The Truth, Mainly - 10/25/1993

Can Mozart cure dumb thoughts?
by Leon Satterfield

Was anyone surprised at the AP story about how listening to Mozart makes you smart?

If you haven't listened to Mozart lately, you may have forgotten the story. Let me remind you:

A team of researchers reported in the Oct. 14 issue of Nature that the mean IQ of a group of California students went up by 8-9 points after they listened to Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K. 448).

The researchers concluded that because of its complexity, Mozart's music probably enhances abstract reasoning and makes the listener smarter.

Didn't surprise me a bit. Every time I listen to Mozart, I feel so smart I can hardly stand to be around myself. I can tell I feel smart because I refer to what I'm hearing as "the Mozart."

"Hey, look at me," I say to my wife in the same way I call attention to myself when I read Shakespeare. "I'm listening to the Mozart."

"Shh," she says.

The team of researchers also speculated that listening to music that's less complex—they specified Grunge Rock—probably has the opposite effect. It probably dumbs you down.

No surprise there either. I once passed by an open frat house window from which Grunge Rock was being distributed to the neighborhood. One minute I was thinking heavy thoughts about the place of humanity in the cosmos, the next I was considering what a neat thing it would be to prove my manhood by drinking a sixpack and lying down on a dark street to see what might run over me.

When I got home, my wife noticed my IQ seemed to have dropped precipitously. I was whistling "Boomer Sooner."

"Your IQ seems to have dropped precipitously," she said. "Have you been listening to Grunge Rock again?"

"Go Big Red," I told her. "You're a feminazi, aren't you?"

She made me lie down with a cold compress on my head and listen to the Mozart until I was ready for McNeil-Lehrer.

So I don't doubt the Mozart Treatment works. But it smacks of thought control—of the way officials in "A Clockwork Orange" retooled Alex' mind by making him sick to his stomach while he listened to Beethoven's Fifth and watched scenes of Nazi violence.

I don't want to alarm you, but there are people out there—many of them employees of our schools—who want to deprive us of dumb thoughts.

Imagine, for example, that advocates of multiculturalism got their hands on Patrick Buchanan. He doesn't like multiculturalism because it's based on the silly notion that cultures are equal.

"Our culture is superior," Buchanan told the Christian Coalition, "because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free."

I can see it now: a squad of anthropologists dragging Buchanan kicking and screaming from the podium to the Mozart Treatment cell.

"Not the Mozart Treatment!" he'd yell. "Anything but the Mozart Treatment! It'll raise my IQ and I'll lose all my ethnocentric slogans!"

But they'll take him anyway. Fifteen minutes later, he'll come back smiling benignly.

"I was all wrong," he'll tell his shocked audience. "Non-Christian cultures have achieved great things. The glory that was Greece, for example, the grandeur that was Rome. And the Chinese invented gunpowder—without which, where would Christian cultures be today? Because viewed objectively, being Christian is no assurance of a culture's virtue. We were a Christian culture when we held slaves, and when we practiced genocide on Native Americans. It was a Christian culture that gave us the Holocaust. Mozart has made me see the light."

You can see what that sort of thing would do to our nation's political dialogue. We'd all become a bunch of clear-headed pansies agreeing with each other. Political campaigns would be as sissified as a cricket match.

My wife tells me my fears are unfounded.

"You of all people," she says, "shouldn't underestimate the power of simple-minded thinking."

She says that American entrepreneurs would see a chance to make a buck by opening Grunge Rooms—speakeasies where you could smoke cigars, eat deep-fat fried stuff, and listen to bootleg Grunge Rock.

She says people would come out of Grunge Rooms saying "My country, right or wrong," "Love it or leave it," "Send in the Marines," and "We've got the best health care system in the world."

She says simplistic thinking, crushed to earth by Mozart's complexity, will rise again. And again. And again.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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