if a person is great but no one sees the greatness…was he really great?

it's an old epistemological debate, you know the one about the tree in the forest. and lots of philosophical heavy weights have weighed in on this one. ole plato gave it initial air time in athens around 348 bc and for two millennia afterward scholars have asked the question, “what is beauty?” is it a measurable fact (leibniz), or merely an opinion (hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (kant)?

when I lived in chicago, the very trip to work itself was a feast for the senses…if you paid attention. the bus with its interesting mix of aromas, vendors giving away samples of vitamin water, orbitz gum, granola bars or whatever new item they were being paid to peddle, a flock of geese honking their way through the air, the lazy river snaking it’s way though the city, the architectural elements on buildings, the other 8 million wacky, freaky people walking by. i remember trying to be as aware of the energy as i could… but there were many days i failed. there were countless mornings i hurried to work, head down, ear phones on, eyes averted. on those days…what did i miss?  an oprah sighting, the slightly scary man who gave "free hugs", a near miss with a speeding taxi…life?

“In washington , dc , at a metro station, on a cold january morning in 2007, a 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. 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.

no one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the metro at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world joshua bell, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made. two days before, joshua bell sold-out a theater in boston where seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

this is a true story. his performance was arranged by the washington post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities -- as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste:
“in a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”

this story blew me away. one of the best musicians in the world playing on a $3.5 million dollar stradivari and no one really stopped.

kant argued that one's ability to appreciate beauty is related to one's ability to make moral judgments. but there was a caveat. kant felt that to properly appreciate beauty, the viewing conditions must be optimal. optimal, it can be argued, doesn't mean walking to work in the cold, focusing on getting your kid to daycare and annoyed that your pants are too tight.

so let's say kant is right. can we look at what happened on january 12 and make a judgment about their ability to appreciate life?

i say, hell yeah we can. we've made ourselves into busy people. we created a culture driven, to the exclusion of everything else, by hard work and the accumulation of wealth. and in most cases, we have lost our appreciation for beauty. not because we can’t understand it…because it has become irrelevant…and because we are silly self important humans. europeans think we are nutz, mocking our inability to even take 3 short minutes to sit and enjoy our grande, red eye, double vanilla, skim, latte….and while i too am sadly a latte-on-the-go drinker, i couldn’t agree more.

so my musings for today are these….
• can something exist without being perceived? 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?

“the poet billy collins once laughingly observed that all babies are born with a knowledge of poetry, because the lub-dub of the mother's heart is in iambic meter. then, collins said, life slowly starts to choke the poetry out of us. “

hold on to the poetry-
mrs m

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