Friday, 12 May 2017

Pearls Before Breakfast

I read of an experiment in context, perception and priorities – as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste. It was titled ‘Pearls before Breakfast’ and was put together by the Washington Post.

I am going to attempt to summarise the experiment below.
A man sat at the L’enfant Station in Washington DC, a metro station swarming with busy people going back and forth, and began to play the violin.
He played some of the most beautiful pieces of music ever, ever, ever composed. It was calculated that as he played, thousands of people went through the station, most of them were on their way to work.

A few minutes passed before a middle aged man noticed that there was some man playing music. He slowed his pace for a few seconds and then hurried up away. A minute later, the violinist received his first tip: a woman threw the money into the cup the man had placed on the ground for tips and she continued to walk. A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. He was walking with his mother, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. The mother pushed hard for the kid to keep walking until the poor child, without a choice, continued to walk with his mother turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents forced them to keep moving.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money without paying him any attention. He collected $32.00 in total. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians the world has ever seen. He played some of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3,500,000 dollars.
The Washington post had this to say: “Each passer-by had a quick choice to make, one familiar to commuters in any urban area where the occasional street performer is part of the cityscape: Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?”
In short, Do You Have Time For Beauty?

On Joshua Bell, The Washington Post wrote:
“He seems so apart from his audience -- unseen, unheard, otherworldly -- that you find yourself thinking that he’s not really there. A ghost. Only then do you see it: He is the one who is real. They are the ghosts.”
So what is beauty anyway? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?
The Washington Post goes with Kant, because they think “he’s obviously right, and because he brings us pretty directly to Joshua Bell, sitting there in a hotel restaurant, picking at his breakfast, wryly trying to figure out what the hell had just happened back there at the L’enfant Metro.”
But I disagree with them, and I agree with Leibniz. Beauty is measurable fact. It is plain. It is obvious. It is there. If you do not recognize it in all of the forms in which it comes, then you do not recognize beauty in all its forms. The better argument perhaps may be to determine the possibility of recognizing all of the forms of beauty.
Let me tell you something, life is short. We must appreciate all the beauty of the world while we still can. We must marvel with fascination as raindrops stump against our windowpanes and make vermiform shapes on the panes. We must appreciate things because that is the best way to live our lives to the fullest.

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