Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

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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17 OCTOBER, 2011

Whale Fall: Poetic Cut-Paper Animation about the Afterlife of a Whale, Inspired by Radiolab


75 years of existential generosity, or what the ocean floor can teach us about existence, ego and impermanence.

If you aren’t listening to WNYC’s fantastic Radiolab, you’re missing out on some of the finest science journalism and curiosity-curation of our time. (The folks at the MacArthur Foundation seem to concur, having just awarded Radiolab producer Jad Abumrad () the wildly prestigious “genius” grant.) In an homage to a fascinating recent Radiolab episode about loops, which features an almost-aside about how when a whale dies, its body can sustain an entire microcosm of an ecosystem for up to seven years in a poetic death-life loop, director-animator duo Sharon Shattuk and Flora Lichtman, better known as Sweet Fern Productions, collaborated with Radiolab’s own Lynn Levy on Whale Fall — an equally poetic and absolutely stunning paper-cutout stop-motion animation about the afterlife of a whale.

More than a mere feat of visual storytelling or a nod to nature’s meticulously orchestrated interdependences, the film is also a lyrical reflection on impermanence and our existence as nodes in something larger, richer, and more complex than our individual lives and egos.

Join me in supporting Radiolab’s wonderful work, which continues to inspire and illuminate with equal parts passion and rigor.

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