Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘education’

07 JUNE, 2012

Ray Bradbury on Space, Education, and Our Obligation to Future Generations: A Rare 2003 Interview

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“Anything that puts a sense of the miraculous in you… Anything that makes you feel alive is good.”

After this morning’s remembrance of Ray Bradbury through 11 of his most memorable quotes, here comes a rare archival gem: On August 22, 2003, SCVTV news man Leon Worden conducted a short but wide-ranging interview with the beloved author, in which he discusses such timely subjects as future of space exploration, what’s wrong with the education system, and where technology is taking us, exploring ideas as broad and abstract as the possibility of alien life and as specific and concrete as tackling the 40,000 highway deaths that take place every year.

The interview is now available online, mashed up with images from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory — highlights below.

In commenting on the cultural impact of mainstream media, Bradbury echoes David Foster Wallace’s lament:

Maybe we can get rid of a lot of lousy TV, I hope. It can look better if we can destroy most bad TV shows and most bad movies, really making more quality movies. And maybe we’ll redo our educational system and begin to teach reading and writing again. We’re not doing it now, and until we do, we’re going to be a stupid race.

But, unlike Wallace, Bradbury doesn’t believe the medium is the problem and instead makes a case for filling it with more substantial messages:

Anything except what’s on there! I watch the Turner Broadcast night after night — the old movies are better, no matter how dumb they are, they’re better what we’re doing now… We have to have more documentaries, more histories of the various countries of the world, more films on the miracles of life under the sea… when you look at the varieties of life that are under the ocean… Anything that puts a sense of the miraculous in you, that we’re living in a very strange element in this time, and we should appreciate the fact that we’re alive. Anything that makes you feel alive is good.

When asked about our obligation is in terms of passing our legacy along to future generations, Bradbury gives an answer that nods to combinatorial creativity and the idea that “you are a mashup of what you let into your life”:

If you don’t read or write, you can’t be educated, you can’t care about anything — you’ve gotta put something in people’s heads so the metaphors bounce around and collide with each other and make new metaphors. That’s the success I’ve had of daring to put different metaphors together, mashing their heads together, saying, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t think of that — how wonderful!’

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29 MAY, 2012

Live the Questions: Jacqueline Novogratz’s Advice to Graduates

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“Inspiring hope in a cynical world might be the most radical thing you can possibly do.”

‘Tis the season for exceptional graduation speeches, in which cultural icons bequeath their life’s wisdom to a new generation of, ideally, hungry-eyed thinkers and doers — icons like Neil Gaiman, David Foster Wallace, Ellen DeGeneres, Aaron Sorkin, Barack Obama, Ray Bradbury, J. K. Rowling, Steve Jobs, Robert Krulwich, Meryl Streep, and Jeff Bezos. This month, one of my big heroes, Acumen Fund founder Jacqueline Novogratz, addressed departing Gettysburg College seniors and imparted upon them, through anecdotes from her own remarkable story, a handful of beautiful aspirations to live by, summarized below.

We’ve become a society seeking instant gratification. We want simple answers, clear pathways to success… Life does not work that way. And instead of looking for answers all the time, my wish for you is that you get comfortable living the questions.

Novogratz’s four pieces of advice, synthesized:

  1. Focus on being interested, not on being interesting — don’t fall for status, seek opportunities that help you grow. (Cue in Paul Graham on prestige.)
  2. Focus more on listening and learning — the rest will come.

  3. Don’t worry about what other people think of you. (Cue in Hugh MacLeod on ignoring everybody.)
  4. Take risks. Ask the “dumb” questions. Fail if you have to, and then get up and do it again.

  5. Avoid cynicism. Pessimists can tell you what’s wrong with the world, but it’s the optimists who set out to change it. (Cue in E. B. White on the duty to elevate rather than lower down.)
  6. Inspiring hope in a cynical world might be the most radical thing you can possibly do. Hope may not feed us, but it is hope that sustains us.

  7. Build on what came before. (Because we know creativity is combinatorial, everything is a remix, and giving credit matters.)
  8. Before you finished getting out of bed, brushing your teeth with clean tap water, putting on clothes, making breakfast, turning off the light, walking out the door, you are benefiting from the work of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals from all around the world. They all deserve your spirit of generosity. So walk with humility and reverence for the human endeavor, and know it’s your job to help take that endeavor forward.

TED-Ed

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22 MAY, 2012

Advice on Living the Creative Life from Neil Gaiman

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“Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.”

On the heels of last week’s timeless commencement addresses by icons like David Foster Wallace, Ellen DeGeneres, and Ray Bradbury comes this fantastic speech by Neil Gaiman, addressing the 2012 graduating class of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. (Which happens to be the technical birthplace of Brain Pickings as we know it today — it’s there that I took my first web design night class in the early 1800s and transformed what began as a tiny email newsletter into a tiny website.) Gaiman himself never graduated from college — in fact, he never even enrolled in college — yet he earned his place in literary culture as one of the most celebrated and prolific writers working today. Here, he imparts several pieces of life-wisdom on young people beginning a career in the arts, summarized below.

  1. Say “no” to projects that take you further from rather than closer to your own creative goals, however flattering or lucrative. (Hugh MacLeod put it beautifully: “The most important thing a creative per­son can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.”)
  2. Approach your creative labor with joy, or else it becomes work. (As Ray Bradbury said, “Writing is not a serious business. It’s a joy and a celebration. You should be having fun with it.”)
  3. I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work — which meant that life did not feel like work.

  4. Embrace your fear of failure. Make peace with the impostor syndrome that comes with success. Don’t be afraid of being wrong.
  5. When things get tough, make good art.
  6. Sometimes life is hard. Things go wrong — and in life, and in love, and in business, and in friendship, and in health, and in all the other ways in which life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art. I’m serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Someone on the internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid, or evil, or it’s all been done before? Make good art.

  7. Make your art, tell your story, find your voice — even if you begin by copying others.
  8. You can get work because of the story you tell about yourself, even if it means embellishing, but you keep working because you’re good.
  9. Enjoy your work and your small victories; don’t get swept up into the next thing before being fully present with the joys of this one.
  10. This is an era in which the creative landscape is in constant flux. The rules are being broken down, the gatekeepers are being replaced and displaced. Now is the time to make up your own rules.

Gaiman sums it all up thusly:

Go and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make. Good. Art.

Open Culture; top image by Kimberly Butler

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