Archive for February, 2013

Piano Tuning – How it is Done

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Piano

My clients watch how I tune their piano for about five minutes and then leave me to the task. I know piano tuning is a mystery to most people.  I’ll explain a few things here.

The temperament strip is a long piece of red felt. It is inserted between the wires in order to mute the two outside wires, leaving the middle wire to ring free. The middle wire will be the first one to be tuned. The temperament strip frees the tuner from having to insert mutes between the wires.  It is necessary and it also saves time.

Larger mutes are used in the bass section. You might not notice, but the technician always presses the sustain pedal before inserting the bass mutes. Why? The mute tends to move the bass string laterally, sometimes enough to pinch the damper wedge felt. If the felt is pinched and then the pedal is pressed, the  felt may tear from the damper block.

Setting A to 440

After the mutes are installed, the tuning fork is used to set the pitch of A to the fork. You can tune ‘A’ to the fork pretty close by ear. The tuner will then check that note with F2. Tuning is done by comparing the beat rates of notes.  The object is to tune notes in perfect unison, but in order to do that, you compare notes that are out of tune and make sure they are ‘out of tune’ the right way. So with the comparison of F2 to A4, the tuner will hear beats. It doesn’t matter how many. Then the tuner compares F2 to the fork. If the number of beats are similar between F2 and the fork, and F2 and A4, then A4 is the same as the fork. Tricky, eh?

Comparing Intervals

Although there are exact measurements that can be used to verify the pitch of a note, the tuner refers to comparisons using more general terms. Fifths are tuned “narrow” and fourths are tuned “wide”. A sixth beats a “little faster” than a third.  When you ask how narrow, wide or faster, then you are seeking an answer that cannot be described easily. If you tune one interval too wide or narrow, then another interval will be more severely affected. So let me review the intervals in the temperament section, the octave between F3 and F4, stepwise. (The following is a new temperament order that I am working on. For techs: I am trying to get to C# as quickly as possible to set the C#-F4 interval.)

  1. Tune A4 to fork.
  2. Check F2 – A4
  3. Tune A4 to A3
  4. Tune A3 to E4 wide
  5. Tune B3 to E4 wide
  6. Tune F#4 to B3 wide
  7. Tune B3 to F#3 wide
  8. Tune F#3 to C#4
  9. Check C#4, F#4

See how it is pieced together? F3, F#, G, G#, A, B, Bb, C, C#, D, Eb, E, F4, F#4

If the checks at step 2 and step 9 (and a few others I did not include) are not correct, you make adjustments to correct the interval. That helps the tuner do the fine tuning on the intervals.

The red notes above are now tuned. By this rotational method, the tuner continues until all the notes in the temperament section are in tune.  Each interval is not tuned quite the same as the others, but in order to avoid becoming too technical, wide and narrow descriptions will suffice.

When the temperament is done, the F3-A3 will beat at an interval of 7 beats per second (bps).  F#-A# will beat at 8 bps. As you move up the scale, the beat rate of the thirds will increase. A tuner learns how to hear these beat rates. It isn’t important that the beat rate is exactly 7, 8 or 9 bps. (Pianos differ.) It is important they the beat rate increases as you move up the scale (and decreases as you move down.)

The Zen of Piano Tuning

That’s enough for now. Notice a few things? Tuners do not tune intervals to a pure beatless interval. That means we do not “tune” pianos (literally), we detune them.

By this method (and others) notes are tuned using comparisons of the intervals, 5th, 4th, 6th and 3rds. Later, the tuner will use 10ths to do comparisons.

That sounds difficult, and it is at first. After you tune your first 100 pianos, you can set a temperament easily. Your tuning ability increases at intervals of every 100 pianos or so.  The learning curve is different for every tuner.

After you tune hundreds of pianos, you no longer have to think about what you are doing as you tune. In fact, that is a desired practice.  Your level of concentration is so deep that you are in your “zone”. One way to explain this is to compare piano tuning to the golf swing.

The Golf Swing

An animation of a full golf swing displaying t...

An animation of a full golf swing displaying the appropriate and professional technique. Each of the 9 frames in the animation are based on this image. The animation was made in both Adobe Photoshop CS and Adobe ImageReady. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you know a little bit about golf, you remember the steps to a good golf swing. Place your feet shoulder wide, square your shoulders, hold your hands just so, head down, hands forward, etc. If you think about all of those steps, you are certain to hit the ball into the trees, or hook it into the adjacent fairway.

It is only when you STOP THINKING about your golf swing that the ball magically sails straight down the fairway. You have to hit a lot of balls before your muscle memory will perform without your attention to its actions. The same is true in piano tuning.

The difference is that a golf swing occurs in a few seconds, and a tuning takes 45 minutes and more. The thrill of watching the ball sail perfectly into the air is similar to what it is like to finish the piano and hear how good it sounds. With piano tuning, the process takes longer – a lot longer.

