Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Our perception of time

I've noticed a new fad on youtube recently. A number of people have taken photographs of themselves or other people in the same position every day over a number of years and posted them as time-lapse movies. It does give a very different perception of the passage of time:

Does our perception depend on our expectations?

I copied this article from the website jeffbridges.com. Its a good example of how we seem to be pre-programmed in terms of how we respond to certain things based on our expectations (and prejudices?).

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

4 minutes later:
The violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

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

10 minutes:
A three-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 all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly..

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

1 hour:
He finished playing and silence took over. A few people had stopped to listen and one woman thanked him and may in fact have recognised him. The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before this, he sold out a theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100.
This is a true 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 people's priorities.

The questions raised:
*In a common place/environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?
*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?

Friday, May 20, 2011

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins is a former Oxford professor of the public understanding of science and author of the 2006 best-selling book 'The God Delusion'. In it he contends that a belief in the existence of God is contrary to all evidence and is therefore a fallacy, and argues that religion is the root of many evils. He has been described as a 'fundamentalist atheist'.

The book has divided opinion. In Turkey for example Dawkins' website was banned. A number of books have been published in defense of religion, rebutting his arguments. If you trawl through the internet its also obvious that he has developed a cult following, but has also to some extent become demonised. Over the last few years he has started to travel, debatating the issues on global television. He has appeared on televised debates in Mexico and the US, and even dropped in to the Bill O'Reilly Show on Fox News.

In 2007 he produced a two part documentary series on British television (Channel 4). I've copied youtube links for the first episode below if you are interested in seeing it. Remember that it's his personal opinion. It's interesting to analyse his language when he talks respectively about science and religion, and he does tend to come across as occasionally arrogant and condescending, depending on your point of view: