Things you are supposed to like

post by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-22T02:04:34.066Z · score: 71 (89 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 371 comments

I'm trying to like Beethoven's Great Fugue.

"This piece alone completely changed my life and how I perceive and appreciate music."

"Those that claim to love Beethoven but not this are fakers, frauds, wannabees, but most of all are people who are incapable of stopping everything for 10 minutes and reveling in absolute beauty, absolute perfection. Beethoven at his finest."

"This is the absolute peak of Beethoven."

"It's now my favorite piece by Beethoven."

These are some of the comments on the page.  Articulate music lovers with excellent taste praise this piece to heaven.  Plus, it was written by Beethoven.

It bores me.

The first two times I listened to it, it stirred no feelings in me except irritation and impatience for its end.  I found it devoid of small-scale or large-scale structure or transitions, aimless, unharmonious, and deficient in melody, rhythm, and melodic or rhythmic coordination between the four parts, none of which I would care to hear by themselves (which is a key measure of the quality of a fugue).

Yet I feel strong pressure to like it.  Liking Beethoven's Great Fugue marks you out as a music connoisseur.

I feel pressure to like other things as well.  Bitter cabernets, Jackson Pollack paintings, James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the music of Arnold Schoenberg, and Burning Man.  This is a pattern common to all arts.  You recognize this pattern in a work when:

  1. The work in question was created by deliberately taking away everything that most people like best about that art form.  In the case of wine, sweetness and fruitiness.  In the case of Jackson Pollack, form, variety, relevance, and colors not found in vomit.  In the music of Alban Berg, basic music theory.  In every poem in any volume of "Greatest American Poetry" since 2000, rhyme, rhythm, insight, and/or importance of subject matter.  In the case of Burning Man, every possible physical comfort.  The work cannot be composed of things that most people appreciate plus things connoisseurs appreciate.  It must be difficult to like.
  2. The level of praise is absurd.  The Great Fugue, Beethoven's finest?  I'm sorry; my imagination does not stretch that far.  "Burning Man changed my life completely" - I liked Burning Man; but if it changed your life completely, you probably had a vapid life.
  3. People say they hated it at first, but over time, grew to love it.  One must be trained to like it.
  4. People give contradictory reasons for liking it.  One person says the Great Fugue has a brilliant structure; another says it is great because of its lack of structure.
  5. Learning to like it is a rite of passage within a particular community.

Here are some theories as to how a work becomes the darling of its medium or genre:

  1. It is really and truly excellent. This would explain features 2 and 5.
  2. It is a runaway peacock's-tail phenomenon: Someone made something that stood out in some way, and it got attention; and people learned to like things like that, and so others made things that stood out more in the same way, until we ended up with Alban Berg. This would explain features 2 and 3.
  3. Enshrining good art as exemplars helps advance people devoted to art up their field's dominance hierarchy; enshrining bad art as exemplars advances people who are more devoted to seeking power.  Guess which type of person you find more of at the top of power hierarchies?  This would explain all five features.
  4. As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested; like porn viewers who seek out movies with continually-stranger sex acts.  If ivy-league universities had departments of pornography, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals. This would explain features 1, 3, and 5.
  5. Practitioners of an art appreciate technique more than content.  This is why authors love Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Delaney's Dhalgren; they are full of beautiful phrases and metaphors, ways of making transitions, and other little tricks that authors can admire and learn to use, even though these books aren't as interesting to readers. This could explain feature 5.

(Don't assume that the same theory is true for each of my examples.  I think that the wine hierarchy and Alban Berg are nonsense, Jackson Pollack is an interesting one-trick pony, Citizen Kane was revolutionary and is important for cinematographers to study but is boring compared to contemporary movies, and Burning Man is great but would be even better with showers.)

I could keep listening to the Great Fugue, and see if I, too, come to love it in time.  But what would that prove?  Of course I would come to love it in time, if I listen to it over and over, earnestly trying to like it, convinced that by liking the Great Fugue I, too, would attain the heights of musical sophistication.

The fact that people come to like it over time is not even suggested by theory 1 - even supposing the music is simply so great as to be beyond the appreciation of the typical listener, why would listening to it repeatedly grant the listener this skill?

I have listened to it a few times, and am growing confused as to whether I like it or not.  Why is this?  Since when does one have to wonder whether one likes something or not?

I am afraid to keep listening to the Great Fugue.  I would come to like it, whether it is great art or pretentious garbage.  That wouldn't rule out any of my theories.

How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

371 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-21T04:47:23.832Z · score: 67 (69 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A handful of points, without any particular axe to grind, from a professional music scholar:

(1) The Great Fugue is difficult to like, difficult to know what to make of -- even most of its passionate advocates would agree to that -- and there's no particular reason to think that opinions from wildly positive to wildly negative are not all within the realm of the reasonable responses to this piece. A huge amount of scholarly ink has been spilled on why it, and the late string quartets, and the Missa Solemnis, are so peculiar.

(2) Relatedly, people who love it and think that it's obviously, uncomplicatedly lovable may well be putting on airs or signaling. And as with any piece of music that has gigantic prestige built up around it (partly due to its reputation for being super-profound and inscrutable), all opinions are probably to be somewhat taken with some suspicion of signaling behavior.

(3) Think of someone who has repeatedly shown herself to be a brilliant, extremely sound thinker. You come to trust her opinions on a wide range of topics. When she says something you find absolutely bizarre or inscrutable, you're going to at a very minimum think carefully about what she says to see if the fault is with you. If you're a fan of most of the music Beethoven writes, I encourage you to give him a similar benefit of the doubt.

(4) I myself find the Great Fugue remarkable but not at all pleasant -- in fact, while Beethoven holds me enraptured right up through the Last Five Sonatas and the Ninth Symphony, he loses me a bit with the Missa Solemnis and the late string quartets, with the exception of a few isolated movements. You're certainly not wrong to suggest that admitting these views in academic music circles is low-prestige (although not as much so as it used to be), but a major factor in this is my point (3) above: Beethoven has generally earned the benefit of the doubt. Also, it's equally low-prestige in those circles to run around gushing about how amazing the Great Fugue is without having some interesting things to say about why you think so.

(5) I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music. Quality is subjective, or at most inter-subjective, and aesthetic judgments do not contain truth value.

(6) Whatever you think you mean by suggesting that the music of Alban Berg (not sure why you picked him) lacks "basic music theory," I can completely guarantee you that you are wrong. Music theory is not a property of musical compositions any more than linguistics is a property of language. If what you mean is that Alban Berg was not a composer of tonal music in the 18th- and 19th-century sense, then that is true, but (a) his music contains structure, just not tonal structure; (b) the relativism of aesthetic judgments means that that is neither a bad thing nor a good thing except insofar as the pleasure some people take in his music is good; and (c) if you are hinting at the claim that people who say they like Alban Berg's music don't actually like it but are just signaling social prestige, then that may be true for some individuals but is false in the general sense.

(7) Liking has a great deal more to do with familiarity than you think it does, and substantial music cognition research backs this up.

(8) It is probably impossible to separate individual aesthetic pleasure from socially-pressured aesthetic pleasure as thoroughly as you want to. (I'm reminded of the famous Judgment of Paris wine-tasting episode (link is to Wikipedia, tinyurl is the only way I could get it not to be broken).) We are social beings, so we should release ourselves from the imagined obligation to make all our aesthetic judgments in a social vacuum. Even the pleasure you take from the things you think you like in the most genuine and uncomplicated way is to some degree socially determined. Liking things is something that we're in many ways primed to do by what we hear from others -- if my best friend recommends me a novel, I'll read it with somewhat more patience knowing that someone whose opinion I value has vouched for it. If in the end I like it, even if I wouldn't have liked it otherwise, there's no reason to think of that liking as being less genuine or less valuable.

(7+8) If you listen to the Great Fugue a hundred more times, unless you find something viscerally unpleasant about it (which, make no mistake, some people really do, since it's pretty loud and screechy), you will probably like it, because familiarity and social conditioning tend to do that to us. If you like it, stop driving yourself crazy and just like it. If you can't stand to like something thinking that there's some element of social conditioning driving you to do so, then by all means stop listening to the Great Fugue.

(9) That said, many people do find that it's interesting or pleasant to expend a little effort to see if they can learn to like something that they don't immediately like but have some reason to think they may like eventually. That's what an acquired taste is. If you give it a shot and it doesn't take, then let yourself off the hook. And you can always take some pleasure in being the aggressive countersignaller who goes around telling anyone who'll listen that the Great Fugue is totally overrated (some people will take a lot more pleasure in that than they ever could in the piece itself (the politest, but by no means only, word for those people is "contrarians")).

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T05:58:48.501Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by Grognor · 2011-10-21T21:09:56.540Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your last sentence but not your first. Aesthetics is pretty reliable among humans, but what about in minds-in-general?

After all, dung beetles probably consider dung to be pleasing at some level. The beauty of dung, art, a piece of music, etc., is not "true" or "false".

comment by Tiiba · 2011-10-22T03:09:56.726Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Aesthetics is pretty reliable among humans, but what about in minds-in-general"

I don't think that's relevant. A fugue's job description doesn't include entertaining killer robots from outer space, it's supposed to entertain humans.

In general, I think any artwork should be judged (not enjoyed, but judged) based on whether the author succeeded or failed at what [s]he, personally set out to do, and whether it was a hard thing to do - whether it is creating music that is different from all other music in every way imaginable while remaining musical, or writing a novel that avoids all unrealism, or just figuring out what makes museums accept works for which "garbage" is a description, not an insult. Basically, the same way you'd judge an engineer.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T17:42:23.091Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that's relevant. A fugue's job description doesn't include entertaining killer robots from outer space, it's supposed to entertain humans.

Now I wish there were a classical music piece entitled "Fugue in G for Killer Robots from Outer Space".

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-22T17:52:08.989Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sort of like this?

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T22:16:06.643Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I, uh. Wow. I did not expect to like that nearly as much as I did.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-23T20:04:02.600Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, for future reference: this looks to me like a case of defecting by accident. If you intended insult, of course, feel free to disregard this message.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-23T22:22:15.640Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I hadn't seen any of Flight of the Conchords before, and was wary of it (for reasons of genre) once I clicked the link, but that was a pretty fun song. Sorry for the illusion of transparency on my part.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-23T22:30:05.465Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

No problem; and thanks for explaining, actually. I was having trouble coming up with a reason why you'd expect it to be bad other than a low opinion of my taste, though I was pretty sure that wasn't the case (for one thing, I don't believe I've commented on music on this site).

Incidentally, you wouldn't believe how long I agonized over a way to bring that implication to your attention without defecting by accident (by seeming accusatory or insulting) myself. This stuff is harder than it seems.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-23T22:35:49.530Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, we've both learned something about communicating on the Internet. Tsuyoku naritai!

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-10-29T20:14:12.588Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A good general artist should be able to study dung beetles for a while and then construct an optimally pleasing piece if dung. Doing so would be a valid act of artistic expression, and in fact the idea is pretty interesting and novel, so it might give quite a bit of status if done well. If I had more time and access to dung beetles I would give it a go, since that kind of cogsci crossover and provocative thing is right up my alley. I'd not be surprised to see a TED talk about it by some artist who did it either.

comment by gwern · 2011-10-29T20:17:49.667Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am surprised no one has brought up http://www.xkcd.com/915/ yet.

(I may one day regret posting this comment, but... when that XKCD was published, I remarked in #lesswrong that it was entirely correct, and pointed to myself: as a result of my years cleaning a dog pen, I had developed distinct aesthetic preferences as far as feces went. They can vary widely in attractiveness based on coloring, water-content, foreign bodies, etc.)

comment by gwern · 2011-10-22T00:16:58.848Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aesthetics is pretty reliable among humans, but what about in minds-in-general?

See Schmidhuber (of AIXI etc):

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-22T15:24:57.479Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by gwern · 2011-10-22T19:56:03.677Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a reason I shouldn't consider it massively important?

It's been a while since I read his writing on this topic, but I remember thinking that it is a cute idea, yet I really wanted experimental backing (which ought to be easy to do) and the generated stuff didn't seem very pretty.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T21:28:06.306Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by komponisto · 2011-10-22T13:33:43.731Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you listen to the Great Fugue a hundred more times, unless you find something viscerally unpleasant about it (which, make no mistake, some people really do, since it's pretty loud and screechy)

Such folks may want to try the piano 4-hands or string orchestra version.

If what you mean is that Alban Berg was not a composer of tonal music in the 18th- and 19th-century sense, then that is true, but (a) his music contains structure, just not tonal structure;

Perhaps it would have been better to write "not just" instead of "just not" -- because Berg's music in fact contains plenty of tonal structure; there's a reason he's considered the most "conservative", "backward-looking", "romantic" member of the Second Viennese School (whether or not such a characterization stands up to "proper" scrutiny). The final orchestral interlude of Wozzeck even has a frickin' key signature.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-22T16:59:34.234Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, the most complete way I could have put it would probably have been something like "Berg's music contains structure, but not very much of the kind of structure that would make it sound like the classical tonal music of the 18th and 19th centuries." That's the intuition I wanted to validate while pointing out that there's no sense in which there's "more music theory" in some kinds of music than in others.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-23T21:45:55.510Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, this comes back to questions of quality. I've heard and read and looked at art that I thought was ruined by too much theory - typically not descriptive theory that tried to explain why things were good, but prescriptive theory that explained why doing things some other way would be better. The book "Learning from Las Vegas", which takes Las Vegas architecture as pointing the way towards a new, enlightened postmodernist architecture (rather than as a bunch of random tacky stuff competing for attention) is an example of that kind of theory.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-23T21:54:08.571Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well the "tacky" stuff in Las Vegas is certainly much better than modern architecture. Furthermore, having to compete for attention at least imposes some minimal constrains of quality, also sadly lacking from modern art.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T16:13:34.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

(7) Liking has a great deal more to do with familiarity than you think it does, and substantial music cognition research backs this up.

My post says in two separate places that familiarity leads to liking; and this is why the question of whether I should continue to listen to the Great Fugue is a problem.

If liking is just about familiarity, then it doesn't matter what we listen to, and music criticism, and music theory, and all of art, is bogus.

I'm very familiar with the song "My Sharona" by The Knack, because I had a housemate in college who played it frequently. I hate it. I'm also very familiar with the Green Acres theme song. I think that I hate it, yet I find it so compelling that it can get stuck in my head for an entire day - which requires some kind of greatness.

(5) I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music. Quality is subjective, or at most inter-subjective, and aesthetic judgments do not contain truth value.

My post doesn't say that. Theory 4 explicitly rejects that view. But if you strongly believe that aesthetic judgement has no truth value, even relative to your human biology and your culture, then musical training is a waste of time, and I am confused as to why you would call yourself a musicologist, since you then have no more understanding of music, and no better taste, than anyone else.

My knowledge of Alban Berg is limited. I have listened to his music for only about one hour total in my entire life, because I found it painful to listen to.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-21T19:11:08.932Z · score: 9 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Aesthetic judgment has no truth value in the sense that if I like something, it is not meaningful for someone else to say "You are wrong to like it." It may be meaningful for someone else to say "You think you like it, but you're wrong, you actually don't" -- which I think captures the dynamic you're concerned about in this post in some respects, and I think it's quite appropriate to be concerned about that and to want to avoid getting railroaded into thinking you like something that you really don't. But when I genuinely like something, there's just not any sense in which there is a truth or falsity condition to my liking. It's like our emotions -- there are always factual beliefs that condition our emotions, but various emotional states may all be reasonable responses to the same set of facts, because of the personal, individual element.

This is all somewhat distinct from the sense in which some things are widely and predictably liked by a lot of people. We say that someone has good taste when their judgment is a good predictor of others' judgment. These kinds of preference-clusters around some objects are about the closest we can get to saying that personal aesthetic judgments can be right or wrong. Nevertheless, the ultimate seat of aesthetic judgment is in the individual -- i.e., the brain that experiences an aesthetic object and determines whether I like it or not is my own, with whatever states and inputs it possesses that make up the judgment -- so I do say that actual aesthetic preference is neither true nor false.

I don't think I have "better" musical taste than anyone. I like a lot of music that lots of other people like, and I also like some music that very few people like and hate a pretty great deal of music that a lot of people like. None of this qualifies me to tell other people that they are right or wrong to like anything. Neither does my training in music performance and scholarship. When I perform music, I try to do it in ways that other people will like, and sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong, often hilariously wrong.

Musicology as a scholarly discipline has little or nothing to do with making aesthetic judgments, although most musicologists are guided to some degree by their aesthetic judgments in choosing what they'll work on. What distinguishes the profession is knowledge about music (its history, technique, and so on). I wrote a quick sketch of the kind of things academic musicologists do here, just a couple of days ago.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-22T03:13:51.668Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think I have "better" musical taste than anyone. I like a lot of music that lots of other people like, and I also like some music that very few people like and hate a pretty great deal of music that a lot of people like. None of this qualifies me to tell other people that they are right or wrong to like anything.

If I understand what you are saying, you think that one could not be qualified to tell people that they are simply wrong to like what they like, but one could be qualified to tell them that they like what they like because they are stupid, or for similar reasons, including sometimes when those reasons are (or are due to) things either or both of you would rightfully label wrong according to each of your values.

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-22T04:53:36.030Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. In other words, your aesthetic preference is what you like, not what you wish you liked. I believe that what Phil Goetz is struggling with in the original post -- an extremely valid struggle that I think we can all relate to -- is something like a three-layered conflict between (a) what he likes, (b) what he would like to like, and (c) what he would like to like to like. (a) and (c) are negative -- he does not like the Great Fugue and would not like to like to like it, but certain pressures make him feel in some respects as though (b) he would like to like it.

Your comment gives me an opportunity to clarify one other thing. Aesthetic judgments are often based in part, though I believe almost never wholly, on factual beliefs of some kind. Insofar as those might be mistaken, I think it does present a limited sense in which I might be wrong to like something, but only wrong relative to my own meta-preferences. To construct a silly example, imagine I like Wagner's music in part because I am under the impression that he was a morally upright person. (This might sound like a bad reason for liking someone's music, but I would argue that things like that factor into our aesthetic judgments really often.) Now, it's unlikely that even my belief about Wagner's moral character would cause me to like his music if I truly found it viscerally unpleasant, so I do think that a core of more purely aesthetic judgment remains in most cases -- but let's say that my positive aesthetic judgment is made wildly positive by my belief about Wagner's moral character, or that a slightly negative (just worse than indifferent) aesthetic judgment is made slightly positive by my belief. Since Wagner was not a morally upright person, though, I think it's fair to say that the portion of my aesthetic judgment about his music that is informed by that belief is simply wrong. However, I don't think there are -- by definition -- any aesthetic judgments that rely entirely on facts.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-23T21:58:12.313Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are definitely people who dislike Wagner's music because of his anti-Semitism.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T21:55:20.872Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-22T04:34:17.737Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To reply to this and your other comment at once, yes, this is one reason why I think it is so bad. A related idea is that I think that this obsession with a hypothetical ratability (however computationally intractable) of music fails to recognize that music is enormously wrapped up in culture. I'll try to explain why I think that's a fatal error. You and I agree that there are preference clusters around some pieces of music, but we interpret the existence of those clusters differently. To you, they suggest a kind of groping toward some as-yet-unseen aesthetic truth -- what we would like if we were like we are now, only better (coherent extrapolated aesthetic preferences?). To me, they are limited in their (even hypothetical) extent by both individual difference and by cultural difference -- preference clusters only crop up reliably among people who are relatively similar to one another and share a lot of cultural common ground. In my view, even if we were much, much better, smarter versions of ourselves, aesthetic judgment would continue to vary as widely as the combined variance of human cultures and the traits of individuals.

Another way of saying this is that music is a phenomenon created by so many aspects of culture and individual psychology, in such eclectic ways, that I don't think a mathematical model of our responses to music can be very much less complex than a complete mathematical model of the human mind, biology, and culture. When I see people pursuing approaches to music who see it as much simpler than that (like the aforementioned trainwreck), it's a dead giveaway that they don't know what they're talking about.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-22T04:50:11.707Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my view, even if we were much, much better, smarter versions of ourselves, aesthetic judgment would continue to vary as widely as the combined variance of human cultures and the traits of individuals.

Even if we were much, much smarter versions of ourselves, intellectual judgment would continue to vary widely.

