Hard Choices

The mud has dried and there are snowdrops on the bank

The mud has dried and there are snowdrops on the bank

“Is this a hard choice for you?’ he demanded.

Yes! I cried. “Oh,” he said, springing back up cheerfully. “In that case, it doesn’t matter. If it’s a hard decision, then there’s always lots to be said on both sides, so either choice is likely to be good in its way. Hard choices are always unimportant.”

From the New Yorker 28th Jan, 2013 “Music to Your Ears”  by Adam Gopnik 

Snowdrops in the woods

Snowdrops in the woods

As I sat by the bedside of my mother in law yesterday,  as I have many times in the last year, I was catching up on the magazine I subscribe to – the New Yorker.   I confess I didn’t quite understand the physics part of this great piece about how we listen to music and how the way we have listened has changed over time –   but I was interested enough to read on as the cognitive sciences and the insights generated from them are really what fascinate me most intellectually and articles like these give one some sort of access to the world of science which otherwise passes one by. Music, emotional maps, time, culture, fooling the brain – always ready and willing to be fooled –  who could not be curious at least to read this?

(The New Yorker article is reproduced here in full apparently with permission, so I will put a link in)

This is always the sign of true spring for me, the fruit blossom on these trees in the hedge

This is always the sign of true spring for me, the fruit blossom on these trees in the hedge

And then I stopped, hit by a sledgehammer by this quote. In context Gopnik is quoting a conversation with Albert Bregman, a psychologist, working in the field of auditory research, who he has gone to see over his difficulty in choosing a major. It reminded me of some of the best Zen koans, something that stops you in your tracks and just makes you think. Do I understand what he is saying? I am not sure but it is worth pursuing and engaging with the thought, testing it out, wondering if some assumption I have made along the line is holding me back from doing stuff that I could maybe be doing. Instead of what iffing and contemplating a future of regrets, when caught up in the circularity of seemingly impossible decision,  just go one way or the other, the important thing is to move and carry on living.

Ivy creeping up a tree

Ivy creeping up a tree

20 thoughts on “Hard Choices

  1. Lynne

    I love this! thank you so much Joanna. Sometimes I need a very firm kick up the bottom to make any form of decision, even easy ones, but hard ones leave me paralysed. This, along with my beloved Susan Jeffers, may help me move in one way or another.

    1. Joanna Post author

      No kicks from me, not my style, but I am glad something here resonated with you. I think it is an interesting way to view making choices :)

  2. sallybr

    Very wise advice, although most will find it hard to follow and instead will worry and think and worry and think, searching for the “perfect decision”

    The New Yorker article is very interesting, but definitely not an easy read – it goes over my head at times, fascinating topic

    Loved this post, Joanna… you take us through beautiful roads..

    1. Joanna Post author

      I don’t know if I will follow it but I liked the way it made me think, if that makes any sense?

      I loved the parts I did understand, particularly the bit about how we never used to listen to music in a static position but dancing or singing or moving. If I were younger I would love to be in cognitive science, I think the future is there, as it is I take pleasure in trying to understand these popular science articles. I quite like reading things several times to figure them out, like a puzzle.

  3. heidiannie

    OH- you do have some Spring coming up, don’t you?
    We are still winter bound- although the Sugar Maples are budding and the sap is running.
    I like the quote- and the article although I need to read it several times more to understand it, I think. Making the actual decision is always a hard point for me- I tend to vacillate and then the circumstances usually force me into a direction if not a decision.
    Not a very attractive characteristic

    1. Joanna Post author

      I have sorted your comment out, my typing is iffy too xx It is still nasty and cold here and I am constantly moaning about it. I take the pictures to convince myself that Spring is on the way. A lot of the article makes my brain hurt but that’s ok. There are bits that are easy and bits that one can kind of skim over. I guess I want to explore for myself, why we vacillate and avoid making choices. A fear of consequences, of feeling stupid, wrong, fearing regret… I don’t have the answers, I just know that it is useful sometimes to have a way to ‘unask the questions.’ If the set up or the premise is wrong in the first place then it is liberating to realise that. Sorry I am not very good at philosophy and maybe a food blog is the wrong place to blither on like this. xx Jo

  4. Ann

    Blither all you like Joanna! I have had a quick look at the article but it is perhaps a little too difficult for 6am and I shall return to it later. Have to confess that I am not good at making important decisions.
    Nice to see that you have signs of spring – lovely photos.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Morning Ann! It is a bit difficult, I had another read and sat with my headphones on listening to some of the demonstration stuff which I downloaded from Al Bregman’s site, I think I understand a little of it, but I have a way to go… YES! definite signs of spring! My primroses cheated and the daffs too by coming up in December, but the blossom and leaf bursts are definite signs :)

  5. hotlyspiced

    Well this is timely. I’m having to make a lot of decisions at the moment and sometimes the weight of it all can just make you feel paralysed to do anything at all. Must keep moving forward xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      I sympathise with that paralysed feeling, my response too often is to bury my head in the sand, under the duvet, in the biscuit tin. I hope you find a way through xx

  6. cecilia

    How wonderful of you to bring this to our attention, those quiet times sitting at a bedside somehow allow us to think deeply and really read with an awake mind, these times are a wee gift really, and when you are reading something that grabs you, then the time feels well used.. i am not sure if that makes sense but i think you will know what i mean. c

  7. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    I’ve come back to this post for a second reading before commenting. It’s a very thought-provoking quote, and your interpretation is wise – just keep going. I find that, at least in our personal lives, we rarely get given choices at all. Or at least that’s how it feels. And in a way, that’s a lot easier to deal with. xxx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Every second of each minute there are choices – or not – depends on how the imputed ‘I’ views the world. Once dead it gets a little more difficult.

  8. Jan

    Oh I love this sort of brain ache – I need things to mentally chew over and I love to hear other people’s input. Thank you for this one Joanna, it’s one I will come back to several times. I read Clive James’ recent comment about Princess Diana not having had a “well stocked” brain but that she loved to learn, we’ll that’s me although some people might point out there are physical points of difference:)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I have a suspicion that most people’s brains are fairly well stocked, including you, only for some reason they play it down xx I will mentally imagine you now with a Princess Diana hairdo though (grins :D )

  9. drfugawe

    You got quite a lot out of that one article, didn’t you! I often think back to my school days and remember how I thought I hated science – today, science is a daily fascination. I remember how my love of music, reflected through my listening only, brought me to the place where I asked to be the first ‘non player’ of a musical instrument admitted to the music appreciation class – oh, they tried to break down my resistance, but I was too strong! And too dumb.

    And I often think that they should have waited another 4 or 5 years before allowing me to go to school – I just wasn’t ready yet.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hell yes! Sometimes things just get you that way don’t they? I am very grateful that anything does in this world of dumbing down and being endlessly talked down to by our politicians and media pundits, the blandness of far too much of the stuff that passes in front of my eyes. All my own fault of course. I like to pretend I have a brain still. If you have a pair of headphones you can play with the sounds on your countryman’s site too and try to fathom the mysteries for yourself. I did that too and some of it made sense for a moment, and the moment is worth savouring :) I hope you got to the music appreciation class, you didn’t say….

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