My magical, musical journey: Part 6 – outside challenges

By Ande Jacobson

My journey through Part 5 of this series hasn’t been all that unusual. Like many others I studied music throughout my childhood and college years, and even though I pursued a lengthy career in the sciences, I never left my music too far behind. I was fortunate to live in an area where musicians of all levels could find opportunities to play and continue to grow musically no matter their primary career paths.

The pit orchestras in which I’ve played or directed have been composed of talented musicians of all ages including advanced young music students and adults from a wide range of professions, some musically related, some not. Beyond straight music endeavors, the San Francisco Bay Area enjoys a vibrant theater community at all levels that draws large, loyal, local support. The community of musicians that supports the musical theaters has thrived for decades … until that fateful year, 2020, which brought unprecedented challenges. Continue reading

Are we training people to fear rather than think?

By Ande Jacobson

Historically, the bastions of higher learning were centers of intellectual stimulation where students could gain exposure to myriad concepts, ideas, and philosophies and could participate in scientific advancement. The learning process gave students not only exposure to a broad spectrum of ideas, it helped them learn to examine those ideas critically to separate fact from fiction. It also taught them important skills to deal with intellectual and social challenges. It sometimes made them uncomfortable and encouraged them to use that discomfort to stretch themselves and grow. They learned the great value of being challenged intellectually as well as skills necessary for conflict resolution without resorting to violence. Starting around 2013, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt noticed a disturbing trend that was beginning to assert itself and was antithetical to the broad pursuit of knowledge on which colleges and universities thrived. This trend was exemplified by a combination “three Great Untruths:”

  1. The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  2. The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  3. The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people.

These three concepts are the basis for Lukianoff and Haidt’s 2018 book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. They use the following criteria to determine if something is a Great Untruth (it must meet all three criteria):

  1. It contradicts ancient wisdom (ideas found widely in the wisdom literatures of many cultures).
  2. It contradicts modern psychological research on well-being.
  3. It harms the individuals and communities who embrace it.

Continue reading

To dream of a world without caste

By Ande Jacobson

Isabel Wilkerson ends her latest book with a powerful truth:

            “A world without caste would set everyone free.”

The book is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, and it should be required reading for everyone, particularly in the United States. Most people in the U.S. are aware of the nation’s history of slavery that was theoretically vanquished after the Civil War. As many historians and journalists have written, it wasn’t really, and there is a much deeper pathology at play. Wilkerson crystalizes the formation and perpetuation of the caste system that persists to this day in the U.S. through a detailed exploration of how it relates to caste systems in India and in WWII Germany in her latest book which is part personal essay, part investigative journalism, and part history text. As difficult as many of the stories she relates are, she also offers ideas on how we might address and reform this vicious hierarchy, though to do so will require effort on all our parts. To do so would also allow us to finally achieve the key ideal set forth in our Declaration of Independence, i.e., true equality of all people. While the founders didn’t actually mean everyone, or even all men, the ultimate ideal expressed is still one to which we should all aspire. Instead, we have to date been plagued by a system of equality that is based on inequality. In other words, for the favored members of society to be equal amongst themselves, all others must be unequal. This U.S. system has been based on caste since before the founding of the nation despite the advances in equality stated in the law. Continue reading

‘Musicophilia’ – how music touches us all

By Ande Jacobson

In the preface of Oliver Sacks’ landmark book Musicophilia, he muses about how human interactions with music might puzzle a highly intelligent alien being with no frame of reference conjuring a scene from the world of Arthur C. Clarke. Science fiction aside, music is central to human existence, and yet on the surface it’s confounding trying to discern its purpose. Music can touch us in ways nothing else can. It can provide great solace. It can bring us to tears. It can excite us and inspire us. It can stimulate the brain and enhance learning. It can also torment us. Music can have these effects on us just by listening as well as in the course of making music. In the face of certain brain injuries or disease, it can also provide insights helping with diagnosis and can reach people who are otherwise uncommunicative. Drawing on extensive case studies, Dr. Sacks instructs, entertains, and enlightens readers on the complexities of human perceptions of music and just how important music is in innumerable circumstances. While this book will fascinate any musician wanting to understand their own musical drive, it will also delight non-musicians by opening up a whole world of perception they previously took for granted. Continue reading

The American story continues: Getting ready for the Biden Inauguration

By Ande Jacobson

I watched the 17 January 2021 episode of 60 Minutes the next morning while exercising on my elliptical trainer, a fairly common Monday morning routine. Two of their stories from the previous night were on political events – preparations for Wednesday’s inauguration, and what happened on 6 January 2021. I’ve already written about the coup attempt in my essay entitled “6 January 2021: An American Story,” so that’s not my focus here. Instead, the first 60 Minutes segment, “Against All Enemies,” hit me particularly hard. Continue reading

A fitting end to 2020

By Ande Jacobson

It seems fitting that 2020 is a Leap Year. Leap Years are special and just a little bit strange. With February longer than usual, that means the year has an extra day making Leap Years 366 days long which seems a fitting end to the most frightening and bizarre year in the memory of most of those alive today. While we would like this year over sooner rather than later, we have to wait an extra day to say goodbye to 2020.

At the beginning of the year, 2020 seemed like it would just be a particularly rough election year with an extra day in February. Most of the public had no idea how different 2020 would be until after 29 February even though it turned out that the dangerous SARS-CoV-2 virus had already been spreading since late last year. Continue reading

How is living through the pandemic like space?

By Ande Jacobson

I have long loved the world of Star Trek and science fiction in general. I can remember imagining possibilities as a child while walking to school, wishing that it were possible to be beamed up to a starship to travel to new worlds and join with others in exploring the vastness of space. In the real world of my childhood, I got to watch, along with the rest of the world, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked and jumped on the moon for the first time. Although very different from the pictures painted by my favorite television series, it was a breathtaking adventure that sparked many dreams. I later studied space travel and learned how manned space flight changed over time beginning with the U.S. Gemini and Apollo programs through the advent of Skylab, Mir, and the International Space Station. Various probes and telescopes continue to explore beyond the earth’s boundaries to give us crucial information about what’s really out there. We still haven’t achieved the level of development depicted in the Star Trek universe, nor have we discovered the kinds of life imagined by various science fiction writers, but we have grown outward and created stories, both real and imagined, related to what’s beyond our little blue planet. Continue reading

A Dinner Surprise

By Ande Jacobson

Since surviving the pandemic of 2020 Bea continued eating all of her meals at home. Even after the crisis had passed, although she ventured out for work and various activities, for Bea, one dinner was much like the next. Her meal consisted of a plate of rice or noodles covered in veggies, chicken, and cheese, and she zapped it in the microwave. She lived alone and loathed housework and cooking, so anything that kept those to a minimum was a plus. Continue reading

Taking Action!

By Ande Jacobson

Stories. We all relate through stories. We use them from the time we’re small to help us learn language and other skills we need to function as members of society. We use them in our families to ensure that we don’t forget those who came before us. We use them in school as students and teachers to illustrate new concepts and explore the vast world around us. We use them at work to convey information. We use them for entertainment to draw out emotions. We use them throughout society to help understand where we are, and how we got here. We use them in politics to persuade and move people to take action. Continue reading

Trouble – when the story matters more than reality

By Ande Jacobson

In theater or in literature, an author’s vivid imagination can be a wondrous thing. A writer can spin a captivating tale limited only by the bounds of their imagination and their ability to capture their vision in words. If told well, such a story can be divorced from reality yet still provide compelling entertainment for its audience. In this context it’s not only acceptable, it’s desirable, and viewers or readers can find escape through immersion in such a story. It can be enjoyable to suspend disbelief enough to imagine what might be, and it can even inspire people to positive action to improve a situation in reality. Science fiction has long posited potential advances, both good and bad, that are sometimes achieved at a later time. The communicators used in Star Trek in the 1960s were intriguing. They allowed people to communicate over long distances from wherever they were with a tiny device seemingly by magic. Decades later, they came to life in the real world as flip phones as a phase in the evolution of mobile technology. Granted, there were significant differences in range, clarity, and required infrastructure, but the similarities were striking given various designs inspired by the fictional story. Since then, mobile technology has advanced in the form of smart phones and devices, delighting consumers and titillating the minds of creative engineers to continue to push even further. Continue reading