David King

The Spirituality of a Scientist

I have come into a peculiar sort of spiritual awareness during the course of my studies of Objectivism. I have found that this philosophy, which is very strongly oriented toward rationality - toward a Galilean rather than Tertullian epistemology - leads, when it is fully developed and manifested within oneself, to a kind of spiritual awakening - a blossoming of the soul - that has its own unique nature. I experience this in part as an inward-directed focus - a growing recognition of (as Nathaniel Branden put it) "the biological forces deep within our organism that speak to us in a wordless language we have barely begun to decipher." I experience it also as a growing sense of the wonderful capability of human intelligence and its place and function in the universe.

"It is necessary to be fully possessed of only two beliefs: the first, that the order of nature is ascertainable by our faculties to an extent which is practically unlimited; the second, that our volition counts for something as a condition of the course of events. Each of these beliefs can be verified experimentally, as often as we like to try. Each, therefore, stands upon the strongest foundation upon which any belief can rest, and forms one of our highest truths." ... Albert Einstein

The idea of a "scientific religion" may seem a contradiction in terms, but I have for some time been intrigued with the introspective observation of a deep sense of wonder, awe and spirituality that has arisen within me during the time that I have been studying and applying Objectivism, growing in scientific knowledge, and developing the functional competence of my intelligence. This has nothing to do with any mystical, faith-oriented notions, but is a sense of becoming more and more united with the totality of the Universe as I adjust the epistemological methodology of my mind to bring it more and more into accord with Reality. To give a mundane example: a rainbow is no less beautiful, but actually grows in beauty and wonder, with a deeper knowledge of the postulates of physics and epistemology that describe and explain it.

Although religious people deny it, I find no difficulty in accepting a non-mystical explanation of the foundation of my beliefs:

"Existence is the first cause. The universe is the total of that which exists. Within the universe, the emergence of new entities can be explained in terms of the actions of entities that already exist. All actions presuppose the existence of entities. All causality presupposes the existence of something that acts as a cause. To demand a cause for all of existence is to demand a contradiction: if the cause exists, it is part of existence: if it does not exist, it cannot be a cause. Nothing cannot be the cause of something. Nothing does not exist. Nothing is not just another kind of something - it is nothing. Existence exists; you cannot go outside it, you cannot get under it, on top of it or behind it. Existence exists - and only existence exists; there is nowhere else to go. The universe did not begin - it did not, at some point in time, spring into being. Time is a measurement of motion. Motion presupposes entities that move. If nothing existed, there could be no time. Time is 'in' the universe; the universe is not 'in' time." ... Nathaniel Branden

Holiness is a measure of the reverence and awe which men hold for certain symbols and the power those symbols give us over the world of nature.

It is Language which grants godhood to man by enabling him, through symbolic conceptualization, to encompass the world within the scope of his thoughts. Thus, sense, reason, and intellect - all of which are functions of "the Word" - are what make me a Man. And give me the power to be a God.

Surprisingly, some of the best expressions of this function of language can be found in the Bible:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Here are examples of how some other scientists and scholars have expressed this feeling:

Ayn Rand, in her introduction to THE FOUNTAINHEAD:

What I was referring to was not religion as such, but a special category of abstractions which, for centuries, has been the near-monopoly of religion ... the realm of values, man's code of good and evil, with the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility, reverence, grandeur, which pertain to the realm of man's values, but which religion has arrogated to itself.

Religion's monopoly in this field has made it extremely difficult to communicate the emotional meaning and connotations of a rational view of life. Religion has usurped the highest moral concepts of our language, placing them outside this earth and beyond man's reach. Exaltation, Worship, and Reverence do name actual emotions. What, then, is their source or referent in reality? It is the entire emotional realm of man's dedication to a moral ideal.

It is with this meaning that I would identify the sense of life dramatized in THE FOUNTAINHEAD as man worship. The man-worshipers are those who see man's highest potential and strive to actualize it. They are those dedicated to the exaltation of man's self-esteem and the sacredness of his happiness on earth.

Galileo: "I do not feel obliged to believe that that same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them."

