Christmas Poll

Recently I read Paul Bloom's book How Pleasure WorksThe book offers ample evidence that pleasure is not just a question of nerve endings, but of background beliefs. What you believe can alter how something feels, tastes, sounds. For example, believing that you're hearing a million dollar Stradivarius played by a top violinist will make most people enjoy the music more.  So this occurs to me (and occurred to me many times before I read Bloom).  Take music like Handel's Messiah.  Is it more enjoyable for believers, considering that they really do exult in the Messiah's birth, and non-believers don't?  Or do believers and non-believers enjoy it equally?  Take the poll, top right.


amos said...

How could, I, a non-believer, know whether believers enjoy
Handel's music more than I do or not?

Jean Kazez said...

You can't know for sure, but you might make some inferences.

(1) Someone who has read Bloom might think his theory about pleasure shows it's just got to make a difference whether the listener believes what's being said in the Messiah or doesn't.

(2) You might reason like this, if you are a non-believer who adores the Messiah. Think of other music you adore, where there's no issue of belief. Do you adore the Messiah just as much? If so, that's some evidence that believers don't get added enjoyment out of the Messiah.

Reasoning can lead you to a conclusion, without your having to jump inside the heads of people who have different beliefs than yours or do an empirical study of their Messiah-ratings.

amos said...

What Bloom shows, from what you say, is that the same person's pleasure will vary according to the information which she has: that is, if I believe the wine is an expensive French variety, I will enjoy it more than if I believe it is cheap and comes in a huge jug from Chile. I have no doubt about that.

However, you are talking about different people, not about the same person with different information.

For example, do I enjoy Mozart's operas less than someone who understands the words? I don't know.

amos said...

It's fairly complicated.

For example, there is some music that I imagine that someone who does not understand the words and does not agree with them (on some level) will enjoy less than someone who understands the words and agrees with them (on some level): for example, most of Bob Dylan.

There is a lot of music, however, that is listened to as "pure" music: for example, the last movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Little does it matter that one agrees with Schiller's philosophy of life or not!

I suspect that Handel's Messiah is closer to Beethoven's 9th Symphony than to Dylan's The Chimes of Freedom in that respect.

Jean Kazez said...

Bloom's book is not just about the pleasures of one person, but the pleasures of different people. Two people who believe different things about a violin/violinist, are likely to rate the playing differently. That certainly opens the door to the possibility that people who believe different things about Jesus will enjoy the Messiah to different degrees, for that reason. The music is all about exultation. If you can share the exultation, maybe that's pleasure-enhancing. Then again maybe the non-believer (at least usually) has ways of sharing the feeling, without sharing the belief.

Aeolus said...

Are we all going to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible next year? Richard Dawkins will, but he doesn't want the celebration to be hijacked by religion!

Watch the video:

Jean Kazez said...

I find Dawkins an enchanting speaker...it's charming how he relishes all those bible passages. I actually see the bible the same way. It's a mix of history and literature, and somehow (how??) people apparently lost sight of that.

amos said...

Maybe someone who knows more about ancient history than I do can explain how a book which supposedly is a code of divinely inspired laws for the Jews came to be considered a sacred text in which God placed every comma.

I imagine that among the ancient Hebrews there was not a clear distinction (or maybe there was) between God's law and God's authorship, but I could be wrong.

Aeolus said...

Jane and June are identical twins, the kind who finish each other's sentences and generally like and dislike the same things. Each has the same sophisticated appreciation of Baroque music, Handel in particular. (For example, they enjoy Handel's Water Music equally.) The only thing that differentiates Jane from June is that Jane is a Christian and June is not. When Jane hears the Messiah, she exults in the thought of Christ's role in the divine plan.

Jane enjoys the Messiah even more than June does.

Now, not many people are aware that Richard Dawkins has an identical twin, Robert Dawkins, who is also a biologist and who sometimes stands in for Richard at lectures on strictly biological topics when Richard is having too much fun reading the King James Bible to be bothered to fulfill the speaking engagement. The only difference between Robert and Richard is that Robert is a Christian and, as we know, Richard is not.

Although Richard enjoys reading passages from the King James Bible, Robert enjoys reading those passages even more, and thinks Richard is silly to worry about the 400th anniversary celebrations being "hijacked" by religion.