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Rhythm and Self-Consciousness: An Example of Each

About Rhythm

The intense concentration achieved during an examination in Aikido:


"As the exam continued, the speed and intensity of the attacks continued, and yet there was still a general sense of time's moving slowly, at an unhurried, dreamlike pace. The spacious dojo began to seem smaller; an unfamiliar feeling of intimacy came over the aikidoists and spectators around the mat, as if we were involved together in something usually reserved for our most private moments. During one swift attack, Richard slipped quickly to the side and made a bewildering gesture that none of us had previously seen. The uke, without having been touched, went down with a loud crash... Later, Richard could not recall or reconstruct this remarkable technique. For his part, Richard was beginning to get the feeling that he was not 'doing' anything at all, that the movements of his body were 'just happening' without thought or effort."

(from The Silent Pulse by George Leonard, E.P. Dutton, 1978, pp. 98-99 - a moment of rhythmic radiance during an examination in aikido)


About Self-Consciousness (or lack of it)       

A famous general describes his experience as an 8-year-old boy, blessed and cursed with the unselfconscious mind of a child:

"There was a Mr. Ralston living within a few miles of the village, who owned a colt which I very much wanted. My father had offered twenty dollars for it, but Ralston wanted twenty-five. I was so anxious to have the colt, that after the owner left, I begged to be allowed to take him at the price demanded. My father yielded, but said twenty dollars was all the horse was worth and told me to offer that price; if it was not accepted I was to offer twenty-two and a half, and if that would not get him, to give the twenty five. I at once mounted a horse and went for the colt. When I got to Mr. Ralston's house, I said to him: 'Papa says I may offer you twenty dollars for the colt, but if you won't take that, I am to offer you twenty-two and a half, and if you won't take that, to give you twenty-five.' It would not require a Connecticut man to guess the price finally agreed upon ... This transaction caused me great heart-burning. The story got out among the boys of the village, and it was a long time before I heard the last of it."

(from Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Volume I, pp. 29-30, 1885)

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Ideas and values form the core of a civilization. Five Epochs of Civilization, a book by William McGaughey, makes the case that civilizations depend on their underlying communication technologies and that those technologies, by their nature, promote certain ideals. A follow-up book by the same author, Rhythm and Self-Conscousness: New Ideals for an Electronic Civilization, explores the nature of the ideals from a philosophical perspective.

The old ideals of Euro-American society (developed within a culture of literacy) were ones inherited from Greek philosophy and transmitted through the Christian culture: goodness, truth, beauty, justice, etc. Constancy of character was a virtue in this culture. The new ideals are ones related to entertainment. They have to do, not with character, but with performers getting themselves up to give a good performance captured on tape or film. Rhythm is a name for this time-based quality of perfected performance found in athletics, music, drama, conversation, and other areas.

Rhythm and Self-Consciousness approaches the subject much as Plato and Aristotle might have done, seeking definitions and examples. It is hoped that this approach will bring a deeper understanding of things that may seem ill suited for academic treatment. The philosophical consideration of rhythm as a phenomenon in performers’ lives leads to the fact of self-consciousness as an obstacle to be overcome, not by positive exertions but by their opposite, a lack of exertion or effortlessness. Here we delve into sports psychology, music theory, and the practical techniques of inducing a better performance through what is called “mental conditioning”.

Rhythm and Self-Consciousness should also have an impact on the way that we in an electronics-based culture see ourselves historically. It follows the progression of ideas from those conceived in ancient Greece and Rome to those arising from modern pursuits. The book also sheds light on the situation of intellectuals in a culture which values personal performance in its sensuous or physical aspect. In other words, it presents a philosophy suitable for Civilization IV.


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