Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

15 JANUARY, 2015

Why Bees Build Perfect Hexagons

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The space-economics of honey and wax.

After half a lifetime as a schoolteacher, my grandmother retired and promptly became a beekeeper. I spent large chunks of my childhood observing these extraordinary creatures, but no part of their intricately orchestrated existence mesmerized me more than the tiny, perfect cells of their hives — rows and rows of hexagons that would make Euclid proud, each exactly like the next, filled with ancient sweet goodness. Indeed, as lyrical as bees’ role in giving Earth its colors may be, or in offering a metaphor for answering every parent’s most dreaded question, they are also mathematicians of formidable precision and masterful engineers of space-efficiency.

From my friends at TED-Ed comes this illuminating animated look at why and how bees build the mathematically meticulous hexagons of which their honeycombs are constructed.

For more fantastic TED Ed animated meditations, see how melancholy expands our capacity for creativity, how the universe was born, how big infinity really is, and the tell-tale signs of a liar.

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18 DECEMBER, 2014

At What Point Are You Actually Dead?

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The science of why you can’t resurrect a dead body but might be able to, sort of, in the future.

Despite living in a universe where, as the aphorism goes, change is the only constant, we humans have a quintessential longing for permanence. True as it may be that, as Rilke believed, befriending death helps us live more fully, the prospect of death — our own, and even more so that of loved ones — remains utterly terrifying and mostly incomprehensible beyond the most abstract understanding.

In this illuminating short film from TED Ed, writer Randall Hayes and animator Anton Bogaty trace the history of our beliefs and misbeliefs about death, the curious biological realities of it, and what future scientific advances might bring to our quest for immortality.

Complement with John Updike’s sage perspective on death and this unusual children’s book that helps kids make peace with the dark subject, then revisit Alan Watts’s assuring wisdom on why our fear of death is beside the point of life.

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20 NOVEMBER, 2014

The Difference Between the Beautiful and the Sublime, Animated

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A 100-second anatomy of astonishment.

Britain’s Open University has previously given us some illuminating animated explainers of the history of the English language, the world’s major religions, philosophy’s greatest thought experiments, and the major creative movements in design. They have now partnered with BBC broadcaster and In Our Time host Melvyn Bragg on a series adapting Bragg’s BBC4 podcast A History of Ideas into short animations that synthesize some of humanity’s most influential ideas.

Among them is 18th-century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke’s exploration of the difference between the beautiful and the sublime, scrutinized in his 1757 treatise A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (public library | IndieBound).

In one of the most powerful passages in the book, Burke describes the effect of the sublime in its highest degree — a psychic state we might, today, call awe:

The passion caused by the great and sublime in nature, when those causes operate most powerfully, is astonishment; and astonishment is that state of the soul, in which all its motions are suspended, with some degree of horror. 1 In this case the mind is so entirely filled with its object, that it cannot entertain any other, nor by consequence reason on that object which employs it. Hence arises the great power of the sublime, that, far from being produced by them, it anticipates our reasonings, and hurries us on by an irresistible force. Astonishment, as I have said, is the effect of the sublime in its highest degree; the inferior effects are admiration, reverence, and respect.

This, no doubt, is what Ptolemy meant when he beheld the heavens and what Carl Sagan felt two millennia later in encountering the cosmos.

Complement with Ursula K. Le Guin’s sublime meditation on what beauty really means, Susan Sontag on beauty vs. interestingness, and the evolutionary science of “beauty overload.”

HT Open Culture

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