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What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about persuasion – Conor Neill

What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about persuasion – Conor Neill


Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar 9th of January, 2007 Joshua Bell, one of the greatest violinist in the world, played to a packed audience at Boston’s stately Symphony Hall of 1,000 people where most seats went for more than $100. He was used to full, sell-out shows. He was at the peak of his abilities and fame. Three days later, Joshua Bell played to an audience of nobody! Well, maybe six people paused for a moment, and one child stopped for a while looking, as if he understood that something special was happening. Joshua said of the experience, “It was a strange feeling that people were actually ignoring me.” Joshua Bell was playing violin in a subway station. “At a music hall, I’ll get upset if someone coughs or if someone’s cell phone goes off, but here my expectations quickly diminished. I was oddly grateful when somebody threw in a dollar.” What changed? Same music, on the same violin, played with the same passion and by the same man. Why did people listen and then not listen? Aristotle would be able to explain. What does it take to persuade people? 2,300 years ago, Aristotle wrote the single most important work on persuasion,Rhetoric, the 3 means of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is that the idea makes sense from the audience’s point of view. This is usually different from the speaker’s point of view, so work needs to be done to make the idea relevant to the world view, the pains and the challenges of the listeners. A good argument is like good music. Good music follows some rules of composition; good arguments follow some rules of logic. It makes sense to the audience. Ethos is reputation, what are you known for; credibility, do you look and act professional; trustworthy, are your motives clear, do you show the listener that you care about them as much as yourself? Authority is confidence plus a concise message, a clear, strong voice. Pathos is the emotional connection. Stories are an effective human tool for creating an emotional connection. There are moments where an audience is not ready to hear the message. A speaker must create the right emotional environment for their message. What changed? Why did people travel for miles to hear him play one night, and not even pause for moment to listen the next morning? The answer is that ethos and pathos were missing. Ethos The fact that the great concert hall hosts Joshua’s concert transfers its trust to Joshua. We trust the institution, we now trust Joshua. The subway does not have our trust for musical talent, we do not expect to find great art, great music, or great ideas, so it confers no trust to Joshua. Pathos The concert hall is designed for an emotional bond between an audience and an artist, a subway platform is not. The hustle and movement and stress is just not conducive to the emotional connection needed between performer and listener. Logos, ethos, pathos, the idea is nothing without the rest. This is what Joshua Bell learned on that cold, January day in 2007. If you have a great idea, how do you build credibility and emotional connection?

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100 thoughts on “What Aristotle and Joshua Bell can teach us about persuasion – Conor Neill

  1. That doesn't change the fact of your senses and cultural criteria being "shut down" during a certain period of time. Actually… most of the day!

  2. You have to understand though that this fact is being exploited by politics, advertising, show business etc to keep you open in the things thy wish, and closed to all the alternatives.

  3. That's exactly what i'm saying! We haven't worked. We are un-evolved! If there is an objective value in everything: art, sports, science, even foods& drinks, we should be able to appreciate it no matter what!

  4. Ummm.. No.
    If you are not hungry – you can't appreciate foods. If you are in pain – you don't care about beauty of the flowers. Art doesn't have objective value, because it's targeted to your brain and eotions it spawns. Without complex brain there is no art appreciaton and thus – no art.

  5. There is a difference, but is i objective? I highly doubt it. All the difference is subjective. But then you can try to bing art down to mterial level and calculate amount of notes per socond, tones variations, harmonic scales complexity, basically math. Or amount of obertones and subtones in singer's voise, again math. But isn't it what all artists are against?
    Appreciation of art is just your mind process. With loths of references to your previous experience.

  6. The Statue of Liberty symbolising trustworthiness? An odd choice, seeing how US commities and politicians delayed funding for their part of the contract, the base, until Pulitzer himself stepped in to raise funds from the citizens, among them children, poor and sick people.
    It's a symbol of hope and of course liberty, but worthy of the trust people have put in it it has rarely been.

  7. Exactly! Appreciation of art depends on the mind that does the process. One trained, cultivated mind can appreciate more and better than the raw, uncultivated mind. For the latter, Mozart can be even annoying noise! But how could Mozart ever be that?

  8. Mozart could not, because although his creations are complex, they doesn't disturb ear or require spial skills – everything mostly lies within simple harmonies… as well as Bieber's music. But Beiber is more rhythmic, so looks like for uncultivated mind he is winning.
    Actually this hypothesis is tested and confirmed by thouthands of young people nowadays 🙂
    There is no objectivity in art.

