• Jennifer Barnick

Taps: The Heart in Twenty-four Notes

This past Saturday, Dr. Timothy Smith wrote about computers and creativity (https://www.twentytwotwentyeight.com/single-post/2017/04/15/If-Humans-Exhibit-Creativity-and-Humans-Created-Computers-Can-Computers-Show-Creativity). It is absolutely constructive to develop ideas surrounding the evolution of computer science in normal language terms. Hence, in formal papers, as well as less formal articles on the advancement of computer technologies, terms such as ‘creativity’ get used to describe a goal or an achieved milestone in computing ability. However, the danger lies in the translation, and this danger can affect both the science and engineering parties as well as the society that is encountering both information regarding the latest scientific breakthroughs in technology and the actual technology. Today, I would like to address creativity and make a case that, in using this term, innovators in the tech fields are overly minimizing the humanity in the term and are over-qualifying their work in accomplishment. Likewise, people are being constantly messaged that computers are not only rapidly acquiring skills previously considered uniquely human (like creativity) — and that constant messaging insinuates that we should then mistrust our own native abundance and give more deference to technology. It is a dangerous and, in my opinion, foolish exchange of power. Creativity is a profound power. Scientists should take a second look at how much power they are claiming that their innovations are possessing, and people should hold fast to the knowledge that they possess a far greater power than they perhaps realize. (Note: this piece is not to say that there are not amazing and life-enhancing properties in new technologies—it is to say that as the authority of science and technology rises in influence over our sense of life, self, culture, and perhaps even morality, it is important to recognize when the party in power starts to put on robes. Science should never be a robed class; it is slowly happening; science will be dead when it does.)

What science is calling ‘creativity’, and how computers not only now have it but are becoming ever more sophisticated at utilizing it, has absolutely nothing to do with human creativity. The sticking point is the ‘Y’ axis. Humans have two axes that drive, nourish, and inform our creativity. We have our objective, rational, horizontal, mathematic aspect (the ‘X’ axis’), but then we have the 'Y' axis -- the subjective, interior, emotional, and perhaps even a super-conscious (C.G. Jung), soul, Mind (as Buddhists envision), or non-local awareness (as some scientists have referred to a seemingly testable human trait of having an awareness beyond ordinary consciousness). However, one does not really have to go that over the edge. In truth, it is enough to say humans have heart. And we create with that heart—always. We cannot ever be separated from our hearts. We can repress our hearts. We can pretend we do not have hearts. However, everything we create from automobiles and fried chicken to computer programs and motherboards is heart involved. We do not have to be great enlightened gurus or levitating Buddhas to engage in this extremely powerful and profound activity of creating with both our objective, logical side and our subjective emotive side. It is effortless and natural for a human. And it is one of the biggest games in town; don’t be fooled.

A Brief History of Taps

“Up to the Civil War, the traditional call at day’s end was a tune, borrowed from the French, called Lights Out. In July of 1862, in the aftermath of the bloody Seven Days battles, hard on the loss of 600 men and wounded himself, Union General Daniel Adams Butterfield called the brigade bugler to his tent. He thought Lights Out was too formal and wished to honor his men.” (thebalance.com, "History of Taps", Rod Powers, 2016)

The story of Taps is one of the most elegant examples I could think of when thinking of creativity and humanity. Taps was written in a very casual way. Its intention was humble. A General wanted a different vibe for his good night lights out song. He had hummed his idea and someone wrote down the basic notes. Then the General and a young bugler, Oliver Wilcox Norton, 22 years of age, experimented with the little tune until the General was pleased. Quickly it spread throughout the, then Union, army until it was universally adopted. Strikingly, it was also adopted by the Confederate buglers.

“The first time taps was played at a military funeral may also have been in Virginia soon after Butterfield composed it. Union Capt. John Tidball, head of an artillery battery, ordered it played for the burial of a cannoneer killed in action. Not wanting to reveal the battery’s position in the woods to the enemy nearby, Tidball substituted taps for the traditional three rifle volleys fired over the grave. Taps was played at the funeral of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson 10 months after it was composed. Army infantry regulations by 1891 required taps to be played at military funeral ceremonies.” (U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs)

It is funny to think of a general wanting to make a well-worn military call to bed song “less formal” would lead to one of the most recognizable and moving bugle songs of all time. There is no doubt in my mind that neither the General nor the young brigade bugler were setting out to make great art, history, or were in any way thinking that their heart was involved. However, there is no way this tune could be mistaken as not recording in perfection the human heart combined with the human intellect. The field, being away from home, war, losing friends—and even the human condition—are completely distilled in those profound twenty-four notes. The song Taps is a ribbon of human wholeness.

We have a beauty that can never be touched.