But there wouldn't be creationists.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-22T05:04:38.074Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes there would. Much, much smarter != freed from cognitive biases.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-22T07:44:09.690Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Granted there would be religious people, I do not think there would be creationists. Granted for the sake of argument a few people sufficiently smart are now creationists, were everyone that smart, the community of creationists might shrink until having such opinions about biology would be as isolating as analogous literalist Biblical opinions about the "four corners of the Earth". Absent a supporting community, only seriously deluded smart people, such as might also think themselves Napoleon, would be creationists.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-22T14:38:43.115Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your first paragraph is well-stated, and I agree with it.

I can at least expect that musical taste is like multi-level regression, where human biology is one level of regression with a lot of data, a culture is a second level, people who like a particular kind of music is a different second level, and an individual is a third level. Each additional level makes our model more precise, but provides less data.

So, even if I can't say someone's opinion of a musical piece is wrong, I could say it is very improbable, and give my estimate of their taste some kind of entropy penalty. With enough knowledge of their opinions, I could reject the hypothesis that they belong to a particular musical affiliation group.

More importantly, there is a human level of the regression, and it provides some information. Having tastes that differ significantly from standard human tastes - it could be a result of training, so it might be "good"; but it's also as close to "wrong" as we may be able to get.

But, none of what I just said is useful for the problem posed in my post. I think the answer is brain scans.

There is something objectively good about particular musical intervals, e.g., the octave, the 1-3-5 chord, that has to do with the ratios of their frequencies. Therefore there is some objective truth about musical taste. You could use that to construct some metric of each interval, and make something like a Markov model of how that metric changes over time in different musical pieces, and see if you come up with patterns. But that still wouldn't answer the question whether a deviation from that pattern indicates something new and good, or new and bad.

I think that you're saying that my question has no answer.

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-22T21:34:50.233Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is something objectively good about particular musical intervals, e.g., the octave, the 1-3-5 chord, that has to do with the ratios of their frequencies.

That has very, very little directly to do with the aesthetics of musical composition, however. Its implications are rather in the area of how humans interpret musical sounds: all else being equal, we tend to think of acoustically simple intervals ("consonances") as being "more fundamental" than acoustically (more) complex intervals ("dissonances"), so that we interpret the latter in terms of the former, rather than vice-versa.

It's a curious phenomenon that, throughout history, people have thought (i.e. written treatises as if) the key to musical composition is identifying which "atomic" musical materials "sound good" (and then stringing them together, one presumes). But that isn't how it works at all. Musical composition operates on a higher level of abstraction; the treatment of intervals and so forth is just mechanics, like spelling words for a novelist.

(Whatever the reason is that you don't like the Great Fugue, it isn't because it doesn't contain enough consonant intervals.)

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-22T21:46:53.597Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The challenge of composition is, in my opinion, first establishing what the musical language or the vocabulary of the given work is, then developing an interesting narrative using that language. In common-practice tonality, the musical language is more or less a constant; modern composers, in the absence of the assumption that they are writing in common-practice tonality, have to make it clear what the language is - that is, what tonal relationships form the structure of the piece - as well as providing a coherent direction to the piece.

In a sense, in some modern idioms, the harmonicity of an interval or a chord is pretty irrelevant, once the intervallic or or chordal relationships the composer is using to create the piece are consistent and understandable. That said, harmonicity is an important part of how we hear music, so what intervals are used will of course affect the quality of the finish quality.

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-23T07:39:45.025Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is more or less the standard "party line", and even makes a certain amount of sense on its own terms, but I think it's actually wrong.

More specifically, I don't think "common-practice tonality" is actually a thing, music-theoretically. The illusion that it is results in my view from two circumstances: (1) the high cultural prestige of European art music from approximately 1700-1900 (corresponding basically to an era when it happened to be dominated by Germans); and (2) the fact that more recent art music is less accessible to casual listeners due specifically to its complexity (i.e. not any difference in "musical language", if we take that to mean the fundamental principles of musical comprehension).

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-23T10:41:48.662Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there is a fundamental change in how Western Art Music is composed around the start of 20th century; the removal of the tonic-dominant relationship as the fundamental relationship within musical works is responisble for that. Of course, the Second Viennese School considered themselves successors to that traidition, not revolutionaries or iconoclasts, and I would be inclined to agree, but I do think that there is significant to music written before theirs and music written afterwards. I'll readily admit this may just be down to how I've been taught, and I'm not a musicologist (though I do have some familiarity with different types of analysis).

What do you mean by "party line"? Which part specifically is the party line? Whose party line is it? The party line of musicologists, or the party line of contemporary composers? I find it hard to imagine there's a party line for composers, given the composers I know and the biographies of some of the bigger composers of the last century. I'm interested because these are mainly conclusions I've come to on my own.

I agree there is a certain amount of German-centrism in the term "common-practice tonality", but that itself doesn't mean it doesn't exist. I agree contemporary music is more complex (excluding minimalism and other obvious exceptions) and that is a factor in its accessibility, but also people's familiarity with the common-practice tonal language gives (as popular music is based on this language too) them expectations as to what music should be like; music that does not follow these conventions is difficult for them to understand.

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-23T13:53:47.270Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think there is a fundamental change in how Western Art Music is composed around the start of 20th century; the removal of the tonic-dominant relationship

Yes, this is a proposition I reject. Don't worry, I don't expect my claim to be obvious; explaining it would be a rather involved technical discussion. A necessary first step would be the wholesale rejection of the traditional Rameau-Riemann theory of "chord progressions" in the explanation of earlier music, in favor of the kind of approach taken by Schenker and, later, Westergaard.

What do you mean by "party line"? Which part specifically is the party line? Whose party line is it? The party line of musicologists, or the party line of contemporary composers?

All of the above; particularly those of high status.

I agree there is a certain amount of German-centrism in the term "common-practice tonality", but that itself doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

It definitely exists -- but only as a historical cluster of musical works, and not as a theoretical category. From a theoretical point of view (again, my theoretical point of view, which is separated by considerable inferential distance from the memes of traditional music theory), there is little use for a category which includes Bach and early Schoenberg and excludes middle and late Schoenberg.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-23T19:26:49.354Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Cheers for clarifying that!

I'm not sure I understand enough about your point of view to say whether I agree with it; I'd be interested in learning more! Have you written anything on this topic?

Westergaard sounds awesome; I'll check him out if I get a chance (will probably be next summer - post-thesis).

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-23T21:51:01.817Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Look, there's a bug in the website - it fails to switch background colors when reaching the 10th level of nested comments!

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-22T20:43:05.782Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is something objectively good about particular musical intervals, e.g., the octave, the 1-3-5 chord, that has to do with the ratios of their frequencies. Therefore there is some objective truth about musical taste.

I'm not sure I agree here. I understand the point you are making about ratios of frequencies, but by that logic, equal tempered music would presumably be automatically inferior to music in just intonation, because the consonant intervals are more consonant in just intonation than E-12 tuning.

Music that is more consistently consonant is not better; all pieces composed entirely of octaves and fifths aren't inherently better than all pieces that also have thirds (or any other less-harmonic interval you care to name). This also assumes that Western music theory is the only valid type; musical languages consisting of a non-diatonic system are not automatically inferior.

EDIT: I'd like to add that I'm inclined to think there is a degree of objective musical quality.

comment by Hansenista · 2011-10-24T00:48:52.860Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understand the point you are making about ratios of frequencies, but by that logic, equal tempered music would presumably be automatically inferior to music in just intonation, because the consonant intervals are more consonant in just intonation than E-12 tuning.

Well, yeah. That's the only reason that people still talk about just intonation - it's considered a virtue that its intervals sound cleaner than equally tempered ones. Equal temperament is the standard because it allows transposition between keys, not because of some objection to how pure and clean just intervals are.

comment by bogus · 2011-10-24T01:24:14.511Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's considered a virtue that its intervals sound cleaner than equally tempered ones.

Another potential fix is to adjust timbres (i.e. sound spectra) so that they sound cleaner in equal temperament. See this example (MP3) from William Sethares' work (ironically, the only 12-TET piece from his freely-available samples). Sounds kind of uncanny and off-key to me, but that could be due to being unfamiliar with alt. tunings. YMMV.

ETA: The Hammond organ also used 12-TET frequencies to generate its "harmonic partials", so it was effectively just as "clean" in 12-TET as other instruments are in just intonation. On the other hand, many people would judge the effect as excessively "bland" and "indistinct". But the sound spectrum of the Hammond organ was not very complex to begin with; applying the same fix to other instruments will probably give more appealing results.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-24T09:31:51.924Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I understand that. What I'm arguing here is that a musical system with greater harmonicity is not neccessarily objectively better.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-23T23:32:28.628Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is talking about music as if it isn't inherently based on time. If anything, a large number of consonances would make music sound much worse, because "dissonance" in many ways is simply sounds that require resolution of tension. If there is no tension, there is no resolution of tension. Dissonance is commonly believed to be the thing that actually makes music interesting.

Of course there is music that uses lots of consonance, but typically they will use some other device (rhythm, rising tones) to increase tension so they have something to resolve.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-23T21:54:44.845Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This also assumes that Western music theory is the only valid type; musical languages consisting of a non-diatonic system are not automatically inferior

This isn't an assumption. It's an empirical fact. Almost all music around the world uses a diatonic or pentatonic scale. The pentatonic favors such intervals even more strongly. The odds against this happening, if there were even one other equally-good possible non-harmonic scale, are astronomical. QED.

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-23T22:08:36.145Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Contrary to popular belief, music doesn't "use" theoretical constructs such as the diatonic scale; listeners use them to interpret music.

In other words, the important fact about the diatonic scale is not whether it is presented explicitly in music, but that even when it isn't, it is still the basis for a listener's comprehension of the pitch structure.

(Also note that the pentatonic scale is a strict subset of the diatonic scale.)

comment by bogus · 2011-10-24T00:26:35.572Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This isn't an assumption. It's an empirical fact. Almost all music around the world uses a diatonic or pentatonic scale. The pentatonic favors such intervals even more strongly. The odds against this happening, if there were even one other equally-good possible non-harmonic scale, are astronomical. QED.

The work presented in this comment (link to audio examples) makes a convincing case that the consonance of "diatonic" scale intervals is simply an artifact of common timbres/sound spectra (which in turn are due to the physical makeup of most musical instruments), combined with familiarity. The music presented there sounds "consonant" and "harmonious" to me in a way that most atonal music simply doesn't.

(I am linking 4hodmt's comment here only because it's directly relevant and I don't expect its author to join this subthread. Any upvotes should be directed there.)

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-23T23:11:19.646Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What about music that does not use those scales? And 1-3-5 chords are not present in all pentatonic systems. By what standard do you consider this music to be objectively superior? Is it something based on harmonicity?

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-23T21:52:20.673Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I agree here. I understand the point you are making about ratios of frequencies, but by that logic, equal tempered music would presumably be automatically inferior to music in just intonation, because the consonant intervals are more consonant in just intonation than E-12 tuning.

And I suspect that is the case, but haven't had the opportunity to test it. It would be interesting to do blind tests using computer-generated versions of the same music using both scales.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-23T23:16:53.443Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may not work. Temperment is difficult to adjust. As equal temperment is so ubiquitous nowadays, people will often hear non-equal temperments as simply out-of-tune and dislike them on that. Our ears are very much used to equal temperments.

But composition is not that only thing that music is. There is also performance and musical interpretation, and those will drastically affect your opinions on a particular composition. Computer-generated versions will probably not help your opinion of a piece...

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T19:06:32.045Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that I hate it, yet I find it so compelling that it can get stuck in my head for an entire day - which requires some kind of greatness.

"It's a small world after all..."

comment by juliawise · 2011-10-21T15:07:13.388Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

remarkable but not at all pleasant

I heard an interview with a conductor doing Beethoven's 5th symphony, complaining about people who come up to him and say they enjoyed the piece. (cue German accent) "I want to ask them, 'Really? What is wrong with you?'"

comment by grouchymusicologist · 2011-10-21T19:16:22.968Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I find that attitude baffling, don't you? But you do encounter it sometimes. Glenn Gould quite famously claimed to hate all music written between 1750 and 1900 or something -- but he still extensively performed and recorded it, so he must either have been lying or really wanted the money.

Something one comes across a little more often is a prickly attitude when you tell a performer or composer that you thought their piece was "pretty" or something, which can be taken as pejorative if something more along the lines of the Kantian sublime was intended! Maybe that's what the conductor in this case meant.

comment by juliawise · 2011-10-21T21:37:18.194Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It was Christoph Eschenbach, I'm pretty sure. I think he meant the 5th isn't supposed to be "enjoyed" because it's so dark.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-10-22T11:11:44.960Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am totally baffled why you are so convinced that quality must be something that inheres to a piece of music.

Is quality totally subjective, though ? If so, then there's nothing special about Beethoven's music, or Bach's music, or Elvis's music, etc. Sure, their work has stood the test of time, but if there's nothing inherent in music that makes it good or bad, then whether it stood the test of time or not isn't terribly important. Furthermore, if one piece of music is as good as any other, then why have professional musicians at all ? Why should we even have "music" as a discipline ?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-22T23:34:10.056Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why have money? Sure, it's been around for ages and it's used the world over, but if there's nothing inherent in money that makes it valuable, then how long and how widely it's been used isn't terribly important. Furthermore, if one coin or bill is made of the same stuff as any other, than why mint currency at all? Should we even have "money" as a thing?

EDIT: Just in case it needs saying: An awful lot of things that are terribly important to humans and can change their lives for better or worse do not correspond to ontological primitives or the first-order phenomena on which reality is ultimately based.

Money has value by consensus agreement -- even the most dedicated Gold Standard advocates will usually cop to the fact that it's gold's properties that make it useful for trade, and anyway most money now and through much of human existence has no basis in gold. You cannot melt down a gold coin, shred a banknote of paper or plastic, and extract the raw value from it. It's totally made up. And oddly enough, this may very well not prevent you from starving to death if you run out of it...

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-10-23T00:43:02.081Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Money has value by consensus agreement -- even the most dedicated Gold Standard advocates will usually cop to the fact that it's gold's properties that make it useful for trade...

This is already a weaker claim than the one you seemed to be presenting before -- though I may have misunderstood you at the time. Rather than saying that one piece of music is as good as any other (f.ex., a random tune that I'm humming is as good as anything produced by The Beatles or Brittney Spears or whomever), you are now saying that there exists a "consensus agreement" regarding which music is better. Thus, it is possible to rank music according to quality, even if we define "quality" as "alignment with the consensus". I'm going to chip away at your claim a little more, though.

While it is true that the value of money is governed by consensus, this value is not entirely arbitrary. For example, if Mexico's government got its act together, somehow developed fusion power, and began exporting energy to its neighbours, I would expect the value of the Peso to rise relative to the Dollar. I can't predict exactly what this value will be exactly, but I am fairly sure it will be much higher than it is today.

This is because the consensus that governs the value of money is rooted in at least two real-world quantities:

  • The total production of the entity who wields the money (typically, a country or a corporation)
  • Human psychology (which, in aggregate, is reasonably static and non-arbitrary, though of course there's a great deal of variation among individuals)

Is this also true of music ? Or is musical quality still completely arbitrary ?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-23T01:28:54.814Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is already a weaker claim than the one you seemed to be presenting before

This is my first post in the conversation. Are you thinking of a different person maybe?

you are now saying that there exists a "consensus agreement" regarding which music is better.

Nooooot exactly. What I'm saying is that questions of whether music is pleasurable to listen to or holds up to sophisticated aesthetic analysis do not dissolve even if we assume the criteria are arbitrary (and indeed, different musical traditions around the world have different tone scales, different ideas about what constitute good lyrics, rhythm, et cetera -- so while two humans from entirely different social contexts may disagree with each other's tastes in music, it is still rather likely they both have a taste in music).

I like listening to Tuvan throat singing (no, really). I know plenty of people who can't stand it (one of my spouses being a prominent example, but she adores heavy metal). There's no a priori reason why I'd dig phase-shifting and simultaneous harmonies in a raspy voice while she prefers electric guitar and heavy thumping drum beats.

So you're right that it's arbitrary, but the statement "these preferences are arbitrary" is kind of meaningless -- I still have the brainbits that respond well to Kongar ool-Ondar, and my spouse still has the brainbits that respond well to Apocalyptika and Sammael, and this will lead to important, meaningful social behaviors on our part.

Don't get too confused by my money analogy -- it's true that money stands in for trade balances in a sense and so relative valuations between currencies can be expected to vary in response to economic conditions, but that doesn't make any instance of the symbols or tokens of trade-balance valuable unto themselves.

What I'm saying is you can't make meaningful statements about music quality outside of context; you should taboo the word "arbitrary" here.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-10-24T22:03:35.847Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are you thinking of a different person maybe?

Yeah, I seem to be doing that a lot, lately :-( Sorry about that.

and indeed, different musical traditions around the world have different tone scales, different ideas about what constitute good lyrics, rhythm, et cetera...

Is this actually true ? I was under the impression that there were a handful (maybe as few as two, IIRC) tonal scales that persist across cultures, but I could be wrong. Lyrics are another matter entirely, and are probably out of scope for this discussion, as they are closer to literature than to music.

...but that doesn't make any instance of the symbols or tokens of trade-balance valuable unto themselves.

No, but it does mean that there's something else besides social consensus that governs the value that people place on these currency tokens.

...you should taboo the word "arbitrary" here.

Fair enough.

My point is that, if the measure of quality that we assign to a piece of music is completely independent on any properties of that piece of music, as the original commenter seemed to be suggesting, then it makes no sense to even recognize music as a discipline. And I argue that the reverse is also true: if we are willing to claim that music is a thing, and that some pieces of music are better than others in some way, then these pieces of music must possess some properties which are relevant to their quality. It would therefore be possible -- just as an example -- to identify these properties, and to predict whether a given piece of music will be successful or not.

Note that such properties need not be completely objective, in a way that mass and length are objective. They just need to be relatively stable within our current culture.

comment by siodine · 2011-10-21T09:49:22.981Z · score: 25 (25 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the concept of inferential distance applies to art. As a kid, I was mostly exposed to classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Queen, and so on), and I felt something close to disgust when listening to anything significantly removed from that genre. However, I eventually bridged the gap between genres by finding music that mostly resembled classic rock but with a bit of something else. Eventually, this led me to enjoying entirely different genres that I'm fairly sure I'd otherwise hate.

It's the same with film. I moved from only enjoying blockbuster-type films to very strange films that some might say are pretentious or boring.

Before I thought there was an inferential distance for art, I tried to expose friends and family to some of my favorite movies. So, for example, I'd show them a movie like Festen--which I thought was actually somewhat tame and easy to like--and they'd hate it from the outset. The subtitles were a problem, the plot was a problem, it was boring, and so on. These were intelligent people with complex tastes in other areas. And now that I think about it, I'm confident that I'd feel the same way if I didn't have the progression of experiences that allowed me to love that movie the first time I watched it.

So, I'd say if you want to enjoy the things "you're supposed to like," bridge the distance with things similar to what you already enjoy.

comment by Daniel_Burfoot · 2011-10-22T01:43:48.253Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Phil, I'll remind you of your own comment:

Incommensurate thoughts: People with different life-experiences are literally incapable of understanding each other...

Analogy: Take some problem domain in which each data point is a 500-dimensional vector. Take a big set of 500D vectors and apply PCA to them to get a new reduced space of 25 dimensions. Store all data in the 25D space, and operate on it in that space.

Two programs exposed to different sets of 500D vectors, which differ in a biased way, will construct different basic vectors during PCA, and so will reduce all vectors in the future into a different 25D space.

In just this way, two people with life experiences that differ in a biased way (due to eg socioeconomic status, country of birth, culture) will construct different underlying compression schemes. You can give them each a text with the same words in it, but the representations that each constructs internally are incommensurate; they exist in different spaces, which introduce different errors.

It seems entirely plausible that a person's appreciation of a piece of music depends strongly on all the music to which she's previously been exposed. Two different observers with different music-histories may have very different internal representations of the same piece of new music. A given piece of music may be well-formed or high quality in one representation, but not another.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-10-22T19:42:50.162Z · score: 18 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read somewhere that people who have seen few movies tend to appreciate different kinds of movies than people who have seen lots of movies. Part of the reason is obvious: something that is clichéd and trite to one person may seem like amazingly original and creative to someone who hasn't seen it done over and over. At the same time, a newbie might not appreciate the way some movie turns the cliche upside down.

Something similar probably also applies to other forms of fiction, and possibly to music as well.

comment by datadataeverywhere · 2011-10-22T12:15:53.914Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This also goes some distance to explaining (in an alternate fashion) why repeated exposure to the artwork increases appreciation for it. Assuming the piece really relies on their exposure to related music, extended exposure forces people to have increasingly similar backgrounds.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-21T03:40:59.631Z · score: 20 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Burning Man changed my life completely" - I liked Burning Man; but if it changed your life completely, you probably had a vapid life.

