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Summary of Chapters in Book


Chapter One: As civilizations change, so do the values and ideals of human culture. There have been, by one account, five such changes in recorded history, each brought on by the introduction of a new cultural technology. Ideographic writing, alphabetic writing, and printing, which supported a literate culture, promoted values related to written words. Electronic recording and broadcasting devices, in the next civilization, promote values related to sensuous images. A civilization’s ideals follow from its dominant communication method.

Chapter Two: A sea change took place in human culture during the time when alphabetic scripts were being introduced in society. Philosophy, probing the nature of things, turned its attention to words. So it was that Plato, a follower of Socrates, conceived the idea of ideas as a new type of being, eternally unchanged. He speculated that the idea of goodness might serve as a general pattern to produce many good things. It was necessary, then, for philosophers to study such ideals, so that, knowing and preferring them to worldly things, they might take charge of society and remake it in the image of those perfect forms.

Chapter Three: Aristotle, a student of Plato’s, concluded that happiness was humanity’s chief end. Reason seeks means to ends which are set by desire. Because some desires have unpleasant consequences, philosophy can usefully advise people to steer clear of them and, instead, pursue desires that are capable of satisfaction. Such desires should be within one’s own means to satisfy. Yet, there is a danger that a philosophy of intelligent desire will lead to self-centeredness. Ultimately, a full and happy life involves meaningful interaction with others in patterns of recurring, rhythmic activity.

 

Chapter Four: Rhythm, an element of beautiful music, has become the prevailing theme in certain areas of life. Can rhythm be produced by rational means? If so, one would have to work from a definition. Rhythm, however, seems to defy such formulations as knowledge. Skilled musicians can describe the qualities found in good compositions but, in the end, cannot create beautiful music from a formula. Rhythm’s production is too personal and tied to habit.

Chapter Five: To produce rhythmic expressions requires patient cultivation of habit. Habits are tendencies formed by repetitious activity which allow the body and brain to perform something without active thought. Rhythm is a condition of highly perfected habits underlying superb performances of music, sports competition, and other personal routines. However, rhythm cannot be approached directly; it waits for the right circumstances. Unlike goodness, the practitioner of rhythm is not required to remain in a state of constant virtue. The performer alternates between relaxing and intensifying psychic effort and does not try to force. Rhythm emerges unexpectedly in times of peak performance.

Chapter Six: Sports competition offers an excellent opportunity to observe rhythm in its various aspects. First, there is a need to practice techniques needed in the sport. Then the sports competitor needs to learn how to get himself or herself up for the competition, both physically and mentally. For this, sports psychologists teach such techniques as visualization, positive thinking, and narrowing the focus. Good sports performance involves holistic thinking which blends technical awareness with a general sense of control. Ultimately, the mentality of peak performance leads to a feeling of standing outside the activity as a passive observer. Some call this awareness, “finding the tunnel” or “being in the zone.” It is an almost mystical experience.

 

Chapter Seven: Although proper concentration is the key to rhythmic performance, concentration is achieved less by positive exertions than through surrender. Mind’s second awareness, self-consciousness, stands in back of an activity providing a sense of coordination. During rhythmic concentration, one focuses upon interior elements of the situation and does not allow its own movements to become conscious. Mind must avoid such distractions. It must find some little trick to suppress self-conscious thoughts when they arise in order to keep the rhythm going.

Chapter Eight: Self-consciousness, functioning at a higher level than conscious thought, is like an animal higher in the food chain which eats the flesh of another species. Self-conscious thoughts take conscious thoughts into themselves as interior elements. Some persons are self-conscious much of the time. Intellectuals are occupationally prone to thinking of their own thought processes. They must stay in touch with primary experiences or the habit of thinking self-consciously will weaken their base of knowledge and erode their memory. Secondary projects, in which means become ends, threaten to throw life’s basic activities off course. Yet, self-knowledge does have a certain usefulness.

Chapter Nine: Because of self-consciousness, the social sciences are inappropriate for those phenomena whose explanation depends on knowing another person’s thoughts. Scientific principles cannot include within their structure of knowledge all the different thoughts that people have. Stories do that better. Ambitious, contentious individuals are continually scheming to move others into a subservient role, to judge them, or put them in categories which are easily controlled. On the other hand, complete openness may be ill-advised when events are moving towards an incomplete end. Human understanding depends on the order in which the various points of awareness become conscious.

Chapter Ten: The natural, unselfconscious life represents a moral ideal that has been enunciated by several religions. People ought to have natural personalities. Good literature often has a simple quality. Even so, society develops toward patterns of increasing complexity as self-consciousness erodes the simple ways. There are reasons by people do not pursue the most direct means to an end. There is often a “catch” to what seems easy. Organizations tend to become bureaucratic with success. Purposeful activities tend eventually to move in the opposite direction. Self-conscious thoughts offer a causal explanation for much of what eludes reason.

 

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