Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

04 NOVEMBER, 2011

Science Ink: Carl Zimmer Catalogs the Tattoos of Science Nerds

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An anthropology of the geek-rebel, or what astrophysics has to do with the delicacies of the dermis.

Brain Pickings is all about cross-disciplinary curiosity and the unexpected pollination of ideas across different fields. Nowhere does that cross-pollination get more unexpected than between popular science and tattoo culture. That’s exactly what celebrated curiosity monger Carl Zimmer explores in Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed — a weird and wonderful almanac of the lovable geek who immortalized passion for science on their living flesh. Zimmer divides the book into sections around each of the major sciences — math , chemistry, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, astronomy, and even an entire chapter on DNA — and uses each tattoo as a meditation pillow from whence to reflect on the science in question with his unmistakeable essay style of intelligent wit.

A foreword by Mary Roach adds the ultimate cherry on top.

The concept for the project was born in 2007, when Zimmer asked his blog readers whether scientists were hiding tattoos of their science. A surprising number stepped up, and Zimmer began posting images of their ink on his blog for Discover Magazine. The rest was history.

Without intending it, I became a curator of tattoos, a scholar of science ink. I began giving people advice about how to best photograph a tattoo. Rule one: don’t take a picture right after you get the tattoo. Shiny, puffy skin does not please the eye. Tattoo enthusiast magazines called to interview me. All in all, it was a strange experience; I have no tattoos of my own and no intention of getting any. But the open question I posed brought a river of pleasures.” ~ Carl Zimmer

Images courtesy of Sterling Publishing

Tasteful, thoughtful, and tantalizing, Science Ink will make you reconcile your inner geek and rebel, then dust off your old science textbooks for mischievous inspiration.

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01 NOVEMBER, 2011

You Are Not So Smart: A Field Guide to the Brain’s Guile

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The science of why 600 Facebook “friends” are an illusion, or why brand loyalty is a product of the ego.

We spend most of our lives going around believing we are rational, logical beings who make carefully weighted decisions based on objective facts in stable circumstances. Of course, as both a growing body of research and our own retrospective experience demonstrate, this couldn’t be further from the truth. For the past three years, David McRaney’s cheekily titled yet infinitely intelligent You Are Not So Smart has been one of my favorite smart blogs, tirelessly debunking the many ways in which our minds play tricks on us and the false interpretations we have of those trickeries. This month, YANSS joins my favorite blog-turned-book success stories with You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself — an illuminating and just the right magnitude of uncomfortable almanac of some of the most prevalent and enduring lies we tell ourselves.

The original trailer for the book deals with something the psychology of which we’ve previously explored — procrastination:

And this excellent alternative trailer is a straight shot to our favorite brilliant book trailers:

From confirmation bias — our tendency to seek out information, whether or not it’s true, that confirms our existing beliefs, something all the more perilous in the age of the filter bubble — to Dunbar’s Number, our evolution-imposed upper limit of 150 friends, which pulls into question those common multi-hundred Facebook “friendships,” McRaney blends the rigor of his career as a journalist with his remarkable penchant for synthesis, humanizing some of the most important psychology research of the past century and framing it in the context of our daily lives.

Despite his second-person directive narrative, McRaney manages to keep his tone from being preachy or patronizing, instead weaving an implicit “we” into his “you” to encompass all our shared human fallibility.

From the greatest scientist to the most humble artisan, every brain within every body is infested with preconceived notions and patterns of thought that lead it astray without the brain knowing it. So you are in good company. No matter who your idols and mentors are, they too are prone to spurious speculation.” ~ David McRaney

And in the age of Books That Should’ve Stayed Articles, it’s refreshing to see McRaney distill each of these complex phenomena in articulate, lucid narratives just the right length to be stimulating without being tediously prolix.

You Are Not So Smart is positively one of the smartest books to come by this year — no illusion there.

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26 OCTOBER, 2011

National Geographic: Inside the Milky Way

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From super-massive black holes to Carl Sagan, or how to center yourself in the universe the CGI way.

Since time immemorial, humanity has been transfixed by the celeste, trying to order the heavens, read the sky, and understand our place in the universe — a place nested within the Milky Way galaxy, which contains our Solar System. But what exactly is the Milky Way, how did it come to be, and where is it going? That’s exactly what the fascinating National Geographic documentary Inside the Milky Way explores, using bleeding-edge technology to construct a 3D CGI model of our galaxy and simulate everything from the formation of super-massive black holes to how stars are born and die. The documentary is now available on YouTube in seven parts, gathered here conveniently for your edutainment.

Astronomers believe that the massive black hole at the heart of the Milky Way has been there from the very start.”

For more celestial glory, don’t forget Michael Benson’s breathtaking Far Out: A Space-Time Chronicle and, of course, Carl Sagan’s timeless, tireless Cosmos.

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