That isn't required. Just a good drug that you hadn't had before. Having the right drug in the right environment is perhaps the simplest way to make a significant long(ish) term change. Excluding "change by damaging something" which is easy! Also excluding "met my significant other".

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T02:27:00.947Z · score: 17 (21 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by 4hodmt · 2011-10-23T15:03:05.311Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To understand musical consonance/dissonance, you must understand that consonance of simple harmonic ratios is an artifact of a much simpler underlying rule. The human hearing system does not analyze frequency ratios of individual notes, it examines the frequency domain clustering of partials of the sound as a whole.

If you listen to two sine waves of near identical frequency they sound consonant. Widen the frequency difference and they become dissonant. Further widen the frequency difference and they become consonant again. This was measured back in 1967 by R. Plomp and W. J. M. Levelt. The consonance of a musical harmony depends on the separation of the individual partials. We need a "critical bandwidth" of separation between frequencies to clearly distinguish them. You could think of dissonance as the unpleasant feeling of hearing different frequencies but failing to resolve them.

The majority of musical instruments used in Western classical music create sound by vibration constrained at two points, either the ends of a string or the ends of a column of air. Therefore the partials are all integer multiples [2] of the fundamental. It turns out that if these sounds are played together at small integer frequency ratios, the frequency of the partials align such that the quantity of dissonant, smaller than the "critical bandwidth", frequency differences is at a local minimum.

However, percussion instruments are not constrained in this way, so cultures with a percussion focused musical tradition (eg. Indonesian gamelan music) developed alternative tuning systems better suited to the timbres of their instruments. Early electronic musicians, eg. Wendy Carlos, also noticed how the consonance of different tuning systems depended on the timbre of the notes.

As far as I am aware, the first person to mathematically formalize this relationship, and develop a method to generate arbitrary tuning systems for arbitrary timbres and vice-versa, was William Sethares [3]. He has a great webpage at http://sethares.engr.wisc.edu/ , with many audio examples. His book "Tuning Timbre Spectrum Scale" should be considered the most important book on music theory ever written because it generalizes all previous musical theories, and solves the problem of the exhaustion of harmonic novelty in music without having to resort to unlistenable crap like serialism.

And now we get to the link to the main article, and the reason why Sethare's work was such a revelation to me. I shared a house with a music student for several years, and I became heavily involved in the classical music subculture. Back then I only knew of the Pythagorean ratio-based concept of harmony. I listened to a great variety of Western classical music, and attended several concerts. As my knowledge increased, I became disillusioned with pre-modern classical music, because each new composition began to sound like a reworking of something I had heard before. Traditional music theory simply didn't have enough scope for novelty. I studied the works of Harry Partch, who pushed ratio-based music theory about as far as it can go, and I wasted a lot of time attempting to extend his theory, but I never felt I had reached a satisfactory conclusion.

Of course I was exposed to atonal composition via my musician friends, and my initial reaction was the same as almost everybody's: I hated it. But both the obvious high status of this kind of music and my lack of knowledge of any alternative source of novelty slowly changed my preferences. I started listening to Second Viennese School composers and free jazz. The more I listened the more I liked it, and I gradually turned into an atonal music snob like my musician friends.

And then I left university and lost all contact with them. I forgot all about classical music for several years. When I listened to atonal music again I found I had reverted to my original preference. I'm now very certain the only reason I liked it was social signaling. I declared music to be dead and lost all interest in it.

When I later discovered Sethares's work it shook my beliefs about music to the core. My whole atonal adventure was built on a mistake. We're no longer limited by physical instruments and it's really possible to compose music simultaneously strange and beautiful. I now promote Sethares's work in the hope that more musicians will adopt it and create sometime great.

[1] R. Plomp and W. J. M. Levelt, "Tonal Consonance and Critical Bandwidth," Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.38, 548-560 (1965). [2] Approximately. Note that octaves on a piano are tuned slightly sharp, because piano strings are not simple mathematical abstractions, but have thickness and other properties such that they don't produce perfectly harmonic sound. [3] Sethares, W.A. (1993), Local consonance and the relationship between timbre and scale. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 94(1): 1218.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-10-23T15:29:55.233Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting! Examples 2 to 5 from here were particularly mindblowing. Thanks for the link!

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-10-24T13:27:39.800Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's fascinating, thank you! I will definitely check out Sethares' work, as a music listener and an amateur composer. It sounds very different for the type of music I have the most experience with (choral church music of various eras.)

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-21T03:51:54.168Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is a runaway peacock's-tail phenomenon: Someone made something that stood out in some way, and it got attention; and people learned to like things like that, and so others made things that stood out more in the same way, until we ended up with Alban Berg.

As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested;

I suspect Methods of Rationality may be the end product of a similar phenomenon with respect to a number of trends in speculative fiction, e.g., of putting in more and more elaborate Xanatos Gambits and more and more subtle pop culture references.

Or as Eliezer put it:

it's hard to beat the Algorithm of Awesome, which works as follows:

First, know the overarching direction in which your fic is going. Then, think of possible events that move in this direction. If they are awesome, add them to the plot. If they are not awesome, leave them out.

Try looking at the above quote while tabooing the word "awesome", or better yet replace it with a word that has a similar meaning to an art movement you aren't involved in e.g., "groovy" for psychedelic, "transgresive" for modern art, etc.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-21T04:59:16.239Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

it's hard to beat the Algorithm of [Applause Light], which works as follows:

First, know the overarching direction in which your fic is going. Then, think of possible events that move in this direction. If they are [applause light], add them to the plot. If they are not [applause light], leave them out.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T06:04:47.041Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-22T00:45:45.356Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wouldn't go quite that far. Maybe affective death spirals are attractors in designspace, though.

comment by khafra · 2011-10-21T13:29:51.643Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"minimalist"

comment by Will_Sawin · 2011-10-22T03:19:38.877Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read that in a kind of stern, commanding voice, which makes it sounds really silly with the word "groovy" in it. Much sillier than with "awesome", for some reason.

This makes me realize that the voice is nothing like Eliezer's.

It's hard to beat the Algorithm of Groovy.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-22T04:46:47.215Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Who knows, maybe is a couple decades describing something as "awesome" will sound as silly and passe as describing something as "groovy" or "funky" does today.

comment by Mercy · 2011-10-27T15:12:04.087Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't it already? Presumably it depends on the level of exposure to the "awesome" cluster of tropes, but I think comics are the ground zero of the trend and the backlash is well underway. What passes for tastemakers in that medium are pretty down on the cluster - if you describe a Grant Morrison or Tsutomu Nihei piece as awesome they'll say they see where you are coming from, but it's a good comic too! And to dismiss a work as "awesome" is to suggest it's written for the blurb. Relevant

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-27T15:56:06.467Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you'll look at the bottom-right of your previous comment, "Delete" is just to the left of "Retracted".

comment by Mercy · 2011-10-27T15:05:32.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't it already? Well presumably it depends on the level of exposure to the "awesome" cluster of tropes. I think comics are the ground zero of the trend, and what passes for tastemakers in that medium are pretty down on that cluster - if you describe a Grant Morrison or Tsutomu Nihei piece as awesome they'll say they see where you are coming from, but it's a good comic too! To dismiss a work as "awesome" is to suggest it's written for the blurb. Relevant

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-22T03:33:21.253Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh, behave.

comment by DanielVarga · 2011-10-21T19:50:20.202Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am reminded of this classic paper on wine-tasting:

Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better? Evidence from a Large Sample of Blind Tastings

Individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine. In a sample of more than 6,000 blind tastings, we find that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative, suggesting that individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.

Experts do prefer the more expensive wines, but this only means that for the non-experts, the negative correlation between price and popularity is even stronger.

In terms of a 100 point scale (such as that used by Wine Spectator), the extended model predicts that for a wine that costs ten times more than another wine, non-experts will on average assign an overall rating that is about four points lower.

comment by potato · 2011-10-22T16:39:51.477Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

All joking aside, I really mean this. Try listening to it as a solemn piece. I don't think it's that great of a fugue, but it has some nice stuff in there. The lack of rhythmic and tonal movement becomes more appropriate all of a sudden if you put on a sour-puss face. If you imagine that its torturous, repetitive nature, is an intentional part of the emotional experience Ludwig wanted to give you, it becomes less annoying and more powerful, to my ear anyway.

and also:

I could keep listening to the Great Fugue, and see if I, too, come to love it in time. But what would that prove? Of course I would come to love it in time,

Why not just make an earnest attempt to like all art in that case. You'll be better off. Is there some artistic merit out there which you would not be rewarding accurately if you liked all art? If you end up liking the great fugue after you listen to it a bunch, even though you didn't like it at first, sweet deal.

I got into jazz, essentially because i thought that it was cool to be into jazz. I did not like it when I bought my first jazz album, and I probably didn't like the next ten I bought either. But I'm really glad I thought it so cool that i was willing to torture myself for those hours at a time until i liked it. If I hadn't I wouldn't have the crazy good relative pitch I have today, nor the ability to mind-cream myself when someone rips Coltrane changes.

So, is my appreciation of jazz, then somehow shallower by virtue of my forcing myself to like it? Or perhaps in some way inauthentic? Well I'm not being inauthentic about loving jazz now. And I def have an above average ear for changes and improv. Ultimately, I don't think I should care at all what i did to like it now; who cares? I seriously doubt that someone who liked jazz from their first time hearing it, gets more happiness chemicals from jazz than I do by virtue of their being naturally into jazz, and my forcing myself.

The question is "if there's something new, and I don't like it, how much suffering should I be willing to put up with to learn to like it?" The answer clearly depends on juxtaposing the quantity of pleasure I should expect after I like it, and the availability of this thing , with the amount of suffering and time I'll have to put in to learn to like it.

Don't worry about why you like a terminal value. Just get it.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-22T22:46:30.701Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why not just make an earnest attempt to like all art in that case.

That sounds like a tremendous time investment.

comment by potato · 2011-10-25T01:03:04.314Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been trying it. You know you gain a lot from it. If you sit there, and try really hard to forget the social context you are used to, i'd bet something like 10$ you'll like britney spears. if you truly listen to britney spears with fresh ears, you'll probably like it. I think this might have advantages besides the ones i mentioned above.

You could maybe even use pop music and things of the like, to train yourself to think independently of groups. If you can sit there and like pop music, and your friends (being that you dig LW) are anything like mine, this will certainly be good training for how to make decisions and value judgements independent of cultural context.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-25T01:30:34.018Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I already know I'm capable of enjoying Britney Spears, but if musical taste or sophistication is an objective thing, I don't think I have very much of it.

I can no longer enjoy all the writing I once could though, and I would not choose to like it again if it would require me to sacrifice what I see as the refinements in taste that caused me to stop liking it in the first place.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-22T18:20:30.893Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Don't worry about why you like a terminal value. Just get it.

So, I should acquire additional terminal values so I can have higher absolute utility?

That's either wisdom or absurdity. It goes against my current model of rationality. But it seems to lead to winning, at least from the starting condition of having no values at all and thus not even being able to win or lose.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that asking a question whose answer mystifies me leads to other questions that also mystify me. Maybe identifying a set of equivalent mysterious problems would be an advance.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-23T09:18:18.515Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A real life anecdote on altering taste, which is a related to art really:

The first time I tried a strong cheese, I didn't like it much (I came from a place that consumed relatively little dairy). However, I could see that others liked it, and expressed REALLY STRONGLY how much they liked it. So I kept trying different types until I did - then a great new gastronomic experience was opened to me, and my overall appreciation of food increased as a result. I call this winning.

Nowadays, whenever I speak to someone who "dislikes" a certain type of food, I always try to persuade them to try enough of it to like it, even if they don't want to like it now - because if they did like it, then they would regret not liking it, and it would make them appreciate more things as a result.

I can see this functioning similarly music: by not liking something that other people like, and not making an effort to like it (or worse, making an effort not to like it), you could be missing something really great.

The problem with altering preferences is, of course, that before you alter them, you apply your current preferences in your thinking, so the act of altering a preference always seems different in hindsight. "I was so naive to like this before!"; "I was missing so much before!"

My personal preference is to have as rich a world of enjoyable experiences as possible. Therefore, I strive to never have the thought "I don't want to like this", since it puts a limit on my appreciation of a category of things. In general, I'm the kind of person who "likes things". I don't know what that says about me...

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-10-31T18:09:03.543Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Note that other people are also acting like you, and people who dislike a commonly liked food may be sick and tired of having it pushed on them.

comment by bbleeker · 2012-09-23T20:39:44.522Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I remember being in youth camp, volunteering every day to make the lunch packs so I could have something to eat without people discovering I was a deviant who hated butter/margarine.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T15:58:42.417Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nowadays, whenever I speak to someone who "dislikes" a certain type of food, I always try to persuade them to try enough of it to like it, even if they don't want to like it now - because if they did like it, then they would regret not liking it, and it would make them appreciate more things as a result.

One of the great ways to become a snob is do side-by-side comparisons (NancyLebovitz has links in another comment.) If you drink cheap bourbon immediately before expensive bourbon, the difference is highlighted compared to drinking them a week apart.

Many people who have done that have regretted it, though, because it ruins the cheap variety for them. Whenever they drink the cheap stuff, they think "this is so much worse than the good stuff," and so either their hobby becomes significantly more expensive or gets curtailed (because now they can only afford it a fourth of the time), and it's not clear that their overall experience is significantly better.

I, for example, have very picky tastes in food. The diet I choose for myself costs about $2-3 a day, and consists mostly of simple bread I make myself and water with a touch of lemon. I'm satisficed; would I be all that much better off if I made the investment to switch to steaks and cola?

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-23T16:21:46.137Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, but we know the difference there is that I'm sure you can appreciate the flavour of good steak and good cola if the situation calls for it, for example if you're treated to it in a restaurant. Choosing not to have something is a different matter to be simply unable to enjoy something that other people get great pleasure out of.

I guess I have the kind of personality which benefits most from the "I like everything" mindset, because I don't mind so much that something is worse than something else, as long as it's still good by my internal judgement. If I'm having supermarket shrimp, I know I could be having lobster, and even the shrimp would be tastier if it was freshly caught, but I don't really mind since I'm mostly thinking "mmmmmm... shrimp".

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T16:57:33.071Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm sure you can appreciate the flavour of good steak and good cola if the situation calls for it

I am unaccustomed to carbonation, and thus find any colas distasteful. I have not been able to discern a quality difference between chicken and the few steaks that I have eaten.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-24T07:05:02.179Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As long as you wouldn't call a good steak "bad" and go "eww", I don't think you're missing out on too much. Being able to have the thought "hmm. Steak." is sufficient for my ideal.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T19:36:18.872Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that good chicken is just as good as good steak.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2012-09-24T15:09:00.580Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A word of caution. If, having tried something a few times, you still find it repulsive, drop it. Your body may be telling you "this is poison", and when it does that, it is wise to pay attention.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-06T04:59:47.155Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If what you are saying makes sense, then the distinction between instrumental and terminal values is fundamentally wrong.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-06T05:24:29.482Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How committed are you to the distinction between instrumental and terminal values?

I continue to be unconvinced that humans actually have terminal values in any meaningful sense.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-12-08T22:39:24.794Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not committed to it. But the SIAI conceptions of FAI and CEV are committed to it.

comment by analyticsophy · 2011-10-24T19:07:54.675Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As long as my average expected utility over all choices available goes up, I'm down to get more goals, and even loose old ones. But if my average expected utility goes down, then screw getting a new value. Though in general, adding a new value does not imply getting rid of an old one; as long as you keep all your old values there is no danger in adding a new one.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-24T22:51:00.468Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But - this is your utility using a new function. If you can get more utility by changing your utility function, just change it to something easy, like "I value lying on my back in bed."

(Wait, I already value that pretty highly...)

comment by dlthomas · 2011-10-24T23:33:11.684Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why do you assume that the difficulty of a modification to one's utility function does not depend on the nature of the modification? This seems unlikely to be the case.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-31T18:21:13.608Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not a question of difficulty. It's a question of whether it makes sense to adopt a new utility function in order to have higher utility.

comment by potato · 2011-10-25T01:07:12.470Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree with dlthomas. Certain modifications are certainly easier to make than others. It's much easier to start liking britney spears (which i've recently been working on) than to start liking being dead, or sickness.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-10-25T01:14:13.233Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's much easier to start liking britney spears (which i've recently been working on)

Ok. I can't help but wondering why of all the things to hack yourself to enjoy you would pick that. Never mind. I see that's part of the point.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-10-25T01:18:10.595Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's not that bad of a choice, really. Liking or disliking Brittney Spears's music doesn't really matter much in the long run; she has a large corpus of performances for you to pick from; this corpus is freely available; and testing your success or failure is relatively easy.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-11-02T23:30:35.578Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you imagine that its torturous, repetitive nature, is an intentional part of the emotional experience Ludwig wanted to give you, it becomes less annoying and more powerful, to my ear anyway.

That reminds me of I Wanna Be The Guy. I find it much less frustrating than it ought to be because I know it was intended to drive you crazy.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-24T00:36:36.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is "change" a technical term in jazz?

comment by arundelo · 2011-10-24T01:41:46.489Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. To be specific, the plural form, "changes", is short for "chord changes".

"Coltrane changes" are a type of chord progression created by John Coltrane, with the most famous example being his Giant Steps. (Lots of key changes!)

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-10-21T09:11:28.928Z · score: 12 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I unintentionally hurt someone on Hacker News when I mentioned that:

I played Deus Ex when I was in high school and was more impressed by its storyline than anything I read in English lit.

I know I am "supposed" to like Of Mice and Men, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Crucible, Moby Dick, A Doll’s House, The Scarlet Letter, etc... more than a "mere video game", but the fact is, I don't.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-21T10:45:13.552Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Those have different meta-levels of "supposed to".

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T00:03:26.765Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I dislike The Catcher in the Rye, feel as if I ought to like Animal Farm, and genuinely like Moby-Dick. I can see why other people would dislike Moby-Dick, but I still like the damn thing.

My hypothesis: Because I was not taught Moby-Dick in school, I did not associate reading it with work, but with relaxation. This is borne out by my love of David Copperfield (read alone) and only vague enjoyment of Great Expectations (assigned in school).

comment by bentarm · 2011-10-21T11:54:39.921Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

I have literally no idea what this comment means. I assume that you think Animal Farm is easier to like than Moby Dick, but have no idea what the different levels of "supposed to" are supposed to mean.

I imagine one of them might mean "people make the natural supposition that you like X, with no judgement" and one of them might mean "it is expected that you like X, with social opprobrium if you do not" but I don't know what the other might be.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T13:49:12.077Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think one is supposed to like Animal Farm, "supposed to" like The Catcher in the Rye, and only "'supposed to'" like Moby Dick.

I have literally no idea what this comment means. I assume that you think Animal Farm is easier to like than Moby Dick, but have no idea what the different levels of "supposed to" are supposed to mean.

My guess, is as follows: One is expected to have actually enjoyed, or at least be able to have a decent discussion about, Animal Farm (supposed to like it). One is assumed to at least say they enjoyed and have a small discussion about Catcher in the Rye, but nothing serious as no one will press it ("supposed to" like it). And one is implied to only have to say you read Moby Dick, as no one but literary critics will actually discuss the book (only "supposed to" like).

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-21T17:11:59.326Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. You are expected to actually like Animal Farm, plausibly lie about liking Catcher in the Rye, and transparently lie about liking Moby Dick.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T18:18:35.925Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you'd get more points by knowledgeably hating Catcher in the Rye than by plausibly lying about liking it.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-21T23:54:49.489Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That was not my experience. I actually liked Animal Farm, but I was the only person in my 10th grade English class who did not like Catcher in the Rye1, and I've been reading Moby Dick on the kindle recently and finding some of it quite interesting, in a sort of pseudo-nonfiction way.

