Perceiving Beauty: The Interdependence between Consciousness & Knowledge

Posted Feb. 10, 2012 by Fallensoul in Open

commented on Oct. 11, 2012
by telephoenician



A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping 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. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written,with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?

  • telephoenician Oct 11, 2012

    I like this story. It reminds me that what other people think of me is none of my business.

  • Anonymous Icon

    snapper Oct 11, 2012

    snapper oct 11 2012

    we can only sense beauty etc.when our awareness is open ,when we are rushing around in our usual state of consciousness,
    ( waking sleep) we are simply closed off to all the beauty that is allways here.
    young children are much more aware than we are as adults ,unfortunately they are aware that we are asleep,
    and as they grow older they too come to beleive that it is normal to be in this state of consciousness,and fall asleep as well.

  • Anonymous Icon

    dustproduction Aug 31, 2012

    "We don’t just respond to things as we see them, or feel them, or hear them. Rather, our response is conditioned on our beliefs, about what they really are, what they came from, what they’re made of, what their hidden nature is.” (Paul Bloom)

    Paul Bloom gives a talk that touches on a different aspect on the question "Do we perceive beauty?"
    What is the difference between an original painting and a copy that would fool experts?


  • KYRANI Feb 12, 2012

    I agree with slowlygetnthar. I can relate to what you are saying as you walk the streets of Pittsburgh. I have heard music in a crowed place by a musician that I have appreciated but I was in too much of a hurry to stop. Does my not stopping and putting money in the till make me not appreciative? I don't think so. Sure this guy you talk about was a master violinist and maybe people should have stood still and gasped in awe but they didn't. We don't know though how many of them privately appreciated the music. I think it means that people's livelihood are higher on their list of preferences at that time of day.

  • slowlygetnthar Feb 11, 2012

    So, your question is: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?

    Sure, why not? Walking in gum-dotted, wet, gray, winter downtown Pittsburgh streets, I still marvel at the symmetry and unified consciousness of a flock of pigeons taking off and suddenly turning as a single unit southward, then, spiraling down and landing on the other side of the street, soft as snowfall.

    Maybe beauty is the secret of the mundane.

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