Brain Pickings

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25 MAY, 2011

How Ralph Waldo Emerson Shaped the American Ideal

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Philosophy, entrepreneurship, and what classic spiritual movements have to do with modern geeks.

Today marks the birthday of poet, essayist, lecturer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, father of Transcendentalism — a belief system in which spirituality transcends the physical and the doctrines of organized religion, and is instead based on the individual’s intuition, advocating for “a poetry and philosophy of insight and not tradition.” His iconic 1837 speech, The American Scholar, is commonly considered the American “Intellectual Declaration of Independence” and, to put it in modern layman terms, is easily the original geek manifesto. His seminal essay, Self-Reliance, remains one of history’s most important works on individuality and anti-conformity.

Emerson: The Ideal in America is the first documentary about the life and work of the great thinker, whose belief in “the infinitude of the private man” is embedded in contemporary concepts ranging from spirituality to spirit of entrepreneurship to ideals of individualism and personal agency. The film is available both online in its entirety and on DVD, and is very much a must-see.

Here is the real secret to Emerson’s work: He stands still, he listens to his heart, and he writes as he listens.”

To commemorate Emerson’s birth today, Seth Godin’s Domino Project is releasing a fantastic new edition of Self-Reliance, featuring self-reflections from both historical and contemporary luminaries, as well as quotes from icons like Henry Ford, Helen Keller, Steve Pressfield, and Milton Glaser. In classic Domino Project fashion, it’s a multiplatform release including a hardcover, audio CD, mp3, Kindle ebook, Audible audiobook, limited deluxe edition (with cover design eerily similar to the Holstee Manifesto), and shareable multi-packs.

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24 MAY, 2011

My Visual Diary: A Month-in-the-Life in Stop-Motion

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What people-watching and the love of cereal have to do with fostering visual literacy.

Short and sweet, from Brooklyn-based designer and filmmaker Joe Hollier and in line with today’s medium/message theme, My Visual Diary — a lovely stop-motion film that captures a month in Joe’s life. The beautiful visual narrative is both intimately personal and sprinkled with simple yet profound human truth.

The film was made for an assignment in Richard Wilde’s Visual Literacy SVA class.

See more of Joe’s wonderful work on his site.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

24 MAY, 2011

The Interface is the Message: Aaron Koblin on Visual Storytelling at TED

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What 10,000 sheep have to do with Johnny Cash, Marshall McLuhan and the evolution of storytelling.

I was thrilled to see my friend Aaron Koblin, presently of Google Creative Labs, take the TED stage earlier this year. I’m an enormous data viz geek, I’m deeply interested in the evolution of storytelling, and have been a longtime supporter of Aaron’s work. This talk is an excellent primer to both the discipline itself and Aaron’s stellar projects within it, but also an insight-packed treasure chest even for those already immersed in the world of data visualization. Perhaps most interestingly, Aaron revises iconic media theorist Marshall McLuhan‘s revered catchphrase, “The medium is the message,” to a thought-proviking, culture-appropriate modernization: “The interface is the message.”

An interface can be a powerful narrative device, and as we collect more and more personally and socially relevant data, we have an opportunity and maybe even an obligation to maintain the humanity and tell some amazing stories as we explore and collaborate together.” ~ Aaron Koblin

Aaron mentions a number of projects previously featured on Brain Pickings: The Sheep Market, A Bicycle Built for 2,000 and The Johnny Cash Project, if you’d like to take a closer look.

For more on the kind of magic Aaron is making, you won’t go wrong with Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design — easily the most comprehensive compendium on data visualization candy around.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.