Monday, May 21, 2012

In the eyes of the board-holder

Sometimes I hear skaters arguing about which pro-skater is the best. One skater awards the accolade to Rodney Mullen, another, to Paul Rodruigez, another, to Mike Vallely, and still others vouch for Eric Koston or Chris Cole. Who is correct?    
There is a Talmudic debate concerning how to praise a bride. The school of Shamai maintain she should be praised for the qualities she actually possesses. The school of Hillel hold that all brides should be praised with the standard formula, “beautiful and graceful.” Shamai object, "What if the bride is lame or disfigured? Isn't it written, 'Distance yourself from falsehood?'" Hillel reply that since the bride is beautiful to her groom they speak the truth.

The opinions in this debate underline that beauty is both an objective quality and a subjective experience. There are distinct criteria for beauty - proportion, symmetry, wholeness, contrast, harmony, etc - but, even an entity that fails to meet them may still appear beautiful to a person.

It is noteworthy that in legal debates, Shamai typically state a stricter opinion, while Hillel present a more lenient one. Kabbalah explains that Shamai relates to the Sefirah (divine attribute) of Gevurah— strictness and rigidity, and Hillel, with Chessed— kindness and malleability. This pattern is present in their debate about beauty as well. Shamai sees the quality of beauty as rigid, consisting of clearly defined criteria.  Hillel, in contrast, present a more flexible view: 'Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.'

Accordingly, if the above skaters' skills were to be judged based on clearly defined criteria -such as trick repertoire, creativity level, ease of execution, difficulty level of tricks performed, stability, consistency, etc - then it would be possible to determine which skater is objectively better in those areas. However, when people merely like one skater's style over an other's or feel that a particular skater resonates with them, their is no real argument taking place. Every person is merely expressing their own subjective sense.

In this regard, the great philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, stated that while people can argue about the temperature in a room - something verifiable through a thermometer or an other instrument- it is absurd for people to argue about whether a person feels himself to be warm. After all, how one feels is entirely subjective.

It is noteworthy that according to Kabbalah, the Sefirah of Tiferet (Beauty) is the product of the harmony of Chessed and Gevurah - which we have associated with subjective and objective perspectives of beauty - for ultimately, beauty is a balance between objective fact and subjective preference...  

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