Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

08 MARCH, 2011

Brainman: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant

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What the circumference of a circle has to do with on-demand polyglotism.

With all the recent buzz about pitting a supercomputer against the sharpest human brains, it’s worth pausing and taking a moment of awe at the rare superhuman brains that serve as a reminder of mankind’s dormant potential. I recently had the pleasure of seeing thirty-something British autistic savant Daniel Tammet take the TED stage and open a rare door to an extraordinary, superhuman brain. On the heels of Born on a Blue Day — one of the year’s must-read books by TED speakers — here is a fascinating 2005 UK documentary titled Brainman, which takes us inside Tammett’s infinitely intriguing mind.

Entralled by Tammet’s exceptional brain, which makes him one of only about 50 such autistic savants living in the world today, scientists embark on a series of experiments testing the limits — or, as it turns out, the seeming limitlessness — of his cognitive prowess. The results are simply astounding.

I’m seeing things in my head, like mental sparks firing up, and it’s not until the very last moment that those sparks tell me what on earth they mean.” ~ Daneil Tammet

What makes Tammet so remarkable isn’t merely that he was able to learn Icelandic in a single week, or that he broke the European record by reciting the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, or that he has accute synesthesia. It’s that, despite the social paralysis of his condition, he is not only willing to be a public voice but also able to be an outstandingly eloquent one.

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18 FEBRUARY, 2011

5 Must-See Talks from Google Zeitgeist

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What the resilience of books has to do with the media arts and recasting the political limelight.

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of meetings of the mind here at Brain Pickings. Not included in our two lists from last year of cross-disciplinary conferences, however, was Google’s Zeitgeist series. These invitation-only events gather global thought-leaders to describe the current moment — a kind of Weltanschauung according to Google — and now the online giant has created a deep library of talks from three years of its elite twice-annual get-togethers. Served by YouTube, natch, the Zeitgeist videos have been handily broken down into chapters so that viewers can drop in on specific sections.

Plenty of TEDsters are among the offerings, including Cameron Sinclair, Hans Rosling, and Rives; often the speakers share the stage in interview-style format and panel discussions. Since the conference is hosted by a NASDAQ behemoth, multinational CEOs and heads of state make up much of the list of 231 speakers to date. The result is a kind of behind-the-scenes view of the inner architectures of power — what author William Gibson termed the world’s “order flow” in his latest book.

Running from eight minutes to an hour in length, we’ve waded through the library to pick our five favorites. (In our number-one choice wait for the priceless story about Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin punking their current CEO Eric Schmidt.) We hope you enjoy these perspectives on how the zeitgeist looks from Mountain View.

ERIC SCHMIDT WITH LARRY PAGE

Perspective from Google 2009, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt in conversation with Google Co-Founder Larry Page:

So to give you all sense of how we work together. So Larry and Sergei called me into their office, they have one office together. And they said, we’re depressed And I said, like, why. They said, well, we’re bored. Well what do you want to do? They said, we want to get into the appliance business. And I said, oh, computer appliances, notebooks, that sort of stuff. And they said, no, no, no, no, refrigerators. And so we had this ten minute conversation about the economics and capital structure of managing refrigerators, which of course, as you know can be computer controlled and managed by Google for your benefit, before I realized that they were completely fooling me, and that we are NOT getting into the refrigerator business at the moment. Remember that? He won’t admit it. It’s true, trust me.”

THE GREGORY BROTHERS

Auto-Tune the News, The Gregory Brothers:

“We wanted to release shorter videos more frequently, and we wanted to shift the limelight from the already famous newscasters and politicians and sort of pick out everyday people who we thought had that amazing unintentional star singing quality that we’re sort of always on the hunt for.”

LEE CLOW & ALEX BOGUSKY

Advertising: Stories or Games, Lee Clow and Alex Bogusky:

I call what we do– I hate the word advertising, but unfortunately it is the name of my business. But I like to believe that we’re in the media arts business. We try and take every media that a brand uses, and try and make it artful, smart, and lovable.”

SEBASTIAN JUNGER

Human Connection, Sebastian Junger:

There are social and political factors that cause wars that can simmer for decades and be ignited literally in an afternoon. One of my jobs — one of the things I do in my job is to explain how that catalyst worked or try to predict when it’s going to happen again. It happens all the time.”

CRYSTIA FREELAND & SALMAN RUSHDIE

Literary Thought in the Information Age, Crystia Freeland and Salman Rushdie:

I don’t know, I think you know the death of the book has been forecast almost since the birth of the book. And it’s an oddly resilient technology.”

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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11 FEBRUARY, 2011

Thomas Edison and the Invention of the Movies

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Today marks the 164th birthday of Thomas Edison — inventor, businessman, scientist and idea maverick of gargantuan historical proportions. We may know him from science class as the man who invented the light bulb, but his contribution to creative culture and the moving image was his true passion and, many would argue, his greatest legacy. He invented the phonograph and developed the first motion picture camera. Geroges Méliès may have been the first cinemagician, but Edison was the man who made film both a mass communication medium and a creative craft, framing many of the conventions of modern cinema.

Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is an ambitious collaboration between Kino Video and MoMA, celebrating Edison’s legacy and the birth of cinema with 140 of the first moving pictures ever seen. The four-disc treasure chest features not merely the masterfully restored films, but also over two hours of insightful interviews with scholars, museum archivists and cultural critics.

Edison’s films include such rare gems as boxing women…

…boxing cats (presaging the kind of cat-related interwebz entertainment by over a century)…


…and the only known footage of Mark Twain.

From the fascinating technology that fueled Edison’s films to the sociology and cultural anthropology of the era’s stereotypes depicted in the films, Edison – The Invention of the Movies (1891-1918) is a priceless slice of creative and cultural history.

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