Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘education’

04 JULY, 2012

E.O. Wilson’s Advice to Young Scientists

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“What is crucial is not that technical ability, but it is imagination in all of its applications.”

In his recent TEDMED talk, legendary Harvard sociobiologist E.O. Wilson, regarded as one of the greatest scientists alive, offers a taste of his forthcoming book, Letters to a Young Scientist. (A play, of course, on Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.) Wilson touches on a number of points previously explored as essential in science and other creative and intellectual endeavors — the benefits of balancing expertise with broad, cross-disciplinary curiosity, the importance of embracing failure and the unknown, the role of intuition and the imagination, the idea that we’re wired for science.

In time, all of science will come to be a continuum of description, an explanation of networks, of principles and laws. That’s why you need to not just be training in one specialty, but also acquire breadth in other fields, related to and even distant from your own initial choice.

Keep your eyes lifted and your head turning. The search for knowledge is in our genes.

[…]

In science and all its applications, what is crucial is not that technical ability, but it is imagination in all of its applications. The ability to form concepts with images of entities and processes pictured by intuition. I found out that advances in science rarely come upstream from an ability to stand at a blackboard and conjure images from unfolding mathematical propositions and equations. They are instead the products of downstream imagination leading to hard work, during which mathematical reasoning may or may not prove to be relevant. Ideas emerge when a part of the real or imagined world is studied for its own sake.

Wilson’s most recent book, The Social Conquest of Earth (public library), came out in April and is absolutely fascinating, even if only for the unusual fact that Wilson changes his mind about a central element of evolutionary theory — a living testament to the idea that “real science is a revision in progress, always.”

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27 JUNE, 2012

Isabella Rossellini’s Kooky Educational Films about Bees

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What Shakespeare and Aristotle got wrong, how bee spit becomes honey, and why having sex all day makes one totally helpless.

As the granddaughter of a beekeeper, I’ve always found bees to be utterly amazing and their social organization remarkably intelligent, so it breaks my heart to see their future so woefully precarious in the grip of colony collapse disorder. Yet despite their marvels and recent newsworthiness, bees remain largely misunderstood. Luckily, the ceaseless talents of Isabella Rossellini are here to help: After her delightful Green Porno series — fascinating, funny, kooky, and illuminating short films, in which Rossellini, clad in various bodysuits, reenactments the sex lives of the animals most biologically different from us with comically incongruous scientific accuracy — Rossellini has joined forces with Burt’s Bees to produce three equally kooky educational short films about bees, mixing goofy live-action with lovely lo-fi animation.

In the first, “Burt,” played by Rossellini herself, talks to the worker bees and shows us, among other things, why Aristotle was wrong and how honey is actually made. (Bee spit + plant nectar = deliciousness.)

In the second film, “Burt” meets the queen bee, also played by Rossellini, and learns about her utilitarian nymphomania, why Shakespeare was wrong, and how male bees are born fatherless from unfertilized eggs:

In the last, “Burt” meets a male drone — representative of just 11% of a bee colony — who is only capable of having sex and is otherwise helpless:

For more of Rossellini’s endearingly quirky science education, treat yourself to her Green Porno.

BOOOOOOOM

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15 JUNE, 2012

Charles Eames in 15 Aphorisms

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“Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.”

Here’s to the birthday of Charles Eames — legendary furniture designer, deft universe-explainer, celebrated champion of design as a force of culture, creative genius of uncommon sincerity, honesty, conviction, affection, imagination, and humor.

100 Quotes by Charles Eames is a tiny gem of a book, originally published in 2007, full of exactly what it says on the tin. Each of the 100 pearls of Eames wisdom, culled from his articles, books, films, interviews, lectures, notes, and office files, appears in 7 languages — English, Complex Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Japanese, Hindi, Brazilian, Portuguese, and Spanish. A beautiful, minimalist cover with debossed typography adds a layer of joy to holding and touching the micro-tome.

Here are 15 of my favorite quotes.

Eventually everything connects — people, ideas, objects… the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.

Most people aren’t trained to want to face the process of re-understanding a subject they already know. One must obtain not just literacy, but deep involvement and re-understanding.

Beyond the age of information is the age of choices.

If nothing else, a student must get from his training a feeling of security in change.

Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.

Recent years have shown a growing preoccupation with the circumstances surrounding the creative act and a search for the ingredients that promote creativity. This preoccupation in itself suggests that we are in a special kind of trouble — and indeed we are.

To be realistic one must always admit the influence of those who have gone before.

(Because we already know everything is a remix, all art builds on what came before, and creativity is combinatorial.)

We work because it’s a chain reaction, each subject leads to the next.

I don’t believe in this “gifted few” concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.

(Cue in some famous thoughts on finding your purpose and doing what you love.)

Unlike Keats, who said that knowing about the rainbow shatters its beauty, I feel that the knowledge about an object can only enrich your feelings for the object itself.

(Cue in Richard Feynman on the pleasure of finding things out.)

Don’t be like I was. Don’t be afraid of history. Take all of it you can get.

At all times love and discipline have led to a beautiful environment and a good life.

Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.

Ideas are cheap. Always be passionate about ideas and communicating those ideas and discoveries to others in the things you make.

Take your pleasure seriously.

Used copies can be found online and at Eames Gallery.

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