Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

08 MARCH, 2012

Comic Books as the Grimms’ Fairy Tales of Pop Culture

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On making out the shape of our society through its gods of good and evil.

Comic books can be a medium for serious nonfiction and a canvas for creativity in album art, but they are their own medium with a singular visual vocabulary honed by generations of pioneering artists. In this excerpt from Masters of Comic Book Art (quaintly, only available on VHS), speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison introduces ten of the world’s greatest comic book artists, beginning with the great Jack Kirby.

(He also mentions in passing a curious factoid: there are only five forms of art considered natively American — the banjo, jazz, musical comedy, the mystery story, and comic books.)

Comic books were the training ground for me in terms of ethics, in terms of the things I learned about courage, good and evil, what heroism was, right and wrong. Comic books are the Grimms’ fairy tales of the popular culture — they’re done by serious people who care about the work they do, even as Van Gogh and Magritte and everyone else did.” ~ Harlan Ellison

It’s also fascinating to hear Kirby peel the curtain on the train of curiosity behind his iconic DC Comics series New Gods:

…I began to ask myself… Everybody else has their own gods — what are ours? What is the shape of our society and the form of myth and legend? Who are our gods? Who are our evil gods, and who are our goods ones?”

For a great primer on the making and milestones of the beloved visual storytelling medium, see the 2005 book Masters of American Comics.

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05 MARCH, 2012

At the End of the Rainbow: Vintage Film about Ultraviolet Light, 1946

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In the beginning, there was ultraviolet light.

In 1946, the Sun-Kraft Corporation commissioned the Handy (Jam) Organization — whom we’ve previously enjoyed in an homage to makers and hands-on creativity, an animated explanation of how radio broadcasting works, a visual tour of mid-century design, and the original Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation — to produce a film promoting the history, physics, and health-giving properties of ultraviolet radiation. The result was At the End of the Rainbow — an odd blend of science education and corporate agenda that, nonetheless, far exceeds today’s questionable corporate tie-ins in both public service value and cultural merit.

Part Two explores how an American inventor set out to create an ultraviolet ray generator that would make the sun’s health-giving qualities available at low cost, and what happened next:

For more on the fascinating science of light, see Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind.

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24 FEBRUARY, 2012

The Science of Why the Past is Different from the Future, Animated

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Measuring the universe’s disorder in order to understand the arrow of time.

I remain fascinated by time — its science, its visual representation, its subjective perception, its philosophical dimension. This wonderful short video from Minute Physics, based on Sean Carroll’s From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, explores one of the most mind-bending questions about time: what makes the past different from the future?

Every difference between the past and the future can ultimately be traced to the fact that the entropy was lower in the past and is growing — that’s the second law of thermodynamics: the universe was orderly, and is becoming more disorderly.

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21 FEBRUARY, 2012

Why Everything is Connected to Everything Else, Explained in 100 Seconds

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Rockstar physicist Brian Cox uses quantum mechanics to illustrate one of the deepest truths of existence.

UPDATE: Sean Carroll (previously) has a well-argued critique of Cox’s explanation. Thanks, Siddharth.

Last week, physicist Brian Cox showed us why everything that could happen does happen in a riveting tour of the quantum universe. In this fascinating short excerpt from BBC’s A Night With The Stars, Cox turns to the Pauli exclusion principle — a quantum mechanics theorem holding that no two identical particles may occupy the same quantum state simultaneously — to explain why everything is connected to everything else, an idea at once utterly mind-bending and utterly intuitive, found everywhere from the most ancient Buddhist scripts to the most cutting-edge research in biology and social science.

This shift of the configuration of the electrons inside the diamond has consequences, because the sum total of all the electrons of the universe must respect Pauli. Therefore, every electron around every atom in the universe must be shifting as I heat the diamond up, to make sure that none of them end up in the same energy level. When I heat this diamond up, all the electrons in the universe instantly but imperceptibly change their energy levels. So everything is connected to everything else.”

For a deeper dive into this infinitely fascinating world, treat your mind to Cox’s The Quantum Universe.

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