1 -- I regard Catcher in the Rye and some other books (A Farewell to Arms also springs to mind )as particularly awful in that I can barely remember anything about them except the negative emotional affect being forced to read them produced. This is distinct from, say, Wuthering Heights which I really didn't like because it's not my kind of book, but which I remember just fine and can understand why other people might think it was great.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-21T17:29:56.266Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Catcher in the Rye was actually the only book I was ever assigned to read in school which I wholeheartedly enjoyed, but I gather that it's significantly a love-it-or-hate-it work.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-22T00:31:56.504Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I read Catcher in the Rye is high-school, at the time I found it reasonably mediocre and certainly nothing memorable. Later, when I was in grad school, I found out that apparently it was a huge deal when it was released. I can only assume that this is some combination of Seinfeld is Unfunny and possibly that I don't remember it very well.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-22T01:05:05.294Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Off-topic, but I think a better name for the Seinfeld is Unfunny trope would be Actually, You Can Do That on Television

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-21T13:16:49.180Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This probably depends on where you hang out-- I've seen a claim that science fiction fans are apt to like Moby Dick, even if it's the only classic they like.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T16:06:48.632Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love Moby Dick. Melville constructed an epic fantasy out of real-world material. It presents a detailed picture of a world very different from ours and full of crazy, fantastic, heroic stuff, like a fantasy - but that world was all real.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T19:10:24.257Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a lot of boring crap being taught in English classes. The Scarlet Letter is very skillfully written, but it's boring as hell.

comment by taelor · 2011-10-23T20:52:18.948Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Scarlet Letter would have been improved greatly had about a fourth to a third been cut out.

comment by Nominull · 2011-10-21T02:04:36.058Z · score: 12 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can find just about any color in vomit, if you eat creatively beforehand.

comment by Solvent · 2011-10-22T01:42:36.386Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For example, by eating pieces of clay colored in particular ways.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T01:17:19.572Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because I accidentally derailed my last post into pedantry, let me try again with a clearer heuristic:

A TEST FOR ART YOU REALLY LIKE:

Try to make fun of it.

If you can make fun of it, and you still like it, then you don't like it just because it's sacred.

This doesn't have to be a deep parody - I don't really think I could write a deep parody of Bach's Magnificat in D. But I can definitely imagine the parts that move me the most, the sublime moments that touch me to my core, played by a synthesizer orchestra that only does fart noises.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-23T02:33:44.789Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the original work is itself a satire, do you try to make a humorless version of it?

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T05:48:27.165Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If the original work is itself a satire, do you try to make a humorless version of it?

Hmm...

"In the seminal Zucker, Zucker, and Abrams opus Airplane!, one character, played by Leslie Nielsen, asks another to pilot an passenger airliner in an emergency. The would-be pilot responds with incredulity, but is coolly rebuffed by the Leslie Nielsen character. This evinces laughter from the audience, as the exchange involves a confusion between two near-homophones."

Heh, heh... still funny.

For less goofy, more drily satirical stuff, I think that making a satire of the satire is still a viable option.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T19:39:10.541Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"In the seminal Zucker, Zucker, and Abrams opus Airplane!, one character, played by Leslie Nielsen, asks another to pilot an passenger airliner in an emergency. The would-be pilot responds with incredulity, but is coolly rebuffed by the Leslie Nielsen character. This evinces laughter from the audience, as the exchange involves a confusion between two near-homophones."

You might be interested to know that "Airplane!" was itself essentially a shot-for-shot remake of a "serious" made-for-TV movie with exactly the same plot - with, of course, jokes added in.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T20:15:46.665Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was aware of the genre it spoofed, but I didn't know that it was so specifically targeted. I'm tempted to try to find that made-for-TV movie and watch clips just to increase my appreciation of Airplane!

comment by Unnamed · 2011-10-23T21:15:07.499Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Zero Hour! It's available on Netflix.

comment by Mercy · 2011-10-27T14:40:12.376Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think worries about status seeking false preference formation start to break down when you apply them to comedy. For one thing laughter is involuntary, so you should know if you are faking in the teenager pretending to like spirits sense- you can't half convince yourself you find something funny if you don't.

For another the social aspect is often inherent to the form. Saying that you don't really like Steptoe and Son because you wouldn't find it funny if there wasn't a laugh track, or you didn't really like that Stewart Lee because if you were the only person in the room you wouldn't have laughed, doesn't to my mind make any more sense than saying you don't like dance music because you wouldn't listen to it on your own or you "only" like a song because of a happy memory associated with it.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-28T00:55:07.446Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For the benefit of those of us born in a different country and in a subsequent decade, useful context

Steptoe and Son

Stewart Lee

Seriously, as a 30-something American, I had no familiarity with either of these.

comment by bbleeker · 2012-09-23T15:36:37.960Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Deconstructing Johann

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-10-22T20:44:09.999Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The books we think we ought to read are poky, dull, and dry
The books that we would like to read we are ashamed to buy
The books that people talk about we never can recall
And the books that people give us, oh, they're the worst of all.

  • Carolyn Wells
comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T22:33:33.710Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If there were departments of pornography at ivy-league universities, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals.

It is called 4chan.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-10-22T07:30:18.547Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

...really? I've never gone on /b/ - does it really meet that description?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-22T07:44:52.747Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Scoff" might have misleading connotations.

comment by RobinZ · 2011-10-22T07:49:00.403Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Am I correctly reading your remark as a praising-with-faint-damns endorsement of Konkvistador's thesis? Also, what would you use in place of "scoff"?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-22T07:55:47.834Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Without at all answering your question, and on an entirely unrelated note, why hasn't "fag" become more parts of speech in English? "Fuck" is so versatile, from verb to noun to adjective to adverb to interjection to pronoun...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-22T08:20:45.612Z · score: 18 (20 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probably because of the moralfags.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-22T09:17:01.751Z · score: 10 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Without at all answering your question, and on an entirely unrelated note, why hasn't "fag" become more parts of speech in English?

Because it based on petty bigotry rather than wholesome sexual abandon.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T19:18:44.988Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Fuck" isn't obscene any more, according to the FCC. ;)

The "N" word has replaced it as the most offensive word in the English language.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-23T20:57:00.163Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? It seems a bit too specific to one country to be the most offensive word in the whole English language.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-24T18:39:20.642Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

American English, then.

comment by DSimon · 2011-10-25T04:43:21.528Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I voted up both Konkvistador's response and wedrifid's response above, and now I feel vaguely guilty.

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-10-21T09:58:24.100Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may shed light on the phenomenon and start value judgement-fuelled arguments in equal measure: what works are we "supposed to like" in the Less Wrong community?

I may get the ball rolling by mentioning that although I like GEB and think it has plenty of merit, I think it's ridiculously non-commensurate with the amount of praise it receives.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-21T12:59:24.807Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

what works are we "supposed to like" in the Less Wrong community?

Primarily HP:MoR and anime. And anything else, but only if we can find something interesting to say about it from a rationalist point of view. As grouchymusicologist says of the Grosse Fuge, gushing adulation on its own, even of HP:MoR, will not earn LessWrong points.

Agreed about GEB. It appears that the more someone already knows about mathematical logic, the less highly they rate GEB, to the point of weary eye-rolling from professionals in the field.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T17:46:33.766Z · score: 16 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It appears that the more someone already knows about mathematical logic, the less highly they rate GEB, to the point of weary eye-rolling from professionals in the field.

That's why you're supposed to read it in high school.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-10-21T14:48:41.495Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gosh I've been reading LessWrong since before it existed and I didn't realize I was supposed to like anime.

comment by Jayson_Virissimo · 2011-10-22T06:27:17.134Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Right. My impression was that it was okay to like anime, but that we should feel embarrassed about it because while we are watching cartoons we could be solving the FAI problem or taking a second job in order to donate to Village Reach.

comment by Spectral_Dragon · 2012-09-24T14:41:09.775Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a fairly new member at Lesswrong, I've not until now taken to reading Eliezer's fanfiction Harry Potter and the Arts of Rationality, but the manga/amine Death Note gets taken up there, seemingly on par with any other form of media. It's the second time manga/anime's hinted at as a source of inspiration.

You COULD solve the FAI problem, but you need time to do other things too, and then the medium is of far less importance than the message. After all, if another medium can be more effective in delivering the same message - a film as opposed to a book, wouldn't READING be worse than anime since you could be spending that extra time working instead?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-22T10:34:34.207Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure you're supposed to like anime, or at least people don't talk much (at all?) about liking it. However, a substantial background in anime (something I don't have) seems to be assumed.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-21T15:35:23.127Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anime references seem to be part of the common currency here, although I haven't seen much and what I have has not awakened my enthusiasm. I even watched all of Fate/Stay Night on YouTube, and The Melancholy Of Haruhi Suzumiya on DVD, since Eliezer had mentioned them from time to time; but I found less in them than he did.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-22T00:01:12.665Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The only anime I've really enjoyed is Fullmetal Alchemist . I suspect there are, in fact, plenty of people on LW with no interest in anime -- that just passes unnoticed because they simply remain silent when the subject comes up.

comment by cypher197 · 2012-09-27T17:43:21.087Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're a Transhumanist, you should give Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex a try. It's excellent Postcyberpunk in general.

comment by bbleeker · 2012-09-23T15:10:13.068Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you like anime? [pollid:72]

comment by taelor · 2011-10-22T00:45:47.128Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I personally found the original Haruhi Suzumiya novels and stories to be superior to the anime.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T15:51:46.872Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The "true" Fate/Stay Night is an interactive videogame, which has never been translated into English in an official release.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-21T15:59:20.421Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know that what I've seen is only part of the F/SN canon (and the same goes for Haruhi Suzumiya), but Eliezer hasn't mentioned speaking Japanese, so what did he watch?

comment by gwern · 2011-10-21T16:16:54.095Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Goetz said 'official'; very popular VNs often get fan translations. It's a safe bet that anything by Typemoon has been fan translated.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T16:03:37.384Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Get out. Heretic.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-21T13:20:18.184Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do experts dislike GEB because it covers material they think is obvious and/or because they think it's wrong? Or because non-experts keep talking about it to them?

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-22T20:50:37.708Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I spoke with my supervisor in college, a composer, about this. He's made some attempts at reading Hofstader, and said he found that the sections about music were just uninteresting and obvious to a trained musician.

I've read Hofstader's article on the music of Chopin, and found it interesting, but not particularly new.

comment by mindspillage · 2011-11-01T16:10:57.520Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you have to get a fair amount of training in music theory before it's that uninteresting and obvious, though, which most of the audience of the book isn't going to have. There may be some readers to whom all of the sections were uninteresting and obvious; I suppose it's just not the book for them. (I stumbled across it when most of the material was still new to me, which is probably the best time to read it.)

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-10-21T13:48:40.822Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because -- so I understand, and I am not an expert -- they think it is wrong. Not by any means an undifferentiated heap of nonsense from beginning to end, but wrong enough, in the bits that the naive go geewhizgollygoshwowgeehay over and think they learned something from.

I recall the late Torkel Franzén, undoubtedly an expert, having some strong criticisms of it on sci.logic back in the day, but I don't remember details.

comment by FiftyTwo · 2011-11-29T03:54:01.885Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As well as anime a background in 'classic' scifi seems to be assumed. (e.g. references to Asimov are made without explanation).

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-10-24T20:45:04.731Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Point of evidence re learning to like any kind of music:

Until I was about 11 years old, I didn't like music. I didn't dislike it, per se, but I didn't pay much attention to whether there was music playing or not. I have memories of going to the local Folk Festival and playing at the crafts table or playing tag, but no memories of actually noticing the live music that was playing. I was pretty much completely tone deaf at the time, and my parents decided not to put me in piano lessons along with my siblings, partly because they didn't think there was much point for someone as unmusical as I appeared to be.

This changed when I started learning an instrument at school (flute) in seventh grade. Once I was actually using my own fingers and lips to produce notes, I started to notice melodies, and get them stuck in my head sometimes. I joined choir originally so that I wouldn't have to go outside for recess in winter, but after a few months I started having emotional responses to music, having favourite songs, etc.

Skip forwards by 7 years of playing in various school bands, singing in various choirs, and learning enough classical music theory to start composing singable choir pieces, and almost all music affects me deeply once I know the song, whether it's 16th century sacred choral music or modern heavy metal.

Summary: I see nothing contradictory about having to learn how to appreciate music.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-21T03:16:09.071Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We're now basing judgments of highbrow status-seeking behavior by sampling YouTube commenters?

Oy.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T03:20:18.655Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It might not be as off-base as you think. There's a huge selection effect for who would listen to the Great Fugue, and if there's one thing that YouTube commenters do in spades it's play signalling games.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:45:00.937Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Go look at the page. It may be the only YouTube channel on the internet without grammatical errors.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-10-21T06:47:49.492Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

YouTube channel on the internet

Surely there are unnecessary words in this phrase.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-24T00:26:28.099Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, without the phrase "on the Internet", the phrase might be mistaken as having a more limited scope. Someone once told me that Top Gear was "the most popular programme", and I wondered if he meant the most popular programme in Britain, the most popular programme on that TV channel, or what. I didn't ask, because I wasn't sure whether to call it a "programme", as he did, or a "show", as I normally would.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-21T08:12:55.355Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was impressed, though I don't think that's the only time I've seen that.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T02:58:05.512Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Feeling as if you "should" enjoy something seems like a natural reaction to a -wanting/-liking/+approving behavior, in this case enjoying the Great Fugue. For the most part +approving behaviors have high status, so feeling confused that you don't like it isn't surprising--different parts of your desire are conflicting.

There is a fifth hypothesis, which is a more general form of #4, that could explain the popularity of the piece: when appreciation for an art form becomes sufficiently developed, the criteria for judging it changes as a result of the psychologies of the people who make up the institutions devoted to that art form. For example: literary criticism. What the layman looks for in a novel is drastically different from what an English professor looks for, and that's because of the institution of literary criticism and the kinds of people it attracts. This trend probably has a self-reinforcing effect for two reasons: a) there are strong status reasons to signal enjoying +approving works, e.g. literary critics gain status by saying they enjoy Shakespeare, and b) institutions devoted to art forms can become more homogenous over time. Thus, a popular piece of art need not be more novel to be "fine art," it just needs to be better optimized for the new criteria. This hypothesis is consistent with pattern features 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:47:44.048Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is that different from a "peacock's tail"?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T04:00:27.497Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Come to think of it, it does resemble a "peakcock's tail" much more than it resembles #4. But I don't think it's identical because the peacock's tail hypothesis doesn't account for the judgement criteria changing based on how appreciation for an art form transforms itself into an institution. (And, more crucially, how the institution's subsequent evolution affects the judgement criteria.)

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2011-10-21T02:54:50.203Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been listening to it as I read your post, and I like it well enough so far, despite not being a huge classical music person. (I will probably get bored of it before the end though since I don't really have the patience for long classical works.) I also liked Pollock's paintings the first time I saw them in person, and generally prefer abstractish art to representational, despite not being an art connoisseur. My point being, some people really do like these things without having to try :).

I do think you have a point overall, in that stuff that's harder to appreciate can become higher in status for precisely that reason. However, just because it takes a while to "get" something doesn't mean that it's secretly bad. In particular, listening to music multiple times could have a "key" effect similar to the effect where an incomprehensible distorted sentence can be understood clearly after hearing a non-distorted version (I can't find a video of this right now). Similarly, just because you don't understand some piece of mathematics the first time (or two) you read it doesn't mean that people who claim to find it beautiful are lying or have tricked themselves into liking it. Some things really do require more effort to appreciate.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-23T08:53:50.271Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you're referring to Sine wave speech (listen to SWS, then original, then SWS again), so I'm just gonna put the link here for you...

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T16:36:22.714Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I understood the SWS almost every time the first try (didn't get #4).

He might also be referring to audio pareidolia (example with the NAACP).

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-23T17:42:55.897Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Really? Wow! It's always weird when someone's sensory experiences are demonstrably different to your own.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T18:09:17.450Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unless my ears are significantly better than yours, I think the difference is perception, not sensation. I also forgot to note that hearing the normal text made the SWS clearer, although I had typically managed to guess it.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:48:38.993Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In particular, listening to music multiple times could have a "key" effect similar to the effect where an incomprehensible distorted sentence can be understood clearly after hearing a non-distorted version

Sounds plausible.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-25T13:23:05.412Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste is a good little book about the formation of taste and learning to like something you'd been avoiding. It's by an indie rock critic/snob who decided to find out what there was of value in Celine Dion's music, and discovered there was a fair amount even if it wasn't the best thing ever.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-25T20:53:12.931Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Celine Dion has done some songs that I like and some that I absolutely can't stand.

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-10-21T13:48:09.629Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How confident are you that your Beethoven fugue informants are reliable?

I am not an expert, but I do own a dozen or so Beethoven CD's and I have never heard of "Beethoven's fugue" as a standalone title. I do know that there are some pieces he wrote which are widely disliked. In particular there is one called "Wellington's Victory" which the current wikipedia page says, among other things,

The novelty of the work has worn down over the last two-hundred years; as a result, "Wellington's Victory" is not much heard in concert halls today.

Now, one day around seven or eight years ago I was reading a piece in the Sunday New York Times which was titled something like "the worst music ever composed by the greatest composers". This Beethoven work was very close to the top of the list. Then, a day later on the classical music station they played the sucker, it did sound ridiculous, and it was obvious from the way the DJ spoke that one of his friends or co-workers had played a practical joke on him (or maybe he was a great practical joker of a DJ--which I doubt, because I listened to that station all the time and this was a third string substitute DJ) because he just went on and on about the fantastic, but not much appreciated Beethoven work. It was kind of surreal.

You are going to have to provide more evidence than some cut paste you tube comments to convince me of this:

Articulate music lovers with excellent taste praise this piece to heaven.

According to the wikipedia page on op 130,

After the first performance of this work, mixed reactions and publisher suggestion convinced Beethoven to substitute a different final movement, much shorter and lighter than the enormous Große Fuge. This new finale was written between September and November 1826. This movement is marked:

  1. Finale: Allegro

(Also I mostly agree with what the musicologist said in his comment.)

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T16:00:49.747Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, people disliked the Great Fugue more when it was performed than today. But this is also true of the 3rd symphony.

There's some relevant history to Wellington's Victory. In 1813, Beethoven was seen in Vienna as a has-been. He needed to get back into the public eye. He premiered WV together with his 7th symphony. WV was tremendously popular, and its success carried the 7th Symphony along with it, and brought Beethoven back into the public eye, so that he could write and sell more actually good music. This is a case where the contemporary taste was "wrong". But I don't know the most important fact, which is whether the musical snobs of the day identified WV as bad.

By contemporary accounts, Beethoven got a great kick out of conducting WV, what with firing cannons and making lots of noise, so I won't be cynical about it.

You can also see this pattern at work in the Beatles, who became popular by writing dance pop music like "Twist and Shout" (which is good, as pop, but is pop), and this enabled them to go on to record Sergeant Pepper's and the white album.

comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-10-21T18:09:29.000Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

OK I went and gave it a listen. The copy I have is in this 8 disk box.

  1. I like this piece very much.
  2. No idea if I like this more or less than any other Beethoven String Quartet. I like them all very much.
  3. I swear I heard at least ten distinct samples Rodgers & Hammerstein Sound of Music soundtrack.
  4. I was so convinced of this I was expecting to get real red meat when I googled on the following terms: (rodgers hammerstein sound music beethoven string quartet 13). Alas, all I got was a long list of orgs who had both of those items in their immense repertoires, but nothing like grouchy musicologist's friends writing back and forth pro and con at length on similarity and difference.
  5. A conjecture. My mom's favorite record was the Sound of Music soundtrack, and she had simple taste. I bet she would have liked the "grosse fugue" on one listen, from which I would argue that this piece is accessible.

(Also Rodgers and Hammerstein were going for a German folk music sound, so perhaps Beethoven and they were both independently derivative of the same sources. Or this connection could purely be a figment of my imagination.)

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-21T18:03:02.027Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

But I don't know the most important fact, which is whether the musical snobs of the day identified [Wellington's Victory] as bad.

They did indeed. In fact, the snobbiest musician of that time was Beethoven himself, who responded to critics of the piece as follows:

"What I shit is better than anything you could ever think up!"

comment by Spurlock · 2011-10-24T16:11:54.303Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just a couple of thoughts about this:

1) This paper by Juergen Schmidhuber was very helpful in un-confusing me about a lot of aesthetic things. But in particular, it accounts for things like subjectivity of preference and the way you can learn to like things with continual exposure. Whether you want to learn to appreciate a piece of art seems like a matter of preference, in general it doesn't seem like there should be any reason to get normative about it.

2) Like most people, I have experienced things that I was supposed to like and actually liked them, and things that I was supposed to like that I didn't end up actually liking. I see no reason to find this surprising. So when people say things like "if you don't like this then you MUST (have no taste|have no attention span|be a moron|etc), I feel confident in saying that these people are making the mistakes discussed in Generalizing from one exmaple, or doing related things we discuss on LW, like simulating me in their brain and jumping to conclusions based on the implicit assumption that we are virtually identical. In fact, I tend to do this with any statement of the form "you have opinion X, therefore you must have trait Y".