Albert Einstein: "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.... To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull facilities can comprehend only in the most primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of the devoutly religious men."

Isidor Isaac Rabi: "Not religion in a secular way, but religion as inspirer of a way of looking at things. Choosing physics means, in some way, you're not going to choose trivialities. When you're doing good physics, you're wrestling with the Champ."

Robert Ingersoll: "The real miracles are the facts in nature."

James Hogan: "If one wants to feel more than inarticulate wonder before mountains or buildings, it helps to understand the invisible mechanisms that support the visible beauty."

Richard Feynman: "I wanted to convey an emotion I have about the beauty of the world. It's analogous to the feeling one has in religion that has to do with a god that controls everything in the whole universe: there's a generality aspect that you feel when you think about how things that appear so different and behave so differently are all run 'behind the scenes' by the same organization, the same physical laws. It's an appreciation of the mathematical beauty of nature, of how she works inside; a realization that the phenomena we see result from the complexity of the inner workings between atoms; a feeling of how dramatic and wonderful it is. It's a feeling of awe - of scientific awe - this feeling about the glories of the universe."

Henri Poincare: "The scientist does not study nature because it is useful to do so, he studies it because he takes pleasure in it, and he takes pleasure in it because it is beautiful."

Carl Sagan: "Understanding is a kind of ecstasy."

A student of Arthur Eddington: "The Great Hall was crowded. The speaker was a slender, dark young man with a trick of looking away from his audience and a manner of complete detachment. He gave an outline of the Theory of Relativity, as none could do better than he. He led up to the shift of the stellar images near the Sun as predicted by Einstein and described his verification of the prediction. When I returned to my room I found that I could write down the lecture word for word. For three nights, I think, I did not sleep."

Victor Weisskopf: "The Joy of Insight"

Ayn Rand: "I will ask you to project the look on a child's face when he grasps the answer to some problem he has been striving to understand. It is a radiant look of joy, of liberation, almost of triumph, which is unself-conscious, yet self-assertive, and its radiance seems to spread in two directions: outward, as an illumination of the world - inward, as the first spark of what is to become the fire of an earned pride. If you have seen this look, or experienced it, you know that if there is such a concept as 'sacred' - meaning: the best, the highest possible to man - this look is the sacred, the not-to-be-betrayed, the not-to-be-sacrificed for anything or anyone. This look is not confined to children. Comic-strip artists are in the habit of representing it by means of a light bulb flashing on, above the head of a character who has suddenly grasped an idea. In simple, primitive terms, this is an appropriate symbol: an idea is a light turned on in a man's soul. It is the steady confident reflection of that light that you look for in the faces of adults - particularly of those to whom you entrust your most precious values. That light-bulb look is the flash of a human intelligence in action; it is the outward manifestation of man's rational faculty; it is the signal and symbol of man's mind. And, to the extent of your humanity, it is involved in everything you seek, enjoy, value or love."

Peter Zarlenga:

I am thought.

I can see what the eyes cannot see.

I can hear what the ears cannot hear.

I can feel what the heart cannot feel.

Yet I create Beauty for the eyes,

Music for the ears,

Love for the heart.

They, ignorant of their ignorance, call me cold.

Barren of Sight.

Barren of Sound.

Barren of Feeling.

But it is I who am from which all comes.

Given to the ungrateful.




Ayn Rand: "I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and I spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction. It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgement of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect. Many words have been granted me, and some are wise, and some are false, but only three are holy: 'I will it!' This miracle of me is mine to own and keep, and mine to guard, and mine to use, and mine to kneel before. And now I see the face of god."

From A Jewish Prayer Book:

God, where shall I find Thee, Whose glory fills the universe?

Behold I find Thee, Wherever the mind is free to follow its own bent, Wherever words come out from the depth of truth, Wherever tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection, Wherever men struggle for freedom and right, Wherever the scientist toils to unbare the secrets of nature, Wherever the poet strings pearls of beauty in lyric lines, Wherever glorious deeds are done.