A tuner does not drift into a trance through the whole tuning. The periods of non-thinking  occur at different rates and for varying periods of time. But it occurs enough that most tuners will agree that we “tune by not tuning”, the way you hit a golf ball by not hitting it. This echoes the idea expressed in the Tao de Ching. I am not an expert in the Tao, but from what I have already explained, I can give you an idea what it is about.

When you hit the golf ball perfectly, you often turn to your buddy and he exclaims, “How did you do that?”

You cannot answer with anything but, “I don’t know.”

What is Knowledge, Exactly?

Think about this for a minute. The reason you don’t know is that you have no knowledge of the whole golf swing. The golf swing is not one separate action: it is a combination of actions. You have knowledge of each step of the golf swing, but you do not have knowledge of a “step” which is the entire golf swing.  Second, since you were told (repeatedly) not to “think” about the golf swing as you were doing it, you cannot remember the steps you took. Your objective self is turned off. You were not paying attention to what you were doing. You were simply “doing”, or “not doing”.

The perfect golf swing is effortless. It has no separate steps. It is one fluid action, unexplainable, beyond the bounds of knowledge, and after you finish, there are no words to explain how you hit the ball perfectly.

That moment was the Tao. The object of the Tao is to get you to live your entire life just that way. Effortless, beyond the bounds of knowledge, perfection. The Tao urges you to eliminate the struggle in life. When the struggle is gone, only life remains. Peaceful life.

And when a tuner finishes tuning a piano and the satisfied pianist asks in amazement, “How did you do that?” the tuner will mutter some technical nonsense like I have done in this post, but none of that will begin to explain what the tuner did. Explanations are nonsense because the tuner succeeded only by not trying. “I tried to not try,” is not an answer you are likely to hear from the tuner because you would think he was crazy.

The Magic

Hitting a golf ball perfectly is magical. It is unexplainable.  The same is true for tuning pianos. However, as you learn each step in the process, you must make a commitment to perfection in everything you do. When you learn the discipline, you must strive for perfection. Later, when the skills are learned, when the “steps” are mastered, and you learn to stop watching yourself tune as you tune, then the result will reflect the perfection evident in your training. Today, when I set a temperament on a piano, I do not think about it. If I think about it, it is harder to do. After the temperament is set, I break away from my trance and check it. I do this part with my objective self. Then I proceed to the next section and soon I am back into my trance.

By this measurement you can know your tuner’s ability. It is not known by how well he plays, or by the words he speaks, or the manner of his dress or behavior. You know him or her by the level of perfection that was achieved during the training. Since that time has past, the only measure of success is to watch the ball as it sails into the air. After the tuner leaves, sit down at the piano and play it slowly and with great attention. Listen intently. Let the notes sustain like a ball drifting motionless into the air. Now let you mind drift away. Become the piano.

When you can become the piano, you can appreciate what your tuner did when he did not tune the piano.

Now you know how a piano is tuned. It is tuned by not tuning it.

Sort of…

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In Search of the Perfect Truck

Posted: February 23, 2013 in Community

The Ford Ranger is history. This news will interest only a very few people. I am shopping for a new truck, so it interests me greatly. I wanted a Ford Ranger.  Here’s the story on what happened to that truck.

Actually, I didn’t want a Ford Ranger, but it was the only thing I could find that was close to what I wanted.  The F-150 is too big. Used trucks are not fuel-efficient, and small cars are not rated to tow a small trailer.

Enter the Proton Jumbuck.

Proton_Jumbuck

PROTON Cars Australia (PCA) makes this car (a 2009 model). Part car, part truck. Pretty cool, eh? So where is the American equivalent? Does not exist!

The Wall Street Journal has the graphs that show what is selling these days. I have no inclination to create an analysis of the data because I already know they aren’t making what I need.  The major manufacturers are chasing after the same customer. You can buy any car/truck you like, as long as it is the same type of car/truck everyone else makes.

eurotruck

You have seen the unusual cars and trucks that are shown in overseas shows.   You may have asked why Americans do not have access to those cars. The reasons most often given have to do with Federal regulations; good reasons I suppose, but that doesn’t help me in my quest for a truck.

American auto manufacturers are a true disappointment. They have been for many years (since the late 70s). I have owned only foreign cars based solely on the incident of repair reports that rank the quality of available cars. American cars never rank high.

I need something with utility. Something that is bare bones. Why waste money on features you do not need; do not want? And yet, the products that are offered today are “confused” products. They are hybrid products which include features for everyone, without being specifically designed for any single purpose.

