Brain Pickings

The Belief Instinct: Exploring the Science of Spirituality

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We’re deeply fascinated by how the human mind makes sense of the world, and religion is one of the primary sensemaking mechanisms humanity has created to explain reality. On the heels of our recent explorations of the relationship between science and religion, the neuroscience of being human and the nature of reality comes The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life — an ambitious new investigation by evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering, exploring one of the most important questions of human existence:

If humans are really natural rather than supernatural beings, what accounts for our beliefs about souls, immortality, a moral ‘eye in the sky’ that judges us, and so forth?”

A leading scholar of religious cognition, Bering — who heads Oxford’s Explaining Religion Project — proposes a powerful new hypothesis for the nature, origin and cognitive function of spirituality. Far from merely regurgitating existing thinking on the subject, he connects dots across different disciplines, ideologies and materials, from neuroscience to Buddhist scriptures to The Wizard of Oz. Blending empirical evidence from seminal research with literary allusions and cultural critique, Bering examines the central tenets of spirituality, from life’s purpose to the notion of afterlife, in a sociotheological context underlines by the rigor of a serious scientists.

Eloquently argued and engagingly written, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life provides a compelling missing link between theory of mind and the need for God.

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Designers & Books: What Iconic Designers Are Reading

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How to hack into the minds of the world’s leading design practitioners and critics.

We love design. We love books. And we’ve always found designers to be among the most intellectually curious, disciplinarily promiscuous, creatively voracious minds. So we’re thrilled for the launch of Designers & Books — a fantastic new portal for peering into the private libraries of the world’s most prominent design thinkers and doers.

Launching with 50 designers — including icons like, Milton Glaser, John Maeda, Elizabeth Diller, Norman Foster and Tim Brown, and Brain Pickings favorites like Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and George Lois — the project spans a wide spectrum of design disciplines, from architecture to fashion to urban design to cultural interpretation, and kicks off with 678 books.

In addition to designers’ picks, reading lists are available from leading design writers, curators, educators and critics — or, as the site calls them, commentators.

So if you’ve ever wondered what graces the bookshelf of TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, the original information architect, wonder no more. (A handful of information design standbys, a few obscure yet indispensable vintage treats like Paul Kee’s The Thinking Eye, and Stewart Brand’s culturally cultish Whole Earth Catalog.)

Similar to the way that ‘good design can make your life better’ — we also believe that ‘good books can make your life better.’” ~ Steve Kroeter, Founder

Despite the clear gender bias and some glaring omissions (Hey, Tina! And what about MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, arguably the quintessential design advocate of our time?), Designers & Books is a fascinating and rare glimpse of the creative and intellectual fuel that powers some of today’s most influential design thinking, and very much worth your digital minute.

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Aaron Koblin on the Digital Renaissance

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We’re big fans of creative technology rock star Aaron Koblin, whose Sheep Market, Bicycle Built for 2,000 and Johnny Cash projects we’ve featured previously.

In this excellent interview, the fine folks of Emergence Collective track Aaron down at Sundance, where he’s working on Google’s Life in a Day crowdsourced film project, and ask him some compelling questions about computational aesthetics, the digital renaissance, and the future of creative technology:

  • Are there networked aesthetics which can be visually identified?
  • How will moving images change in the next 20–30 years?
  • What do you think about this word ‘user-generated content’?
  • Do you identify with the current artistic trend to shift away from product towards process?
  • What indicators are there of a digital renaissance?

We’re seeing what happens when you reach a point where computational resources are no longer the most significant factor in thinking, where we don’t have to bend our will to what we’re able to do. We’re really able to stop thinking about [computational resources] and bend them to our needs and our interests. It lends itself to a complete different type of a creative process, where you can really explore and experiment a lot more freely than one could before. [...] Perhaps most significantly, it lets us create our own limitations, and I think those generally can be a lot more meaningful than the ones arbitrarily put on by the media.” ~ Aaron Koblin

You can find Aaron’s work in a couple of our favorite books on the convergence of computational software and creativity, FORM+CODE and Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design.

HT @edwardharran

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