* The Credo of a Rational Man

As a rationalist, I am often chastised by faith-oriented people for not having anything to "believe" in. Although I have always dismissed as nonsense the notion that Belief must inevitably be grounded in Faith, it required many years of philosophical study for me to be able to make a specific statement of just what it is that I do Believe in.

I believe that somewhere, just out of sight, the Unicorns are gathering: on the other side of the hill, where the rainbow comes down onto a grassy field. I believe, with Niels Bohr, that the laws of physics work - whether I believe in them or not. I believe in the Law of Identity. I believe in the primacy of Existence over Consciousness (and I see this manifest in the Quantum Physics). The greatest source of wonder and amazement I know is the interactive relationship between the Primary and Tertiary structures of nucleic acid molecules.

I believe, with Einstein, that "Out yonder there is this huge world, which exists independently of us human beings and which stands before us like a great, eternal riddle, at least partially accessible to our inspection and thinking." I believe, with Thoreau, that "Man's capacities have never been measured; nor are we to judge of what he can do by any precedents, so little has been tried." I believe, with Ayn Rand, that "Man is a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."

I believe that reality is an objective absolute, existing independently of my consciousness. I believe that my mind is competent to achieve valid knowledge of reality, and that the values proper to me are objectively demonstrable. I believe that the basic function - the purpose - of consciousness is to perceive and understand the world: my mind must first perceive the independently existing world - then it must understand its perceptions - then I must use this understanding to govern my behavior so as to interact successfully with reality and thereby achieve my values.

Job 40:7,10,14

* Oath

The function of an oath is to help, not to threaten. It is something to remind you of how important words are. Ideas are important. Principles are important. The words that embody ideas and principles are important. Your word is the most important of all. Your word is who you are.

An oath can concretize Purpose within your mind and give you an explicit, objective guideline for your actions. It can serve to focus your mind directly onto your goals.

A few examples:

"I now, in the presence of death, affirm and reaffirm the truth of all that I have said against the superstitions of the world."

"I have seen my daughter, I have lain with my wife; now I will kill my enemies, and then I can die."

"We are gathered to call desolation over evildoers. May the sorrow they have wrought and the wrath they have raised turn upon them. May our enemies suffer as we have suffered! May they feel our fire and steel as we have felt theirs! May their hearts beat fearfully for what they have done to us!"

* Marriage

Marriage is a form of oath-taking that states the purpose of a relationship:

"I, Colin, take thee, Gwen, to be my wife, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, as long as you will have me."

"I, Gwen, take thee, Colin, to be my husband, to care for and love and cherish for the rest of my life."

"I will demand much of thee, All that thou art and all that thou canst be,

And I will give unto thee, All that I am and all that I can be,

In the name of the best within me, I pledge unto thee my troth,

I will strive to make that best ever better and better,

Thou art the purpose of my existence, All that I have made of myself is what I give to you in trade for that which you have made of yourself."

"By oak and ash and springtime-whitened thorn, through ages gone and ages to be born, by earth below, by air arising higher, by ringing waters, and by living fire, by life and death, I charge that ye say true if ye do now give faith for faith. We do. Place each a ring upon the other's hand, and may the sign of binding prove a band that joins the youth to maiden, man to wife, and lights the way upon your search through life. Farewell! And if the roads ye find be rough, keep love alive, and so have luck enough."

"Do you each individually swear that you will be true and loyal, each helping his chosen one in all things, great and small; that never, throughout eternity, in thought or in action, will your mind or your body or your spirit stray from the path of truth and honor?"

* Love

Expressions of love can take on the character of an oath, stating the deepest meaning of one person's emotional response to another:

"If you can show me beauty that I haven't found, And teach me secrets that I never knew, Lead me to vistas that I haven't seen, And fill each day with more of you, If you can share a soul that makes my soul grow greater, If you can teach my glance to see the sky, If you can make each year grow only shorter, Then so will I."

"Yes, I have made many mistakes in life. But you are not one of them."