Big Truck Mentality

American manufacturers cannot grasp the idea that some of us work in small communities, and have no need to climb mountains in a truck, or desire to place extra large tires on our work vehicle.

truckcompare

The Holden VZ Ute Thunder fits the bill.  The Ute has been in production for 60 years by Holden in Australia. The 50-2106 Coupe Utility (FX) first rolled off the production line in January 1951, and since then the Holden Ute has become an iconic vehicle in the Australian automotive industry. A truck has to be cool. American trucks are too similar.

cruck

I’ll call it a cruck – part car, part truck.  Fiat probably wouldn’t like that name. Works for me, if it came with a small tow package rating of 1,000 lbs.  Here is a page with 50 Japanese mini-trucks like the one shown below.  What fun!

minitruck

This is a dump truck. “Fuso Canter hybrid trucks by Mitsubishi are appreciated by International customers for their high quality and cost-efficiency. These sturdy trucks from Japan are also environmentally friendly.Low fuel emission, reliability, and toughness make Fuso Canter Hybrids from Japan as winner in the light-duty eco friendly truck segment.”

fuso

America manufacturers just don’t get it, and I am not going to buy what they are selling.

What’s the Buzz?

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Piano
View from below of a 182-cm grand piano. In or...

A buzz in these ribs can be detected by pressing your finger against the rib while striking the note that is causing the buzz to sound.

Does your piano have a buzz in it? Here are some tips on how to find what is causing the buzz.

The worst offenders are the ones least likely to occur but I list them first.

1. Soundboard – Inspect the soundboard for cracks. A soundboard is made from side-glued planks of wood. Sometimes a crack will form as two planks become separated. At certain frequencies, the adjoining wood can create a buzz. To test, press your finger on the crack with moderate force, play the note that is causing the buzz. If you can’t reach the crack, remember that you can have someone crawl under the grand piano and access the crack from that side too. In an upright, you access the soundboard from the back of the piano. (Use a helper.)

2. Ribs – The crown of the soundboard is reinforced by the use of ribs, glued perpendicular to the grain of the soundboard wood. A rib can become separated from the soundboard. This is not uncommon for pianos that have been in a dry climate for a long time. If you can slide a business card between the rib and the soundboard, then you need to get that repaired even if it is not the cause of the buzz. Press your finger against the rib as explained in item #1. If the buzz goes away, or even if it only diminishes, you have located the source. Your technician will drill a hole through the rib, glue the rib again, and install a bolt to secure the rib.

The remainder of the items below occur more often and are easier to repair.

3. You need to listen intently to locate the source of a buzz. This is a real challenge, and all technicians love to discover the source of a buzz. Your ears aren’t trained like a technicians (actually, it is the brain that is trained), so let me help you here. The source sound will be masked by secondary sounds. Let me explain. When a a buzz is generated, that sound is amplified by the soundboard. It is also redirected across the entire surface of the soundboard. Because of this, it will be hard to detect where the sound is coming from. Now listen more intently. There is a very slight difference in the quality of the sound. The secondary sound is actually a reverbation. It has an ever-so-slightly chorused (out of phase) quality to it. As you listen, work in sections. Isolate larger areas first, then hone in on specific areas. Proceed to step 4.

4. Anything that is fastened to a piano can become unfastened, unglued, loose, out of alignment. The things that are moved most often are the ones that come loose first. Makes sense? Sure. So let’s check the things that move most often.  Remove the front top panel of the upright piano, or music desk of the grand. Press on the parts of the case, the music desk, close the top (or open it). The pedals in an upright use rods. Find them on each side of the action. (One or two may be on the back side of the action.) Press your finger against the top of the rod and play the key.  On grands, get on your back and check the pedal assemblies. Check the screws that you see. Case screws are a likely suspect. The lid support screws are often the cause.

5. It can be frustrating. Relax. Use your ears. Frustration detracts from concentration. Remember, you are the thinking being. The piano is the inanimate object. Don’t let it out-smart you. :)

6. If you have a grand piano, do not attempt to remove the action unless you like to hear the sound of hammers snapping off their shanks. It is hard to damage an upright action (unless you try to remove it.) On grands, remove the fallboard. Life CAREFULLY so you do not gouge the wood on the arms of the case. You will be tempted to lean it against a wall. Don’t do that. They fall. Lay ti on the ground away from pedestrian traffic and away from the piano. Do not remove the action, just look into the area where the action is and pull out pieces of paper, pencils and Lord knows what else is in there! Don’t worry about the dust. Dust does not buzz.

7. In an upright, remove the front board. Look inside the case and you will find two or more screws, easily accessible, securing the front panel with the music rack on it. Remove it and lay it on the floor. Check for paper and pencils and other debris.

As you do all of this, keep striking the note periodically to check to see if the buzz changes or disappears.

