It is uncertain exactly how the album got its name, but the album cover features the Beach Boys at the zoo, feeding goats, and a likely explanation was that the sounds were Brian's favourites, i.e., "pet", at the time. The track notes explain the inclusion of circumstantial sounds: like the dog barking, or train whistle. And speaking of circumstance, Brian didn't navigate it very well: "This is the worst trip I've ever been on". How do we return safely from the beach, after that?
To begin with, animals. They come up in stoicism, and even in Plato's Timaeus. Second, the skill of sight, which possibly entails the feelings of "difference" intimated in Pet Sounds, even if, by way of shorthand, difference may be described as superficial. First, though, the pets-or animals.
Animals, which care for their offspring and have a preservation instinct, are used as illustrations of human behaviour in Stoicism (which may cause one to think that perhaps some humans act worse than animals). Humans, through οἰκείωσις, are then meant to then develop mental, not only bodily, preservation, through rationality, which affords affinity with cosmic reason: man can become at home in the world through the development of the rational soul, identifying with the entire human race, expressed through a virtuous relationship with others.
Similarly in the Timaeus, a "likely account", the person who has "devoted himself to learning and to true thoughts" and who exercises such (90), is contrasted to the beings who transformed into lower creatures through paying "no attention at all to philosophy" and not studying "at all the nature of the heavens because they ceased to make use of the revolutions within the head and followed the lead of those parts of the soul which are in the breast. Owing to these practices they have dragged their front limbs and their head down to the earth ... because of their kinship therewith" (91).
Our kinship is not something to be dealt with lightly, particularly because things are not what they seem. The opening passage of the Stoic handbook the Enchiridion advises about such φαντασίαι: "say to every unpleasing semblance, 'You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.'"
Since appearances are seen, they require proper sight. In the Timaeus, sight is attributed with having given man the vision of days and years, i.e., a notion of time, and also a "means of research into the nature of the Universe" through which philosophy, "the greatest good of eyesight" was obtained (47). By contrast, we learn that those who are diseased through excess are unable "to see or to hear anything correctly", and go mad (86).
Here, we may return to the musical beginnings of this post, as man's goal is essentially to be in harmony with the cosmos, which (spoiler alert) we learn from the Timaeus does not mean being in harmony with that which is seen, but a likely idea of the Best. It is in this work that Plato, who shows all kinds of good and bad ideas and interlocutors in his works, has Timaeus, the authority in the work, say: "For what is good merits description more than what is evil" (87).
As this is a likely account of genesis, a likely account of the Best, comment is made on a rival philosophy: that of the Atomists. "Now our view declares the Universe to be essentially one, in accordance with the probable account; but another man, considering other facts, will hold a different opinion. Him, however, we must let pass," Timaeus says, "the doctrine of an infinite diversity is that of a man unversed in matters wherein he ought to be versed" (55). The word "unversed", ἄπειρος, plays on the two meanings of that word Lamb, a translator of the work into English, writes: meaning both 'unlimited' and 'unskilled'.
How contrary this idea is to our contemporary culture of multiplicities. But it depends on which way we are looking: the essence of humanity will always be one, no?
One who attempts to look beyond the first appearance of things may be lonely. The Beach Boys sing: "I know so many people who think they can do it alone, They isolate their heads and stay in their safety zones. ... No one wants to help me look for places, Where new things might be found."
These words are hopefully just the beginning, to be followed by the moral progress of the προκόπτων (advancing student), and an outward manifestation of difference through self-imposed self-restraint attracting the ridicule of others. Epictetus in the Enchiridion writes: "The marks of a proficient are that he censures no one, praises no one, blames no one, accuses no one; says nothing concerning himself as being anybody or knowing anything. When he is in any instance hindered or restrained, he accuses himself". He is not even to be bothered if he appears foolish.
Plato's Timaeus continues this thought: "But he who has seriously devoted himself to learning and to true thoughts... must necessarily and inevitably think thoughts that are immortal and divine ... in so far as it is possible for human nature to partake of immortality ... inasmuch as he is for ever tending his divine part and duly magnifying that daemon who dwells along with him, he must be supremely blessed", Timaeus (90b-c). (Eu-daemon-ia, εὐδαιμονία, means happiness.)
So what does all of this have to do with "Pet Sounds", and how might we find our way back to the beach after stormy nights? "Harmony ... was given by the Muses to him who makes intelligent use of the Muses, not as an aid to irrational pleasure, as is now supposed, but as an auxiliary to the inner revolution of the Soul, when it has lost its harmony, to assist in restoring it to order and concord with itself", Timaeus (47).
Magazine in background: Marie Claire Idees. Brush: Ewansim at DeviantART.