Levity and Gravity

Plato and Aristotle in Raphael’s “The School of Athens”

Not quite my next post as I mentioned here, but I’ve been particularly busy the past couple of days.

But getting back to Levity and Gravity, this description of that old Aristotelian theory of the essential nature of objects summarizes the idea fairly well:

Aristotle explained the behavior of an object, such as a rock, in terms of the “essential nature” of that object.  For Aristotle, a non-measurable force existed within an object that compelled it to behave in a certain manner.  A stone, for example, was classified by Aristotle as a heavy object, while fire was defined as a light object.  Since heavy objects, likes stones, tend to fall downwards and light objects, such as fire, tend to move upwards, these behaviors –gravity and levity respectively– were deemed by Aristotle to be part of the essential nature of those objects. The significant point here is that the factors determining the behavior of an object, according to Aristotle, all originate within the object to be explained, and depend upon the unobservable nature of that object.

Of course, nowadays, we have a much simpler explanation (relatively speaking–no pun intended) for the behavior of objects with respects to their mass and weight.  Take a balloon for instance.  If it’s filled with the air out of our lungs, it [barring any air currents] will not float in the way it will when filled with, say, helium.

We might be tempted to say that the balloon filled with helium is lighter (has “levity”) than the one filled with air from our own lungs and that is precisely what determines it’s ability to float.  But that’s not exactly right, is it?  It’s the balloon and what fills it as well as the atmospheric pressure that creates the conditions within which the balloon will float.  If the atmosphere were all helium or hydrogen the balloon would not float at all and might even sink (fall) to the ground.

Most of the time humans make pronouncements about behavior and phenomenon that are similar to the levity and gravity issue.  Most everything is determined by the causal agent itself.  “The balloon has levity, that’s why it floats” or “the balloon has gravity, that’s why it sinks”–we tend to not take into account the external conditions which create an environment that allows a balloon to either float or sink.  It’s the conjunctive conditions of the properties of the balloon and the environment within which the balloon is released that determines its behavior.  Not one or the other.  And we humans tend to attribute behavior to the disposition of the balloon at the expense of the external conditions. Continue reading “Levity and Gravity”

10,000 hours or talent?

a statue tripping

A recent piece in the NYTimes gives a sobering palliative to Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 hours’ meme.  This particular excerpt relates specifically to music:

In our own recent research, we have discovered that “working memory capacity,” a core component of intellectual ability, predicts success in a wide variety of complex activities. In one study, we assessed the practice habits of pianists and then gauged their working memory capacity, which is measured by having a person try to remember information (like a list of random digits) while performing another task. We then had the pianists sight read pieces of music without preparation.

Not surprisingly, there was a strong positive correlation between practice habits and sight-reading performance. In fact, the total amount of practice the pianists had accumulated in their piano careers accounted for nearly half of the performance differences across participants. But working memory capacity made a statistically significant contribution as well (about 7 percent, a medium-size effect). In other words, if you took two pianists with the same amount of practice, but different levels of working memory capacity, it’s likely that the one higher in working memory capacity would have performed considerably better on the sight-reading task.

I’ve always felt it was a combination, in other words, it doesn’t matter how much talent you have if you don’t use it or learn how to develop it.  And that takes practice.  And there are just somethings that no amount of practicing will allow most of us to accomplish that folks with an incredible amount of talent  would be able to do with some measure of ease. Continue reading “10,000 hours or talent?”