As you can see, there are a lot of steps involved. That is why you need to rely on your listening skills first. The object of this exercise is to find the buzz on the first try, without removing any case parts. Keep striking the note and listening until you are certain you know what is causing the buzz. When you certain, check that item. Proceed to the next guess if needed.  Work on one area, one suspect at a time.  If you are just banging away on the key, touching everything in sight, you are going to get frustrated. Listen. Stay focused. Make good guesses.

After you find it, you are permitted to reprimand the offending part. Save your worst words for when you put the case back together – you will need them. :)

 

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evansI listened to a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s 1979 interview of Jazz Great Bill Evans. I am so happy to have found the link to the interview because there are some comments made by Mr. Evans that are absolutely priceless and incredibly insightful. I am listening to it as I type.  My readers who are jazz musicians will appreciate some of the funny comments made in the interview too.

Marian was surprised to learn that Bill played wedding gigs. He said, “Of course!” somewhat surprised that someone would think he was not out there doing the same things the rest of us do. And in all fairness, I think most of us forget that the top jazz stars were at one time the great unknowns. :)

“Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.”

Bill’s comments resonate with me at this time because I am one month into a four month commitment to take jazz lessons from former University of North Texas Professor Dan Hearle. His bio is at the link.  During his career he has taught untold numbers of jazz students. The fact that I am taking lessons from him should in no way elevate my reputation, anyone can take lessons – you just need to pay the tuition. But Bill Evans’ comments about jazz struck a chord with me, (a b9b13 is you must know!) :)

Bill spoke about the importance of knowing the fundamentals of a piece. How often have I jumped right into a piece and started soloing on the changes, never giving the tune a good fundamental examination. Dan Hearle is right in line with Evans’ comment. There is a melody. There is a chord. There is a scale. “Oh, you mean I am supposed to pay attention to that?” I think.  Bill says that after you have those fundamentals down, you can “move around”, and then he plays a few examples – and of course, I have no idea what he is doing, but even I can grasp the notion of being firmly rooted in the fundamentals of a piece. And I am encouraged, because even an intermediate player can – and seemingly must – learn the fundamentals of the piece.

Bill’s comment finds its way home when he adds that “Intuition without knowledge is out there by itself.” I am listening to the program again so I can get the exact quote. (See below). It was priceless. Improvisation, so says Bill, is 90% knowledge and 10% intuition. If you don’t have the knowledge, the intuition isn’t going to be enough. And Bill really got to know a piece. Marian reminded him that he once said, “I would rather play one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in an hour.” Bill laughed in agreement.

“Have a complete picture of the basic structure” before you work from there. Structure is the “abstract, theoretical thing” in a piece. He plays C to its dominant G7, and he is thinking about a pedal point so he can set up the “thing” — and then he plays a bit — “Now again [music plays] now we are going to modulate to E major, now we have to get back to C through its dominant” and so on….

And it is just awesome to sit here listening to Bill explain how he plays. I am LOVING this.

bill-evansI have heard that Bill Evans was  a microscopic player. He knew every nuance of the piece. That is what his music reveals, but it is the PROCESS of moving from the fundamentals to a base of knowledge, then contemplation of the abstractions, and then “moving around”.  The product grows.

Marian said that a lot of musicians really don’t know the pieces they are playing, and Bill agreed and nailed the point with:  “Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.” (That’s the exact quote. I was close!).  “If it’s on its own, you’re going to flounder sooner or later.” Students need to know that, Bill says. “Knowing the problem is 90% of solving it.”

“The problem is to be clear and get down to basic structure.”

Of course, when we listen to one of the jazz greats there isn’t much to prompt us to remember that what we are hearing is based on a strong awareness of the basic structure, the “problem”, and the additive process the artist went through to develop the tune. Sure, I might practice one tune for 24 hours, but Bill Evans – with his level of talent –  is going to get more out of that practice session than I would. But that isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that I will get more out of my music if I follow the same ritual. it might not sound as good as Bill Evans (guaranteed!) but it will sound a whole heck of a lot better than what I doing when I just opened the Real Book and started jamming.

“Get back to the basics.” How many times have we heard that in all types of situations. We get so far down the road – lost, muddled in despair – and someone reminds us, “Get back to the basics. Review the fundamentals.” Sure enough, intuition was out there by itself, and the syncopated rhythms, long miserable lines, the poor voicings are the sounds of floundering, not jazz.

If you’re a jazz pianist, you are already listening to the show. If you’re not, let me tempt you one more time.  It’s a window into the music of Bill Evans – a voice from the past, with good advise for your future. And for a little inspiration from our time, listen to Dan Hearle’s live performance of his new CD, with some insights from other musicians.

People want to read something real. I sense this from the responses I get to this blog. I should write about pianos of course, but after writing a hundred blogs on that subject (and listing the index to each on my website), I feel at ease to write about what I really want to write about.

Something real.