"Maybe one day one of us will cause the other a tear or a curse. Maybe one day we will play the foolish game of 'What if.' But somehow I doubt it. I have seen rainbows and I did not curse the sky when they were gone. I have heard nightingales sing and I did not curse the forest when it was silent. I was grateful that I had seen and heard. And their memory is a thing that is beautiful to me yet. So it will be with you. If I turn and one day find you are gone, the memory and the beauty of it will make all my tomorrows a little warmer."

"I have never had so much as now. All my life I've been alone. I would look into the huts and the tents of others in the coldest dark and I would see figures holding each other in the night. But I always passed by. You and I - we have warmth. That's so hard to find in this world. Let someone else pass by in the night. Let us take the world by the throat and make it give us what we desire."

"I have nothing to offer you but my strength for your defense, my honesty for your surety, my ability and industry for your livelihood, and my authority and position for your dignity. That is all it becomes a man to offer to a woman - the devotion of a man's heart and the strength of a man's arm."

"She kissed me. Me. She did. She does. She will. It cannot die until I do. What need I more than this? How wonderful the world is."

"We shall light up for one-another a lamp in the temple of life. Aimless lumps of stone blundering through space will become stars singing in their spheres. An extraordinary delight and an intense love will seize us. It will last hardly longer than the lightning flash which turns the black night into infinite radiance. It will be dark again before you can clear the light out of your eyes: but you will have seen: and forever after you will think about what you have seen and not gabble catchwords invented by the wasted virgins that walk in darkness."

"Our love is not over. This is the first, the most important, thing for you to know. We have said good-bye. That was at breakfast this morning. You kissed me. You smiled. It was perfect. We have said good-bye. And our love is not over. Our good-bye was perfect, as our love will always be. Forgive me for wanting that. Forgive me for fearing the other good-bye. My pain bringing you pain, your sadness bringing mine. Leaving you with the lie that there could be sadness between us. Have we lived our love so that wicked little cells, growing in darkness, could cheat us at the end? No. We cheat them. We say good-bye with a kiss and a smile. And our love goes on forever. What you must know is that in my last hours I have lived our life again, in tears of joy that so exquisite a life could have been mine. Now you must do something for me. You must live long and well. You must live as though you are saving each moment to share with me, in my arms, when we are together again. And if you find another love before your life is over, treasure those moments most of all, and know that nothing could make me happier."

Some statements of profound emotion can surpass oaths and become songs of prayer:

May the Lord protect and defend you

May He always shield you from shame

May you come to be in Israel a shining name

May you be like Ruth and like Esther

May you be deserving of praise

Strengthen them Oh Lord, and keep them from the stranger's ways

May God bless you and grant you long lives

May the Lord fulfill our sabbath prayer for you

May God make you good mothers and wives

May He send you husbands who will care for you

May the Lord protect and defend you

May the Lord preserve you from pain

Favor them oh Lord with happiness and peace

Oh hear our sabbath prayer


* Table Blessing

The sharing of a table is an act symbolic of good will. So simple a thing, a lighted fire, yet it is a symbol of man's first great step toward civilization. How many times has it seemed as if a man, in offering fire and warm food, was saying, "See, I am a man, by these signs you shall know me, that I can make a fire, that I can cook my food."

Another example of the symbolic phenomena I am trying to portray is the almost universal practice of expressing gratitude at the supper table (I refer to this practice as "Table Blessing"). I believe this expression, although misguided in its religious aspect, has a profoundly important function in human life as a symbolic recognition of the importance of productive achievement.

I have endeavored to contrive statements by which this phenomenon could be suitably expressed in an Objectivist household:

"My dear friends, let us pause in our proceedings for a moment and contemplate the nature and the source of the providence which we see before us on our table and around us in our lives. Let us look within ourselves and ask if we be worthy to partake of this bounty. Let us resolve to act so that the scales of Nature shall balance - so that all that we must take from the world for our sustenance we shall return to the world in like measure, giving thankful recognition to those who, in doing likewise, bring into being the civilization in which we live. Thank you."

"We should be thankful to our natures that we can earn our food and be thankful to ourselves that we have done so. As we have earned this food, so must we earn all that is valuable in our lives."

"The sun never sets on Ford tractors. Somewhere, right now, there is a Ford tractor working the land. Remember this when you break bread."