  9. I absolutely agree with that. I'm glad I'm not alone in your assessment, nice to talk to another free-thinker. Human behavior is interesting.. I hope our culture won't relish in permanent complacency and continue taking the opiates of advertisers. I feel like more and more I'm watching human drones in everything from politics to music. I hope innovative America won't completely die anytime soon.

  10. Hmm, it seems as though Aristotle didn't take into account the creation of the internet, does it not? A great artist rises to grandeur. The greatest artist raises to grandeur and then back down again.

  11. Complex doesn't mean superior, or better. The best of art is based on simple patterns. The way this patterns are processed and the novelty in modes of expression is what makes a certain piece stand out.
    I believe most people will agree with you though, about art being subjective. But i cannot under any circumstance put Mozart, Miles Davies or Pink Floyd in the same place with Bieber, Britney Spears or even Rhianna. For i believe there is one last objective judge when it comes to art:TIME!

  12. If something survives the passage of time then it is worth it! Much like the way natural selection clears out the weak genes from the strong ones.

  13. Well also if you're in a subway you're trying to get to somewhere…You dont have the the freedom to stay a while. They should redo this in a public plaza or park.

  14. You're very right in that statement. For instance do most people REALLY remember anything from 2000? I bet that if you asked any 12-16 year old now that if they where to pick a song that is over 5 years old that they still enjoy today, they couldn't do it! I personally think that 40, 30, 20, even 10 years ago was the end of a person with real talent being able to make quality music and it being loved. Now any person who can use auto-tune or get a producer to change their voice can become famous.

  15. i was watching "Louis" by Louis C.K. and there was a scene of a violinist playing in the subway. anyone know what im talking about and can confirm if thats a coincidence or not?

  16. Point of view after reading, Spin Selling.
    I see Joshua OFFERING a CONCERT in the hall, and DEMANDING ATTENTION in the subway.
    My reptilian brain says, yes to an offer, and no to a demand.

  17. Your communication class in 2011 in IESE: I began with the story of Joshua Bell to tell that many people don't listen to others because they think that they are not worthy to be listened to. Main idea of speech: compel the audience to really "listen to people". Speaker's PoV: It's a fact that logos, ethos and pathos are important for gaining the attention of audience. Listener's PoV: you can lose many interesting insights if you don't listen to people (prejudice: plays in underground -> bad). 🙂

  18. are you repeating what you've been told? or is this something you have discovered your self [by reading aristotle]. Although I like Mr. Green, he seems to have both a dislike of Aristotle and an ignorance of his more relevant work. Relevance being relative of-course, it is understandable why Aristotle is not useful in most contexts. However as this TED illustrates, Aristotle has some good ideas after all.

  19. Ah, but you assume that if his statement about being irrational is irrational itself means that the opposite must be true. Why must it be one or the other? Can an irrational person sometimes say something that happens to be rational? I think so. To be named irrational, do you need to be irrational 20% of the time, 30, 50, 75, 99, or 100% of the time? Or just 1% of the time? Conversely, to be a rational person, at what percentage rate must you be to earn the title? Words: express but ensnare.

  20. This is youtube. All you'll get here for innovative thinking is counter comments and dislikes (probably also a spam flag!).

  21. For your first question, it does not matter if he was ir/rational because in either instances he would be contradicting or refuting his own conclusion. For your last question, I think the act of being labelled an irrational person is based on the context of the observer, not necessarily based on an arbitrary limit. One person may think another is irrational base on perception bias 😀

  22. Onfortunately I recognise what you say Saurav and for some reason no matter the content of the video posted this seems a closed formula applicable to the whole frustrated root of the tubeculture…

    For those who are compelled to start one of the many infinite youtubian "discussions" in relation to this video, be it about fundamentals of rhetorics or the very reason of humankind; please watch your language a bit as this video is also intended for youngsters and kids. Thanks!

  23. There must be those who are prone to avoid rhetoric. Such as the ones who seek out and enjoy art and music despite it's context, who do not judge a book by it's cover, and who will not be swayed by status, but by the content that emits from the individual. I suppose it may also be necessary, when seeking such as a doctor or lawyer.

