Today a friend showed me a video where an IKEA print was put into a Dutch art gallery. Patrons were asked about the piece in a hilarious and bumbling volley of art-speak. One guy said he'd pay no more than $2.5M for it.
My friend asked me if I'd heard about the study where they put cheap wine in expensive bottles, and wine critics rated it very highly. It's hard for me to understand that, as I've had two (rather repulsive) sips of wine in my entire life. If you could convince me to try wine, there's no way I'd be able to tell.
On the other hand, I'm pretty into tea and feel like I could easily tell a bad tea masquerading as a good one. I've loved cheap teas and disliked expensive ones, so I don't think all that affects me that much.
Later in the afternoon, another friend and I went to see Joshua Bell. If you don't know, he's probably the greatest living violinist. He plays one of the most famous of the Stradivarius violins.
The first two acts, which didn't include Joshua Bell, were lackluster. The first I thought was downright bad, and the second was average. But from the moment Joshua got on stage, we were mesmerized. He really is incredible at what he does. I can't fathom how he makes such beautiful music from a violin.
As he plays, he moves all over the place with the music. He bobs and weaves, and floats up onto his tip-toes. It looks like he's on the verge of tears, from joy or sadness, depending on where in the piece he was.
My friend I went with was crying. I've never seen her cry before. His hour of playing went by in a blink, keeping all of my attention the entire time. I go to the symphony with some frequency, and his performance easily bests any others in my memory.
Maybe because of the earlier conversation, I wondered how much was the bottle and how much was the wine, so to speak. Am I affected by his fame? His fifteen-million-dollar violin? If a kid at a recital could make the same sounds as him, would I be equally as moved?
Evidence says probably not. Joshua bell played anonymously in a DC Metro station eight years ago, and made about $32 in an hour. A thousand people came through, and almost none stopped.
What can we learn from this?
For one, I think it doesn't really matter. I saw an amazing performance today that inspired me and left me with a wonderful memory. Whether it's the wine or the bottle that did it is pretty much irrelevant, right?
Second, it made me think that I should work on my own presentation of things. I focus on the wine exclusively, but maybe there's some value in the bottle as well. After all, if I don't care which one is driving my experiences, do other people?
Photo is the symphony hall in Prague
I think another consideration with the "subway experiment" had to do with flexibility and readiness of people to adapt to unanticipated opportunities. No one enters the subway expecting to hear a virtuoso violin performance. Most folks are so hurried and focused on their preplanned objectives that they are unable to make the necessary mental adjustments to fully appreciate uncommon majesty in an everyday situation.
hey bro. "Mindless eating" is a must read book if you want more examples of how irrational we humans are. The book is about food but it really applies to all decision making. Presentation is more importany than any technical or data backed argument.
It think great role is played by our expectations. When we expect extraordinary wine because the bottle suggest that and it tastes terrible we assume that we are wrong and try to find some liking in the wine which cannot be that bad. And if we see that others like it too we are persuaded that this special 'terrible' taste is some new mode. I know many people who didn't like olives, caviar, wine, asparagus, coffee and many other things the first time they ate it. As my friend says, it takes 7 tries before you start to like something new.
Would this be an argument in favor of religion? "Whether or not it's true, if I feel better because I believe, then it's okay to believe." (Honest question, not trolling.)
Is this also the same lesson that pickup teaches? Attraction is all about presentation.
There's a book called "Subliminal - How your unconscious mind rules your behavior" by Leonard Mlodinow that talks about a lot of these kinds of situations (including the wine experiment). In particular, I thought it was interesting how in cases where we don't know what is causing our increased "liking", we will make it up.
For example, people were given 3 pairs of panty hose and asked to choose the ones they liked best. Then asked why they like those the best. The panty hose were all the same, except for a very slight scent added to each of them. No one described the scent (if I remember right), but everyone had a reason for why they picked their favorite (like smoother, softer, darker, etc).
Another interesting example (I think from the same book) was 3 boxes of detergent with different labels/colors. People were asked to rate the best detergent on multiple categories, including effectiveness...aka how well it cleaned. In reality, it was the same detergent in all 3 boxes, only the labels were different. But people still rated the label they liked better as performing better on cleaning.
So if we don't know why we like something we might be contributing the "liking" to the wrong factor. Which means that later when we try to replicate the experience (like listening to the same violin player on an mp3), we might have discarded the piece of the experience that was actually driving our "liking".
A friend of mine is an art dealer and a musician, by his own admission he has more success at the prior. His music teacher told him, in his younger days, that his playing of the violin would never be 'great' because there was no heart in his playing. He since had an opportunity to play a Stradivarius, and took the chance to test his teachers' hypothesis. Turns out teacher was right. It was all about what's inside, not how it's delivered.
"Whether it's the wine or the bottle that did it is pretty much irrelevant, right?"