* Art

The essay "Art and Cognition" by Ayn Rand, which appeared in the April, May, and June 1971 issues of THE OBJECTIVIST, is an in-depth analysis of all forms of art.

Art is the selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgements. Metaphysical values are those which reflect an artist's fundamental view of the nature of man and the nature of the universe in which he lives.

Cognitive abstractions identify the facts of reality. Normative abstractions evaluate the facts, thus prescribing a choice of values and a course of action. Cognitive abstractions deal with that which IS; normative abstractions deal with that which OUGHT TO BE (in the realms open to man's choice). Cognitive abstractions form the epistemological foundation of science; normative abstractions form the epistemological foundation of morality and of art.

Romanticism is a category of art based on the recognition of the principle that man possesses the faculty of volition.

* Beauty

Beauty is a concept of consciousness. It is the integration of one or more experiences of pleasure along with one or more observations of a manifestation of one's values. Here are a few examples of this:

Jean Auel: "In Ranec's eye the finest and most perfect example of anything was beautiful, and anything beautiful was the finest and most perfect example of spirit; it was the essence of it. That was his religion. Beyond that, at the core of his aesthetic soul, he felt that beauty had an intrinsic value of its own, and he believed there was a potential for beauty in everything. While some activities or objects could be simply functional, he felt that anyone who came close to achieving perfection in any activity was an artist, and the results contained the essence of beauty. But the art was as much in the activity as in the results. Works of art were not just the finished product, but the thought, the action, the process that created them."

[Ranec was an artist, thus his supreme value was the process by which art is created.]

The artist said, "I, as an artist, can see how beautiful a flower is. But you, as a scientist, take it all apart and it becomes dull."

Richard Feynman replied, "First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people - and to me, too, I believe. Although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is, I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. But at the same time, I see much more in the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells inside, which also have a beauty. There's beauty not just at the dimension of one centimeter; there's also beauty at a smaller dimension. There are the complicated actions of the cells, and other processes. The fact that the colors in the flower have evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; that means insects can see the colors. That adds a question: does this aesthetic sense we have also exist in lower forms of life? There are all kinds of interesting questions that come from a knowldege of science, which only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of a flower. It only adds."

[Feynman was a scientist, thus his supreme value was the process of gaining knowledge of the world of nature.]

Every child in the world looks upon his mother and sees the most beautiful woman in the world, even though many mothers are not beautiful. Do you know why this is so? The child looks with love, and sees love returned. Love is what makes beauty.

[The child is a child, and his supreme value is to be loved. Have you forgotten that?]

* The Need for and Function of Art and Beauty

Man's need for art springs from the fact that he needs the ability to bring his widest abstractions into his immediate perceptual awareness.

Every man seeks a confirmation of his own view of existence, and by concretizing this view into something that a man can grasp directly, art is performing this function. Art can give both to the artist and the spectator the experience of seeing the full, immediate, concrete reality of his distant goals. Thus works of art are valuable to us if they reinforce our view of existence in any of its many aspects. The brief respite that is obtained from a flight of fancy into an imaginary world, or the feeling of beautiful rightness when music takes hold of the senses and your body moves in perfect accord with the rhythm it feels, are food for the soul.

The world of nature is not a kind place towards living things. It is harshly indifferent to our well-being, and we must continually strive to maintain our existence - our very lives - in the face of inimical conditions. As the human brain evolved, and volitional behavior increased in significance, it became possible for man to explicitly recognize the harshness of nature - to lament:

How weary, stale, flat, and unprofitable

Seem to me all the uses of this world!

Oh, to take arms against a sea of troubles,

And by opposing end them.

Man became the only creature capable of deliberate suicide - the only creature requiring an intellectually deliberated motive for continuing his existence.

To perceive beauty in a sunset, wonder in a rainbow, glory in a thundering waterfall, delicate charm in a hummingbird's iridescence, could only have infused early man's soul with a cause for continuing in the face of adversity. Thus could Beauty have come to have an evolutionary function in human development: those who found beauty to be a pleasure and a value would have more incentive to continue with the struggle of life.