3) I think it's perfectly fine to see that something is praised highly and use that as evidence that you should at least check it out. From your post, it looks like the opposite might be true for you (that is, once praise surpasses a certain level, you can heuristically assume that you actually won't like it), but it works okay for me and many others. And in particular, I see no reason not to treat it as typical Bayesian evidence: If recommendations from Source A tend to correlate with your own judgements, use them, otherwise do not.

4) I don't think there's any absolute truth of "Great Art"-ness. We can dissolve the question down to things like "Is it enjoyable?" or "Is it historically significant?", but "Great" seems like one of those dangling, orphaned categories to me. Feels real, but probably isn't.

5) I see no reason that learning to like something is a bad thing, so long as you end up actually liking it. That is, if you will look back on it and be glad that you gave it a 2nd (or nth) chance, then this is probably something you should do. If you think you'll look back on it and still feel confused about why you occasionally decide to put this piece of music on, yet you'll feel pressured to continue doing so, then don't bother.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T04:08:20.799Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-21T04:23:54.583Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Make me wonder how realistic it might be to willingly ration aesthetic experiences.

I've certainly heard of people who did that.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T05:42:16.353Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Caspian · 2011-10-23T01:19:23.716Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I noticed that I tended to get bored with music I had a copy of, because I played it too much. So now I mostly only listen to a track if I really want to, or it is unfamiliar, or it is on the radio. If I can't choose a track I strongly want to listen to and the radio doesn't appeal at all, I turn it off. The radio gets a lower threshold since they space out repetitions of music, and have enough new music to do so.

I haven't checked if there are any music listening systems analogous to spaced repetition learning systems, but optimised for playing tracks you like without you getting bored with them. That could be good.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-10-23T22:02:24.762Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Music players like iTunes and Winamp can be used to create something like spaced repetition for the music you have on your computer, since they let you create smart playlists based on criteria like playcount and when a track was last played. So you could create your spaced repetition playlist which keeps tracks out of rotation after you play them, but puts them back into rotation sooner if they have a lower playcount or a higher rating. For instance, it could include tracks with:

Playcount of 3 or less, and not played in last 1 day OR
Rating 5, playcount 4-6, and not played in last 3 days OR
Rating 4, playcount 4-6, and not played in last 6 days OR
Rating 3, playcount 4-6, and not played in last 12 days OR
Rating 5, playcount 7-9, and not played in last 7 days OR
etc.

Of course you'd have to figure out what numbers to use and program it yourself (and you'd have to rate everything you listen to, if you want to use rating as one of the criteria). Then you could listen to that playlist on shuffle, or choose what tracks to listen to while limiting yourself to the tracks on that playlist.

I actually have a crude version of this system in place, which I use to listen to my music on shuffle. It started as something much simpler (I put a one-week delay in for everything because I didn't want tracks to come up in the shuffle a few days after I'd listened to them), and over time I've lengthened the delay and added some dependence on rating & playcount.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T16:23:32.622Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Try Pandora? Their licenses prevent them from playing songs too frequently, but they replay songs you upvote more than songs you don't (and never play songs you downvote), as well as learning from your preferences to give you new music you might enjoy.

I have found that their selection can be somewhat limited in some subgenres, to the point where you can have upvoted or downvoted enough that it no longer has new music it thinks you'll be interested in. (So far, I've only done this with Celtic Punk, and that was made easier by my dislike of The Pogues.)

comment by randallsquared · 2011-11-01T13:31:31.005Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like Pandora enough that I pay for it. That said, there are some issues with it:

  • a given station seems to be limited to 20-30 songs, with a very occasional other song tossed in, so if you listen to it throughout a workday, you'll have heard the same song repeatedly. This can be ideal, however, for worktime music, where repetitive enjoyability is more important that novelty.
  • Pandora doesn't have some artists, especially (I think) those not completely representable with ASCII, like Alizée.
  • If you upvote everything you like, and downvote things you don't like regularly, and if your tastes are quite broad across genres, it's easy for stations to drift from their seed song or artist so far that it mostly plays things not really representative of the name you gave it originally. Additionally, multiple stations can converge so that they mostly play the same songs, except for the original song you started each station with, which are quite different.
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-10-22T20:30:34.318Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm currently watching The Wire for the first time, and I try to only watch one or at most two episodes a day. I know that I'll enjoy the series more, and remember it better, if I watch it over an extended period of time than if I watched a season a day.

comment by Vaniver · 2011-10-23T16:25:36.311Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. I have found myself strongly preferring the experience of consuming fiction in one go to consuming as it comes out, to the point that I have stopped reading some webcomics (like Vattu) until they finish their current story so I can consume them at one go.

I find it a lot easier to see the connections between the parts when doing so- imagine watching a movie one scene a day!- and I find myself not particularly enjoying the suspense of waiting for the next installment. It's not clear to me, though, how my emotional attachment to the work changes based on the time I'm processing it.

I've also noticed a counter-trend, which is that when I'm reading or watching a work that evokes strong emotions or imaginative responses, I will frequently pause to process the emotion or imaginative scenario, then resume the work. So possibly one should pause a movie between scenes.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-10-24T13:03:15.142Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Here's something that I wrote elsewhere about this topic:

Back in the days, there was really only one way to watch a television series: by catching it whenever it was on TV, perhaps over a period of several years. Watching a good TV series became a ritual that defined your day: I still remember that when I was maybe six years old, I always had to be at home at 7 PM, because that's when PTV would start showing cartoons.

Today, if I want to watch a TV series, I can buy the DVD or download it from the Internet. If the series is good enough, I might watch through it in a week, or even a day or two. And even if the series is really good, watching it in such a short time is insufficient to really build an emotional bond with it. I'll remember it as “that really good TV series” - not as “that TV series that I love”.

There's a pick-up artist technique called time distortion. The basic idea is that you take a person out on a date with you, then go to multiple different places and do different things while you're out. This is used to trick the brain of your dating partner into believing that you've known for a longer time than you've actually had, which makes her trust you more:

By bouncing your girl to multiple targets and doing different things, this creates separate and powerful memories in her mind of being with you at different locations. This can create trust each time she bounces with the PUA, as well as shorten the time of the 7 hour period, as her time spent with you is so memorable, that she feels like she has been with you longer than she actually has.

When a story that already has a fanbase is released in multiple installments, each installment gives a fan a new opportunity to connect with other fans and catch up with the latest installment together. This can give the reader many powerful memories of having read the story and it being a positive experience. As an example, a year back I spent four months in the United States, sharing a house with several other people who were reading the fan fiction story Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I have several memories of somebody checking the Internet, then shouting “METHODS UPDATED!”, and practically everybody in the house running to the nearest computer to catch up with the most recent installment. I also once mentioned that Methods had been updated to one person who was supposed to be working, and she then said that I shouldn't have said that, because now she'd have to go read it instead of working. And so on - I have probably at least ten distinct Methods of Rationality -related memories from that trip. It means that Methods of Rationality will always be a fanfic that has a special significance for me, because it is bound together with my memories of California. Likewise, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5 will always have a special significance for me, because they were series that I watched together with my parents in the late evening over a period of many years. That wouldn't be the case if they hadn't be released in small installments over an extended period of time.

comment by taryneast · 2011-10-24T10:29:52.340Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do this with books too. AFAI am concerned, there's no shortage of novelty amongst books (quite the opposite) so I don't have to ration myself.

The opposite seems true for good tv, though. So that I try to ration (and usually fail) :)

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T18:59:15.263Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some webcomics are paced so that they work well one page at a time; others aren't.

As usual, there are tropes about that.

comment by mindspillage · 2011-11-01T16:18:23.046Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just watched it a few months ago, a few marathon sessions at a time. I'm not sure how people who spaced it out could manage to keep the characters and storylines straight (it doesn't help that I'm not good with faces, I suppose).

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-22T20:37:55.981Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by taryneast · 2011-10-24T10:30:52.560Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

ok... that inspires me to actually go watch it. I think I've only seen a few eps and it was oookaaay... maybe I just didn't give it enough time to gel?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-24T13:05:36.243Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by taryneast · 2011-10-26T10:26:17.289Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Erm... that's not an answerable question for me.

Firstly - it was over three years ago, so I really can't remember. But generally when I'm watching fiction and just don't feel inspired - I can't actually tell what it is that's lacking. Just that it's not as zingy and interesting as something else that I could be watching instead.

I can postulate that it could be the "getting to know it" problem: it often takes time to get to know the characters and start to care about them before true fanaticism begins to blossom :) Take Babylon 5, for instance. It takes at least 6 episodes before people start to get an idea of why it's so popular. If you only watch one or two episodes, you don't get a feel for the difference that a proper story arc really makes. the characters actually change. Not just because it suits an episode's gimmick... but because they act like real people and make mistakes or work at fixing things up...

I'm quite happy to concede that I may have fallen victim to the same problem re: the Wire... and therefore willing to give it another go based on the above comments (when I get back to Sydney where my Aunt lives that owns them...)

comment by saturn · 2011-11-02T08:36:20.571Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unlike most shows, The Wire is basically all arc. It barely makes any effort at all to make individual episodes interesting on their own. Each season is kind of like a 13 hour long movie.

comment by Nisan · 2011-10-21T06:32:28.870Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm rationing my consumption of Bach. And I revisit the Brandenburg Concertos sparingly.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T06:38:42.808Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

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comment by Mercy · 2011-10-27T17:00:28.210Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The problem is more dramatic in architecture. The latter is the point where the crisis of modern art moves from a bugbear of the chattering classes to a genuine problem. If someone insists that you just need to learn to appreciate some ear destroying extended technique violin piece, you have a difference of opinion. If someone insists that the solution to the residents of the new brutalist tower block wanting to kill themselves is to educate them on the finer points of architectural theory, then you have a civic problem. (Incidentally, are there any other forms of art that require the destruction of old pieces?)

With food though, "just learn to like it" is absolutely good advice as, a childish aversion to, say, cabbage is an unnecessary barrier to eating arrangements that could be solved with a few meals. And because food is such a flexible art form, learning to appreciate new elements dramatically increases your enjoyment. Though I suppose these are really two sides of the same coin, like the OPs definition of art snobbery as insisting that art should not contain certain features that indicate the wrong culture: perspective, raw meat, any consideration for the surrounding space whatsoever, etc, etc.

The problem is that artists generally like to focus on reducing the number of features, partly because it makes it easier to compose but mostly, I suspect, because it makes it easier for other people to compare your compositions. This is most obvious in fashion (take one accessory off, even after accounting for the fact that you were going to have one accessory too many) but compare any home recipe to any cooks recipe, the former will have all sorts of pinches of this and that and the other added in which make it taste muddier, which is not necessarily worse but harder to analyses.

This is the blockbuster problem basically: if you want to appeal to a lot of people you have to do a lot of things, and then the quality of your work will just be an average of how each person thought you did on the stuff they cared about. So you insist that dance scenes aren't serious and a real director doesn't put dance scenes in their movie, and gradually the quality improves (from the artists POV) even as the appeal narrows.

There's probably an economic paper treating this like a market with artist surplus and consumer surplus, with the artistic surplus narrowing to nothing as you reduce barriers to entry for artists.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-27T17:27:44.671Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is the blockbuster problem basically: if you want to appeal to a lot of people you have to do a lot of things, and then the quality of your work will just be an average of how each person thought you did on the stuff they cared about.

This can backfire, even for general audiences. I have a real problem watching a lot of anime for related reasons: it's conventional in much (not all, but probably a majority) of the format to jump promiscuously and without warning between slapstick, light slice-of-life cuteness, and serious drama, and it takes me a couple minutes to reassemble the scattered fragments of my suspension of disbelief whenever a particularly jarring transition happens. I can understand in theory that it's supposed to broaden the work's appeal, and any work will usually have a dominant mode, but despite the fact that I don't see myself as a particularly sophisticated viewer it still comes off as a mess more often than not.

Bollywood has similar problems for me.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-10-27T21:09:40.452Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Robert Reed, the actor who played the father on The Brady Bunch, had similar complaints about that show, which he expressed in long memos that he wrote to the show's producer.

comment by gwern · 2011-10-27T18:24:20.629Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can understand in theory that it's supposed to broaden the work's appeal

I don't think that's always the purpose, or even the main purpose. Usually the purpose is a mix of trying to build rounded characters which the viewer can relate to such that one actually cares about the drama, and giving the viewer a chance to cope. Appeal-broadening sounds a bit odd to me - who watches Fullmetal Alchemist going 'ho hum another death/battle to sit through, when are we going to get some more jokes about Ed's height?'? If someone wants pure comedy, there are plenty of 'pure' series which cater to that, they don't need to watch a mixed series - and this applies to serious drama as well; that mixes keep happening suggest that there's some synergy there.

You complain about your suspension of disbelief being broken by the transitions - for me, it can be the opposite: Saikano shattered my suspension by being so purely grim and dramatic without any real intervals in between dramatic moments, so that it was pure bathos; while series like Evangelion or Madoka space out the shattering moments so they actually do impact the viewer.

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-27T18:51:14.820Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that's always the purpose, or even the main purpose. Usually the purpose is a mix of trying to build rounded characters which the viewer can relate to such that one actually cares about the drama, and giving the viewer a chance to cope. Appeal-broadening sounds a bit odd to me...

Maybe "broadening appeal" is the wrong phrase to use, but I don't find it much more likely that the device is used to round out characters: do Ed's comically violent reactions to short jokes really add something to his character that a more grounded reaction wouldn't? Giving viewers a chance to cope sounds closer, but still not quite on target; the sense I get is that these transitions are included mainly as a sort of counterweight to the dominant mode, so as not to intimidate or overwhelm viewers (especially younger viewers) that might find the tone oppressive if more conventional emotional pacing was used. Note that they seem a lot more common in shows targeted at teenage audiences and younger.

I thought Madoka handled its emotional pacing fairly well, incidentally: it spaces out its intense moments, but the relief never struck me as jarring. I wasn't able to sit all the way through Evangelion and I haven't touched Saikano, so I can't comment on either.

comment by gwern · 2011-10-27T20:50:00.786Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

do Ed's comically violent reactions to short jokes really add something to his character that a more grounded reaction wouldn't?

For any reaction to serve character development, the reaction has to be funny; whether the humor must be over the top or more subtle depends on the particular work, creator, and audience but doesn't change the basic point.

Giving viewers a chance to cope sounds closer, but still not quite on target; the sense I get is that these transitions are included mainly as a sort of counterweight to the dominant mode, so as not to intimidate or overwhelm viewers (especially younger viewers) that might find the tone oppressive if more conventional emotional pacing was used.

What is 'conventional'? Otherwise, basically what I said...

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-27T21:16:26.945Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For any reaction to serve character development, the reaction has to be funny

Could you explain? This sounds false to me, both in general and with respect to Fullmetal Alchemist specifically.

comment by gwern · 2011-10-27T22:12:14.792Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm, not sure what I was thinking there. I'll try again: teasing Ed about his height is intrinsically humorous, so any reaction which builds his character will be humorous, so the only question is how the humor will be treated and it's pointless to criticize whether the humor is over the top or moderately broad or very subtle - which kind of humor is best will depend on the audience. That there will be humor must be the case for any decent author, as Arakawa most certainly is. (Notice Nornagest didn't criticize all the other character-building repeated elements/motif/themes which range from humor to philosophical to tragic, like the watch, which suggests to me that he simply doesn't like the jokes about height, not that he is making any real point about the general desirability or functionality of these mixed genres. And come to think of it, the height jokes are why any reader is paying attention to how tall Ed is, which ultimately pays off for the reader when, towards the end, he realizes Arakawa has been subtly drawing Ed taller and taller - he is a character who literally grows.)

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-27T22:16:02.552Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Notice Nornagest didn't criticize all the other character-building repeated elements/motif/themes which range from humor to philosophical to tragic, like the watch, which suggests to me that he simply doesn't like the jokes about height, not that he is making any real point about the general desirability or functionality of these mixed genres.

Hey, that was your example, not mine. I was actually thinking of some of the silliness in Seras Victoria's scenes in Hellsing when I wrote my original comment, although that particular style of comic relief is common in the genre and FMA isn't terribly shy about using it. The other repeated motifs don't bother me because they aren't incongruent with the local tone of the series.

Comic relief also isn't the only place this sort of thing shows up, although it's probably the most common: a lot of anime takes a similar approach to erotic fanservice, for example. Although now that I think about it, that version does happen fairly often in Western media...

comment by gwern · 2011-10-27T23:57:19.271Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Although now that I think about it, that version does happen fairly often in Western media...

Yes, yes, think about it more...! :)

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-27T21:59:49.665Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What is 'conventional'? Otherwise, basically what I said...

By "conventional" I meant the kind of emotional pacing you see in most Western television, or in most anime aimed at adults: less abrupt changes in tone, more emotional consistency, and a slower pace overall. I don't buy "coping space" as a complete explanation because that's a basic element of competent emotional pacing no matter how it's executed; the slapstick interludes in FMA et al. are a distinct (and fairly unusual) mode and need additional explanation. The demographic considerations in the grandparent are my best guess as to what that is.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-27T18:40:16.216Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

who watches Fullmetal Alchemist going 'ho hum another death/battle to sit through, when are we going to get some more jokes about Ed's height?'?

...

comment by taelor · 2012-09-15T09:11:38.021Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If someone insists that the solution to the residents of the new brutalist tower block wanting to kill themselves is to educate them on the finer points of architectural theory, then you have a civic problem.

Is this hyperbole, or is people committing suicide because of ugly architecture actually a thing? Citation Needed.

comment by gwern · 2012-09-16T00:36:21.436Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Brutalist architecture & housing projects have been blamed, at least since Jacob's Life and Death, for the disintegration of neighborhoods into ghettos and blighted areas. So I think the claim seems plausible.

comment by Nornagest · 2012-09-15T09:51:12.015Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Almost certainly hyperbole, but architects -- especially of that era -- do have a habit of making surprisingly grandiose estimates of their work's social effects.

Of course, it's unlikely that any successful architect not working in set design for vampire movies would deliberately set out to depress people into suicide.

comment by gwern · 2011-10-25T17:39:25.184Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2011/10/mere-exposure-to-bad-art-experiment-results.html

In a 2003 study, psychologist James Cutting (2003, 2006) briefly exposed undergraduate psychology students to canonical and lesser-known Impressionist paintings (the lesser-known works exposed four times as often), with the result that after exposure, subjects preferred the lesser-known works more often than did the control group. Cutting took this result to show that canon formation is a result of cultural exposure over time. He further took this to show that the subjects’ judgements were not merely a product of the quality of the works. “If observers were able to judge quality alone in the image pairs, their judgments should not have been contaminated by appearance differences in the classroom. To be sure, quality could still play a role, but such an account must then rely on two processes- mere exposure and quality assessment (however that might be done). My proposal is that these are one-process results and done on the basis of mere exposure inside and outside the classroom” (Cutting 2003, 335).

...It could be that exposure is giving subjects an opportunity to learn what is good in the painting, and so does not by itself control preference, but rather facilitates evaluation, whether positive or negative. If this latter explanation were right, whether or not the exposed paintings are good or bad should make a difference. This is what our study examined. We replicated Cutting’s study exposing subjects to 12 little-known late landscapes of John Everett Millais, alongside 48 paintings by the American artist Thomas Kinkade, (again, half of each group of paintings were exposed four times as often). We asked control groups[1] and the experimental group to express the extent to which they liked each painting using a 10 point Likert scale. We found that with bad paintings by Kinkade, exposure decreased, rather than increased, liking in relation to our control groups. This is consistent with the Humean challenge to Cutting's conclusions.

...Comparing the ratings given by our experimental subjects to those given by the members of our philosophy control group, we observed almost uniformly lower ratings for the Kinkade paintings. 47 out of 48 Kinkades received lower mean liking scores from the experimental subjects than they received from those in the unexposed control group. This resulted in mean scores of 5.9 (control) versus 5.1 (experiment) for the single exposure Kinkade paintings, and mean scores of 5.74 (control) versus 4.75 (experiment) for the multiple exposure Kinkades....We conclude from these results that mere exposure will not always produce an increase in liking for paintings. This puts pressure on Cutting’s conclusions that canon formation is simply a function of cultural exposure, and that quality is not playing a role in artistic judgement.

Relevant is the experimental musical results: http://www.gwern.net/Culture%20is%20not%20about%20esthetics#the-experimental-results

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-21T03:20:32.137Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On further reflection, I don't think disliking any particular highbrow cultural symbol necessarily conveys low status. People in the know are only supposed to like the works of either Tolstoy or Dostoevskiy, but not both. Having an opinion either way is fine. Not being able to offer an opinion -- now that's low status.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:44:07.165Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People in the know are only supposed to like the works of either Tolstoy or Dostoevskiy, but not both.

