Brain Pickings

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30 NOVEMBER, 2010

One Hello World: Tuning the Human Condition

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Zen in the ocean of humanity, or why connectedness is the panacea of pain.

Ever wondered how the soundtrack to your thoughts would sound like? Call (316) 247-0421, leave a voice-mail, and you might find out. One Hello World is a touching project by a mysterious pianist from Wichita, Kansas, who one day decided to compose music over the anonymous voicemails of strangers. Inspired by his love of film scores and relentless curiosity about the human condition, the project is turning into an audio catalogue of personal experiences, thoughts and feelings, sometimes shared playfully, others with heartbreaking honesty. It’s part PostSecret, part The Apology Line, part We Feel Fine, part something else altogether.

He’s my friend and that’s okay. I guess this is just kind of my way of telling him I think he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.”

The short tracks have the quality of Zen koans one could meditate on. Despite their different tone and theme, they all seem to encapsulate the core of the human condition — the need to experience, feel, understand, communicate, and share the world we live in. Most of the entries become micro-metaphors for the project itself, bespeaking the same hunger for connectedness.

I’ve always thought of life as a kind of canvas, and people as different colored paints; each decorates your canvas in a different way.

You are still my favorite color.

I learned one thing… no matter how bad it is, you always have to tell someone how you feel.

When we get older we stop communicating with those around us and we isolate ourselves. We could do so much if we all looked around one day and smiled, or said ‘Hello.’

One Hello World is the shore upon which all those “voice-messages in a bottle” wash up, tossed into the ocean of information in hopes of reaching their destination — be that a person, an answer, or a certain quality of self.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings — the blog, the newsletter and the Twitter feed — over which we could’ve seen 53 feature-length films, listened to 135 music albums or taken 1,872 trips to the bathroom. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right.





Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

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12 NOVEMBER, 2010

Jane McGonigal on Gaming for Productivity

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We recently featured The School of Life — the brainchild of an eclectic group of London artists, writers and philosophers, who attempt to address the needs of the modern self in the familiar college class format. Every Sunday, the School invites prominent cultural figures to “preach” about contemporary values and vices, in an attempt to bring back the Sunday Sermon within a modern secular context.

The School’s latest speaker was acclaimed game designer Jane McGonigal, who delivered one of our favorite TED talks this year — a provocative perspective on gaming and how it could change the world. In her sermon, On Productivity, Jane McGonigal uses her personal experience with games to challenge our definition of productivity. She urges us to examine the real value in our “productive” activities and whether they produce something that truly matters in the great scheme of humanity. She also shares the findings of a brand new, still unpublished, psychological study on happiness shedding light on the things we need in order to flourish.

We have this warped, moralistic view of productivity thanks largely to the faithful intertwining of these two things: the protestant work ethic, which is the idea that God wants us to be busy all the time, lest we have enough spare time to find ourselves sinning, intertwining it with the rise of modern capitalism where every person’s duty is to spend the precious days and hours of their lives, contributing to the gross domestic product, instead of enjoying them.” ~ Jane McGonigal

The talk is engaging, fun yet thought-provoking and well worth the full 45 minutes — think of it as a productive investment in your personal productivity.

McGonigal’s highly promising new book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, comes out in January and is already available for pre-order on Amazon.

Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

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25 OCTOBER, 2010

The School of Life

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The classes you actually wanted to take in college, or how to master coolness while munching on a caramel bar.

We’re always thrilled to discover creative ways of organizing information in a novel educational experience and never omit to rave about it. Today, we’re particularly excited to uncover an educational social enterprise that aims to address the fundamental needs of the modern self.

In London’s Bloomsberry, between hairdressing saloons and restaurants — the location is an accidental metaphor for where true wisdom is found — sprouts a small, old-fashioned shop with a sign that humbly reads “The School Of Life.” Founded in September 2008 by an eclectic group of London writers, artists and friends, amongst whom the philosopher Alain de Botton, it offers night classes on a variety of topics with the unifying goal to satisfy its students’ hunger for a more meaningful life. For £30.00 and three hours of your evening, you could contemplate whether being single really is the end of the world in How Necessary Is A Relationship, find out what the mysterious virtues of coolness are in How To Be Cool, or learn to reduce the superficial chit chat of your life in How To Have Better Conversations.

The classes are centered around traditional lectures using various tools and resources, from movies to books and art to active discussions to humor. The school also offers additional weekend activities, daily curated bookshelves (selections vary from How To Enjoy Your Own Company to For Those Feeling the Credit Crunch), conversational menus (prompting you to ponder why you haven’t achieved your goals), and Sunday secular sermons, from Alain de Botton on pessimism to Barbara Ehrenreich on optimism to Ruby Wax’s brilliant, hilarious and insightful On Loving Your Ego. Oh, and Milk-Chocolate Coated Caramel bars, of course.

Most importantly, unlike the competitive and often cold atmosphere of traditional university education, The School Of Life offers the comforting environment of a community of people gathered not to memorize facts, evaluate each other or impose dogmas, but to help understand, explore and improve each other’s lives. Because, as Alain de Botton puts it:

The point of learning is not snobbery, not sounding clever, not passing an exam — it’s to help you live.”

Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.

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 what to expect. Like? Sign up.