Like a number of other writers, [Gunther S.] Stent contends that in essential ways science and art are comparable. As he puts it: "Both the arts and the sciences are activities that endeavor to discover and communicate truths about the world" . Although one cannot but sympathize with the desire to bring the so-called Two Cultures together, a viable and enduring union will not be achieved by ignoring or glossing over important differences. Using the behavior of scientists, artists, and laymen (...) as empirical evidence, the first part of this essay will argue that Stent's union is a shotgun marriage, not one made in heaven, and that his attempt to wed different disciplinary species results not in fecund insight but barren misconception. In the second part, I will suggest that this misunderstanding arises because, like many scientists Stent fails even to recognize the existence of the humanist - that is, the theorist and critic of the arts. Yet the humanities must be included, and areas of inquiry within them differentiated, if diverse disciplines are to be related to one another in a coherent and consistent way. Leonard B. Meyer's most recent book is Explaining Music: Essays and Explanations. He is also the author of Emotion and Meaning in Music, The Rhythmic Structure of Music , and Music, The Arts, and Ideas, awarded the Laing Prize in 1969. See also: "Against Literary Darwinism" by Jonathan Kramnick in Vol. 38, No. 2. (shrink)
Few will, I think, doubt that the Trio from the Minuetto movement of Mozart's G Minor Symphony seems simple, direct, and lucid—even guileless. Its melodies are based upon common figures such as triads and conjunct diatonic motion. No hemiola pattern, often encountered in triple meter, disturbs metric regularity. With the exception of a subtle ambiguity..., rhythmic structure is in no way anomalous. There are no irregular or surprising chord progressions; indeed, secondary dominants and chromatic alterations occur very frequently. The instrumentation (...) is quite conventional, and no unusual registers are employed. In this essay, Leonard B. Meyer, Benjamin Franklin Professor of music and humanities at the University of Pennsylvania, further explores and details the significance of theories advanced in his book, Explaining Music: Essays and Explorations. His previous contribution to Critical Inquiry, "Concerning the Sciences, the Arts - AND the Humanities," appeared in our first issue. (shrink)
Before going further, it will be helpful to consider briefly the notion that novelty per se is a fundamental human need. Experiments with human beings, as well as with animals, indicate that the maintenance of normal, successful behavior depends upon an adequate level of incoming stimulation—or, as some have put it, of novelty.2 But lumping all novelty together is misleading. At least three kinds of novelty need to be distinguished. Some novel patterns arise out of, or represent, changes in the (...) fundamental rules governing the organization of musical processes and structures. By significantly weakening our comprehension of the musical relationships presented—undermining not only our understanding of what is past but our ability to envisage what is to come—such systemic change seriously threatens our sense of psychic security and competent control. Far from being welcome, the insecurity and uncertainty thus engendered is at least as antipathetic, disturbing, and unpleasant as stimulus privation. Novel patterns may also result from the invention of a new strategy that accords with prevalent stylistic rules. Though they may initially seem to threaten existing competencies, the function and significance of novel strategies within the larger set of stylistic constraints can usually be grasped without too much delay or difficulty. For a while the tensions produced by strategic innovation may seem disturbing. But in the end, when our grasp of the principles ordering events is confirmed and our sense of competency is reestablished and control is reinforced, tension is resolved into an elation that is both stimulating and enjoyable. Most novel patterns—original themes, rhythms, harmonic progressions, and so forth—involve the innovative instantiation or realization of an existing strategy or schema .3 Novelties of this kind not only enhance our sense of control—a feeling that we know how things really “work”—but provide both the pleasure of recognition and the joy of skillfully exercising some competency. We enjoy novelty—the stimulation of surprise, the tension of uncertainty—as long as it can be accommodated within a known and understandable set of constraints. When the rules governing the game are abrogated or in doubt—when comprehension and control are threatened—the result is usually anger, anguish, and desperation.These responses to novelty are consequences of fundamental and poignant verities of the human condition: the centrality of choice in human behavior. Because only a minute fraction of human behavior seems to be genetically specified, choice is inescapable.While in lower organisms, behavior is strictly determined by the genetic program, in complex metazoa the genetic program becomes less constraining, more “open” as Ernst Mayr puts it, in the sense that it does not lay down behavioral instructions in great detail but rather permits some choice and allows for a certain freedom of response. Instead of imposing rigid prescriptions, it provides the organism with potentialities and capacities. This openness of the genetic program increases with evolution and culminates in mankind.4The price of freedom is the imperative of choice. Human beings must choose were to sow and when to reap, when to work and where to live, when to play and what to build. Intelligent, successful choices are possible only if alternative courses of action can be imagined and their consequences envisaged with reasonable accuracy. 2. For further discussion, see my Music, the Arts, and Ideas , p. 50.3. Rules are transpersonal but intracultural constraints—for instance, the pitch/time entities established in some style, as well as grammatical and syntactic regularities. Strategies are general means for actualizing some of the possibilities that are potential in the rules of the style. The rules of a style are relatively few, while the number of possible strategies may, depending upon the nature of the rules, be very large indeed. The ways of instantiating a particular strategy are, if not infinite, at least beyond reckoning.4. François Jacob, The Possible and the Actual , p. 61. See also Stephen Jay Gould, Ever Since Darwin , p. 257. (shrink)
A groundbreaking attempt at a prolegomenon to the study of style, this collection brings together eleven essays by distinguished philosophers, literary theorists, art historians, and musicologists, all addressing the role played by style in the arts and literature.
I was surprised to note the critical tone of the discussion which my friend Leonard B. Meyer recently devoted in these pages to an article on the relation of art and science that I wrote for a popular scientific magazine. For I had believed all the while that in my article I was merely presenting to a general scientific audience a watered-down version of what I thought were Meyer's own views. Evidently I was mistaken in that belief, though I have (...) been unable to fathom just where I went wrong in interpreting Meyer's earlier writings, which, more than any other source, are the provenance of my ideas about the nature of art. Gunther S. Stent, professor of molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Molecular Biology of Bacterial Viruses, Phage and the Origin of Molecular Biology, Molecular Genetics: An Introductory Narrative, The Coming of the Golden Age: A View of the End of Progress, and many important scientific papers. In Concerning the Sciences, the Arts—AND the Humanities" , Leonard B. Meyer took issue with views expressed by Professor Stent in "Prematurity and Uniqueness in Scientific Discovery," published in Scientific American. (shrink)