I haven't heard that before. Can you give some evidence of that?

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-21T03:50:41.117Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't have an opinion poll to point you toward; however, if you ask someone who teaches Russian literature whether there is a split between "Tolstoy people" and "Dostoeyevskiy people," I expect them to confirm that this is a widespread belief.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-21T03:04:33.455Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that a lot of music takes 5+ listens before I really start to enjoy it. This is particularly the case of complex, subtle music. This could be just me adjusting to social demands but I find it can happen even with music I want to dislike. Katie Perry grows on you.

As people learn more about an art form, they can more-easily predict it, and need more and more novelty to keep them interested; like porn viewers who seek out movies with continually-stranger sex acts. (This is a cognitively-plausible variant of "there is no such thing as objective beauty".) If there were departments of pornography at ivy-league universities, they would scoff at the simplicity of films lacking bondage, machines, or animals.

Most of what I listen to is popular music and I find that a lot of the music I used to love just goes down too easily now. It's a very similar experience to eating sugary candy you loved as a child but is too saccharine now. When I listen to new music that is at similar levels of accessibility and ease of listening this manifests itself in a lower limit to the number of times I can hear the song without getting sick of it.

comment by Sarokrae · 2011-10-24T07:07:09.265Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rebecca Black's "Friday" became reasonably tuneful after 5 listens. (Perhaps that suggests I shouldn't have listened to it 5 times to begin with?)

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-21T06:13:11.867Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've found that a lot of music takes 5+ listens before I really start to enjoy it.

I may simply have less musical sophistication than most (I've got more than a decade of choir experience under my belt, but have developed neither a familiarity with the mechanics of music nor a significant body of opinions,) but I more often experience the opposite. As a piece of music becomes familiar, it gradually loses its power to move me.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-21T06:29:44.689Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That happens to me too. Enjoyment peaks between 5 and 25 listens.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-21T06:35:27.630Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me, the first is generally the best.

Although if I don't like a song quite a bit the first time I don't deliberately subject myself to it repeatedly.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-21T08:12:14.192Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does the ability to enjoy a piece of music come back if you haven't heard it for a while?

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-21T14:33:52.062Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

More than if I've heard it a lot recently, but not to the point that it's like listening to it for the first time.

comment by JoshuaBK · 2012-09-27T03:35:56.030Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think whenever you have the scenario of other people enjoying a musical work (or an artwork) that you don't enjoy, you can reduce the explanation to three possibilities: (1) Everyone else is under some kind of mass delusion and you're sane (or stupid/smart) (2) Everyone else is correct and there's something wrong with me or (3) there's no objective "greatness" in music (or art or food etc.)

I think believing (1) is a symptom of extreme narcissism, and believing (2) is a symptom of low self esteem. But (3) is unsatisfactory and incomplete, although it leaves an opening to at least ask why we like certain things more than others, and why some people "like" differently than others. I don't think you have to submit to a world in which everything is as good as everything else and no qualitative judgments are valid, but you have to accept that there are just limits to how much we will ever agree on what's good. And there are interesting questions to study about how the human ear responds to certain sounds, and whether and how it can be "trained" to like things. And there's actual research on all that stuff, and I'm not an expert in that field so I won't try to get into it.

I will say this though -- your article implies that you find initial, "untrained" impressions of a work more valid than opinions that come from repeated listen or even study. I feel like there's a fallacy in this kind of thinking -- the idea that there's a pure essence of a piece, and of one's reaction to it, that gets somehow contaminated by repeated listen or study -- love at first sight or it's not love. What if music doesn't operate like this? What if it's more like a coded message, and it can take several listens or even study to decode the message?

If a class of 5-year-olds found Hamlet "boring" we wouldn't say "well, it must be so, because here is the pure honest reaction of unpretentious people who haven't been told they're 'supposed to' like this yet," we'd say that the 5-year-olds haven't acquired the language skills and life experiences to even understand the play and therefore can't properly evaluate it.

I'm not saying you're a musical 5-year-old -- maybe you just don't like the Great Fugue, and that's fine. Personally, I think it's an interesting piece of music. It's not my favorite, but it's striking, and worth listening to.

Most lovers of any artform eventually come to the conclusion that reasonable, well-educated people can differ about these things and that some of it is "taste," by which we mean some hard-to-pin-down combination of emotions and experiences and ear structure and brain structure and who knows what else. Most classical music lovers consider Wagner a great composer, yet some can't stand his music, etc. But let's not dismiss the idea that it might take some work and/or knowledge and/or skill acquisition to understand what's going on in some works of art.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T20:59:35.282Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that a significant component of the enjoyment of certain kinds of art comes from subverted expectations. When, for example, what begins as a lighthearted romantic comedy ends up with both leads killing themselves. Or when the killer turns out to be the last person you'd have suspected, even when you take into account that the author was trying to trick you.. You can't have subverted expectations, however, if you don't have expectations in the first place - which is one reason that some works need "experience" in order to appreciate.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-10-23T21:49:43.614Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think that a significant component of the enjoyment of certain kinds of art comes from subverted expectations. When, for example, what begins as a lighthearted romantic comedy ends up with both leads killing themselves.

Subverted expectations? It's Shakespere. He tells you they are both going to die right there in the prologue. Twice. Your just so story just isn't so!

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-24T18:49:41.707Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, point made. ;) It's still a genre-bender, though. even if Shakespeare does indeed warn you ahead of time. (It's the "lighthearted romantic comedy" part that people don't expect, these days.)

A more direct example in Shakespeare's work exists in King Lear. Audiences in his day, who would have been familiar with the story Shakespeare adapted, would have been expecting a much happier ending.

comment by Hawisher · 2012-09-24T14:51:08.735Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a freshman in college, I feel I am 'supposed to like' beer and parties. I don't. I like Cuba Libres, and relaxing in the dorm with floor-mates, but that's beside the point. As an avid reader, I feel I am 'supposed to like' the accepted classics of literature (Mrs. Dalloway, Ulysses, etc.), but I don't. I generally consume pulp fantasy and thrillers, despite being perfectly capable of reading said classics. I liked the Great Gatsby, Les Miserables, and Dracula, but that's beside the point.

In my opinion, when you feel you're supposed to like something, it's because a group of people with whom you strongly identify (lovers of Beethoven's music) like that thing, and you've adopted that group as a sort of label for yourself. It's easier to say "I am an aficionado of classical music" than "I like classical music of many types, in particular Canons, I love Chopin's nocturnes, I appreciate..." and thus one gets the feeling of "My feelings should more closely tie in with those my label would indicate."

We sometimes see the same thing with political parties.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-21T08:40:51.658Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think having the idea that one should like a work of art is going to distract from the chance of actually liking it.

If you're confused about whether or not you like it, there might be something interesting going on. Trying to find out what it is might or might not distract you from the music.

It probably isn't pretentious garbage, though it might not be the greatest thing ever.

For what it's worth, I liked the beginning, but find it hard to believe people think this is better than the more popular Beethoven symphonies. It seemed like bits of Beethoven, and Beethoven is pretty good. Then I got bored, and started reading while using the Great Fugue for background. Long about 11:00, the music got sweet and intense and grabbed my attention, and I stayed with it, really enjoying it till the end.

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-21T03:00:38.087Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hm. If you put Jackson Pollock in the same category as The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, maybe I should re-evaluate my opinion of Jackson Pollock.

comment by gjm · 2011-10-22T19:02:31.369Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe Phil should read (or write) The Love Song of J. Ackson Pollock.

(FWIW I like Prufrock a lot and largely agree with Phil's assessment of Pollock.)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T03:02:18.631Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-21T03:15:49.415Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Positively.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:45:47.859Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What do you like about that poem?

comment by Nornagest · 2011-10-21T06:11:52.880Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It didn't seem worthwhile to mention this earlier, but now that people are throwing anecdotes around I might as well add mine: Prufrock is one of my very favorite poems. It's wonderfully evocative, generates emotional torque deftly without getting maudlin, and it's packed with beautiful phrases: there's hardly a line in there that doesn't have something that'd scan well as the title of another work. Granted, the theme of middle-aged middle-class frustration isn't universally palatable, but if you can stomach that it's got a lot to recommend it.

It's also pretty straightforward as Eliot goes, really; if you're looking for examples, The Waste Land is just as beloved of English departments and a lot more opaque and less conventional.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T05:32:56.033Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'll chime in. I quite like the lines, "For I have known them all already, known them all;/ Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,/ I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;..."

Also, the tone of the poem itself is quite dismal and deals with basic existential dread and a sort of mean loneliness, which (when I first read it as a teenager) seemed incredibly poignant and touching. Perhaps it seems a bit less fraught with meaning when those concerns don't press as heavily on the mind, but it left an emotional impact on me. I also like the things less easy to justify objectively; I like the imagery and rhythm of the poem, though others may not.

I can see how it may seem a bit wankish with the Dante's Inferno quote at the beginning and some of the more oblique turns it takes before getting to a point, but I like it nonetheless. Poetry is strange; I can read a poem and like it or not like it after a few minutes of reflection, but I have to really think about it to justify my feelings if I am to try and explain it to someone else.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T17:38:16.080Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I love the poem, but I wonder whether that's because it was the first work I read that made my standard teenage social anxieties into something profound- the fear of becoming an adult who blends into the scenery, an acquaintance to all but an intimate to none. (Note that Eliot himself was extremely young when he wrote it.) If some other work did the same thing for you, then you couldn't have the same experience again with Prufrock. It's much better done than the sort of thing that most teens project themselves into, of course, but it's still as fundamentally a teenage work as most rock songs are.

I think it's for the same reason that most people who never saw Star Wars when they were a kid don't see what the fuss is about when they watch it as an adult.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-22T18:34:37.949Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The other thing about Stars Wars is that it was a huge jump in the quality of special effects.

Even though I was past the age to really imprint on it, seeing that battle cruiser go past and past and past overhead is a treasured memory.

Now, big special effects sf movies are routine.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T22:18:38.496Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Good point. For me, the huge SFX jump in my childhood was Jurassic Park- I can't imagine that someone who grew up after the early 90s would attach as much emotional valence to such a corny story as I did, now that its disbelief-shattering CGI is commonplace.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T18:46:19.236Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My younger brother and I were indeed duly impressed by the effects in Jurassic Park... but we also thought the movie itself was rather silly.

When I went to see Star Wars in the theater during the re-release, I was rather surprised at how little there was to it, especially when compared to all the other things set in the same universe that I'd already been exposed to. I basically had the same reaction to the original trilogy that it seems that most people had to the prequel trilogy. (Of the six movies, Attack of the Clones was actually the one that I liked the best; it was the only one that even tried to have Hidden Depths.)

comment by Nominull · 2011-10-22T15:34:20.212Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Do I dare /Disturb the universe? /In a minute there is time /For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse"

The "coffee spoons" line gets a lot of love, deservedly, but that passage is what sticks with me, that and the callback later in the poem "Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?"

My metric for good poetry is that it should still echo in my mind after I've stopped reading it, I've stopped thinking about it, and I've moved on to other things. By that metric "Prufrock" is a good poem, certainly the best of Eliot's poetry that I've read.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-22T16:33:30.865Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Also, those passages may be of interest to LW-- there might be some clues about akrasia.

comment by shminux · 2011-10-21T02:36:00.442Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The real question is, why do you care about peer pressure?

EDIT: I just listened to it for the first time, and really liked it. Still, tastes differ.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-10-21T14:34:17.608Z · score: 21 (27 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The real question is, why do you care about peer pressure?

Because all my friends do.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T02:40:27.269Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because not everyone we'd want to associate with are people who can mentally just up and decide to not be status signalling creatures. And thus we want to model how and why the status signalling happens, both to understand how to react normally as well as how we can act without falling into the same traps. Not to mention this is something just glossed over in everyday status signalling interactions; maybe we can optimize the situations.

comment by shminux · 2011-10-21T02:46:06.904Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

English, please?

EDIT: Is it a fancy way of saying that we give in to peer pressure to not look stuck up? Just a guess...

EDIT2: OK, Jack said it even shorter, but it looks like I sort of got it.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T02:54:51.039Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Disclaimer: Hopefully I can close the gap, but if not, I'll have to hope someone else gets what I'm talking about, because I'm not always the best at explaining signalling.

Humans are social animals. Part of our social behavior is making ourselves look like we're ideal individuals, whether we're conscious of it or not. Peer pressure helps force others to align with both our view of ideal (by making them act more how we want them to act) and reinforce our ideal-ness (because we're making them agree, if submissively and possibly unconsciously, with our view). Many people don't understand this is what we're doing, but are otherwise intelligent individuals with ideas or characteristics that we like. Thus, we want to understand the social behavior going on here so we can interact with this set of people better than if we just decided to not learn the behavior, as ignoring them would also be below par.

Edit: Jack got it better. I was writing from a pressurer's standpoint for my explanation of why it happens, and then a pressuree's for my answer to why we care, but that may have made it more confusing.

comment by Jack · 2011-10-21T02:54:43.373Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

We want people to like us.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T03:50:05.271Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

How did you think of it compared to a Bach fugue, or Beethoven symphonies 3-9?

I do care about peer pressure, and it is irrational and self-destructive not to care about peer pressure. But in this case it is not peer pressure as much as my desire to have confidence in my own judgement.

comment by Kutta · 2011-10-21T09:29:38.370Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can draw a lot of motivation from peer pressure; the trick is to expose yourself to specific kinds of peer pressure that propel you towards some desirable goal.

In regards to art, once I made a considerable effort to like extreme metal, because a respected art-geek friend recommended me to do so. He's a professional poker player with little to no social engagement in art circles, and thus his tastes have remarkably social-pressure-free origins. I figured that'd make his social pressure on me more valuable. Currently, on reflection, I believe that some extreme metal is extremely good, and I also enjoy such music immensely, and the fact that I could manage to reach this state only via peer pressure doesn't matter that much.

"Try to minimize information cascades regarding art recommendations" seems to be a good heuristic in general. Another would be: "value the recommendations of people who have complex boundaries of liked-disliked art". Someone who likes some classical music, but not most, and also likes some extreme metal, but not most, maybe considers the actual music more carefully than someone who likes most music from one genre but completely dismisses certain other genres.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T02:36:40.695Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by Hyena · 2011-10-23T13:10:02.510Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I will submit two things first: (1) Jackson Pollock paintings are excellent, that you don't like them just demonstrates you're not in their audience; (2) the normal way for Burning Man to change someone's life completely is through drug use.

Over the course of my art history degree, not once did anyone insist I had to like any work. I had to recognize its importance--either as inspiration others drew on or as an exemplar of some type--but never actually be attached to any of the work. I think this tendency to demand others like a work is unserious. But this is where I wonder about the work "like" is doing.

I'm not a fan of Bouguereau, for example, but I actually "like" his work in the sense that I often trot it out when I need an example of late academic painting. In fact, he might actually be my most-referenced artist and I admit that, while I wouldn't hang any of it on my wall, I have a certain affinity for his work borne entirely of my distaste for it. I think you should consider this possibility: experts "like" a work in this sense--it is useful to them in explanation--but not in the "hang it on my wall" sense but others posture using the term but not really understanding what is meant by the expert.

Naturally, I think the posturers are fairly useless and have since my seminar days.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-23T03:05:24.347Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Link to Paul Graham's take on the subject of what is good art.

comment by damang · 2011-10-22T17:23:40.124Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anybody else drink IPAs just cause they are cool? I know there's someone in here. I admit it: I hated it when I first tried it. And I would have never drank that bitter^10 garbage long enough to like it, if I didn't know it was hip first.

Maybe if it wasn't for people doing things cause they're hip, hard things to like at first with high future payoffs, would not even get as popular as they are today. AND THAT INCLUDES LW! Did you really love LW the first time you came across it? I did honestly fall in love with LW upon first contact, but I was already an aspiring rationalist with quite a radical take on the virtue of rationality.

So, should we care? I don't think so. Actually i think it might even be possible that we should make LW hipper. We perhaps should make EY the Fonz of rationality; and start wearing catchy uniforms; and start speaking a secret code, etc. if we really want LW style rationality to start to catch on in meat-space. The karma system already does well to motivate you and make you feel like a part of a community; but why not just go full on cult tactics? If it'll make people jealous, lets do it. Of course, we should always educate LWers about things you are supposed to like. But i see no good reason to turn down those that join LW because it's hip, or any reason why we shouldn't make it hipper, as long as we don't change the karma system it'll be good.

This feels wrong to me. But I don't know why. Wanna help me out.

comment by Nominull · 2011-10-22T17:40:11.754Z · score: 15 (17 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

When promoting the truth, if you value the truth, it is wise to use especially those methods that rely on the truth being true. That way, if you have accidentally misidentified the truth, there is an automatic safety valve.

comment by vi21maobk9vp · 2011-10-22T20:18:17.798Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What you say is true; but associating the community for the search of the best way of looking for the truth (promoting truth? where would we take a fully-reliable truth?) with some irrelevant purely emotional symbolics doesn't affect this safety valve.

It is not a Bayesian Conspiracy, it is Less Wrong - so if our old methods are wrong, it is the hippest thing to cast them away and become Less Wrong!

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-21T16:29:29.523Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This post has generated enough interesting comments that I would ordinarily move it to LessWrong at this point. But I posted it to Discussion because it is a discussion; I don't have answers. What do you think - should I move it?

comment by prase · 2011-10-21T20:11:30.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interesting enough to be moved, but it is essentially discussion. Hard to tell.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T17:24:52.849Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T14:28:37.423Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am afraid to listen to the Great Fugue. I would come to like it, whether it is great art, or whether it is pretentious garbage. That would not rule out any of my theories. How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

Do you want to know enough to administer a musical taste test for this?

If you give people links to two fugues (unlabeled and untitled at the link source), and do not tell them which is which, and they aren't familiar with either, enough responses of which is better might give you at least a rough idea of to what extent it's actually great or whether it's just riding on reputation. Although, if they've heard either, we would need to discard their results because of likely bias.

comment by jhuffman · 2011-10-21T13:29:03.265Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People say they hated it at first, but over time, grew to love it. One must be trained to like it.

This can raise a warning flag but I've experienced this myself with coffee and some other foods. It didn't take any training for me but a lot of people who like beer don't like the bitter, hoppy beers like IPAs without some training - and while pretentious beer snobs are annoying and amusing on several levels I can't quite doubt them when I have the same preferences.

comment by AspiringRationalist · 2012-09-23T05:49:34.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Of course, training yourself to change your food preferences can be good for your health; for example, I've gone from "can't stand food that's touched broccoli" to "will eat broccoli if mixed w/ something strong-flavored to mask it," and I have trained myself not to like bacon.

comment by datadataeverywhere · 2011-10-22T12:22:26.395Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree (have had the same experience), although I argue that mustard, sauerkraut or other bitter/sour foods are better examples than coffee or beer, simply because drugs change the way we process surrounding stimuli.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-21T05:33:22.634Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have an experience that seems relevant.

I was assigned several chapters of the high-status The Landmark Thucydides: A Comprehensive Guide to the Peloponnesian War for a class, and fell in love with it, reading it over and over. I don't say status had nothing to do with it, for every effect has multiple causes (and every cause affects multiple things).

When the translator finished the similar-status and somewhat similar content The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories, I bought it and began reading it with the expectation I would find it stimulating on multiple levels. I found it very boring and randomly meandering, in the same way so many people say they find all of history, which I was finally able to relate to.

Perhaps I was sabotaged by high expectations that I only noticed not being met, but on the other hand I was primed to consider the book favorably and confirm that opinion.

Regarding your point 5., these are two of the earliest works of the art form, which is also a mark of something one is "supposed to like".

A meta-status theory would be that I validated my appreciation for Thucydides by disparaging Herodotus.

As for the Fugue, it was quite pleasant, though I thought the thirty seconds after 11:48 were silly.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-21T03:28:25.028Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My suspicion is this:

You can learn to appreciate anything that requires creativity if you understand what they're trying to do and stuff like that. It starts out that they're creatively trying to accomplish something, like making a soothing sound in this case. Once people start appreciating it for the art, rather than just sounding nice, people will then create it for the art, rather than to sound nice. After a while, you end up with an art form that's very different than what it started as. It's still good. It's just something completely different, and each will look bad if you don't realize it's what you're looking at. Never read a literary masterpiece if you want a nice story. Never read a popular story if you want a literary masterpiece.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-23T18:47:09.958Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Never read a literary masterpiece if you want a nice story. Never read a popular story if you want a literary masterpiece.

