Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

27 SEPTEMBER, 2013

What Elvish, Klingon, and Dothraki Reveal about Real Language & the Essence of Human Communication

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Why a good language, like a good life, requires both rules and messiness.

Language, Darwin believed, was not a conscious invention but a phenomenon “slowly and unconsciously developed by many steps.” But what makes a language a language? In this short animation from TED Ed, linguist John McWhorter, author of the indispensable The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language (public library), explores the fascinating world of fantasy constructed languages — known as conlangs — from Game of Thrones’ Dothraki to Avatar’s Na’vi to Star Trek’s Klingon to Lord of the Rings’ Elvish. Though fictional, these conlangs reveal a great deal about the fundamentals of real human communication and help us understand the essential components of a successful language — extensive vocabulary, consistent grammar rules but peppered with exceptions, and just the right amount of room for messiness and evolution.

We can see the difference between vocabulary alone and what makes a real language from a look at how Tolkien put together grand old Elvish, a conlang with several thousand words. After all, you can memorize 5,000 words of Russian and still be barely able to construct a sentence — a 4-year-old would talk rings around you. That’s because you have to know how to put the words together — that is, a real language has grammar; Elvish does. … Real languages also change over time — there’s no such thing as a language that’s the same today as it was 1,000 years ago: As people speak, they drift into new habits, shed old ones, make mistakes, and get creative. … Real languages are messy — that’s because they change, and change has a way of working against order. … Real languages are never perfectly logical — that’s why Tolkien made sure Elvish had plenty of exceptions.

Complement with this illustrated vintage guide to the science of language and the fascinating story of how Darwin shaped our understanding of why language exists.

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25 SEPTEMBER, 2013

How the Universe Works: Stephen Hawking’s Theory of Everything, Animated in 150 Seconds

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A Brief History of Time in no time at all.

Legendary theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking is among the greatest scientific minds in human history. In this charming animation for The Guardian’s MadeSimple series, UK-based animation studio Scriberia — who also made the wonderful trailer for Oliver Burkeman’s Antidote — condenses Hawking’s expansive, mind-bending theories down to 150 seconds. Reminiscent in spirit of the RSA animations, though much better-executed creatively, the short video is the visual equivalent of the art of the soundbite.

Though undeniably delightful, I can’t help but wonder whether such quick visual syntheses of the life’s work of boundless genius might be our era’s version of the aphorisms that Susan Sontag worried commodify wisdom. But let’s go with optimism and hope that, rather than exercises in reductionism, formats like this are, as Neil deGrasse Tyson said of the soundbite, triggers for interest which “set a learning path into motion that becomes self-driven.” In other words, let’s hope this gets more people to read A Brief History of Time, one of these seven timeless reads about time.

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20 SEPTEMBER, 2013

How Evolution Works, Animated in Minimalist Motion Graphics

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From Darwin to your dog, or why DNA copying errors explain blue eyes.

“Creationism is a small, dogmatic minority, legendary science writer and evolution-illuminator Stephen Jay Gould proclaimed, “and they make more noise than their numbers.” But despite Gould’s confident optimism, we live in an age when creationism is still taught in classrooms and mythology requires constant debunking with reality in order to keep the voice of reason from being drowned by that noise. Sometimes, however, it’s simply a matter of conveying the science of evolution with equal parts captivation and clarity.

Since the days of Darwin, the theory of evolution has lent itself to ample visualization, animation, and even rap. This lovely motion graphics piece combines animation and infographics to explain the complexity of evolution with delightful simplicity.

Complement with this graphic biography of Darwin, Neil deGrasse Tyson on why intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance, and the visual history of evolution.

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