While you may derive the same benefit, it doesn't mean they had the same cost to produce. Most likely, the marginal cost of a wine bottle is less than that of the expensive wine, so you could create the same benefit at a lower total cost by focusing more on the wine bottles (with cheap wine). So goes the saying, "the medium is the message".
This is an interesting thought and I applaud you for being able to address it. So often we want people to appreciate things about us in their raw sense, and feel offended that we'd have to dress it up to be noticed. I've seen this with everything from musical talent to physical beauty. We hate the game.
But if we don't play it, we don't get catch people's attention so that they will take the time out to notice, like in the subway.
I don't think his metro experiment was quite as cut and dry. Expectations play a huge role. If I expect someone in the metro to be "meh," I'm not going to pay enough attention to them to notice and appreciate the mastery. If I expect a wine or tea to be "meh," and I just gulp it down without pausing to savor it, I won't notice the subtleties.
I think caring about the presentation is an important lesson, but another lesson is to stop and sample in more depth a certain number of mundane things a day. We can't dedicate an hour to every flower or tree or piece of street art we pass, else we'd never get to the grocery store. But we can stop to examine ONE flower. ONE tree. ONE piece of street art a day.
Much of it might end up being mundane (or worse). But maybe occasionally.. you'll find a beauty masquerading as a beast.
Classical music concerts are one of my favorite places to think. It sounds weird, but classical music provides just enough stimulation to keep me from becoming distracted, but not enough stimulation to impact my thinking processes. I love being able to drift from absorbing and enjoying the music to going deep in thought without really even noticing.
My violin teacher (who's great, by the way, in case you're in SF and want to learn Violin) brought me to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music last week and told me that they had free concerts by the students all the time. Perfect. Despite really enjoying the music, I'm way too ignorant to be able to tell the difference between a good student and a professional symphony player, so these shows are really a great opportunity.
On Monday I went to Matthew Linaman's (http://www.youtube.com/user/cellolinaman) cello recital at the conservatory. Have you ever noticed that people often won't take front row seats if they haven't paid for a ticket? I've noticed this at a lot of talks and smaller concerts like this. Anyway, the point is that I got to sit in the very middle of the front, and this was a small enough hall that this seat was the best seat. Most of the front row seats remained empty.
Beyond his playing (which was fantastic, by the way), I kept thinking about his Cello, Cellos in general, and stringed instruments in general. Cellos last. They get better. The craftsmanship on a good Cello, probably even an okay cello, is remarkable. I have a violin that my sister gave me, and I find myself marveling at the curves of the wood, the perfect symmetry, and the invisible joints holding it all together. It's amazing, really.
My day is busy. Not your average “Oh, I've got so much to do before I can sit down and have a glass of wine at 8PM” busy. No no. Mine is more “Oh, I've got so much to do with the countries deficit before I can sit down for a meeting with the Ukrainian ambassador after I get my vice president to bitch slap the Senate around.” In being so busy, I don't really have a lot of time to personally relax. Sure, I could take a bunch of vacation days and retreat to Camp David but I doubt that's going to look good in the public eye. If I take one now, I might as well spend the rest of my presidency there because I won't be getting elected again.
But the one thing I've taken some solace in, is in talking to my personal Secret Service agent. He happens to be a friend of mine, from another life, and he's helped me do something that I hope all the other Presidents are able to enjoy. He's afforded me the luxury of freedom, despite being the leader of the most Free country on the planet. He's shown me a route, that can bypass all cameras and patrols, that will get me out of the White House without being detected. So, naturally, I might as well go to the one place that I feel most comfortable.
I've visited all of the homeless shelters in Washington, at least once. Some of them more than others, and they feel comfortable to me. No one really asks questions, no one talks unless it's mutually agreed. There's a quiet sense of anonymity, if you can get past the drunken ones who can't control themselves. Most of the times when I visit it's under the guise of some charity or donation, but I've been going a lot at night. Most are asleep then, with a few wandering the streets who were denied admission. They usually crash nearby, stuck in the cold and rain.
And I can see one now. Even from across the street, I can hear him grumbling. The wind ripping past me didn't drown out his sorrows at all. Maybe he needs someone to talk to, I've always had a good ear for peoples woes. Crossing the street isn't exactly difficult now, with few cars roaming the pavement. I closed the gap as quickly as possible, trying to limit the amount of time my face could be visible. A president wandering the streets at night doesn't need any extra attention.
The first thing that caught his eye was my shoes. I've always considered them an indicator of someone status, and I guess he did too. That or my shoes reflecting the streetlights managed to blind him. “How are you doing?” I said, pulling my coat up around my neck. “They wouldn't fuckin let me in.” He grumbled back, looking up at the window. He picked up a rock and threw it, missing by some considerable margin. He went back to staring at the ground.