Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

16 JANUARY, 2012

Manuel Lima on the Power of Knowledge Networks in the Age of Infinite Connectivity

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Manuel Lima, founder of data visualization portal Visual Complexity, author of the indispensable information visualization bible of the same name, and one of the most intelligent people I know, recently gave an excellent talk on the power of networks at the RSA. Using examples that span from the Dewey Decimal System to Wikipedia, Manuel explores the evolving organization of knowledge and information, and the shift from hierarchical structures to distributed lateral networks.

Networks are really becoming a cultural meme in their own right. We could even argue, is this the birth of a new movement, is this the birth of ‘networkism’?” ~ Manuel Lima

Further reading: Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information.

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04 JANUARY, 2012

19-Year-Old Isaac Newton’s List of Sins

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What mother’s box of plums and sugar has to do with settling the age-old tension between science and religion.

Sir Isaac Newton is one of the most remarkable, prolific, and influential cross-disciplinary scientists in human history. The Newton Project, one of these important digital humanities projects, catalogs the 4.2 million published and unpublished words by Newton, which are made available as interactive diplomatic transcriptions. Among them is this curious list of 48 sins 19-year-old Newton self-admittedly “committed” before Whitsunday:

BEFORE WHITSUNDAY 1662

  1. Using the word (God) openly
  2. Eating an apple at Thy house
  3. Making a feather while on Thy day
  4. Denying that I made it
  5. Making a mousetrap on Thy day
  6. Contriving of the chimes on Thy day
  7. Squirting water on Thy day
  8. Making pies on Sunday night
  9. Swimming in a kimnel on Thy day
  10. Putting a pin in Iohn Keys hat on Thy day to pick him
  11. Carelessly hearing and committing many sermons
  12. Refusing to go to the close at my mothers command
  13. Threatning my father and mother Smith to burne them and the house over them
  14. Wishing death and hoping it to some
  15. Striking many
  16. Having uncleane thoughts words and actions and dreamese
  17. Stealing cherry cobs from Eduard Storer
  18. Denying that I did so
  19. Denying a crossbow to my mother and grandmother though I knew of it
  20. Setting my heart on money learning pleasure more than Thee
  21. A relapse
  22. A relapse
  23. A breaking again of my covenant renued in the Lords Supper
  24. Punching my sister
  25. Robbing my mothers box of plums and sugar
  26. Calling Dorothy Rose a jade
  27. Glutiny in my sickness
  28. Peevishness with my mother
  29. With my sister
  30. Falling out with the servants
  31. Divers commissions of alle my duties
  32. Idle discourse on Thy day and at other times
  33. Not turning nearer to Thee for my affections
  34. Not living according to my belief
  35. Not loving Thee for Thy self
  36. Not loving Thee for Thy goodness to us
  37. Not desiring Thy ordinances
  38. Not long {longing} for Thee in {illeg}
  39. Fearing man above Thee
  40. Using unlawful means to bring us out of distresses
  41. Caring for worldly things more than God
  42. Not craving a blessing from God on our honest endeavors
  43. Missing chapel
  44. Beating Arthur Storer
  45. Peevishness at Master Clarks for a piece of bread and butter
  46. Striving to cheat with a brass halfe crowne
  47. Twisting a cord on Sunday morning
  48. Reading the history of the Christian champions on Sunday

Besides the list’s endearing earnestness — which brings to mind Woody Guthrie’s 1942 New Year’s resolution list — it also contains intriguing counter-evidence for the age-old tension between science vs. religion, standing in particularly stark contrast with modern scientists’ unabashedly nihilistic attitude towards “God.” And for those of us who prod organized religion with the rational stick of skepticism, it’s an intriguing perspective shift to consider that a groundbreaking scientists could also be a pious man.

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03 JANUARY, 2012

Mathemagician Vi Hart Explains Spirals and Fibonacci Numbers in Doodles and Vegetables

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What snuggled-up slug cats have to do with the math of cosmic wonder and simple beginnings.

You may recall mathemagician Vi Hart from her delightful stop-motion explanation of the Victorian novella Flatland on a Möbius strip and her ingenious illustrated unpacking of the science of sound, frequency, and pitch. Her latest doodletastic gem explores the mathematics of spirals and Fibonacci numbers through pine cones, cauliflower, pineapples, artichokes, and daisies.

It seems pretty cosmic and wondrous, but the cool thing about the Fibonacci series and spiral is not that it’s this big, complicated, mystical, magical supermath thing beyond the comprehension of our puny human minds that shows up mysteriously everywhere. We’ll find that these numbers aren’t weird at all — in fact, it would be weird if they weren’t there. The cool thing about it is that these incredibly intricate patterns can result from utterly simple beginnings.”

This is the first installment in Hart’s trilogy on the subject — keep an eye out for the two forthcoming parts.

For more on Fibonacci numbers, meet the man after whom they were named, a young Medieval mathematician who changed the very fabric of our lives — from our calendar to our business to the evolution of technology — when he wrote Liber Abbaci, Latin for Book of Calculation, in 1202. His story is one of the best science books of 2011 — riveting, important, and unmissable.

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