The Rashomon effect is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it. A useful demonstration of this principle in scientific understanding can be found in an article by that name authored by Karl G. Heider.
It is named for Akira Kurosawa‘s film Rashomon, in which a crime witnessed by four individuals is described in four mutually contradictory ways. The film is based on two short stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, “Rashōmon” (for the setting) and “Yabu no naka”, otherwise known as “In a Grove” (for the story line).
This post written by the famed Colin Wright of the very excellent, informative, entertaining and well written exilelifestyle.com aka @colinismyname and is the second of three reports from three different people from the same day. Andi and Colin are both friends and both brilliant and excellent humans. I was fortunate to have visitors at the table who wanted to see what I do at the table in Union Square and wanted to participate as well.
According to Colin… this is what happened that day.
I was conscious that I would probably end up with tan-lines from my shirt. A farmer’s tan from time spent in New York. There’s poetry in that.
Writing a remembrance a year or more after the event you’re remembering is interesting, because certain details stand out really well, while others fade to the background, like patterns on a wall, lacking contrast and fading over time due to sun-exposure and dearth of attention.
For me, other than the prediction of shirt tans for everyone, I remember thinking that Stillman’s project was one of the better exercises of raw, heavy, solid information that I’d seen, as it wasn’t enough just to have book-knowledge, but also the creativity to know how to wield facts, and where to hit a problem with them. Not only that, but problems can be easy to solve, especially when they aren’t your own problems. Far more difficult to help others solve their own, by pointing out paths they didn’t notice, or giving them resources they didn’t have before speaking to you.
And this guy did such things all the time. He was constantly tuning his brain ballista, honing his smartsword, and crafting new creative cannonballs constantly. I wondered how taxing it had to be, not just on one’s schedule, but also on one’s life outside of the grey matter armory. Would it be difficult not to bring the war home at the end of the day? Hard to say.
Something that struck me was how people who were unfamiliar with Stillman’s concept approached it, if they chose to approach at all. You could tell when someone was curious, as they’d stand there, look at the signs, one saying ‘Creative approaches to what you have been thinking about,” and the other telling people to leave what they can or take what they need from the money jar.
In New York. Where everything is about money.
Somehow, his project hit different people in different ways. I could see some of the people who stopped to read the sign weighing their options in their brain, trying to decide if this was for real, if this stranger was to be trusted, if they would feel compelled to pay for something they didn’t need, that might be tantamount to a tarot card reading. Others came up and started talking immediately, not caring what he was doing, but looking for a way to participate. Others had clearly seen him sitting there before, as they didn’t even look at the sign before telling him their problems; looking for someone, anyone to give them some new ammunition to try on whatever bogeymen haunted their lives.
It wasn’t always bogeymen, though. Sometimes it was a past relationship. Sometimes it was the search for truth. One guy was trying to figure out the meaning of life, and was looking into Numerology and Egyptology and numerous other -ologies in his quest for answers. Stillman didn’t judge, didn’t try to convince him to join his own worldview (whatever that might be), but instead gave him some names of authors he should check out, and a rough framework to use in his quest. The guy seemed pleased with this; no one had called him crazy, or an idealistic dreamer, and he was able to walk away with info from someone who knew more than he did about the things he was researching, along with a method of exploring faster. Big win for the Numerology guy!
The looseness of the project fascinates me. When I start up a project, I usually have a hypothesis or two. I have a business model. Stillman seemed to do it for the joy of a challenge, and for the novelty of each encounter. I could see the value in this, but it would be difficult for me to come up with something similar.
I think it would be tough for most people, actually, because to most people, frameworks are only used long enough to get a general idea of where we’re going, and then we tear them down to make room for the final product. Stillman’s Union Square project, however, has no end. It has no point, beyond the activity itself. It’s requires no justification because it is latently justified by itself.
I had the opportunity to taste that feeling for a while, over a year ago, while sitting with Stillman and watching him work. That’s one thing that still does stand out clearly: the feeling of doing something good and interesting for its own sake.