  24. Although this is a great introduction to rhetoric, I would say it has more to do with kairos: saying (or in this case playing) the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. An argument is useless if it doesn't come at the right persuadable moment.
    In this case, meeting the audience's expectations in the concert hall versus imposing them on an unsuspecting one in the subway. 🙂

  25. One of the things I miss the most about living in a city with a subway….is the music. Amazing musicians to be heard in subways and on street corners. One needs to only stop….and listen.

  26. I remember reading this in the newspaper… it's an amazing story and can't really be held in as little as 5 minutes
    search "AR2007040401721" in a search engine and it should be the first link: "Pearls Before Breakfast – washingtonpost"
    if you want to read the whole story that is

  27. fantastic. It shows how great the Greece philosopher was. After 2,300 year he can still give us answers. Also it shows that something that seems to be caused by the "modern" style of life is indeed deep inside our human being perceptions.

  28. Im sure it would have been different if a talented rapper and a DJ were playing a set in a subway. Rappers look like they belong in subways. I TRUST that lol

  29. this is a wonderful thing.. as are all the ted eds..
    but this wonderful thing has one big flaw, that has less to do with ethos pathos and logos, and more that the people in the auditorium were self selected for interest in Mr Bell and his work.

    Equally, the denisons of the metro station are selection biased to be in a hurry, focused on other things,  and generally no disposed to stop and listen

    This does not negate the above information, still very valid, but less relevant to this case.
    Selection bias is very important when trying to draw conclusions from individual events.
    Would you try to sell tofu hotdogs to a nascar crowd?
    It would be interesting ( and improbable!) to funnel the population of ta random metro station into and thru the auditorium.  Or conversely have Mr Bell Busking at the nearest metro station just as his concert goers would pass thru on their way elsewhere.
     I too have selection bias, in this case a predilection for using the tools of my own science to observe and illuminate humans, and thus see this through that lens.

  30. Trouble with this experiment is that perhaps only 1% of those travelling on the subway would listen to classical music or go to the Symphony Hall for a concert. Deciding to go to a concert means that you put time aside for that activity, whereas travelling on the subway usually means you're in a hurry.

  31. It really helps me to understand why some contemporary artists can be appreciated and the others can not even if they make equally aesthetically beautiful works. The others need to work on the pathos and ethos aspects. Art is a form of self expression but for it to be appreciated the artists sometimes needs to restrain their ego and think about how people can enjoy their works. It needs good packaging.

  32. Thank you so much! I have a test about Aristotle's 3 models of persuasion tomorrow, and you help me a lot!

  33. it's about how you sell it to the spectators,who ever loves  doing magic tricks knows it. knowing the trick ain't enough,you need to sell it. almost every magic trick any famous magician does is known,it's about how he presents in a unique way and builds a relation with the spectator which average people can't.

  34. Misconceptions and misunderstanding of the actual story!
    Joshua Bell did it as an experiment, and he did not literally play on a subway platform. He played at the entrance to the subway station. He was later welcomed back for a free concerts that hundreds attended…
    It's just sad how some of these makers do not do the research before making such videos…

  35. This is a great video, but based on a bad example. This story is famous, but the reason people don't stop on the subway for the great musician is the same reason they don't stop for almost anything, no longer than a few minutes, at least. They are there to move from point A to point B, and that's all.

  36. The only people who are in the audience are people who want to be there. The people in the subway have their schedules all planned out and are focused on what they are doing, and have no reason to listen. If a professor were to randomly give a lecture to no particular audience in public, then unless it was a highly interesting topic, very few people would listen. If the professor were to randomly give a lecture in a busy crowded area, it is even more unlikely. Imagine a professor giving a lecture on a calculus equation. Only people interested in calculus, and are not busy, will listen. In this case: only people who enjoy this instrument all by its self, and are not busy, will listen. The music would also be less quality because of the subway trains and the loudness of the crowd of people.

  37. I don't even care about the content right now, I'm just wooed by the narrator's soothing voice. Does he do book readings, I wonder?

  38. Thankful for this helpful and informative video! I've never imagined there are specific elements needed to make persuasion work! From now on, I'll make sure that those three options to be fulfilled in any situation 🙂

  39. I have the same experience that Josuah faced in the metro station. I was frustrated and couldn't figure out what was the problem and I just blamed other people. But after watching this video, I realize that there're some essential elements for the successful persuasion. Pathos, Logos, and Ethos. they sound a bit hard but it's well explained in this video! I highly recommend watching this video who has a hard time delivering persuasive massage!

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