Good Heavens: Apprehending Nature's Beauty

Minnesotans joke about nature’s two seasons in these parts: winter and road construction. Fair enough; but head off road during repair season and you discover a state rich in natural treasures. Not the least of these is what we affectionately call the “North Shore” of Lake Superior. The beauty of this haunting, ever-changing body of water, with its rugged shoreline and untamed hinterland, is spellbinding.

A recent family trip located me on a secluded balcony high above the waves that lashed the rocky, Superior shoreline below. The evening air was warm and fresh—the kind of air so satisfying you seem to drink it as much as breathe it.

Looking out over the lake just after sunset, darkness shrouded the distinction between water and sky and between water and land. That period of gloom, just before the rising moon and starry hosts illumine the night, veiled the natural wonders before me like a curtain—a dramatic pause anticipating the show that was about to begin.

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Confession of an Incurable Evidentialist, Part 3

What is beauty?

The beginning of the Rock Music culture in the US is a little difficult to pinpoint, but by the time of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock,” its presence was evident to almost everyone. With the advent of Rock the youth of America possessed their own music. Their parents dismissed it as dissonant, gyrating wildness and told their children: “That isn’t music!” But the youth—particularly the Baby Boomer Generation—held on to it tenaciously. Rock/Pop has now become the world’s music to the extent that it is heard everywhere and all the time. Now teenagers listening to 100-year old hymns think, “That isn’t music!”

Many post-modern thinkers will probably tell you that the quality of music is a matter of taste, determined by culture and experience. This is a break with how people have thought, literally for millennia. It uses an argument that can easily be turned against itself (you can also say that the proposition “quality of music is merely taste, determined by culture and experience,” is simply a product of culture and experience, and perhaps not valid at all). When we talk about music or art, we also talk about the concept of beauty. I am not telling you a fairy tale when I say that there was a time when people agreed on what is good music, even if they disagreed on style preference. When and how did the change to today’s view of beauty come about? I think the change began slowly with the ideas of Immanuel Kant (and you thought it all started with Elvis, right?).

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