Perception of Beauty

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In Washington DC, at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.  After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar.  A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.  The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time.  This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:

The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.  About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed and no one applauded.  There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story.  Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the DC Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities.

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made . . .

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

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12 responses »

  1. This is a new issue all along with that fb and social networking shock-horror.

    Now ppl attend these places for business means only and as far as I know today marriage is also a business statement.

    If your colleague asks you “Did you attend the greatest musician concert?”, if you say no, you will feel embarrass because this is how the new definition of embarrassment scores. So you have to attend such class actions just to over-look you self-esteem by self-alienation but in reality its self-humiliation.

    Today Music is about Rocking the crowd not you precious brain signals. Its a different world out there with different needs. There is no time for anybody to stop by some random guitarist and listen to him for 2-3min just to make sure that “isn’t he the ONE, the greatest guitarist of all time?”, if not you just ruin you workflow and if yes, then you ruin your time.

    This experiment was ambitious but you need to understand that ROCK vacillate you brain waves not smoothen them.

    Listen this if you really want to relax and enjoy thinking. Its harmonic music reduces neural activity which makes you think more clearly. Its “Don Giovanni” 😀

  2. @PoPaT:
    Thanks jiger 🙂

    But I am not a preacher of “music” as you know, but I support and preach the point this experiment tried to convey i.e.
    Perception of Beauty … “How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?”

    and about the video , its nice but I have heard better 😛

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Perception of Beauty « Ali’s Journal -- Topsy.com

  4. You must have heard it, its mozart man 😛

    And I didn’t know that u r not a preacher of music. Music isn’t haram and if one say so he is one delusional, ignorant and knowledge-less person.

    We don’t miss things, this is how world works. For example: if you goto a garden, its quiet and peaceful and if you sit on a bench for 1/2 hr you will start to notice, see, and hear tons of stuff but in return you sacrificed 1/2 hr.

    Beauty is there, but life is here. Question is that how much time we can get from life for beauty. Hope you get my point. Try to think of the post scenario totally opposite.

    Man I didn’t want to write more but here it goes. Human created art is a temporary beauty which fades off by time which indeed is effected by the evolution of tastes, needs and desire. When you pass by the mountains, do you need to sit down there and get inspired? or you get mesmerized by its beauty on the go? well answer is that nature can make you crazy on the go. It doesn’t not need ppl to sit and peep. It never attracts ppl rather on the contrary its ppl who are attracted to it.

    If beauty need to scream for its existence then that isn’t beauty at all.

  5. @anum
    thanks 🙂

    @PoPaT :
    lol 😀 .. teray comments itnay lambay hain k meri post us k muqablay main choti par gai hai 😀 .. thanks dude !

    srsly ..when i used to listen .. i have heard better 😛

    and yes I oppose music .. and I have my own philosophy for it with its root embedded in religion … i like nice poetry/lyrics .. correction .. I “love” nice poetry/lyrics … but i dont care or am not fond of music as such .
    chillll 🙂

  6. You have a valid point. But this whole experiment makes it sound like we are selfish people who dont care about anything around us that doesnt concern us. Granted that there are certain people like that. But most of us are so wrapped up in so many worries and so many troubles of our own that we cannot stop and appreciate music, even if we want to.
    Its sad but its not entirely the fault of people passing by that great musician.

  7. @Raaji
    its not anyone’s fault neither its saying that :). I think its trying to convey the point that
    1. we don’t pay attention to aur appreciate the nice & beautiful things around us unless it is advertised or announced as such and brought to our attention.

    2ndly it reminds us of the harsh reality that life has become such a rush that we don’t find time or energy for the softer aspect of life 😦

  8. More I read it more I realize that this experiment was pointless. I don’t know why you are making such a fuzz.

    There is no need to apologize or feel guilty and it has nothing to do with us and our lives and our appreciation dude. Lemme explain again and hope you understand what I am trying to say.

    I asked same question to my Aunt who lives in Chicago and she replied:


    When we are rushing to work we don’t stop to listen to some one playing because we have work to do.

    We have no training in music. I don’t know how you learned to appreciate Mozart.

    We do go specially to listen to a famous singer because we want to entertain ourselves, not neccessarily to analyse the notes he is playing because as a matter of fact we don’t have much technical knowledge of music.

    Thats absolutely true. We don’t have knowledge in that particular field to appreciate that. Like I don’t like picasso because I don’t have any knowledge in painting. Same way I don’t have knowledge in music to appreciate someone’s work. Let me put it in, in your field.

    Ali Adnan, the great game developer who is the lead programmer of a blockbuster game. Game called “War Again”. He put is soul in the development process, it was hard, it was difficult, it was fun. All he ever bother was optimization, graphics and all lord nature (physics). All was coming good and Ali was never happy before in his life. He couldn’t resist appreciating his own work but when time come, He was betrayed by his own kind. Game story was Scheiße and voice actors were bad.. Oh deary me, mutiny. It was a devastating act that destroyed Ali’s inner peace. What have they done, all is hardwork and diligence over shadowed by some incompetent fellows. And all it remained was the death of that Game and they never lived happily after again. 😀

    Moral is that whether that game was hit or flop, nobody would never appreciate you hardwork because a normal consumer has no knowledge about hardware optimization, threading and message box. All he care is if that thing entertains him.

    How many times you appreciated someones hardwork when that hardwork is overlooked by some corporate crap? All the time. We always talk how crap that software is, how useless that software is and ever consider the fact that it was made by one man not microsoft but do we care? no, all we care is if that software any use to us, no, bye bye then. We do such stuff despite the fact we are software engineer ourself so what can we expect from other..

    Cheers bro
    Thanks for appreciating 😀

  9. This is another important issue that could be raised…. either we have become so much busy in materialistic life that we have stopped thinking about life’s beauty and ourselves, whay do we like and what is the thing to nourish our soul…..or we have become senseless to apprecite any. our dull life has made us unaware of our own fundamental rights…..

  10. @CU:
    I don’t know about others but for me its the 1st case .. life has become busy .. .but I am definitely not senseless (not yet atleast 😛 ) … and I still try to squeeze some time out for it as much as I can 🙂

    thanks for visiting 🙂

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