour, mathematics, which achieves immense fine-grained linguistic power by abstracting until nothing is left but quantity and the pattern of relations between quantities. Some music leans fractionally in this direction, achieving little, and loses its wide appeal as it does so.

The effects of music resemble those of a narcotic substance, which creates an affect by the direct and crude means of direct impact on the functioning of the brain and central nervous system. In comparison the rearrangements made by a set of words are slight and precise. The emotional scale of music is constricted to a very few major elements, like pulled faces from the Art of Coarse Acting, “Joy”, “Grief”, “Anger”,  the strength of which is consistently misrepresented by musical apologists for significance. Verbal expression, on the other hand, may adjust our responses by means of a scale that gives every evidence of being, as far as we are concerned, infinitely graduated. It’s subtlety when compared to music should not be mistaken for weakness.

Of course, the narcotic effects of music can be beneficial, and they may give relief. Many also use simple chemical substances, from caffeine and alcohol onwards, often in combination with music as it happens, a telling point, and may even prefer such substances because the user remains substantially in control, whereas with music the performer is in full control of the dosage. Overheard music, which can be grievously aggravating, is similar to a surreptitiously administered drug.

Without conceptual content or characteristics (and it matters little here whether you think of this art as a container or a face) music cannot be intellectually profound, a rich and resourceful method of managing the world, though it is undoubtedly effectual. Music does not communicate complex thought or insight, and cannot possibly do so. It creates strong and miscellaneous reactions in the hearer, but in so far as these are communicated they are simple, and commonplace. The composition of music is undoubtedly demanding, but none of this intellectual distinction is transferred as communicated thought. Successful use of the medium is evidence of considerable intellectual faculties, but if the composer has anything subtle to say it will only be present in the musical composition in the crudest possible form, if it is present at all.

And yet no art stands higher in the estimation of intellectuals, and no art has a wider and deeper hold on the behaviour of the global population. – There is no land without music. Adulation of crudely patterned noise is one of the principal and enduring sentimentalities to be found in human culture.

The worship of heroes is so recurrent a human activity that we must suppose that some common ground across time and population explains this behaviour. But what? Why should one individual take so great an interest in the standing of another. Are they deluded, hypnotised by propaganda? Perhaps not.

Literary criticism is a minor example of this tendency, but a well documented one, and might lead us to a general account. Much scholarship and commentary is obviously directed to deciding one way or another whether an author deserves high regard, verging on worship, and  in spite of the ostensible importance of the readerly experience, critics seem relatively uninterested in the quality or qualities of a work except as evidence determining or at least justifying the rank assigned to the producer. The work, which one might suppose to be the focus, is regarded only as testimony of genius, and once produced in evidence becomes practically irrelevant, except, curiously, that the evidence needs regular reproduction, with new and indeed original readings being absolutely required, as if fresh miracles must be generated on a regular basis, a bizarre state of affairs. A miracle stands for all time, surely?

Indeed, that suspiciously insistent need to secure novel evidence of value suggests a solution to the general conundrum of hero worship. – The god is as dispensable as the text. Margaret is not grieving over Golden Grove unleaving. The reverberation of the Hosanna returns to the singer. The honour that we seek for text, for author, for hero is intended for our own adornment. We have no heroes but ourselves. How could one ever have doubted it?

History in the strict sense is very short in evolutionary terms, and as a consequence all the texts to which we have access are product of organisms little different if at all from ourselves. This consistency over a period of time which seems to us long, since it is a large multiple of an average human life span, has led to or strongly reinforced the belief that some part of ourselves stands above temporal accident and biological form or their interaction. To dualists, this is the soul; those inclined to physicalism call it human nature. However, Heraclitus is right, panta rei, and both are errors.

This misprision could fade if the species persists long enough to hold records covering a period long enough for evolutionary change to occur. Where at present we may empathize with an author without very much difficulty, merely running their ideas in our heads to produce a rough, ready, and effective appreciation of their position, readers in the future may be reviewing the statements of ancestors with markedly different physical structures, brain configurations, and even breeding programs. Even assuming a continuous tradition of scholarship between these two organisms, the difficulties standing in the way of understanding will be enormous, perhaps much resembling those standing between us and the other apes.

When the attractions of a narrative writer such as Hemingway have been disposed of, there always remains the quality of the prose. I can hear a defender bringing up it's a gem like clarity and so on, it's minute observation, it's delicate reporting of dissociated facts which are exquisitely blended into an organic whole, and so forth. To this we reply simply that if you value such things, then the physical world provides them in a form which is both more entrancing and rewarding.

 “I too hate poetry”, said Marianne Moore, and views of this kind are inevitable for all those who have some understanding of the inner workings of the arts as well as subjective experience of the consequences of that machinery. When one knows the score, suspicion is the proper attitude.

Abstraction is a conceptual tool and useful, but to privilege it beyond the experience of the senses, itself only a selection, is to so narrow the front of our engagement with the world that only tedium can result. – Visual abstractions, paintings, are proper decorations for surfaces which would otherwise be dull, though a window is in most cases preferable, and literature is the futile decoration of a psychological better filled with our own responses.

But of course, I admit, that there are times when we are so imprisoned that a poem may, or a novel even and especially, provide a welcome escape. But this is a last and therapeutic resort.

It is often and tritely said that a poet has found their voice, when study of personal history shows that they have identified an audience.

Far from regarding consciousness with awe, perhaps we should laugh it to shame as a glaring example of universal narcissism.

Mediocrities often happen upon the truth; why should this be so? Because the highly intelligent occupy their considerable minds with chasing the ball, and so lack a clear view of the margins of the field where new avenues lie. Those trailing in their wake, have nothing else to do but look about them.

Or is this nonsense? Perhaps the great contributions of the averagely talented arise from their overwhelming superiority … in numbers.

It is a commonplace of university and college high table gossip that scientific researchers responsible for great intellectual advances in one area are not unlikely to be dull or inadequate in other fields of life. This is to be expected. When acting as part of their intellectual network scientists perform well, and contribute to the success of the collective enterprise, but when working alone, as individuals, are only average in their ability to complete a task with adequacy. One may further comment that: There is some reason for thinking that most scientists today are never required to complete a project, or even to design it. The problems they face professionally are pre-specified by the stage reached in an enterprise distributed geographically and temporally, involving several continents and many generations. The group often, as it happens, gives the impression of having direction, and this may on occasion arise from the exceptional contribution of a single person, one capable of synthesizing the field before them, redirecting it, but perhaps more often the aggregate endeavour only appears purposive because we trace its progress retrospectively by mapping intellectuo-technological successes, ignoring the dead ends and mediocre outcomes fading into the mists on either side.

Taking science, for the most part, as a group  activity whose achievements are not to be attributed to any one of its component parts enables us to approach and solve the puzzle presented by those such as John Eccles and Roger Sperry. Combined with their notable achievements as neurophysiological researchers there is an apparently contradictory and, at least to me, extremely unconvincing assertion of dualism. This combination gave them, quite understandably, a certain celebrity amongst other would-be dualists, who reasoned that if someone working within the materialist scheme at a high level cannot find an adequate account of consciousness, then surely there is none. But that reasoning may poorly founded. Perhaps the striking combination of views held by Eccles and Sperry is to be explained by reference to the dichotomy of competence familiar in other cases. Their work in physiology was supported by the research network in which they functioned, and with that context to guide and hold them up, they rarely stumbled. On the other hand, when they spoke as mystics they spoke for themselves, and were governed by fears and anxieties common to many men and likely to warp judgment.

Perhaps it is awareness of this precipitous intellectual cliff edge that makes so many scientists aggressively collectivist in their politics.