* The Nature of Fiction

Tolkien spoke of good fiction thusly: "...literary belief, the state of mind that has been called willing suspension of disbelief. But this does not seem to me a good description of what happens. What really happens is that the story-maker proves a successful subcreator. He makes a Secondary World which your mind can enter. Inside it, what he relates is true: it accords with the laws of that world. You therefore believe it, while you are, as it were, inside. The moment disbelief arises, the spell is broken; the magic, or rather art, has failed. You are then out in the Primary World again, looking at the little abortive Secondary World from outside. If you are obliged, by kindliness or circumstance, to stay, then disbelief must be suspended (or stifled), otherwise listening and looking would become intolerable. But this suspension of disbelief is a substitute for the genuine thing, a subterfuge we use when condescending to games or make-believe, or when trying (more or less willingly) to find what virtue we can in the work of an art that has for us failed."

A basic tenet of Objectivism is that truth is the recognition of reality. The principle of Objectivist Epistemology which assumes prior certainty of existence indicates that we cannot invent physical things or concepts without referents in reality, and then declare them to be real. However, thoughts are real, and it is an observation of objective reality that man's thoughts include the creation and manipulation of abstract concepts and symbols. It is also observable that many of these creations have no physical identity of their own - such as Pegasus. But although they lack physical identity, these creations/concepts/symbols are real and are existents. We must just be careful not to confuse a concept created without a referent in reality with a physical being.

Identity without physical existence is what fictions have. But we must recognize that it is not the sort of incontrovertible, indestructible, absolute identity that existents have; it is the identity ascribed to them, defined for them by their author and shared by the readers. None of us doubt that John Galt and Dagny Taggart have identity. John Galt is not to be confused with Wesley Mouch. Yet none of these people ever existed and none ever will.

Non-existence is a derivative concept which can be formed or grasped only in relation to some existent that has ceased to exist. This is the way in which the concept is formed intitially. But once it is formed and grasped it can be applied to that which has never existed or even that which cannot exist. This is a perfectly valid use of the concept non-existence.

One can hypothesize a non-existent concrete and then subsume it within an abstraction. To do so is to create a fiction.

I see two broad categories into which my thoughts can be divided: those which correspond to the real world (the reality domain) and those which do not (the imaginary domain). The Objectivist Epistemology is a splendid tool which enables me to make proper identifications in the former category and also to make a firm distinction between the two categories. The Objectivist Epistemology does not apply to the second category - and I do not think it needs to. The reality domain is a limited, circumscribed context. This domain is limited by the facts of reality and it is circumscribed by the principles of the Objectivist Epistemology, which serve to keep me very firmly in cognitive contact with the real world. The imaginary domain, on the contrary, has no limits. Imagination is the same sort of concept as freedom - they are both defined in a "negative" manner, as absences. Freedom is the absence of social constraint. Imagination is the absence of reality constraint. I must confess I am not entirely comfortable with the notion that there can be any entity in the universe that is not constrained by reality, but it seems quite obvious to me that the human imagination is just such a thing. But then, if the universe itself can be infinite (i.e., unbounded) there could be within it an entity which is also unbounded. In spite of my misgivings, all my thoughts on this matter compel me to swallow the hard fact that there are no bounds on human imagination, and that it is not subsumed by the Objectivist Epistemology.

I approached this by introspection of two of my thought processes: the act of creation and the enjoyment of works of fiction. When I invent some mechanical contraption I begin by making a picture inside my mind of the device I want. I imagine all its parts and how they fit together and interact with one another. If something does not seem right I modify my mental picture of it, and eventually I come up with a picture of a device that I think will do the job. This picture is of a device that I have never seen before, and as far as I know has never even existed. Therefore it is a fiction. But now comes the important part: sometimes this picture can be easily and straightforwardly transformed into fact, i.e., it corresponds precisely with the potentiality of the real world. On other occasions the picture must be modified considerably before such a transformation can occur. And I must confess there have been some pictures I have had to scrap entirely - the facts of reality simply do not allow them to be existentialized. I can see in this process that my mind is free to conceive ANY picture whatsoever. The only point at which I am constrained is when I try to make real my mental pictures. Only if my mind has been in close cognitive contact with reality can I do this. If I were to be constrained in my imaging to a factual corresponence with reality then I could never create (except perhaps by accident) something which had not previously existed. (I have for many years believed that all philosophers should be required to spend some time as practicing engineers - there would be a whole lot less nonsense in the field of philosophy if this were done.)