Shakespeare's ghost would like to have a few words with you...

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-21T03:39:23.532Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

.

comment by atucker · 2011-10-21T04:03:08.358Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like variance on both those axes existing. That way there will be stuff in that middle for me. Not everybody will agree on where that middle is.

What's a nuanced useful truth to some may be obvious to others. What's an oversimplification to someone can be hopelessly complex to someone else.

If you try to please everyone you end up pleasing nobody, yadda yadda.

(Though some people probably can write really awesome and universally accessible stuff. I just don't want to hold everyone up to that standard because then I'd have waaaay less stuff to read.)

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-21T04:17:52.823Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you try to please everyone you end up pleasing nobody, yadda yadda.

In this case, if you try to please everybody, you'll probably please people with similar tastes as you.

Though some people probably can write really awesome and universally accessible stuff.

They still have the trade-off. They're just awesome enough that they can do better at both than you can do at either. They could have made it even more artistic, at the cost of being less accessible, or more accessible, at the cost of being less artistic.

comment by dbaupp · 2011-10-21T06:49:32.203Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you may have merged your response with the quotes (you need to have a blank line between the last line of a quote and the first line of non-quote text).

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-21T23:13:51.113Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fixed. I do that a lot, but I normally catch it.

comment by moe · 2011-10-21T06:02:57.524Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Once people start appreciating it for the art, rather than just sounding nice, people will then create it for the art, rather than to sound nice.

I'm not sure what "appreciate it for the art" means.

Do you mean "appreciate its intended purpose" (i.e. what an artist is trying to accomplish) rather than "appreciate its expected purpose" (i.e. what you think the artist is trying to accomplish or what you think the artist should try to accomplish or what you know previous artists have tried to accomplish)?

comment by DanielLC · 2011-10-21T23:15:44.749Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think more appreciate the strategies they used to creatively accomplish a goal.

comment by CWG · 2014-12-08T01:20:53.442Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

People's judgements on music often amount to "The pattern in which your brain releases dopamine in response to music is inferior to mine."

I can definitely imagine coming to love Beethoven's Fugue (which I played in the background while reading this post & comments) because - it's not fundamentally different to other pieces I've come to love. But I seem to be a neophile in many ways, and I've been exposed to certain types of music, so I count tastes as personal and I find the Youtube comments you quote to be ridiculous.

Re repeated exposure: The pieces on an album that start out as my favourites tend to lose much of their appeal before very long, and I might even skip those tracks; pieces that didn't grab me at first become my favourites and keep their appeal for much longer. (I can only think of one strong exception: As a teenager: I loved Rachmaninov's 2nd concerto from the first time I heard it, liked it more as I listened to it more, and continued to love it for years. I still play it in my head to get rid of an earworm.)

comment by [deleted] · 2013-09-11T12:11:07.839Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This Xkcd strip comes to mind

comment by TheOtherDave · 2013-09-11T16:33:51.840Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the puddle in "panel" 4.
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to, though.

comment by potato · 2011-10-25T03:52:16.996Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am afraid to keep listening to the Great Fugue. I would come to like it, whether it is great art, or whether it is pretentious garbage. That would not rule out any of my theories.

How can I figure out which it is before listening to it repeatedly?

Can't believe I didn't notice this. Who cares man? Caring about whether its "pretentious garbage" or "actually complicated hard to like art", is just as silly as liking something cause you think it makes you cool to like it. That;s not the point. The question is will you dig your time here more, have more musi-gasms, if you keep listening, or less.

comment by Prismattic · 2011-10-23T02:29:04.409Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had forgotten about this until just now, but there are examples where the connoisseurs actually are on to something that the average viewer/listener is missing. In a class I once took on Russian art, we watched a wordless documentary that was meant help one see the world the way avant-garde artists like Malevich or Kandinskiy did when they were painting. It changed my appreciation of this kind of art considerably -- I would now tend to dispute claims that these sorts of paintings are not representational. (I still have to regard this as a joke, though.)

Also, I genuinely, non-ironically like Russian Primitivism even though it often sort of looks like "my seven-year-old could do that".

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T00:31:08.944Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

W. H. Auden had an excellent heuristic for dealing with this problem:

"Between the ages of 20 and 40, the surest sign that a man has a taste of his own is that he is unsure of it."

I can like or dislike anything I want, as long as I'm willing to update. The space of possible art is huge, and I would cheat my future self if I excluded entire genres from consideration on the belief that they exist solely as pedant-bait.


I was slightly unhappy to see "Prufrock" mentioned in the same rhetorical breath as modern poetry that relaxes the demands of scansion, rhyme, and readability. I also dislike free verse, generally speaking, But "Prufrock" isn't even close to that! It uses some of the same metrical tricks as John Milton's "Lycidas":

I come to pluck your Berries harsh and crude,
And with forc'd fingers rude,
Shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.

--- John Milton, "Lycidas" (1637)

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

--- T. S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1920)

It's not as modern as it looks!

There are many places where prefixing the word "poetry" with the word "modern" signals that it can be dismissed off-hand, but I think that this is a bad way to categorize poetry. For one thing, it hides the way that new poems draw inspiration from older ones.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-23T00:37:09.122Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are many places where prefixing the word "poetry" with the word "modern" signals that it can be dismissed off-hand, but I think that this is a bad way to categorize poetry. For one thing, it hides the way that new poems draw inspiration from older ones.

That's common to every art, apart from perhaps cinema or literature. Modern art? Just a load of paint thrown at canvases and unmade beds. Modern music? Just a load of random notes strung together. Modern poetry? Doesn't even rhyme.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T00:41:25.913Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's common to every art, apart from perhaps cinema or literature. Modern art? Just a load of paint thrown at canvases and unmade beds. Modern music? Just a load of random notes strung together. Modern poetry? Doesn't even rhyme.

I'm not sure which is worse - liking all modern art because one is supposed to like it, or hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it. Either way, the category lines are not being drawn usefully. As the original post notes, there ought to be more to this than just going along with social signals.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-23T02:29:32.231Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it.

I don't think this actually happens. In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful. In my experience even the "good" pieces of modern art are only good compared to the absolute drek that is most modern art.

Edit: By modern art I mean "art belonging the the genre commonly called 'modern art' ", not "any art produced since the mid 20th century".

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-23T07:19:26.201Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the hatred of all modern art is such a common meme that there are a good many people who repeat it without knowing anything about modern art.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-10-23T19:02:40.862Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On the other hand, sometimes cursory knowledge of a subject is sufficient for forming an accurate opinion about it. For example, I think my opinion about healing crystals is completely accurate, even though my knowledge about this practice is extremely rudimentary. Similarly, I think a cursory glance at the output of modern art is entirely sufficient for making correct sweeping judgments about it -- and it's hard to imagine how anyone could live in the modern society without having at least some exposure to it.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-23T20:00:26.177Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You've probably got an argument from physics about healing crystals.

However, in the case of modern art, you might contemplate people who think they know enough about science fiction to condemn it even though they know almost nothing about it.

Bruce Pollack, a contemporary abstract artist I like a lot. A little discussion of his work-- the first picture is presumably something more current from the gallery where he was displayed-- I think it's the sort of modern art neither of us like.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-28T16:52:45.273Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people really don't react well to the experimental nature of modern art. This trait has been shown to increase in the face of thinking about death, and individuals described as having a high need for structure display an amplified response under these conditions.

source discusses the data as well as the limitations of its useful interpretation

A lot of people in the West also don't seem to grok that the aesthetic movements surrounding our own artistic traditions are not deeply-underlying human universals (representational art is very common, but not universal, and our focus on it is certainly not), or that there are entirely different approaches to the creation and function of art. The Modern and Postmodern movements in Western art are largely defined by their break from a lot of traditions.

A lot of people seem to also think "Art" means "highly-involved production of images for the sake of creating scarce aesthetic value" and don't like anything that fails to conform to those rules, or appears to be "cheating" (Andy Warhol comes to mind). Which makes it really deliciously funny when such people consider Shakespeare's works literary classics, or who just fail to grasp how many artists were not critical successes within their own time.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2011-10-28T23:43:33.246Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the best of my knowledge, until modern art, all art showed a high mastery of craft. It might not be realistic representation, it might not be representation, it might not be pretty by Western standards, but no one could reasonably look at it and say "My five year old could do that". Any exceptions?

Or is that what you meant by "highly involved"?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T01:26:09.871Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

To the best of my knowledge, until modern art, all art showed a high mastery of craft.

Do you really think that prior to the 20th century, there was no neglected, unremarkable, in-style but sub-par art, or art that might succeed on its own merits but failed to impress for other reasons, or art that just failed to ever catch on with those who had control over funding/critiquing/displaying it? Do you think that there was no prettying-up of mundane items, creating aesthetically-pleasing but not-terribly-formalized objects and images, no creative commission of form and image to medium for the sheer hell of it, regardless of what high society was upvoting as "the in thing" this year?

What you're calling "art" is a small subset of the actual collage of human creative endeavor of art generally, and is better termed "fine art" (and in the context of this thread, you seem to be confining yourself to visual arts). Most of art made by humans throughout history and prehistory has been decorative and utilitarian in its impulses rather than created by highly-trained individuals working within a well-defined tradition and its strictures for the sole purpose of aesthetic expression -- this is still the case today.

Modern Art itself is largely within the "fine art" category, and it includes all kinds of things you may be familiar with as "good art." Could your five-year old do a van Gogh? A minimalist or Futurist building? A photorealistic painting? Salvador Dali? Matisse? Picasso? Monet? The buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright? Those things are Modern Art too.

Yes, some things labelled Modern Art look like a box of crayons exploded, or they're almost absurdly simplistic, or they break from tradition but fail to do anything interesting with it. Especially given it's a movement strongly influenced by breaks from tradition, one oughtn't be surprised -- and it's easier than ever for a given work to find space, or be sent around on tour, or to be created essentially because someone wanted a thing there and didn't have a lot of specifics, felt like leaving it up to the artist they hired. There's more art, period, than there was in previous eras -- more people making it, more people comissioning it, more people interested in displaying it, more people trying to get into it with varying degrees of talent, more people finding something they like and going "here, this is pretty awesome."

And because you're living here and now, you have a much higher chance of seeing something made recently that flops, or just doesn't do it for you personally, from within that timeframe. The flops and failures and embarrassments of centuries past are, by and large, not widely-circulated today -- unless they found a niche later on.

How many execrable pieces of old and even ancient art are you not seeing because time has marched on? How many things you find to be the height of aesthetic refinement couldn't get an audience in their maker's lifetime? How many have gone on to be considered classics despite their reception at the time?

And how many things that entirely meet the general definition of art are you not even considering because they don't at least pretend to emanate from one of those establishments?

comment by beoShaffer · 2011-10-29T02:22:38.712Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

IAWYC, but I think this thread is quite a bit past due for "art" to be tabooed. Since the discussion is partially about how modern connotations of "art" effect people's usage its hard to say exactly when the line was crossed, but IMHO

"What you're calling "art" is a small subset of the actual collage of human creative endeavor of art generally, and is better termed "fine art" (and in the context of this thread, you seem to be confining yourself to visual arts). Most of art made by humans throughout history and prehistory has been decorative and utilitarian in its impulses rather than created by highly-trained individuals working within a well-defined tradition and its strictures for the sole purpose of aesthetic expression -- this is still the case today.

Modern Art itself is largely within the "fine art" category, and it includes all kinds of things you may be familiar with as "good art." Could your five-year old do a van Gogh? A minimalist or Futurist building? A photorealistic painting? Salvador Dali? Matisse? Picasso? Monet? The buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright? Those things are Modern Art too"

is pretty clearly getting into arguing over definitions.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T07:39:18.967Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair enough. I was aiming to answer NancyLebovitz' question in a way that didn't amount to just "your definitions are broken" without really explaining why I think that.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-29T02:20:23.831Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Do you really think that prior to the 20th century, there was no neglected, unremarkable, in-style but sub-par art, or art that might succeed on its own merits but failed to impress for other reasons, or art that just failed to ever catch on with those who had control over funding/critiquing/displaying it? Do you think that there was no prettying-up of mundane items, creating aesthetically-pleasing but not-terribly-formalized objects and images, no creative commission of form and image to medium for the sheer hell of it, regardless of what high society was upvoting as "the in thing" this year?

I am sure that there was all of that, but having seen some works that I know were simply "churned out" to meet the trends of the time, were done by artists considered mediocre in their time (these pictures may not circulate around high class galleries, but people still own them,) or did not achieve popularity in their own time, I have to say that I haven't found any less appealing than I find nearly all Modern Art.

I know that there are people who appreciate it much more than I do, and I'm sure that many of them can argue coherently for their appreciation, but to me, and I believe for a number of other people here as well, Modern Art appears to be a genre that does not demand redeeming qualities in exchange for success.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T04:37:35.755Z · score: -1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Modern and Postmodern movements in Western art are largely defined by their break from a lot of traditions.

And that is precisely the problem with them. They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake.

A lot of people seem to also think "Art" means "highly-involved production of images for the sake of creating scarce aesthetic value" and don't like anything that fails to conform to those rules

If "art" doesn't create aesthetic value, what's the point of making it.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-10-29T21:53:16.755Z · score: 6 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake.

In modern art, there hasn't even been any real rebellion in a very long time. What we see is a pretense of rebellion by doing the same old tired épater la bourgeoisie act that has lost all its shock value many decades ago, or "creative" breaking of long-gone traditional norms. At the same time, these people would never dream of touching any real taboos of the present day, and are bending over backwards to signal their unreserved allegiance to every single respectable high-status belief -- and their professional world is a dreary pyramid of bureaucratic patronage that makes the bureaucracy of a typical government department look free-spirited in comparison.

To take only one illustrative example, even in Catholic Church -- an institution that is often considered as the very epitome of hidebound reaction -- a preference for traditional church art and architecture is likely to mark one as a contrarian these days.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-29T07:37:36.702Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

And that is precisely the problem with them. They have nothing to them except rebellion for its own sake. If "art" doesn't create aesthetic value, what's the point of making it.

We do not agree on these things, and I do not highly rate either of our odds of being able to make headway in this argument in a rational sense. So instead I will aim for transparency of content:

Boo thing you said. Yay thing I said.

Your turn.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-23T21:57:51.503Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bruce Pollack, a contemporary abstract artist I like a lot.

He appears to be an example of what I called a "good" modern artist, which is to say, he's still worse that just about all pre-20th century western art.

comment by RomanDavis · 2011-10-28T15:51:45.904Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wait. Huh? Pre 20th century? What about

Nikolai Fechin

Frank Frazetta

Andrew Jones

Geoffrey Mimms

James Gurney

There are lots of guys making art these days. You really don't like any of them?

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T04:20:51.143Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What Desrtopa said.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-28T16:43:51.319Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty sure he wasn't saying that; he's saying that prior to the 20'th century and the advent of "Modern Art," hardly anybody was making art that he considers as poor as the works of even those he considers to be the best participating in the genre of Modern Art, which is not the same thing as the works of all artists who produce art in the present day.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-10-23T05:34:37.456Z · score: 7 (11 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Another crucial issue is that art nowadays is financed to a large degree by the government (either overtly or via its formally "non-governmental" organs such as large tax-exempt foundations, academic institutions, etc.). This creates the same perverse incentives as government-financed science: the work is optimized for the bureaucratic process that determines who gets funding and official recognition, not for any direct measure of quality.

Even the money that enters the system from private buyers doesn't change these incentives much, since these buyers want to buy high-status art, not low-status kitsch -- and people in charge of sorting these out are nowadays, for all practical purposes, government bureaucrats just as much as those in charge of renewing your driver's licence. (Which makes their attempts at a "rebellious" image only more farcical.)

Moldbug once wrote a hilarious (and yet highly insightful) article about how this system works in poetry.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-23T06:43:29.576Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the bureaucratic aspect is more important than the government aspect. After all most classical and renaissance art was also funded by governments.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-10-23T18:47:45.873Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that is certainly true. I didn't mean this as a general denunciation of government patronage, but as a comment specifically about the modern bureaucratic organization and financing of art. Clearly, the patronage of arts by, say, Renaissance popes or classical Greek rulers was a very different story.

comment by sam0345 · 2011-10-24T08:53:16.855Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Patronage by a patron works - indeed, there is no other satisfactory way of funding art. Patronage by a bureaucracy, by a committee, does not work so well.

The big problem is regulatory capture. Being an official artist becomes disconnected from any artistic talent.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-28T13:50:19.218Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This depends on where you are and your government. In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts. The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well. However, the vast majority of arts in the US is privately funded.

In other countries I don't think this is true though. In a lot of European countries the government does the majority of arts funding.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-10-30T15:10:50.510Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts. The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well. However, the vast majority of arts in the US is privately funded.

Maybe the money doesn't look that big when you count only funds specifically earmarked for "art." However, it's not that small when you count the money given to all sorts of academic institutions and non-profits that provide the infrastructure for the whole art scene nowadays. Above all, this infrastructure has a monopoly on career tracks that enable one to achieve the status of an esteemed artist and art critic, as opposed to a peddler of vulgar kitsch.

Moreover, "government" probably wasn't the best choice of word in my original comment. As I noted, I used it in a somewhat idiosyncratic way, which encompasses various formally "non-governmental" institutions whose organizational, financial, and decision-making structure is, for all practical purposes, inseparable from the de jure government organs. What I wanted to emphasize is the contrast between a true elite of artists, artistic connoisseurs, and rich patrons dispensing patronage based on their own taste versus patronage dispensed by vast, self-perpetuating, committee-run bureaucracies -- even if the former were often rulers in the past, and the latter can exist in the form of theoretically "non-governmental" foundations, academia, etc.

comment by sam0345 · 2011-10-31T23:55:20.028Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mencius has issued a wonderful post on this topic, skewering a example of bureaucratically generated pseudo art.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-11-01T17:10:21.841Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually that post made me question the entire idea of poetry. How else could poetry possibly work? Does it take training? Do you 'practice' poetry? Is poetry skill-based at all? I really don't understand.

The only way I could see it making sense is if there is no way to make a living as a poet and it's just something that is attained after fame.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-30T22:48:18.564Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. The amount of money given by 'bureaucracies' in the US is vastly inferior to the money given out by rich patrons. Almost all of our arts is funded by individual people. Some larger organizations have some corporate sponsors, but I don't know if that counts as bureaucracies.

Look at any theater, gallery, or orchestra in the US. More than 90% of their money comes from individual donors.

We have a lot of rich people in the US.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-11-01T05:59:39.719Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Private people nowadays fund art, either directly or indirectly, for two main reasons: because it's tax-deductible and/or to buy status. The tax-deductibility already implies significant government involvement -- who gets to dispense money, patronage, and status from tax-deductible funds is by no means a simple and straightforward question.

But more importantly, there is the question of status. Note the immense status contrast between people shopping for home decorations in a big-box store and someone buying something generally recognized as a "work of art" for a hefty price. The former is about people indulging their honest aesthetic preferences in a way that's likely to be low-status; the latter is as close to a pure money-for-status transaction as anything gets -- even if the actual "work of art" contains no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all. So who are these "artists" who get to have such high status that a whiff of it is readily paid for with piles of cash?

The key point is that nowadays the hierarchy of status in art is essentially a vast and sclerotic bureaucracy. Within this system, there are still some classic forms of art that have been traditionally high-status for many generations, such as classical music. However, these are rarely (if ever) tremendously profitable, and also require a lot of skill to practice. On the other hand, the modern art scene is almost purely about bureaucratic careerism. Those on the very top are laughing all the way to the bank, getting vast sums for random junk, sometimes made by hired low-wage labor and just signed upon completion. For those in the lower levels, it's the standard dreary bureaucratic fight over small stakes but with no alternative life prospects.

Overall, the point is that artistic status itself has been monopolized by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has led to its almost complete disconnect with skill and aesthetic value (as measured by satisfying people's honest aesthetic preferences). If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-11-02T06:01:05.861Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

You'd think some of them would attempt to counter-signal by doing just that.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-11-01T12:52:08.428Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The former is about people indulging their honest aesthetic preferences in a way that's likely to be low-status; the latter is as close to a pure money-for-status transaction as anything gets -- even if the actual "work of art" contains no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all.

I didn't say anything about modern art or art that contains "no discernible marks of talent or aesthetic qualities at all" or whatever. I said bureaucracies do NOT fund the majority of art in the US. And it doesn't.

