Brain Pickings

Democratizing Publishing: TED Launches TEDBooks

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Yesterday, we were thrilled to hear that TED is launching TEDBooks — an imprint of short nonfiction books. Using Amazon’s freshly released Kindle Singles imprint for books under 20,000 words and designed to be read in a single sitting, the $2.99 books are available on the Kindle and Kindle Reader apps for iPad and Android.

The project launched with three promising all-star titles:

The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks of Happy Planet Index fame debunks the notion of using economic factors to measure a nation’s well-being and instead explores how people and nations can build real, lasting foundations for well-being — a timely addition to our selection of 7 must-read books on happiness released earlier this week.

Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans is a bold vision for the next human species, portraying mankind as a species in transitions not only through a life science map of evolution but also through a compelling discussion of how the core principles of our civilization — government, religion, social structures — are shifting.

Beware Dangerism! by Gever Tulley takes on the culture of fear perpetuated by mass media and often embedded in parenting, which he terms “dangerism,” with surprising statistics and insights indicating that play and pursuit of curiosity — something we’re big proponents of — is the better model for raising kids to be high-functioning, entrepreneurial, creative, successful, happy people.

The effort is an “idea worth spreading” in more ways than one — it serves not only as a powerful vehicle for some of today’s most compelling thinking, leveraged by the TED brand, but also bespeaks a new frontier of publishing that bypasses the stagnant traditional model of the industry to democratize how authors’ ideas reach their audience. Bravo, TED.

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The Black Book of Colors

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Today must be the day for tickling the outer limits of our senses. From the synesthetic explorations of sound through color earlier today, we take the creative mind-bending a step further: Experiencing color through the lack of color. The Black Book of Colors, from author Menena Cottin and illustrator Rosana Faria, is a remarkable book of simple, elegant illustrations of natural objects — from strawberries to rain to bird feathers — depicted not through color and shading but through embossed lines, inviting the viewer to experience them tactilely rather than visually.

The book is designed as an empathy tool that allows a sighted person to step inside the world of the blind, who experience the world through their fingers rather than their eyes.

Though intended for children, The Black Book of Colors is an absolute treat for adults — not merely as a feat of aesthetic elegance, but also as a beautiful philosophical metaphor for all those things in our lives that both are and aren’t, like the nature of reality or solitude or some great love we can touch with the tender tips of our fingers but never fully grasp.

Thanks, Kirstin

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Synesthesia Spotlight: 3 Visualizations of Music

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What Vivaldi has to do with motion graphics, John Coltrane and skyscrapers of color.

Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition that leads stimulation in one sensory pathway to trigger an experience in another. Basically, a short-circuiting in the brain that enables such strange phenomena like perceiving letters and numbers as inherently colored (color-graphemic synesthesia) or hearing sounds in response to visual motion. More than 60 types of synesthesia have been identified, with one of the most common being the cross-sensory experience of color and sound — “hearing” color or “seeing” music.

These neurological eccentricities, however, can often be a source of tremendous artistic inspiration. Today, we look at three mesmerizing near-synesthetic ways of experiencing sound and color.

MICHAL LEVY

Israeli artist and jazz musician Michal Levy (who also happens to be a dear friend) is an actual synesthetic: When she listens to music, she sees shapes and colors as different tones, pitches, frequencies, harmonies, and other elements of the melody unfold. Her fantastic animated film, Giant Steps, captures this unique experience, visualizing the iconic John Coltrane masterpiece as Michal sees it in her mind’s synesthetic eye.

Michal’s latest film, One, is yet another vibrant journey into sonic color. Her creative process is quite extraordinary, like peering into a mind that functions on an entirely different sensory plane.

LET YOURSELF FEEL

Let Yourself Feel is a mesmerizing animation by Argentinian motion graphics designer Esteban Diácono, visualizing “Slowly” by composer Ólafur Arnalds in spellbinding colorful smoke.

MUSIC ANIMATION MACHINE

Since 1985, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski has been bringing an intuitive, visceral understanding to classical music’s greatest masterpieces. His Music Animation Machine, which we have featured previously, distills some of the most complex compositions in music history into digestible, beautiful visualizations.

Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski

Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as downloadable freeware (alas, no Mac version) to encourge people to create their own visualizations. There’s even a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.

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