Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

19 OCTOBER, 2011

Six Famous Thought Experiments, Animated in 60 Seconds Each


From Ancient Greece to quantum mechanics, or what a Chinese room and a cat have to do with infinity.

From the fine folks at the Open University comes 60-Second Adventures in Thought, a fascinating and delightfully animated series exploring six famous thought experiments.

The Paradox of the Tortoise and Achilles comes from Ancient Greece and explores motion as an illusion:

The Grandfather Paradox grapples with time travel:

Chinese Room comes from the work of John Searle, originally published in 1980, and deals with artificial intelligence:

Hilbert’s paradox of the Grand Hotel, proposed by German mathematician David Hilbert, tackles the gargantuan issue of infinity:

The Twin Paradox, first explained by Paul Langevin in 1911, examines special relativity:

Schrödinger’s Cat, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, is a quantum mechanics mind-bender:

For more such fascination and cognitive calisthenics, you won’t go wrong with Peg Tittle’s What If….Collected Thought Experiments in Philosophy .

via Open Culture

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18 OCTOBER, 2011

Sound Is…


Tssss chktchktchkt dubdubdub oeyyy.

The fine folks at SoundCloud have put together a beautiful meditation on what sound is and how it connects us to our environment, featuring sound experts like Imogen Heap, Moby, Radiolab producer and MacArthur “genius” Jad Abumrad, TED speaker Julian Treasure, and multimedia artist Ben Rubin.

Listening to all this random, disparate noise and sound that’s going on around us right now … when you actually tune it in and listen to it, you hear pitches that are like singing together, you hear harmonies, you hear weird textures. It’s about paying attention to the individual components more than the overall effect. The more differences you perceive, the better your life is.”

For some related fascination, see Jad Abumrad’s fantastic PopTech talk on sounds, science and mystery and these 7 fascinating books on music, emotion and the brain.

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18 OCTOBER, 2011

Astronomy for the Rest of Us: A Naked-Eye Tour of the Sky


A field guide to stargazing, or how to see day and night the way your great-grandfather did.

Since time immemorial, humans have gazed at the skies and mapped their mystery. Like any conscious activity, stargazing too takes skill and practice to bequeath its gifts to the gazer. How We See the Sky: A Naked-Eye Tour of Day and Night is a fantastic new stargazing guide by astronomer Thomas Hockey that offers an accessible blueprint to decoding the starry mess of the heavens. From the solstices and equinoxes to the practice of patience, Hockey takes us on an extraordinary journey into the most organic kind of astronomy, the astronomy of the naked eye — a return to the roots of our stargazing ways which, despite the incredible technological advancements of the past few centuries, have actually taken us further away from the sky. (As Keller keenly points out, the average shepherd of yore had a much better view of the sky than we do today.)

We are so removed from the sky, and other realms of nature, that often we are not cognizant of ways in which they still affect our lives. Speaking more broadly, a lot of our culture continues to draw upon the sky by way of language, myth, and metaphor. To understand ourselves, I believe the sky still matters. For when early people looked up at, and thought about, the sky, they really were trying to answer what is perhaps the most human question of all: Where am I? What is my place in the universe? So are we.” ~ Thomas Hockey

Beneath the fascinating tour of astronomy’s past and present is the bittersweet admission that we’re barely acquainted with one of the few things we share with every single one of our fellow human beings — but implicit to that admission is also an invitation to get to know this wonderland that is at once so foreign and so fundamental.

For some related fascination, see Ordering the Heavens — a remarkable collection of antique images from the Library of Congress, tracing mankind’s quest to explain the skies.

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