Brain Pickings

Mapping the Human Condition

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What the empire of love has to do with the intellect forest and the bay of agoraphobia.

We love maps. There’s something about cartography that lends itself to visualizing much more than land and geography. We’ve previously looked at how the London tube map was appropriated as a visual metaphor for everything from The Milky Way to the Kabbalah, and today we turn to seven cartographic interpretations of the human condition, using the visual vocabulary of classical maps to interpret various facets of the human psyche — a genre that came of age during the late Renaissance, when it became known as “sentimental cartography.”

THE KINGDOM OF WISDOM

In 1961, Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, a timeless children’s classic and one of our essential children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups. It tells the story of a bored little boy named Milo who one day receives a magic tollbooth that transports him to a fantasy land called The Kingdom of Wisdom. Though at first he gets lost in the Doldrums, a grey place where thinking and laughing are not allowed, he goes on to incredible adventures before returning to his own room as magically as he had left it.

 

This map by mid-century American cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who illustrated the book, depicts the marvelous land that Milo finds himself in as he follows his own curiosity.

Thanks, @dethe

ISLE OF KNOWLEDGE

Last week, delicious new work by designer Marian Bantjes (whose latest book, I Wonder, is among the most ambitious and beautiful visual communication volumes ever published) made the rounds — and for good reason: Isle of Knowledge is a beautifully illustrated map of “the ‘known’ beyond which lie monsters,” created for the second installment in Bantjes’ column for UK illustration magazine Varoom on the theme of “Knowledge.”

The map is clearly — whether consciously or not — inspired by the Phantom Tollbooth map, which is perfectly fine: With the concept of combinatorial creativity in our DNA, we deeply believe that all creative work is derivative, everything is a remix, and good ideas come from other good ideas.

MAP OF AN ENGLISHMAN

English artist Grayson Perry‘s 2004 Map of an Englishman portrays his mind in a mock-Tudor etch of an imaginary island, surrounded by the “seas” of his perceived psychological flaws — desires, vanities, prejudices, fears. The island itself is vaguely brain-shaped, turning the map into a kind of cartographic phrenology of the self.

Map of an Englishman

Image courtesy of Grayson Perry and The Paragon Press via BBC

CARTE DE TENDRE

Carte de Tendre (Map of Tenderness) is a 17th-century French map by the writer Madeleine de Scudéry depicting the peaks and valleys of amorous pursuit, from the River of Inclination to Lake of Indifference to the Great Spirit. With its undetermined itinerary that offers you multiple routes to Tenderness, it’s part map, part choose-your-own-adventure narrative for love.

THE EMPIRE OF LOVE

We first featured this extraordinary antique German map of Das Reich der Liebe (The Empire of Love) more than three years ago, and it remains an absolute favorite. Created by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in 1777, it’s a pinnacle of sentimental cartography, as detailed and obsessive as love itself.

If you don’t sprechen Sie Deutch, here’s the gist:

  • GEBIET DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game, Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy’s Home, Beautiful House, Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
  • GEBIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
  • GEBIET DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger’s Home, Flood of Tears, Whim Mountain,  Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing, Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity,  Desert of Melancholy)
  • GEBIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
  • GEBIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
  •  GEBIET DER HAGESTOLZE = Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation, Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains, Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of Death, Sea of Doubt)
  • GEBIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions (Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope, Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)

Many of these maps can be found in these 7 must-read books on maps, particularly in the excellent You Are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination — a treasure trove of imaginary and imaginative cartographic explorations of self-conception.

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The Old Man and The Sea, Finger-Painted and Animated on Glass

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What Russian finger-painting has to do with iconic literature and the Oscars.

In 1953, Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, the iconic novella that catapulted him into international celebrity status. Nearly half a century later, Russian animator Aleksandr Petrov produced an exquisite animated adaptation of the book Composed of over 29,000 images that Petrov and his son Dimitri painted in a unique pastels-on-glass technique over the course of two years, it received the 2000 Academy Award for Animated Short Film and went on to garner wide acclaim across the international awards circuit.

For the kind of quality that will let you fully appreciate the exquisite artistry of the film, grab it on DVD.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

An Optimist’s Tour of the Future

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What the fountain of youth has to do with robots and unlearning our faulty thinking.

Earlier this year, we looked at how the web is changing the way we think, alongside 7 must-read books on the future of the Internet. But many of these prognoses seem to be tragically dystopian — could there, perhaps, be a more hopeful outlook for our technology-encrusted future? After a stark confrontation with his own mortality, comedian Mark Stevenson spent a year traveling 60,000 miles across four continents and talked to scientists, philosophers, inventors, politicians and other thought leaders around the world, trying to figure out just that. He synthesized these fascinating insights in An Optimist’s Tour of the Future: One Curious Man Sets Out to Answer “What’s Next?” — an illuminating and refreshingly hopeful guide to our shared tomorrow.

From longevity science to robotics to cancer research, Stevenson explores the most cutting-edge ideas in science and technology from around the world, the important ethical and philosophical questions they raise and, perhaps most importantly, the incredible potential for innovation through the cross-pollination of these different ideas and disciplines.

This is a book that won’t tell you how to think about [the future], but will give you the tools to make up your mind about it. Whether you’re feeling optimistic or pessimistic about the future is up to you, but I do believe you should be fully informed about all the options we face. And one thing I became very concerned about is when we talk about the future, we often talk about it as damage and limitation exercise. That needn’t be the case — it could be a Renaissance.” ~ Mark Stevenson

Stevenson proses a number of mental reboots that shift some of our present cognitive bad habits, from linear thinking about the future to hierarchical, top-down views of innovation.

Part trendhunting, part rigorous research, part cultural anthropology, An Optimist’s Tour of the Future may just be our generation’s version of Bill Brysons’s iconic A Short History of Nearly Everything — a bold and entertaining blueprint for a future that’s ours to shape and ours to live.

Illustration by John Dykes for WSJ

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