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It’s Hard Being No One: A lyrical tribute to a famous philosopher

When most scholars are asked to contribute a piece to an international journal, they pull out academic texts so profound they are practically lyrical. Professor of Psychology J. Scott Jordan went a step further and provided actual lyrics.

For his submission to a special edition of the international journal Frontiers in Psychology, Jordan teamed up with Illinois State music students to record the song “It’s Hard Being No One.” (Hear the song here).

people standing and smiling at the camera.

The musicians for It’s Hard Being No One: (From left) Miles Bohlman, J. Scott Jordan, Isaac Soares, Sam Tedeschi, and Derek Zimmerman

The journal issue is dedicated to German philosopher Thomas Metzinger, a professor of theoretical philosophy at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany. “He is the philosopher’s philosopher, and world famous to boot,” said Jordan, who worked with Metzinger in Germany during a sabbatical in 2006. “The name of his book was Being No One. It’s really good philosophy, and I’m a big fan.”

In an age where everything is redundant, this jumped out at me because it was something new and refreshing. — Isaac Soares

Metzinger is one of the leading philosophers that follows the philosophy of the mind. Also called functionalism, philosophy of the mind describes the brain in terms of the functions that brain circuits serve. “He argues that the thing we call a ‘self’ isn’t a thing, but actually a process in the brain,” said Jordan. “It actually shares quite a bit of thinking and assumptions with Buddhism, saying the self isn’t a thing. It’s a process and it’s transient.”

headshot of Scott Jordan

J. Scott Jordan

Jordan subscribes to a wholly different philosophy that views life as an energy transformation hierarchy, which connects a being to the environment. He gives an example of a lion. “You look at the body of a lion, and you look at its bones, muscles, lungs, heart, and brain. They’re all embodiments of what it takes to propel a mass through our gravity field, and trying to capture things like zebras,” he said. “Yet instead of the organism being disconnected from the environment, the organism is actually an embodiment of the environment. There’s no epistemic gap between an organism and its world. The organism is necessarily of and about its context.”

This difference in ideologies became the inspiration for Jordan’s song, which he originally composed in 2006, and performed on the fly at a goodbye dinner for Metzinger. “It’s called ‘It’s Hard Work Being No One.’ I think he got a kick out of it,” said Jordan.

The song disappeared from Jordan’s thoughts until the editor of Frontiers in Psychology contacted him. “She asked me for a contribution to the issue on Metzinger, and I said, ‘How about a song instead?’ She loved it,” said Jordan.

headshot of Isaac Soares in a field

Isaac Soares

Instead of simply publishing the lyrics, Jordan contacted the Director of the School of Music Steve Parsons. He suggested Jordan visit Professor Rose Marshack’s music-business class at Illinois State and ask for volunteers. Student Isaac Soares responded, and pulled together a group to record the song with Jordan.

“I’ve never really heard of something like this, said Soares, a junior music business major from Bloomington. “In an age where everything is redundant, this jumped out at me because it was something new and refreshing.” Soares reached out to fellow musician-students Miles Bohlman, Sam Tedeschi, and Derek Zimmerman, who came together to record the song with Jordan in one night. “Even when we were recording the track, the atmosphere was very mellow and we fell into this groove that just carried his words so nicely over the melody,” said Soares.

The song and lyrics are available online as part of the internationally recognized journal Frontiers in Psychology. For Jordan, however, the publication is simply icing on the philosophical cake. “‘It’s Hard Work Being No One’ is a representation of Metzinger’s work, but also celebrates the idea that we don’t have to agree to appreciate what others say and do,” said Jordan.

Collaboration is a University core value, stated in Educate Connect Elevate: Illinois State—The Strategic Plan for Illinois’ First Public University 2018-2023.

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