Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

18 DECEMBER, 2012

The Overview Effect and the Psychology of Cosmic Awe

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The spirituality of space exploration as self-exploration.

Since the dawn of recorded history, humanity has been mesmerized by Earth’s place in the cosmos. Overview is a fascinating short film by Planetary Collective, written by Frank White, exploring the “overview effect” — the profound, shocking feeling that grips astronauts as they see our planet hang in space and the strange new self-awareness it precipitates. The film is based on Frank White’s 1987 book The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution and celebrates the 40th anniversary of NASA’s iconic Blue Marble photograph.

Every two minutes, a picture of the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun — a 360-degree panorama of the heavens — appeared in the spacecraft window. And I’d studied astronomy, and I’d studied cosmology, and I fully understood that the molecules in my body and the molecules in my partners’ bodies and the molecules in the spacecraft had been prototyped in this amazing generation of stars — in other words, it was pretty obvious … we’re stardust.” ~ Apollo Astronaut Edgar Mitchell

Complement with iconic astronaut Sally Ride’s first-hand account of what it’s like to launch on the Space Shuttle and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s chill-inducing monologue on the most astounding fact about the universe.

It’s Okay To Be Smart

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08 NOVEMBER, 2012

The Machine That Made Us: Stephen Fry and the BBC Explore Gutenberg’s Legacy

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A hands-on history of the most important milestone of technology since the invention of the wheel.

Last week’s piece on how Gutenberg’s printing press embodies combinatorial creativity prompted reader Jim Hughes, who writes the fantastic Codex 99, to point me to the BBC documentary The Machine That Made Us presented by none other than Stephen Fry.

To better understand the genius and his creation — which he calls “the most revolutionary advance in technology since the invention of the wheel” — Fry traces Gutenberg’s footsteps and sets out to build a Medieval printing press from scratch, acquainting himself — awkwardly, amusingly, illuminatingly — with the tools and technologies of the 15th century. Enjoy:

We’re so used to living with printed matter every day of our lives — from the cereal package in the morning to the book at bedtime — that it might perhaps be rather hard to imagine what the world was like before printing.

For more on the history and legacy of Gutenberg’s press, see John Man’s rigorously researched and utterly absorbing Gutenberg: How One Man Remade the World With Words.

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16 OCTOBER, 2012

Happy Birthday, Chrysler Building Spire: The Story of an Epic Architectural Rivalry

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How an architect’s private rivalry resulted in one of New York City’s most iconic public images.

The story of New York’s iconic Chrysler Building is the story of one of history’s greatest, most ruthless architectural rivalries — one ultimately resolved when the building’s famous spear was surreptitiously erected to claim victory on October 16, 1929. This excerpt from the PBS documentary New York tells the riveting tale of the epic one-upmanship that precipitated the now-legendary structure:

In the spring of 1929, the race into the skies reached fever pitch when the automobile magnate Walter Chrysler unveiled plans for a massive new skyscraper on the corner of 42nd street and Lexington Avenue, with instruction to the architect, William van Alen, to make it the tallest in the world. Van Alen had scarcely broken ground when his one-time partner and now bitter enemy, H. Craig Severance, set to work on a rival structure eighty block to the south, for the Bank of Manhattan Company on Wall Street, and the race was on. Month after month, the two builders vied for preeminence, each altering his plans again and again in mid-construction to stay ahead of the other. On clear days, workers in each of the two tall towers could track the progress of their rivals four miles away.

[…]

On October 16, 1929, the 185-foot-long spire, assembled in secret in the building’s tower, emerged from its chrome cocoon and was bolted triumphantly into place. The gleaming silvery spike raised the Chrysler Building’s overall height to 1,048 feet, 121 feet taller than its downtown rival.

The Chrysler Building in 1932

Height comparison of buildings in New York City

Images via Wikimedia Commons

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