Your claim is that basically it's either art that's low-status or art that people like. And that's just blatantly false. Not all art today is modern you know. There are still ballets, operas, shakespeare theaters, orchestras, realism galleries, and independent film theaters. These are high-status but high-quality. You have a warped view on the art world today.

Within this system, there are still some classic forms of art that have been traditionally high-status for many generations, such as classical music. However, these are rarely (if ever) tremendously profitable, and also require a lot of skill to practice. On the other hand, the modern art scene is almost purely about bureaucratic careerism.

Yea, I think you overestimate the power of bureaucracy here. Maybe if you showed that modern art makes way more money than non-modern art you'd have a case.

Those high-status individuals are the ones supporting the art system because they want to. It isn't because they're part of some invisible bureaucracy. It's because they have money and they see something they like and give their money to it. That is the way it works. Have you ever worked in art development? Everything is individuals.

Overall, the point is that artistic status itself has been monopolized by a self-perpetuating bureaucracy that has led to its almost complete disconnect with skill and aesthetic value (as measured by satisfying people's honest aesthetic preferences).

And I call bullshit. There is nothing "bureaucratic" about what you're talking about. Rich people like the art they support. It is not just about status. Or else it wouldn't matter what kind of organization they donate to, but that's not true (donors typically have very specific preferences). Many rich people care about status but don't support the arts at all (they can always donate to churches and charities after all). Many donors are heavily involved in the organizations that they donate to.

If you work outside of this system, even if you get rich, and even if your work is vastly above anything made by the top-ranking official artists by all objective measures, you will always be assigned to the low status of a kitsch peddler.

Uhm. No? I mean there are artists that have became wildly famous and everything, but high-quality artistry is still around and still high-status. So I don't understand where you get this idea from.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-11-01T13:07:02.513Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There is nothing "bureaucratic" about what you're talking about. Rich people like the art they support. It is not just about status. Or else it wouldn't matter what kind of organization they donate to, but that's not true. Many rich people care about status but don't support the arts at all.

It doesn't follow that because not all rich people who care about status support the arts, support of the arts by rich people is not just about status. Not everyone takes every possible action in support of their goals, indeed, for something like status, with so many avenues of pursuit, it's unlikely that anyone does. I'd be willing to bet that more rich people care about status than give to charity as well.

I don't doubt that there are rich people who care strongly about the arts. There are certainly non-rich people who do, and I don't think richness would filter very strongly for people who don't care about the arts. But I think you underestimate the importance of status signalling; being seen to be heavily involved in a cause is a stronger status signal than being seen to merely donate.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-11-01T13:19:45.477Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying that they aren't status-signaling, but I would argue that it isn't just status-signaling and tax-deductions.

After all, because there are so many avenues of pursuit, there must be some way for people to decide which to take. I mean if there's a contemporary art gallery I'm bored of, and an impressionist art gallery I like, I wouldn't donate to the contemporary art gallery because of status. I would donate to whichever I like the most. Both of them give me status.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-28T14:22:20.729Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In the US, there really is practically no government support for the arts.

You mean, less per-capita funding than there is in other countries?

I have seen lower than average state cigarette taxes described as "encouraging smoking".

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-28T20:49:55.731Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yea, I believe it's per capita, but I wouldn't be surprised in general as well.

It's more about public vs private funding. Not discouraging or encouraging art. Though I have heard from my friends in art development that it is more difficult to find private donors in countries with more government funding due to it. Quick google search yielded this, but there's probably more to the debate.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-28T21:06:49.964Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a separate point, what "simple boundaries around concentrations of unusually high probability density in Thingspace" exclude the military from being "art"? The best I can think of is that it's not intended as "art".

Most of it is bad art. But when members of SEAL Team Six, from concealed positions on a rocking boat, simultaneously fire at pirates, on a different, distant rocking boat, who are holding hostages, and achieve one kill per shot, and the hostages are unharmed, what else does one call that?

comment by nshepperd · 2011-10-29T16:09:25.558Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Whether or not a round semifurry purple object is really a blegg, I would be surprised if the aesthetic value of a special ops team would be large enough to justify its price relative to more conventional forms of art (which normally get larger audiences, too).

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-30T01:29:58.090Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not saying that it really is a blegg, but that if modern art is a blegg, and the NEA stuff is all bleggs, then this is a blegg too.

I would be surprised if the aesthetic value

The pro-spending public money on art/pro-art/pro-modern art "side" also argues that aesthetic value isn't as important as you seem to think it is.

Once again, military planning at any level and/or execution of plans is short of aesthetic value to the average person (usually?), and requires various amounts of background to understand, but if all these other things are "really" bleggs despite also having that deficiency, let military spending be considered public spending on art, let a tenth of it be considered spending on art, and the USA spends more on art than any other country.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-10-28T21:12:21.576Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Skill" ? Or "craft", maybe.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-28T21:44:28.224Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's zawa all right.

Doesn't make it not art.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-29T19:47:49.800Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't really know how the art could evolve besides just accurate shooting.

However, most composers and visual artists before Beethoven considered composition a craft, not an artform. So I don't necessarily think it needs hard delineation. "What is art" discussions tend to go in circles though.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-10-28T21:56:24.707Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Art" typically implies constructive, expressive creativity. There may be some measure of creativity involved in some instances, but it's not expressive and it's not constructive. It's up to those using the word to decide whether this places it sufficiently far outside the typical "art" grouping to not deserve the label, for whatever purposes they wish to put it to.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-28T23:42:52.416Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

expressive

I don't really know what this means.

constructive

Whereas money is the unit of caring, I'm not sure what difference in kind could apply.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-11-01T19:10:50.449Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Technically, anything done by humans (at the very least) can be art, and everything is -- or so I've been told. However, I would argue that the vast majority of art, as diverse as it is, does share one property: its primary purpose is to be observed by other humans.

For example, consider a masterfully carved wooden chair that was commissioned by a millionaire, who intends to put it in his library so that he has something to sit on. According to the above-mentioned model, this chair is not art, because its primary purpose is purely utilitarian. If the same chair were created by an artist for the purpose of being exhibited at an art gallery, then the chair is art.

I think this is one way to interpret the term "constructive, expressive creativity", though there may be others.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-10-29T00:15:29.642Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

expressive

I don't really know what this means.

Google gives as sense 1, "effectively conveying thought or feeling," and this is more or less what I meant.

constructive

Whereas money is the unit of caring, I'm not sure what difference in kind could apply.

I am not sure precisely what you are getting at. What I had meant was that art is typically the creation of something new, rather than the destruction of something existing. One could argue that they are creating new corpses, but broadly we perceive corpses as broken people, not people as aspiring corpses.

In any case, remember (as you earlier emphasized) that we are talking about clustering and relative degrees of similarity, not necessary and sufficient binary conditions. Can you stretch definitions to fit? Absolutely. But with each tug, we're representing a point a little further from the center of the cluster.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-29T04:27:50.101Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"effectively conveying thought or feeling,"

I think this is present in military planning, and inferable from outcomes.

art is typically the creation of something new, rather than the destruction of something existing. One could argue that they are creating new corpses

That's not at all how it seems to me. There is a good deal of inferential distance here.

Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.

There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare.

--Sun Tzu, translated

The art lies in reducing the number of corpses,etc.

we are talking about clustering and relative degrees of similarity

Excellent, yes! I agree that in English "art", unmodified, does not refer to war and should not be used to refer to war or a broader category of art of which one thinks war is a member. However, this is significantly due to historical use, rather than being the simplest stroke circumscribing a concept in concept-space. Excluding the art of war from "art" is somewhat like considering dolphins "fish".

I acknowledge there is some tugging involved, but what hasn't been shown to my satisfaction is that less tugging is involved for modern art, or other things generally considered art.

comment by cypher197 · 2012-09-28T02:38:54.938Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your stretching pulls the word over so large an area as to render it almost meaningless. I feel as though it exists to further some other goal.

The last time I heard art defined, it was as "something which has additional layers of meaning beyond the plain interpretation", or something like that. I'm not sure even that's accurate.

However, if you're going to insist on calling a spec ops team in action "art", then that level of stretching is such that so could designing a diesel locomotive, or any number of other purely practical exercises which are not performed for their aesthetic value. A "found object", or Jackson Pollock painting, or what-have-you, is created primarily for aesthetic value and/or communication of additional layers of meaning.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-29T01:52:51.275Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

What I had meant was that art is typically the creation of something new, rather than the destruction of something existing.

Art is a blast, un.

comment by Eugine_Nier · 2011-10-29T04:14:03.935Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The NEA does give some money, but almost all of it is to state and local arts organizations, and that seems to work out pretty well.

In my experience they tend to select the ones with the worst taste.

comment by antigonus · 2011-10-29T23:32:41.476Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think this actually happens. In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful.

In my experience, most people who hate it do so because it's extremely unfamiliar to them, because they've only experienced a handful of examples of it (often the most difficult or "shocking"), and because they mentally associate it with snobbiness.

Also (at the risk of sounding snobby!), it's generally referred to as "contemporary art." "Modern art" refers to a period of art history that's been over for several decades.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-10-30T04:38:56.220Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao Waterfall when Zhuangzi said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"

Huizi said, "You're not a fish; how do you know what fish enjoy?"

Zhuangzi said, "You're not I, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

comment by komponisto · 2011-10-29T22:38:32.085Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

By modern art I mean "art belonging the the genre commonly called 'modern art' ", not "any art produced since the mid 20th century".

Specifically, what you mean is "high-status art produced since the mid 20th century that I don't like".

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-28T14:09:50.474Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't the idea that modern art is "uniform" in any way just ridiculous?

In the early 20th century we had a huge mix of different ideas. The idea that it's all just a big swath of 'generic modern art' is just silly. I'm better at music in terms of knowledge, but I find it odd to immediately denounce Stravinsky's works simply because it's 'modern.'

I mean I don't denounce John Cage because it's 'modern.' I denounce it because it doesn't sound and makes no aural sense and things like that.

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-28T17:56:33.187Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Contemporary art != modern art.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-29T19:41:29.264Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe he was using 'modern art' in a nontechnical sense, but my point doesn't really change. Just replace John Cage with a Total Serialist composer.

I mean modern art (that is, early 20th century art) was the time period where we had an explosion of different ideas in all the different artforms. Dismissing them as 'uniform' in any way is crazy. Many of Stravinsky's works are perfectly accessible to non-music people. It's not like Realist Artwork or Tonality just vanished or something. There is Modern Realism and Modern Tonality.

Edit: Besides, isn't this aggression towards modern art a "curiosity stopper"?

comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-30T05:29:26.924Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect the colloquial use of "modern art" in this thread is perhaps better described as some unholy conglomeration of abstract expressionism and minimalism. Think Pollock, Rothko, Mondrian and Malevich. (Yes, I know they seem quite distinct to you, but the common link for most people is "my five-year-old could do that.")

And I can't speak for others, obviously, but I actually quite like modern art. Sculpture and architecture more than paintings or music, though.

comment by Mercy · 2011-10-27T16:03:40.096Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my experience most people who hate modern art hate it because it's more-or-less uniformly absolutely awful.

Ah no but you see, modern art is good. Your move.

Seriously though, would I be right in saying you come from a background where most people can be expected to have an educated opinion on art? Because that's the only way I can imagine you've never met someone who claimed to hate modern art but folded completely after waiting to meet someone inside the Tate Modern, or catching a documentary one day. It's just too common in my experience, and yet I've never seen or heard of anyone doing the same thing with modern academic music or painting. I'm left to assume that they are genuinely lacking in the qualities which make naive audiences enjoy them and their reputation is reliable for everyone.

That just won't fly though for modern art, which was frequently very popular. Rather I think that what's happened is that the Young British Artists were not even trying to be good, especially as the bubble went on, and their output was as much confirmation as people needed to assume that they are also part of the down to earth sensible people who only like "representative art", when frequently they aren't.

comment by Bill_McGrath · 2011-10-23T01:49:59.751Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure which is worse - liking all modern art because one is supposed to like it, or hating all modern art because one is supposed to hate it.

I think both are equally bad, to be honest, but that the latter is less common than the former. I think that people, given enough exposure to a diverse selection of some medium or some category, will eventually come to like at least a section of it. The widespread hatred of "modern X" is probably more often down to ignorance than signalling. Most of the signalling that goes on here is from people trying to demonstrate how hip they are; familiarity with current art is good for the image they are trying to promote. I think anti-modern signalling is largely from people who are trying to prove how conservative or old-fashioned they are, as a way of reinforcing other parts of their image.

That said, I move in circles that are more artistic than academic, so this is an obvious way in which my results could be skewed.

comment by Nominull · 2011-10-23T01:05:10.006Z · score: -1 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why ought there be more to this than going along with social signals? Isn't all of art just one great gameboard on which to play boundlessly complex social status games? When you think of people who are obnoxiously devoted to social status games, the "hipsters", you think of two things, fashion and art. Both are essentially meaningless except to define the rules of the games we play with each other.

comment by GilPanama · 2011-10-23T01:12:20.492Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If somebody enjoys something that they read or experience alone, then they must get some utility from art that isn't connected with the associated social signals. I suspect that there are many people who are capable of appreciating art without talking about it.

(This does not apply if they read something alone, brag about it, and try to signal super-high status and nonconformity by only liking obscure things. THAT is the status game that I associate with hipsters.)

I consider that sort of social signaling basically orthogonal to liking art for being pretty, funny, thought-provoking, or sublime. Art that is liked solely for social reasons is unlikely to survive a change in social environment.

(EDITED for pronoun trouble)

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-22T09:16:32.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I watched the video, and I must say I like the colors and shapes and the way the light is moving through them.

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-22T18:28:31.428Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Watch some of the other videos by smalin - esp. the Bach fugues and Beethoven symphonies. They are IMHO a lot more fascinating.

comment by Will_Sawin · 2011-10-22T03:21:12.210Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this helped me enjoy Godel, Escher, Bach more, on my second reading, after reading lesswrong. I am happy about this.

comment by magfrump · 2011-10-21T05:12:53.422Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've been listening to the Fugue now while reading Less Wrong and enjoying it! Thanks!

I hate bitter cabernets though.

comment by Jodika · 2014-09-17T14:22:05.152Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

4 and 5 are anecdotally true for me, as a trained practitioner of two artforms (music and theatre); I often find that I can appreciate something greatly for its technical expertise and novelty of style or content at the same time as acknowledging that some things that achieve greatly in those areas actually fail at being accessibly entertaining.

I also definitely think 2 and 3 come into play a lot, especially when it comes to considering the monetary difference people are willing to pay artists (in terms of the price of paintings/sculptures, ticket prices, grant money etc) depending on whether they are famous or considered excellent by influential critics. We certainly don't consider the artistic quality of a newly discovered piece by a famous artist entirely on its own merits compared to a new or newly discovered piece by someone who isn't a big name.

comment by Cyclismo · 2014-09-15T22:55:23.037Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty comfortable liking things that others don't, but less comfortable not liking things others consider great. I do know that after listening to bluegrass music for a few years, learning it on the mandolin was challenging but doable. When I switched to jazz, both listening and learning at the same time, it was much harder. Now, I can hear jazz melodies and rhythms and structure that was just not reaching my brain earier. And they are lovely.

On another note: one time on a bicycle trip I passed through Paris and wandered into the Louvre. I hadn't planned to; it was just there and I said to myself, "Why not?" It was my first time in an art museum, even though I was nearly 60 years old. I'm somewhat of a hillbilly. Anyway, I wound up sitting in front of a huge painting by a Duch master (can't recall the dude's name). I sat for nearly three hours, transfixed. I wound up coming back to it and sitting transfixed for another hour. I can't describe the feelings, only that when I returned the second time, it was like seeing long lost friends: I was so happy! If I had had that experience at an early age, I would have devoted my life to art. I mean Art.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-28T14:41:48.919Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This brings up another issue that is more extreme. Here we find the piece boring, which is certainly a bad thing for artistic ideas. But what if the piece is the other way: actually unappealing?

Anyone who hears Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bfEye2YBGTM) for the first time gets an idea of what I mean.

Like anyone, my first reaction to the piece is negative. And I think with any work you can find legitimate criticisms of it in terms of form or construction or whatever. But I just don't see it as simple as that. The fact is that this piece is insanely influential on all work that proceeds it. Just listen to the soundtrack to any recent horror films. Hell, even the soundtrack to Lost gives many impressions that Michael Giacchino must have been familiar with the piece (and it's obviously a famous piece). Quite frankly, I love the soundtrack to Lost.

But this may be a difference of execution, rather than of musical ideas. Perhaps I think the execution of Giacchino's music is more appealing and so I like it more. People are suggesting that it's a matter of social stigma, but having been exposed to some of the crappier portions of classical music I would have to disagree. I would honestly say if you took a blind test of Salieri's music (or really anyone of the same time period) and Mozart's music, with somebody who knows little of classical music at all, you have an overwhelming amount say Mozart is better, because there is a matter of craft and execution to take into account.

comment by gjm · 2011-10-29T20:37:55.824Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anyone who hears Penderecki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima [...] for the first time gets an idea [...] Like anyone, my first reaction to the piece is negative.

Anyone? For what it's worth, my first reaction (I'm listening as I type this and it's just finishing) is positive. I think it's entirely appropriately evocative of desolation, menace and destruction, with hints of aircraft engines and weaponry and so forth. (All of which are negative things, of course, but I assume that isn't what you mean by having a negative reaction to the piece. It's not supposed to be nice.) My only complaint would be that if it has much structure then it isn't apparent, but it's not clear to me that this sort of piece requires much structure and there's no reason why it should be clearly discernible on a first listening anyway.

(Also, when you wrote "proceeds" you were probably going for "precedes" but actually wanted "follows" :-).)

But maybe my sophistication-signalling habits are just too deeply ingrained or something. I quite enjoy the Grosse Fuge too, though I haven't listened to it intently enough for my opinion to be worth anything.

comment by DoubleReed · 2011-10-29T22:45:19.999Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Honestly, I know a lot of people who have listened to piece, musicians and everything, and almost none have positive reactions to it at first. Not many people would listen to this in their spare time. (I suspect if I said "this piece is awesome you'd totally love it" you may have reacted differently. Is there a cognitive term for that?)

Actually the structure of the piece, which isn't totally apparent at first, is one of the most intriguing part of the piece for many composers and theorists. The piece is famous for many reasons.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-10-25T21:01:07.769Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is probably relevant: Mere exposure effect

comment by PhilGoetz · 2011-10-22T18:16:59.158Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The SkyTopia site that grouchymusicologist dislikes posted its raw survey results here. It would be interesting to break the survey results down according to whether or not respondents believed in God or the soul.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-10-29T19:52:16.256Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

As someone who considers himself an unusually general art connoisseur, I can simply tell you the answer as more or less fact from personal experience:

While within at least some art forms (taste based ones seem prone to it, probably due to how taste works biologically...) all of these might exists, most of them only do so as rare exceptions.

The main mechanism behind the vast majority is a combination of something very similar to your 4, and that MAKING art changes your evaluation relative someone who has merely consumed and studied existing works. The reason they become so high status is because working towards this specific niche audience with the handicap of not being able to use common tactics because they're bored of them, and not being able to cut corners without it being spotted by someone because they have been cutting those same corners themselves, and still being able to make something enjoyable, is much harder. Sort of, there are some confounding variables and additional effects and other random details I've skipped over to save space.

And don't attempt to learn likening something you don't naturally. Not only will you get spotted as an imposter by anyone who ACTUALLY know something about the field, it's also a negative sum game creating noise and more of those nasty exceptions. If you want high status you have to work for it: consume lots of the art form, with variation, including historical ones that are strictly less enjoyable but are referenced by later works a lot, read up on the history of the field, and try MAKING rather than just consuming.

comment by Armok_GoB · 2011-10-29T19:55:45.061Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

EDIT: Just realized I'm very tired and remembered I tend to be WAY overconfident and unable to calibrate when I am, but I still am both those things so I can't fix it, so I'll just write this and let the reader calibrate.

comment by Thomas · 2011-10-21T16:19:46.032Z · score: -10 (12 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Art is nothing significant. A matter of taste, which can be quite odd. Or quite common.

Art is a good decoration, at its best.

comment by orthonormal · 2011-10-22T17:49:12.425Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to guess that you're being downvoted here not because you're being contrarian, but because you're stating a contrarian opinion that we've heard already, and not adding any evidence or original thought to it.

comment by Thomas · 2011-10-22T11:46:09.578Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would even say, that every attempt to understand the world in an artistic way is the "artistic bias". Not much better than the "religious bias".

You can transmit a knowledge through art, however. Or at least, you can try to.