Archive | April 2018

Plato’s Beautiful Way to Build the Brain

images

While mankind’s intellectual achievements have increased by magnitudes in the centuries since Plato’s and Socrates’ era, in 2018 we still stand on their shoulders to get our “better view” of the world. In many ways we still rely on their fundamental understanding of the nature of man as we search for wisdom and ideas appropriate to our present situation. 

Or, as Dr. John Cuddeback has claimed, “Nothing is said that has not already been said by a Greek.”

Musicians, educators, and music lovers during the intervening centuries have often found these early philosophers’ emphatic insistence on the importance of music in education somewhat curious, if not bizarre. Plato, et al, believed that music not only prepared one’s mind to easily learn, it also trained the soul to seek justice. Music, mathematics, and rhetoric were The three pillars of  Greek education. They maintained that music was of primary usefulness, not only to young school children, but also an integral part of training the military forces.  In fact, they asserted that  music is the highest form of communication.

However, in the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, too often music is just considered “nice.” It would be a “nice” addition to the curriculum if the school board can figure out a way to include something, anything, that could possibly be called “music education.” More frequently, it is ignored because “nice” does not compel. In today’s American culture, music education in the early grades appears to be reserved for those who can afford the “niceties” of private schools and/or private music lessons. 

But, are we becoming “too big for our britches?” Have we traded wisdom for technology instead of adding technology to wisdom?

In recent years, there have been numerous scientific experiments that support the early Greeks’ understanding of music as foundational to education. Thus,  *Andrew Pudewa, Director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, believes music training can be a way to “build more RAM” into one’s brain. One source he cites is a 1997 study on preschool children. Before dividing them into groups, all took the same I.Q. test. Then one group spent  six months of keyboard training, while a second group had six months of instruction in singing, a third group received training in using computers, and the last group spent their months in free play. At the end, all four groups took the same I.Q. test again. The group of pre-schoolers who spent six months learning to play music on a keyboard increased their spatial-temporal I.Q. scores by an average of 46%, far higher than the other three groups. Obviously something happened in their brains to make that big of a jump in mental ability. Let me repeat that to be certain you understand: a mere six months of training pre-schoolers to play music on a keyboard increased their cognitive abilities by 46%.

The bigger jumps in mental ability through learning to play a musical instrument occurs primarily in the younger ages. Still, older children and adults can improve test scores by listening to classical music while studying and just before tests. The Piano Guys, who have done much to popularize good music, even offer YouTube videos to accompany study sessions. They call it **The Ultimate Study Music: 90 Minute Cram Jam. 

Another source for information about music training – playing an instrument, not just music theory, that is – is a commercial web site for the National Educational Music Company: nemc.com. It offers numerous general interest articles about the benefits of music training for children under the Support tab.

The proposition that was posited by the Greek philosophers thousands of years ago, has been proven in scientific experiments during the last 50 years on people and labratory rats. Thus, we can say with certitude that good music improves mental ability in humans and animals. Some have even concluded that plants are affected by music, but that’s another subject altogether.

The bottom line is that the practice of training  young children to play musical instruments is not as wide spread as it should be. Since three to ten year-olds can not purchase or rent musical instruments, employ teachers, or drive themselves to lessons, it is imperative that some adult provide that gift for them. If you, as an aunt, uncle, god-parent, grand-parent, parent, or friend of the familiy, have a young child in your life, please help him take music lessons. That sacrifice on your part probably will not result in a new child prodigy going out on a new concert tour. No. It will be much better than that! 

The result will be that all of mankind will benefit from intelligent people growing up to solve old problems, create new techniques to improve life, design better structures, and increase understanding between members of the human race. 

Is it possible to leave a more beautiful legacy than that?

Copyright 2018 by Kaye Fairweather

*Pudewa began his career in education by working with Shin’ichi Suzuki and his method of teaching young children to play the violin in Japan and has since adapted Suzuki’s educational philosophy to other areas of education and established the IEW. One may find his speeches and footnotes on this and other scientific experiments regarding  music and intellectual development at the website: Institute for Excellence in Writing.

** Piano Guys study accompaniment:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=py_uxBfEkrI&feature=em-subs_digest

 

 

The Desirable Beauty of Virtue in Plato’s Republic

In light of the above quote, it is interesting to note that Plato begins the Republic with the premise that living a virtuous life, however difficult it may be at times, brings happiness to the individual and to the community. (An idea foreign or even repugnant to many who live in the 21st Century.)  In fact, he equates what we might translate as justice, virtue, and/or excellence in English from one Greek term.

But over five thousand years later, in today’s United States, the usual understanding of  “justice” is ever evolving toward the latest group to be awarded victim status and their demands for reparations of some sort as social justice. I doubt that such an idea ever occurred to Plato.

