Brain Pickings

Author Archive

21 OCTOBER, 2011

The Divided Brain, Animated

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A hemispheric history of the making of the Western world, or why abstraction is necessary for empathy.

The metaphor of the “left-brain”/”right-brain” divide has permeated pop culture as one of the defining dichotomies of how we think about and describe ourselves. But this metaphor is rooted in a number of neuropsychological realities of how our brains operate — the right hemisphere (the “master”), with its flexibility and capacity for empathy and abstraction but lack of certainty, and the detail-oriented left (the “emissary”), with its preference for mechanisms over living things, its inability to see past the literal, and its propensity for self-interest.

In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, the product of 20 years of research, renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist delves into the world of difference between our two hemispheres and argues that the formal structures of modern society significantly — and dangerously — prioritize the left brain, resulting in a culture shackled by rigidity and bureaucracy, driven by self-interest, and ultimately incapacitated by its own imbalance.

This book tells a story about ourselves and our world, and about how we got to be where we are now. While much of it is about the structure of the human brain — the place where mind meets matter — ultimately it is an attempt to understand the structure of the world that the brain has in part created.” ~ Iain McGilchrist

In this lovely sketchnote animation by The RSA (whose previous animated gems you might recall), McGilchrist talks about the science and philosophy of his work, and makes a passionate case for reprioritizing the right hemisphere.

This organ, which is all about making connections, is profoundly divided… and it’s gotten more divided over the course of human evolution.”

Provocative and fascinating, The Master and His Emissary will give you pause — 600 pages worth of it — about the origin and making of today’s dominant worldviews, both ours as individuals as those of our collective cultural narrative.

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20 OCTOBER, 2011

A Collection a Day: An Obsessive Homage to Order

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Why we’re drawn to things organized neatly, or what sea urchins have to do with vintage erasers.

On January 1, 2010, artist and illustrator Lisa Congdon embarked on an unusual project — for 365 days, she was to photograph, draw, or, in the case of imaginary objects, paint one collection a day. She documented her process online and recently joined our own collection of blogs so great they became books.

A Collection a Day catalogs all 365 of Congdon’s quirky, obsessive, endlessly curious collections of tchotchkes — erasers, pencils, vintage stamps, mushrooms, receipts, medals, maps, sea urchins, and just about everything in between — in a beautiful volume that’s somehow calming and centering in its neatness, a rare oasis of order amidst the chaos of the everyday stuff that surrounds us.

Since I was a young girl, I have been obsessed both with collecting and with arranging, organizing and displaying my collections. This is my attempt to document my collections, both the real and the imagined.” ~ Lisa Congdon

For a peek inside Congdon’s creative process and what makes these collections so alluring with her wonderful recent talk from the San Francisco chapter of Creative Mornings — bonus points for the Ursus Wehrli, Andy Goldsworthy, and Edward Tufte references.

I think that ordinary objects become something different when they’re arranged with other like things… Seeing things with other like things helps us to see them in new ways.” ~ Lisa Congdon

Beautifully photographed and illustrated, A Collection a Day is a charming meditation on objects and stuff, part Obsessive Consumption, part Things, part its very own peculiar project with its own peculiar character.

Images courtesy of Lisa Congdon / UPPERCASE

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20 OCTOBER, 2011

Spike Jonze’s Handmade Stop-Motion Love Story for Bibliophiles

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How to punch a whale, or what Dracula has to do with Faulkner and Macbeth.

When beloved director Spike Jonze, he of Being John Malkovic and Where The Wild Things Are fame, met handbag designer Olympia Le-Tan, he fell in love with her intricate embroidery and asked for an embroidered cover of Catcher in the Rye to put on his wall. Le-Tan agreed, but asked for a film in return. The result was Mourir Auprès de Toi (To Die By Your Side) — an absolutely beautiful stop-motion animation for book-lovers that’s part This Is Where We Live, part Going West, part creative magic only Spike Jonze can bring.

Set inside iconic Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company, the film tells the story of the skeleton from the cover of Macbeth, voiced by Jonze himself, who falls in love with Mina Harker on the cover of Dracula. He sets out to meet her, but loses his head to a French version of The Big Clock on the way, trips and falls into Faulkner’s Sartoris, and is then swallowed by Moby-Dick. Harker, voiced by French singer Soko, springs to his rescue, punching the legendary whale in the face with a mischievous smirk. The happily-ever-after ending comes only after an appropriately dark and grim twist.

(We also seem to have a running theme of whales this month, first with the stunning Moby-Dick in Pictures, then the poetic animation about the afterlife of a whale, and now this embroidered stop-motion goodness.)

You just start with what the feeling is. For this one the feeling definitely started with the handmade aesthetic and charm of Olympia’s work. Instantly I had the idea of doing it in a bookstore after-hours, imagining the lights coming down and these guys off their books. Me and Olympia both wanted to make a love story, and it was fun to do it with these characters. It evolved naturally and it all just started with the feeling. From there you entertain yourself with ideas that excite you.” ~ Spike Jonze

Here’s Jonze on the inspired making of the film:

via Slate

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