I see the same process occur in the creation of intellectual entities. A lifetime of Science Fiction addiction has shown me that there are no bounds to the fictional worlds the human mind can imagine. Unfortunately, the attempted existentializaion of some of these worlds is not quite the simplistic scenario as my attempts to make real the sometimes clumsily-conceived physical devices that I imagine. Karl Marx believed he had conceived an excellent "social" device, but you all know very well what disastrous consequences have ensued from the attempt to make real that miserable scheme.

This distinction between these two basic categories of human thought shows the value of the Objectivist Epistemology in keeping a firm grasp on reality, and also shows the basis of mental health: the ability to distinguish between fact and fantasy.

These observations lead to an important link between science and fiction: without fantasy, science would have nothing to test.

* Music

Extracted from the essay "Art and Cognition" by Ayn Rand, which appeared in the April, May, and June 1971 issues of THE OBJECTIVIST.

"Music is a certain succession of sounds produced by periodic vibrations. Musical tones heard in a certain kind of succession are integrated by the human ear and brain into a new cognitive experience, into an auditory entity: a melody. The essence of musical perception is mathematical: the consonance or dissonance of harmonies depends on the ratios of the frequencies of their tones. The brain can integrate a ratio of one to two, for instance, but not of eight to nine. Music offers man the singular opportunity to reenact, on the adult level, the primary process of his method of cognition: the automatic integration of sense data into an intelligible, meaningful entity. To a conceptual consciousness, it is a unique form of rest and reward. A composition may demand the active alertness needed to resolve complex mathematical relationships - or it may deaden the brain by means of monotonous simplicity - or it may obliterate the process by a jumble of sounds mathematically-physiologically impossible to integrate, and thus turn into noise. The other arts create a physical object and the psycho-epistemological process goes from the perception to conceptual understanding to appraisal to emotion. The pattern of the process involved in music is: perception - emotion - appraisal - conceptual understanding. Music is experienced as if it had the power to reach man's emotions directly. It is possible to observe introspectively what one's mind does while listening to music: it evokes subconscious material that seems to flow haphazardly, in brief, random snatches, like the progression of a dream. But, in fact, this flow is selective and consistent: the emotional meaning of the subconscious material coresponds to the emotions projected by the music. The subconscious material has to flow because no single image can capture the meaning of the musical experience, the mind needs a succession of images, it is groping for that which they have in common, for an emotional abstraction. Man cannot experience an actually causeless and objectless emotion. When music induces an emotional state without external object, its only other possible object is the state of actions of his own consciousness. If a given process of musical integration taking place in a man's brain resembles the cognitive processes that procuce and/or accompany a certain emotional state, he will recognize it, in effect, physiologically, then intellectually."

Douglas Hofstadter: "I feel that mathematics, more than any other discipline, studies the fundamental, pervasive patterns of the universe. However, as I have gotten older, I have come to see that there are inner mental patterns underlying our ability to conceive of mathematical ideas, universal patterns in human minds that make them receptive not only to the patterns of mathematics but also to abstract regularities of all sorts in the world. Indeed, how could anyone hope to approach the concept of beauty without deeply studying the nature of formal patterns and their organizations and relationships to Mind? How can anyone fascinated by beauty fail to be intrigued by the notion of a "magical formula" behind it all, chimerical though the idea certainly is? And in this day and age, how can anyone fascinated by creativity and beauty fail to see in computers the ultimate tool for exploring their essence?"

* Dancing

Rhythm is the flow or regularity of groups of recurring heavy and light accents which conform to a specific metered timing. Timing is simply the number of counts per measure of music. The tempo denotes the rate of speed these beats are metered in.

Dancing is the manner in which the movements of the body are distributed and applied to beats of music, thus forming patterns.