As a people, we are the benefactors of much consideration. When the media reports the daily events, the editors first consider how readers are likely to respond. The news is tempered. Crowd control editing, I call it. The masses cannot be trusted.  Government leaders speak in generalities because specific details invite specific disagreement.  I’ll sleep eight, work eight, eat two, and waste six.  If I’m lucky, I get an hour of real.

April of this year will mark thirty years since I met my wife. That is real. We remain inseparable.  In May, my daughter will graduate from college, probably summa cum laude.  That’s real. I’m going to rip the action out of my grand piano and find out why the touch is not exactly the way I want it.

grandactioj

Every photo of piano maintenance should be labeled with a warning: “Do not try this at home.” This is hands on. This is hours and hours of hands on. Yes, this is real. If you want to see more torture, visit the link on that photo.  Lots of “real” going on in that shop.

I bought a book on philosophy at the used book store. When I got home and thumbed the pages, a student’s notes fell out. I have no idea where the book is. The notes were real. I still have them.  The notes have more import to me than anything written in the book. The words on the note pages were written by a real person, someone who was engaged in learning what was written in the book. Sure, the book was written by a person too, but the notes seemed more intimate. I bought the book. The notes were a gift.

Real is intimate. Real is getting your hands on the work. Real is putting your hand into your wife’s hand. Real is giving your daughter a helping hand, or a round of applause. Real is reading what another hand has written.

There is a lot of real out there. Go get you some.

 

 

What if All Conflict Ceased to Exist?

Posted: February 15, 2013 in Philosophy

Yesterday all the problems of the world, of the human condition, were resolved. There are no wars. Crime no longer exists. Republicans and Democrats agree on all matters. Life is just the way we want it to be.

Where does that leave us?

I assume that you, like all people, are trying to resolve a few problems in your personal life, business or relationships with others. That seems to be the norm. But let us assume that all of those troubles are now resolved.  You now possess an understanding that permits you to be at peace with conflicts you could not resolve, and those conflicts in your life that once were such a bother, have now been resolved to your satisfaction.

Where does that leave you?

What would a life absence of conflict be like? I need not list examples of conflicts. A single lifetime seems to be a continuous stream of conflicts and resolutions.  Now that the problems are all solved, what do you imagine that life would be like?

If we are trying to solve problems so we are problem free, what kind of life are we really trying to create for ourselves, others and the world?

It is hard to imagine becoming a victim of a crime. Can you imagine a life without crime? It is hard to imagine what it is like to go without food. Can you imagine a life where everyone has access to basic necessities?

These are not easy questions.  We remain engaged in trying to eliminate personal and social problems, for a reason – but why? If we are not willing to think about what our life might be like in the absence of these things, why do we work so hard to try to eliminate them? Are we working to create a life we are unwilling to imagine?

Life is a Stream

The philosopher Schopenhauer likened life to a stream. When the stream proceeds unimpeded, the water is calm, the speed is swift, the air is quiet, and time passes without notice. However, when a tree limb falls into the water, when the elevation changes and creates a waterfall, when any force interferes with the peaceful flow of the stream, time becomes significant. The very definition and character of a stream is measured by the things which tend to impede it.

A life without challenges would be peaceful. It would also be very boring. Maybe that is why we do not care to imagine what a trouble-free life would be like.

Managing the Conflict

If it is necessary that life will always consist of episodes of conflicts and resolutions. We have the option of managing those conflicts in a way that does not detract our level of satisfaction with our life. Some think of work as a drudgery.  Others whistle while they do similar work. The difference is attitude.

In an objective sense, conflict is necessary and good. We define its quality subjectively however. We measure conflict in terms of how it opposes our will, and opposition to our will is valued as a bad quality which detracts from our desire to be conflict free.

Finding the Right Perspective

We tell ourselves to “Keep a perspective”, or to “Deal with it,” or “Live and let live,” and other truisms which give us a hint that conflict can be managed without becoming a victim of the conflict. It suggests that we can be in a conflict without being affected by the conflict. When the tree limb impedes our progress, redirects our desires, delays our satisfactions, we have the capacity to remain in control of how we regard those uninvited conflicts. If an occasional waterfall is a necessary event, one that guarantees that our life will gain meaning, then we can adopt our skills to account for that inevitability.

We are not resolving conflict in order to eliminate its presence.  Instead, we resolve conflict because conflict is necessary. What is not necessary is to become adversely affected by conflict. Instead of imagining a life without conflict, imagine a life where we are each better able to live peacefully in a world of conflict.

We need not wait for the future for that to occur. We can enjoy that life right now.  We understand that conflicts will happen to us. How the force of conflict affects us is one thing. How we allow ourselves to be affected remains within our control. The peaceful stream is within each of us. There are limits to what we can do, especially when conflict is severe, but it is my guess that it might be beneficial to focus on learning new coping strategies instead of wishing that conflicts would simply go away.

