When you think about it, why does music have any emotional appeal at all? Why should something so unlike anything else in our experience — unlike, that is, any sound generated by the normal workings of the world — have an emotional impact? Perfume seems to have a similar directness, in that we are affected by it without really being able to articulate why; as opposed to stories, for example, where we have a clearer sense of what’s going on and why it might matter to us.
A science website asked several scientists to tell them what they thought was the most interesting question you could ask of science at this moment. Most of the replies were of the nature “Is the alpha constant stable over the universe?,” “Will the Riemann hypothesis hold?,” “Does junk DNA have a function in the genome?” — science questions. My friend Danny Hillis asked, “Why do we like music?” — a question that has formed the basis of our conversations over the years. And that is truly a mysterious question, which many learned books have utterly failed to answer. Why do I like one composer’s string quartet rather than another’s, when to a Martian visitor they’d seem indistinguishable? What are the differences we’re hearing? What intrinsic wiring exists for having feelings about music? — and by intrinsic wiring I mean the kind of wiring that leads us to prefer symmetrical faces to asymmetrical ones, or to be frightened of spiders.
“The one prudence in life is concentration; the one evil is dissipation: and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine; property and its cares, friends and a social habit, or politics, or music, or feasting. Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and drives us home to add one stroke of faithful work.”—Ralph Waldo Emerson
… I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink - for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.
… The state coffee puts one in when it is drunk on an empty stomach under these magisterial conditions produces a kind of animation that looks like anger: one’s voice rises, one’s gestures suggest unhealthy impatience: one wants everything to proceed with the speed of ideas; one becomes brusque, ill-tempered about nothing. One actually becomes that fickle character, The Poet, condemned by grocers and their like. One assumes that everyone is equally lucid. A man of spirit must therefore avoid going out in public. I discovered this singular state through a series of accidents that made me lose, without any effort, the ecstasy I had been feeling. Some friends, with whom I had gone out to the country, witnessed me arguing about everything, haranguing with monumental bad faith. The following day I recognized my wrongdoing and we searched the cause. My friends were wise men of the first rank, and we found the problem soon enough: coffee wanted its victim.
“The postindustrial world is not in fact populated … by “bizarre mavericks operating at the bohemian fringe.” The truth about most white-collar office work … is captured better by “Dilbert” and “The Office”: dull routine more alienating than the machine production denounced by Marx. Unlike the electrician who knows his work is good when you flip a switch and the lights go on, the average knowledge worker is caught in a morass of evaluations, budget projections and planning meetings. None of this bears the worker’s personal stamp; none of it can be definitively evaluated; and the kind of mastery or excellence available to the forklift driver or mechanic are elusive.”—Book Review - ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft - An Inquiry Into the Value of Work,’ by Matthew B. Crawford - Review - NYTimes.com
“I go to the library, and I open my laptop, and I sit there, regardless of whether or not I feel like it. I gave a reading at a high school the other day, and one of the students asked, ‘what do you do when you don’t feel inspired?’, and I said ‘I’ve never in my life felt inspired, it’s not a question of inspiration.’ It’s a question of this mundane, or this seemingly mundane act of will. I just go, and I’ve committed myself to this project of trying to be honest, and it’s not like a glorious revelation, it’s an incredibly difficult, frustrating, self-deprecating act.”