Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

14 MARCH, 2012

The Smiley Book of Colors

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The basics of optimism and color theory, with a nod to neuroscience.

When Freud came to believe he was going to die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently began seeing the two numbers everywhere he looked, which only intensifying the urgency of his superstition, he came to observe the value of selective attention in focusing the unconscious. But what if we engineered this selective attention purposefully and aligned it with our emotional and mental well-being? That’s exactly what photographer, children’s author, and educator Ruth Kaiser did in 2008, when she began seeing smiley faces everywhere she turned. For the past four years, she has been collecting and sharing photographs “found” everyday smileys in the Spontaneous Smiley Project — an exercise in self-induced feel-goodness, inviting others to upload their own photos and donating $1 for each uploaded photo to Operation Smile, which provides free surgeries to children born with cleft lip and cleft palate.

Four years later, The Smiley Book of Colors was born, at once teaching (eternal) kids basic color theory and instilling in them the habits of optimism — a charming, light-hearted complement to the recent grown-up exploration of the science of smiles. The images are paired with simple, poetic meditations on the optimistic life — truths we may be tempted, through years of conditioned cynicism, to roll our eyes at, but ones that remain, at their heart, beautiful and true.

(Yes, let’s throw in a cat photo for good measure — after all, that’s the hallmark of curatorial achievement according to Jennifer Daniel over at BloombergBusinessweek. Wouldn’t want to disappoint.)

Skeptical, still? Let a neuroscientist elaborate on the optimism bias and its benefits.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/0375869832/ref=as_li_ss_til?tag=braipick-20&camp=0&creative=0&linkCode=as4&creativeASIN=0375869832&adid=02YXM5MD2VFTBCC5WMM6&Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

13 MARCH, 2012

Memories, Dreams, Reflections: A Rare Glimpse Inside Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Mind

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“…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

In the spring of 1957, at the age of 84, legendary psychiatrist Carl Jung (July 26, 1875–June 6, 1961) set out to tell his life’s story. He embarked upon a series of conversations with his colleague and friend, Aniela Jaffe, which he used as the basis for the text. At times, so powerful was his drive for expression that he wrote entire chapters by hand. He continued to work on the manuscript until shortly before his death in 1961. The result was Memories, Dreams, Reflections — a fascinating peek behind the curtain of Jung’s mind, revealing a wonderland of wisdom, experience, and self-reflection.

Jaffe writes in the introduction in 1961:

The genesis of this book to some extent determined its contents. Conversation or spontaneous narration is inevitably casual, and the tone has carried over the entire ‘autobiography.’ The chapters are rapidly moving beams of light that only fleetingly illuminate the outward events of Jung’s life and work. In recompense, they transmit the atmosphere of his intellectual world and the experience of a man to whom the psyche was a profound reality.”

Jung’s reflections span everything from the minutia of working for a living to the grand truths of the human condition to the nature of the divine. This particular passage, from the closing of a chapter entitled “Life and Death,” struck me as a powerful lens on consciousness and what it means to be human:

Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.”

The inimitable Austin Kleon — of Steal Like An Artist fame — has a lovely sketchnote visualization of the book:

Among the most fascinating elements of the book, especially for a lover of letters such as myself, is the Appendix, which features never-before-published letters from Freud to Jung. In one, dated April 16, 1909, Freud discusses — with an odd blend of reverence for mysticism and keen self-awareness of the selective attention at work — how he became obsessed with the idea that he would die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently started seeing the two numbers everywhere. Freud concludes, with a subtle jab at Jung’s own views on “poltergeist phenomena”:

Here is another instance where you will find confirmation of the specifically Jewish character of my mysticism. Apart from this, I only want to say that adventures such as mine with the number 62 can be explained by two thing. The first is an enormously intensified alertness on the part of the unconscious, so that one is led like Faust to see Helen in every woman. The second is the undeniable ‘co-operation of chance,’ which plays the same role in the formation of delusions as somatic co-operation in hysterical symptoms or linguistic co-operation in puns.

I therefore look forward to hearing more about your investigations of the spook-complex, my interest being the interest one has in a lovely delusion which one does not share oneself.”

Though not without faults, Jung’s was one of modern history’s most intriguing minds and Memories, Dreams, Reflections presents a rare, infinitely insightful glimpse of its inner workings.

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13 MARCH, 2012

Noam Chomsky on the Purpose of Education

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On the value of cultivating the capacity to seek the significant.

In this talk based on his presentation at the Learning Without Frontiers conference in January, philosopher, linguist, and cognitive scientist Noam Chomsky — easily one of our time’s sharpest thinkers — discusses the purpose of education.

Despite the slow pace and the cheesy AfterEffects animated typography, the video is a treasure trove of insight on everything from the role of technology to the pitfalls of policy.

On the industrialization of education, echoing Sir Ken Robinson’s admonition about its effects on creativity:

There have been many measures taken to try to turn the educational system towards more control, more indoctrination, more vocational training, imposing a debt, which traps students and young people into a life of conformity… That’s the exact opposite of [what] traditionally comes out of The Enlightenment. And there’s a constant struggle between those. In the colleges, in the schools, do you train for passing tests, or do you train for creative inquiry?”

On technology:

Technology is basically neutral. It’s kind of like a hammer. The hammer doesn’t care whether you use it to build a house, or whether a torturer uses it to crush somebody’s skull.”

On the importance of having a framework for what matters when engaging with the the information economy — or, one might say, the essence of what great curation should be:

You can’t pursue any kind of inquiry without a relatively clear framework that’s directing your search and helping you choose what’s significant and what isn’t… If you don’t have some sort of a framework for what matters — always, of course, with the provisor that you’re willing to question it if it seems to be going in the wrong direction — if you don’t have that, exploring the Internet is just picking out the random factoids that don’t mean anything… You have to know how to evaluate, interpret, and understand… The person who wins the Nobel Prize is not the person who read the most journal articles and took the most notes on them. It’s the person who knew what to look for. And cultivating that capacity to seek what’s significant, always willing to question whether you’re on the right track — that’s what education is going to be about, whether it’s using computers and the Internet, or pencil and paper, or books.”

On influence and creating the right micro-culture to foster creativity:

It’s the way cultural progress takes place generally. Classical artists, for example, came out of a tradition of craftsmanship that was developed over long periods, with master artisans and others, and sometimes, you can rise on their shoulders and create new marvelous things. But it doesn’t come from nowhere. If there isn’t a lively cultural and educational system, which is geared towards encouraging creative exploration, independence of thought, willingness to cross frontiers, to challenge accepted beliefs… if you don’t have that, you’re not going to get the technology that could lead to economic gains.”

On the whimsy of inquiry:

Passing tests doesn’t begin to compare with searching and inquiring and pursuing topics that engage us and excite us. That’s far more significant than passing tests and, in fact, if that’s the kind of educational career you’re given the opportunity to pursue, you will remember what you discovered.”

Many of these insights, and more, are explored in depth in these 7 essential books on education.

@openculture

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