Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘TED’

02 MAY, 2013

Who Invented Writing? An Animated Historical Detective Story

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From Sumerian cuneiform to hieroglyphics to Chinese script, a tale of simultaneous invention.

Theories of why humans write abound — for George Orwell, the impulse was driven by sheer egoism and aesthetic enthusiasm; for Joan Didion, writing provides vital access to one’s own mind; David Foster Wallace sought in it the nature of fun; for Joy Williams, it offers an escape from darkness into light; for Isabel Allende, it’s an irrepressible outpouring of inner life. But how did we get to write in the first place?

In this lovely short animation from TED Ed, Matthew Winkler, author of The Bloomberg Way: A Guide for Reporters and Editors, takes us on a historical detective story to figure out who invented writing and explains how symbols set writing and drawing apart as vehicles of meaning:

If you just draw what you mean, that’s art — not writing. In order for this to be writing, the symbol has to stand for the word.

Complement with this fascinating visual history of how sounds became shapes.

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10 APRIL, 2013

How the Universe Was Born: An Animated Explanation from CERN

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From cosmology to particle physics, or how the Big Bang made its way into the lab.

The question of why the world exists has not only puzzled some of history’s greatest minds but has also, at one point or another, occurred to just about every human being. And yet the more we learn, the more we understand how little we actually know: The Big Bang, for instance, turns out to have been silent, and the very notions of “something” and “nothing” require a scientific quest all their own.

But in this short animated primer from my friends at TED Ed and TEDxCERN, CERN scientist Tom Whyntie explains what we do know about how the universe was born:

Veer from the scientific into the philosophical with John Updike on the universe and why there is something rather than nothing.

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02 APRIL, 2013

The Science of How Your Mind-Wandering Is Robbing You of Happiness

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Why the secret of life remains in the living.

“The main thing is to get what little happiness there is out of life in this wartorn world,” Clare Boothe Luce advised her young daughter, “because ‘these are the good old days’ now.” And yet most of us are conditioned to escape into the past, into the future, into our to-do lists — to wander off away from the present, even as we chronicle the moment in real-time on various lifestreaming platforms.

If you’ve read any of these seven essential books on happiness or taken the sage advice of Jackson Pollock’s dad, the research findings from his Track Your Happiness project Matt Killingsworth shares in his TEDxCambridge talk will be of no surprise. Still, there’s something grounding about the unequivocal empirical evidence of something most of us intuit on some level, often with great discomfort:

People are less happy when they’re mind-wandering, no matter what they’re doing.

Strikingly enough, that mind-wandering is a cause rather than a consequence of unhappiness is at once jarring and heartening — it suggests that by training our minds to be more fully present, we’d be honing our capacity for happiness, something Eastern philosophy has long maintained. But perhaps the most surprising and most commanding finding is that even when people’s minds wander off to pleasant things, they’re less happy than when they are fully present in the moment:

Remind yourself of what it’s like to celebrate the present with history’s greatest moments of everyday happiness, then reel yourself back into the moment with a lesson in immersive living from Henry Miller.

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