Today, virtue signaling carries much more weight than virtue lived out. Actually, the lived out version has almost been forgotten. If mentioned in secular society, “virtue” is regarded with the same the same red faced tittering usually saved for stories about one’s aging maiden aunt who never quite fit in with the real world of fun, games, and good times.  Perhaps, elderly women drinking tea together in the afternoon might mention virtue without blushing, but both cool kids and adults  “know for a fact” that it’s a poisonous term that’s totally incompatible with happiness.  

Interestingly enough our word “virtue” came to the English speaking world from the Latin word, vir, for men.  Today, however, most men would cringe at being called virtuous even though it originally referred to manly valor. Virile is probably the most common English word derived from vir, although virago is reserved for a woman who acts bravely – like a man. It used to refer to women like Judith or Joan of Arc, but now is associated with a difficult woman, full of anger, who adopts masculine actions.             

In this century, many reserve the word “excellence” for either athletic or musical performances; it would never occur to  most writers, readers, or speakers to associate it with virtuous actions or decisions. 

Only to the extent that we’re virtuous, are we able 

to thrive in our human relationships.”  

*Dr. John Cuddeback

Fortunately, for us sceptics who silently seethe as we watch dishonest people thrive, grow rich, and become famous even though they proudly show no interest in living a virtuous life, **Plato  also thoroughly defends his premise in later chapters.  He does so, not only on the personal level, but on the level of the city-state. Thus, the great effort required to live virtuously benefits both the person and society as a whole. In fact, Plato posits that not only does living a life of virtue bring happiness; it is happiness. 

One after another Plato records the objections and examples from those ancient Greeks who questioned his premise. Their challenges resemble similar arguments that come to our minds as we read Plato. The conversations are presented as a debate, not a series of  ***ad hominem attacks. Plato is both thorough and eloquent as he elaborates and explains his ideas. 

My favorite part is where he refutes those who think that if they are clever enough to disguise their self serving ways in order to have the reputation for being virtuous while still lying, cheating, and stealing, can find the same level of happiness as the man who actually does act justly. It almost sounds like Plato had been watching the shenanigans of some of the current denizens of our nation’s capital. 

Plato ices his cake with his explanation that not only does the self-serving man not enjoy true happiness, even his supposed pleasure of living out wrong desires does not provide the satisfaction he seeks. It’s easy to see his point if one has ever watched a friend or family member descend from pursuing the escape of pain to addiction to the depths of despair and loss that often end in suicide. Or, if one observes the beautiful desire for sexual fulfillment being used selfishly until it degrades the whole culture.  As time goes by, practices that were once perversions become accepted. Then applauded. And finally defended legally to the extent that those who abstain must keep their beliefs private to avoid litigation, fines, and possible imprisonment. Meanwhile, the perpetrators walk around still somewhat dissatisfied and disappointed.

Frankly his book inspired me more than many lectures and homilies about ethicial behavior from Christian or Jewish leaders. These two Greeks  who lived and wrote centuries before the coming of Christ figured out logically the practical aspects of living happily even without the Jewish and Christian concepts and books that are generally considered inspired. I am amazed.

When asked how he values justice in Book II, Socrates replies: 

I myself put it among the finest good, 

as something to be valued 

by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness, 

both because of itself and because of what comes from it.

 

 

* Dr. John Cuddeback is a Professor of Philosophy at Christendom College and author of True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. Some of these ideas came from two of his lectures: Plato’s Republic and The Discovery of Virtue.

**Plato wrote the book, but most of the dialogue and ideas come directly from Socrates, his mentor. So one could easily attribute this work to either philosopher since Socrates did not leave any written record.

***”When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” Socrates

Was Chesterton Beautiful?

images

Picture courtesy of connorsearle.wordpress.com

While he may not fit into our current ideals of a physically handsome man, his life and his wit were certainly beautiful. Gilbert K. Chesterton was another celebrated English writer and speaker who died before Winston Churchill was elected Prime Minister in 1940. Both men specialized in using simple words and simple sentence structure to eloquently express the deepest and richest ideas that never fail to communicate whether heard by the common man or the educated genius.

Here is a random trio of quotes that involve beauty:

  •        “Life exists for the love of music or beautiful things.”

  •        “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be love before it is lovable.”

  •        “Art in the middle ages was ‘art for God’s sake’; art in the Renaissance was ‘art for man’s sake’; art in the 19th century was ‘art for art’s sake’; now art in the 20th century is ‘no art, for God’s sake.”

 

 

Well-spoken Words Bring Pleasure

winstonchurchill1

Clever conversations delight and enrich relationships – bringing beauty to all who listen and remember. Often young children contribute insights that fascinate bystanders and become family legends. Winston Churchill certainly was a legend in his own time for his way with words. In fact, one of his bitterest political enemies complimented his May 1940 speech to Parliament that roused the English people to fight Hitler rather than negotiate with him by saying, “Today, he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

As you may have guessed, I overdosed on The Darkest Hour during the Easter holiday and that reignited my long-lived appreciation for his remarkable leadership during World War II.