Beauty in the eye of the beholder?

HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play. (washingtonpost.com)

And hardly anyone took notice.

IF A GREAT MUSICIAN PLAYS GREAT MUSIC BUT NO ONE HEARS . . . WAS HE REALLY ANY GOOD?

It’s an old epistemological debate, older, actually, than the koan about the tree in the forest. Plato weighed in on it, and philosophers for two millennia afterward: What is beauty? Is it a measurable fact (Gottfried Leibniz), or merely an opinion (David Hume), or is it a little of each, colored by the immediate state of mind of the observer (Immanuel Kant)?

Now, how about performance evaluations in organizations?

Socrates’ class evaluation

Professor Socrates is sooooo smart, I want to be just like him when I graduate (except not so short). I was amazed at how he could take just about any argument and prove it wrong.I would advise him, though, that he doesn’t know everything, and one time he even said in class that the wise man is someone who knows that he knows little (Prof. Socrates, how about that sexist language!?). I don’t think he even realizes at times that he contradicts himself. But I see that he is just eager to share his vast knowledge with us, so I really think it is more a sin of enthusiasm than anything else.

I liked most of the meetings, except when Thrasymachus came. He was completely arrogant, and I really resented his male rage and his point of view. I guess I kind of liked him, though, because he stood up to Prof. Socrates, but I think he is against peace and justice and has no place in the modern university.

Also, the course could use more women (hint: Prof. Socrates, maybe next time you could have your wife Xanthippe come in and we can ask questions about your home life! Does she resent the fact that you spend so much time with your students?). All in all, though, I highly recommend both the course and the instructor.

Socrates is a real drag, I don’t know how in hell he ever got tenure. He makes students feel bad by criticizing them all the time. He pretends like he’s teaching them, but he’s really ramming his ideas down student’s throtes. He’s always taking over the conversation and hardly lets anyone get a word in.

He’s sooo arrogant. One time in class this guy comes in with some real good perspectives and Socrates just kept shooting him down. Anything the guy said Socrates just thought he was better than him.

He always keeps talking about these figures in a cave, like they really have anything to do with the real world. Give me a break! I spend serious money for my education and I need something I can use in the real world, not some b.s. about shadows and imaginary trolls who live in caves.

He also talks a lot about things we haven’t read for class and expects us to read all the readings on the syllabus even if we don’t discuss them in class and that really bugs me. Students’ only have so much time and I didn’t pay him to torture me with all that extra crap.

There is more at The Chronicle.

Complexity and evaluating performance

… and why we hate it. The sentence is wayyyyyyyyyyy too long, but he makes a good point.

[It] is an occupational hazard for most adults — the political, social, educational, technological, communication and economic systems in which we are forced to work, and which use simplistic, bizarre and absurd mechanisms to assess our ‘performance’ within them, cannot accommodate or even appreciate complexity, which must by necessity be (over-) simplified, both to render most of what we are forced to do in the workforce un-ridiculous and bearable, and to enable us to persuade a dumbed-down public that it is actually valuable and helpful and hence deserves to be ‘paid’ for.