Mark Twain

Cover of Mark Twain

This morning’s article on Huffington Post entitled Atheism to Defeat Religion By 2038  requires consideration and a response.

The article presumes to assert that the majority of our population will turn away from a belief in a supreme being (God) by the year 2038. “The view that religious belief will give way to atheism is known as the secularization thesis.  The most obvious approach to estimating when the world will switch over to being majority atheist is based on economic growth [sic]. This is logical because economic development is the key factor responsible for secularization.”

The article is as short in length as it is in reasonableness.  The author relies on a “mountain of evidence”, but he only cites three affirming references.  He writes, “If fewer than 50 percent of the population agreed that religion was important to them, then the country has effectively crossed over to a secular majority.”

There are many ways to argue the hypothetical.  A good start would be to define our terms. Atheism is a denial of the existence of a supreme and supernatural being. Theism is an assertion of the opposite case. Both assertions are based in belief.  There is no evidence that a supreme being does not exist, nor is there evidence to the contrary. Seen in this light, atheism (based in belief) will not “defeat” religion (also based in belief.)

Religion  is an organizational unit which permits members to socialize and provide the necessary administrative functions to preserve the organization.   As the linked definition indicates, religion is social whereas personal belief is the product of a single individual. So we might agree that defeating religion does not necessarily mean defeating personal beliefs.  We might also agree that a simple majority vote might only indicate a population’s preference for one belief or the other. It seems better to say that one general social disposition might replace, or “out-pace” the other. But defeat? Let’s examine that.

Atheism lacks an organizational structure. It is an individual belief. The questionnaire recommended by the article’s author relies on opinions from individuals. He writes, “One way of assessing the depth of religious commitment is to ask survey participants whether they think that religion is important in their daily lives as the Gallup Organization has done in worldwide nationally representative surveys.”

Wait! We have a problem now. Religion is a social organization. Atheism makes no direct assertion about religion.  It is the antithesis of theism, not religion.  A person could certainly indicate a lack of preference or reliance for socialization with other adherents, but that would not mean that the person’s own personal beliefs had changed.  Embracing a belief and being committed to it also offers a variable in the assessment.

Religion relies on socialization. Will atheism “defeat” socialization? That seems unlikely. Religion relies on other factors too. A belief in theism, or in atheism for that matter, has at its foundation a level of ignorance of something. Ignorance is a naturally occurring human condition. So is superstition, story-telling, faith, hope, and the entire expression of being human. Religion serves the interests of those who seek to express themselves as humans. Will atheism defeat this organizational effort? Will it alter the persistent nature of humankind?

No, and it is easy to see the error of the author when we view atheism as just another expression of theism.  Atheism and theism are merely human dispositions; mirror images perhaps, but fundamentally they are equal since they make assertions about unknown qualities. If I require an answer for a question I have not yet revealed, you could make a guess and believe whether or not it was true. All answers would be equally wrong until the question was revealed. It is the unknown questions of the universe and our existence which gives rise to answers put forth by both theists and atheists. The answers are different, but they are equally incorrect.

While the article’s author seeks to be prophetic about a change in the answers provided by a majority of humans, he ignores that nothing about the answers does anything to change the nature of humankind.  Here is another prophetic statement – “space, time and thought are not separate things.” [Season 1: Episode 5 Star Trek: The Next Generation] The theological implications of that statement are too difficult to grasp, but it is at least thought-provoking.  It is a possible answer to many questions. Unfortunately, we have not yet framed the correct questions that would lead us to embrace that answer. (So often we judge our brilliance based on our answers. I find that true brilliance is found in asking the right questions.)

Atheism is largely misunderstood. It is simply the negation of an answer.  It makes no assertion of belief (and in most cases, adherents deny that they are relying on faith to form their assertion.) The hypothetical could then be written as “Belief will defeat belief”. That is nonsensical.

Atheism is a transitional belief that seeks to deny mainstream cultural values. Atheism leads to something else – a new expression of being human. It is the act of erasing the chalk from the board. Once the mainstream answers are erased, the board is ready to receive a new answer. Atheists have not come up with that answer yet. They are in transition. Seen in this light, atheism is the vanguard of a new form of religious expression. Religion therefore will not be defeated, although it may undergo a major transformation. We will just have to wait and see what atheists decide to believe in after they succeed in denouncing mainstream religious expressions as primitive relics of our aging and (economically) maturing cultures.

Transition is an element of human maturity. If the world’s population is tending to abandon mainstream answers, the nature of being human will not change. Religion – our preference for socialization based on common beliefs, ideas and attitudes will survive and rally around new understandings. A similar transition occurred when we abandoned polytheism and replaced it with monotheism. The next generation of answers won’t be much better than the ones we use now, but that is the nature of belief and faith. We can define truth anyway we want until we gain an accurate understanding of the questions that elude us.

“Thought is the basis for all understanding.”  Star Trek is far more interesting than discussions about religion’s decline, and just as likely to be a closer approximation of universal truth.  Religion can find sanctuary in the words of Mark Twain, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

If atheism becomes the mainstream thought, atheists won’t believe in it. I will leave them to figure out that riddle.

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cowboyI have been using the internet for a long time. I cannot remember the year I started, but I do remember looking forward to buying a 56K modem. In fact, I still have several modems in a box in the garage, along with my Mac512K and Mac30.

I paid $5.00 a year for internet access back then. Graphics were optional but I opted for a text-only feed. At that time the attraction of the internet was based on accessing written material. Graphics slowed the connection to a crawl, with little benefit. Internet users wanted information, usually the kind that was found in libraries and academic studies. The internet was not a source for news or entertainment.  It was like a big library. The only interactions you had with others was through static bulletin boards.

Over time the internet suffered the intrusion of the interests of business. A trade-off occurred. We surrendered our privacy in exchange for content that is most often innane. The internet is the perfection of the “boob tube” – a mindless source of intellectual stimulation. What is most telling, is how our culture – cultures throughout the world – have been changed by the emergence of all of the technologies related to the expansion of the internet.

The world was not prepared for that change. It is the Copernican Syndrome. In 1990, the world was flat. Since then, worldviews have been shattered and replaced with new versions of the truth.

There will come a day when no living person has first-hand knowledge of what life was like without the internet. Among those people will be those who attempt to write a historical account of what occurred during the infancy of the internet. You and I know about that. They won’t.

We might agree that the most significant post-internet social change was our inability to manage the avalanche of information that was made available to us. New information that requires change is upsetting to people. The generation that grew up in the internet age isn’t affected by the rapid-fire exposure to new information the same way. For them, this is the only reality they know. For pre-internet people, everything that has changed is being compared to a reality that is becoming more and more obselete.

I am not suggesting that we go back to a flat-world reality. We can’t go back anyway; there is no reason to entertain the notion. I am suggesting that the chaos in the world will settle down after the flow of information on the internet is better managed, and as people learn how to process that information. That will happen. It is happening now. The patterns of the internet’s development, and our responses, are a matter of public record. The patterns resemble the path from anarchy to civilization. In the beginning, the internet  was largely impersonal – a lonely field of information. There were no social rules, you just searched for information that was held by large institutions. When the internet became social – crossroads were created. That is also what happened in civilzation’s early development. Tribes formed and then established trade routes.

When trade routes crossed, people of different tribes adapted to a more diverse social setting. Conflicts arose, but the business interests of the traders prevailed and social institutions emerged which promoted and protected the interests of the people and their businesses. The crossroads of trading became a town that was distinctly different than any of the tribes which supplied the goods to be traded.

Today we are in the phase of development where civility is struggling for dominance. As technology has evolved, so have the rules of good conduct. When our reality is altered, and chaos prevails, our desire for a managed and civil existence tries to bring order to all of the competing interests. Business has the means to enact and enforce those changes, but individuals also create change through creative input, new business ventures, and social protests. Nothing has changed. The internet mirrors life. It is just another crossroads of merging trade routes: a new city where the diversity promises opportunity, but also creates challenges to social order.

The day will come when the chaos is managed. A new era of innocence will emerge. Just as America was once an unexplored expanse of land, the internet is an undeveloped territory. Yesterday’s pioneers are completely unknown to us, outside the myths that tell of their lives. Such will be our fate too. We have a generation of young adults who have never lived without the internet. In 100 years, only a few people will know of people who knew people who lived without the internet. Once they pass, no one will know anyone who ever knew anyone who lived without the internet. When that happens; when no one knows anyone who ever knew us, we will be regarded as the pioneers of the internet.

No one will know the struggles we endured, the cause for our protests, the reasons for our rules, or the suffering that occurred as we tamed a wild frontier. Facebook will become as obscure as the invention of the cotton mill. It will be regarded as something that was needed, but it was too primitive to survive. Something similar to Twitter will survive, but no one will regard it as similar because they won’t remember that Twitter ever existed. Facebook and Twitter will seem ancient, archaic. People will have a hard time understanding why they were ever popular, just as we wonder why people would be happy to use a horse and buggy to ride to church on Sunday.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, but the age we live in is tomorrow’s age of antiquity. We are as obsolete now as we will be then. The differences between now and then rely entirely on our own perceptions of the emerging reality.  The internet comes with a switch. You can turn it off. You can turn off your lights too – refuse to use electricity – stop drinking public water, hunt for your food, grow your own vegetables. In the future, even today,  opting out of an internet existence will not be an option. Such a move would be akin to choosing a miser’s life in a secluded ravine in the mountains. The internet is new now, but it will not remain so. It will become hardwired into ever aspect of our existence. We are the pioneers. Enjoy what frontier remains while it is here.