The most important point to remember is not only to find the correct beat of music to start a step, but to perform it (in its correct rhythm) while remaining on the proper beat of each measure of music, to whatever tempo played. When you are able to dance a pattern in correct rhythm while placing it to the correct beats of the measure you will then have good timing and rhythm. You will then be a good dancer.

* Some Writing Techniques

Here are a few elements that show what makes a story a realistic work of art - or a bomb.

The Expository Lump. The creation of a story's context - its "reality" - is one of the most important jobs the writer has. All too often this job is handled in a rather clumsy manner and the reader stubs his toe, so to speak, on an Expository Lump that occurs in the story. The Expository Lump comes in two forms: the narrative lump and the dialog lump. In both forms, the story pauses while the author throws information at the reader in order to establish the "reality" of the story's situation in the reader's mind.

Here is an example of the dialog lump:

"Well, John, we've been stuck in this busted-down spaceship for three weeks - and it's gonna be another week before we get rescued."

"Yeah, David. And on top of that we're running out of oxygen, since the storage tank sprung a leak yesterday."

This isn't really two characters talking to each other, it is the author talking to the reader, presenting information that should have been skillfully interwoven into the story line.

Subjunctive Tension is the ambiguity between what your words say and all the possibilities of their meaning. "He walked through the door." (teleportation, obviously - he probably walked through the doorway rather than the door itself.) "The sun came through the window." (In which case, it got rather hot in here. It was the sunlight that came in, not the sun.)

The Said-ism: In an attempt to avoid repetitious use of the word "said," characters have been known to "hiss" sentences containing not a single sibilant, to "growl" lines consisting mostly of vowels, to "ejaculate," to "effuse," to "smile" entire conversations. Once you become aware of the said-ism, its use becomes hilarious.

The Capitalization of Words in an attempt to make one's Inventions important by Typographical Tricks rather than by the Power of the Descriptive Words themselves is a technique you will all too often encounter in my own writings.

The hierarchy of rules for the use of science in science fiction:

If you can make it correct, you should.

If you can't make it correct, at least make it plausible.

If you can't make it correct or plausible, you had better make it fun.

Characterization and story are of equal importance literarily and even metaphysically, for if you ask which comes first, action or an entity, the answer is "an entity." If man's nature must be expressed through his actions, it is equally true that action is meaningless unless it is the product of, or the expression of, someone...or something...human.

* The Destruction of Art under Statism

A good story is one wherein the protagonist has to apply reason to bring order out of chaos. To apply the scientific method, in short. But this requires that the author portray independent thought and judgment in action - he must portray a character who interprets reality according to his own judgment.

The artist and the State are natural enemies because the state insists upon being the sole interpreter of reality, and if the artist acquiesces in this function he abrogates his own metaphysical value-judgements and is thus bereft of the fundamental requirement for creating art.

The Newspeak-bred, statist mentalities of most modern "artists" render them incapable of equaling even the perceptiveness of a good forger: they do not know what they are imitating, nor why it had been successful. They do not know the difference between trash and values and therefore are rarely able to produce anything of value, either in industry or in art.

Movies are so rarely great art that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have very little reason to be interested in them.

* Miscellaneous Comments on Art

A young would-be composer wrote to Mozart, asking advice as to how to compose a symphony. Mozart responded that a symphony was a complex and demanding musical form and that it would be better to start with something simpler. The young man protested, "But Herr Mozart, you wrote symphonies when you were younger than I am now."

And Mozart replied, "I never asked how."

Sitting beside him on a pedestal he had a piece of jade, a good-size chunk, almost as big as my head. Every once in a while he would turn it so it would catch the sunlight in a different way. One day I asked him what he was doing, and he said, "I'm trying to see what it is - there's something there I haven't captured yet, and when I do, I'll start carving."

In a novel of ideas, the ideas have to work.

The hand that can create these images and reveal the soul in them, and is inspired to do this and nothing else even if he starves and is cast off by his community and all his family for it: is not this hand the hand used by God, who, being a spirit without body, parts or passions, has no hands?



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