Brain Pickings

Pedaling Progress: The Dutch Queen Juliana Riding a Bike, 1967

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The pursuit of national happiness on two wheels.

In researching last week’s piece on how the Dutch got their bike paths, I came across this fantastic archival photograph from The Netherlands’ Nationaal Archief, depicting the Dutch queen Juliana riding a bicycle during her 1967 visit to the island Terschelling.

Not only is she most certainly not cultivating bicycle face, she is in fact cultivating a national culture of cycling by bestowing upon it the highest degree of institutional approval — something that remains a pipe dream in America half a century later.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, if a computer is like a bicycle for the mind, a bicycle is like a computer for society — a force of empowerment, a canvas for creativity, a sandbox for design innovation, an agent of cultural change. If only our present-day political leaders would see it that way.

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Gorgeous Vintage Swiss Stamps from the 1940s-1970s

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As if you needed another reason to love mid-century Swiss design, here are some gorgeous stamps from the collection of obsessive digital philatelist Karen Horton.

More of the Swiss postage design tradition can be found in Swiss Stamps, La Collection Suisse.

Thanks, Sarah + Alexis

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The Science of “Something” and “Nothing”

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What the greatest mystery of science has to do with this moment we share, right now.

We’ve previously explored the complex scientific underpinning of concepts we’ve come to see as cultural givens, such as time, infinity, and consciousness. But perhaps our most fundamental solid ground, the kind of existential stake on which we peg our very understanding of the world and our place in it, are the concepts of “something” and “nothing,” and nothing is more mind-bending than the proposition that there is no such thing as “nothing.” That’s precisely what theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss explores in A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing — a riveting cosmological story that seeks to unravel the greatest mystery of science: where the energy in the universe comes from. Krauss uses groundbreaking scientific research to subvert some of humanity’s most basic and enduring philosophical questions, based on the premise that the nature of “something” and “nothing” is a scientific inquiry rather than theological or philosophical one.

Everything we see is just one percent of cosmic pollution in universe dominated by dark matter and dark energy. You could get rid of all the things in the night sky — the stars, the galaxies, the planets, everything — and the universe would be largely the same.”

This, of course, is not to say there isn’t room for philosophical reflection in these grand questions. Just take this one, brilliant in its exquisite simplicity, from my favorite illustrator and visual philosopher, Wendy MacNaughton (remember her?), titled The Universe and Forever:

HT Open Culture

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