How I Write: I Think

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Instruction, Philosophy

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you to think, or how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you learn how to think is to practice thinking.

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.  The more difficult questions offer the greatest opportunity for learning, but the easy questions must be mastered before you attempt the more difficult ones.

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there is nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first person was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Organizing Your Thoughts

The points I made so far are not exhaustive: there is more to think about. But let me move on now to the topic of organizing your thoughts. As a writer you must have empathy. You must be able to convey ideas in a way that the reader is able to understand those ideas. Good writing is just a recipe.  The topic may be difficult to write about, but the organization of the ideas is the same for every topic. A simple recipe for organizing your ideas goes like this: 1.) Tell them what you want to tell them, 2.) Tell them why you told them, 3.) Tell them again.

In the last paragraph, I included a heading. You really do not need to read that paragraph in order to understand that I (the author) place an emphasis on the importance of organizing your thoughts. A lot of people read quickly; they skim. As an empathetic writer, you know this and account for it in your writing style. You separate your paragraphs with headers when there is a shift in the topic.

Putting It All Together

You already know what this paragraph is about because you read the header. Let me return to the first part of this essay and insert headers to show you how their use increases readability.

Learn in the Correct Order

It is said that in order to become a great jazz artist, one must first study the works of the artists who defined the genre.  Each artist introduced something new, as an addition to what was currently being played.  You would not want to study Bill Evans before you were introduced to Fats Waller or Red Garland because Mr. Evans incorporated the styles of Waller and Garland into his own style.

First Learn the Fundamentals

You must learn the fundamentals of an art. As it applies to writing, the first fundamental is thinking. You can’t write well unless you know how to think well. Learning how to think well is one of the benefits derived from philosophy.  Notice that I did not write “the study of philosophy”.  If you study what others thought, that does not teach you how to think – it only teaches what others have thought. Like jazz, I can listen to the music of Jelly Roll Morton, but I am not doing Mr. Morton until I actually play music in that style. The study of philosophy is important too, but it is the practice of philosophy that helps you learn how to do it.  So the fundamental of writing is thinking, and the way you to think is to practice thinking.

An Example

What shall we think about? Some thinking isn’t going to help us improve. Let me demonstrate with a few examples.

1. What will I wear tomorrow?

2. What will you wear tomorrow?

3. What was the first outfit ever worn?

The first question is pretty easy. It would be difficult to get that one wrong. Now think about the question itself. Why is it easy to answer? If you can discover why this question is easy to answer, then it might follow that other similar questions would also be easy to answer, for similar reasons.  When you discover those similarities, you are creating a set of rules that can be applied to similar questions.

A Closer Look at the Possible Answers

Question #1 requires a person (you) to make a determination.  The correctness of the answer is also determined by you. The answer relies only on you to make it, and you to judge if it is the right answer. You are the subject and there are nothing about the answer which requires any other actor’s knowledge, or a standard of right and wrong to be imposed by another actor.

Question #2 introduces the idea of objectivity. A person seeks to determine the action/decision of something/someone other them himself/herself. You noticed all the slashes in the sentence. As you expand your thinking from the subjective case to the objective case, you encounter options. The alternative meanings and answers increase. The question is more difficult to answer.  The practice of thinking (i.e. philosophy) would encourage discovering every possible meaning in a question. That is the only way you can discover every possible answer. If you can think deeper about a subject, you can learn to write with greater depth.

Question #3 asks you to determine an answer that cannot be known with certainty. There are some obvious difficulties. You have no idea who the first person was. You have no idea where the first was, when he existed, if he was a he or a she or an it, and so forth.

Invest Time Improving Your Thinking

You could spend a lot of time thinking about these three questions. After a day or two, you might see that these questions are similar to many other questions. You might find something so unique during your contemplations that you become amazed that you never before considered the possibility. Most people do not like to think about things like this because it exhausts them. However, most everyone will think a long time about things that have a direct effect on them, and quite often derive a poor answer because they were unwilling to learn how to think about the things they didn’t want to think about.

If you are going to write about things people have not thought about, then you better think about those things. Your writing will reveal how much thought you invested in the subject.

Conclusions

A writer is a thinker. A great writer has practiced the components of writing for a long time. Those components, as I discussed in this writing, are thinking, organizing, and empathizing. There are many additional features that great writing includes. I believe the three I covered in this writing are fundamentally significant, and might help other writers consider what import they place on thinking, practicing, organizing and being considerate of their readers.

If you agree, then you will stop reading about what I think, and you will spend some time thinking about what you think.  And if I keep writing, I will be keeping you from thinking about what you want to think about. So I will stop now.