Brain Pickings

Einstein on Kindness, Our Shared Existence, and Life’s Highest Ideals

By:

“Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind… life would have seemed to me empty.”

In times of turmoil, I often turn to one of my existential pillars of comfort: Albert Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions (public library) — the definitive collection of the great thinker’s essays on everything from science and religion to government to human nature, gathered under the supervision of Einstein himself. It’s been a challenging week, one that’s reminded me with merciless acuity the value of kindness and compassion, so I’ve once again turned to Einstein’s timeless “ideas and opinions” on this spectrum of subjects.

On the ties of sympathy:

How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people — first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.”

On public opinion, or what Paul Graham might call prestige:

One becomes sharply aware, but without regret, of the limits of mutual understanding and consonance with other people. No doubt, such a person loses some of his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand, he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgments of his fellows and avoids the temptation to build his inner equilibrium upon such insecure foundations.”

On our interconnectedness, interdependency, and shared existence:

When we survey our lives and endeavors we soon observe that almost the whole of our actions and desires are bound up with the existence of other human beings. We see that our whole nature resembles that of the social animals. We eat food that others have grown, wear clothes that others have made, live in houses that others have built. The greater part of our knowledge and beliefs has been communicated to us by other people through the medium of a language which others have created. Without language our mental capacities would be poor indeed, comparable to those of the higher animals; we have, therefore, to admit that we owe our principal advantage over the beasts to the fact of living in human society. The individual, if left alone from birth would remain primitive and beast-like in his thoughts and feelings to a degree that we can hardly conceive. The individual is what he is and has the significance that he has not so much in virtue of his individuality, but rather as a member of a great human society, which directs his material and spiritual existence from the cradle to the grave.”

Illustration by Vladimir Radunsky for 'On a Beam of Light: A Story of Albert Einstein.' Click image for details.

On good and evil, creative bravery, and human value:

A man’s value to the community depends primarily on how far his feelings, thoughts, and actions are directed towards promoting the good of his fellows. We call him good or bad according to how he stands in this matter. It looks at first sight as if our estimate of a man depended entirely on his social qualities.

And yet such an attitude would be wrong. It is clear that all the valuable things, material, spiritual, and moral, which we receive from society can be traced back through countless generations to certain creative individuals. The use of fire, the cultivation of edible plants, the steam engine — each was discovered by one man.

Only the individual can think, and thereby create new values for society — nay, even set up new moral standards to which the life of the community conforms. Without creative, independently thinking and judging personalities the upward development of society is as unthinkable as the development of the individual personality without the nourishing soil of the community.

The health of society thus depends quite as much on the independence of the individuals composing it as on their close social cohesion.”

On life’s highest ideals:

[E]verybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of his endeavors and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked upon ease and happiness as ends in themselves — such an ethical basis I call more proper for a herd of swine. The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Without the sense of fellowship with men of like mind, of preoccupation with the objective, the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientific research, life would have seemed to me empty.”

Austin Kleon said it best: “Be nice. (The world is a small town.)”

Ideas and Opinions is a fantastic read in its entirety, the kind that stays with you for a lifetime.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

Alfred Hitchcock on the Secret of Happiness

By:

“…only things that are creative and not destructive… hatred is wasted energy.”

The secret of happiness and purpose endures as our highest aspiration. From its science and psychology to its geography to its empirical application, we go after it with ceaseless zeal.

In this brilliantly wise and articulate short excerpt from an archival interview, the great Alfred Hitchcock shares his definition of happiness — a definition that makes my own heart sing, and calls to mind a certain meditation on kindness and the lack thereof.

A clear horizon — nothing to worry about on your plate, only things that are creative and not destructive… I can’t bear quarreling, I can’t bear feelings between people — I think hatred is wasted energy, and it’s all non-productive. I’m very sensitive — a sharp word, said by a person, say, who has a temper, if they’re close to me, hurts me for days. I know we’re only human, we do go in for these various emotions, call them negative emotions, but when all these are removed and you can look forward and the road is clear ahead, and now you’re going to create something — I think that’s as happy as I’ll ever want to be.”

Beautifully said, with a blend of personal vulnerability and firm conviction worthy of profound respect.

Open Culture

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

The Life of Rumi in Rare Islamic Manuscript Paintings from the 1590s

By:

The Persian poet and mystic Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (1207-1273), better known as Rumi, endures as one of history’s most beloved and oft-quoted thinkers. A handful of Persian accounts of Rumi’s life have been written, most famously the first by his son and the third, focusing on Rumi’s moralizing miracle stories, ordered by Rumi’s grandson and written by the dervish Shams al-Din A?mad, called Aflaki (d. 1360). In 1590, some three and a half centuries after Aflaki’s writings, the Ottoman sultan Murad III ordered a Turkish translation of a 1540 abridged version of Aflaki’s text entitled Tarjuma-i Thawaqib-i manaqib (Stars of the Legend). Two illustrated copies of the Murad translation survive — one, dated 1599, is held by Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace and features 22 miniatures; the other, a more lavish manuscript dating to the 1590s and including 29 miniatures, is held by New York’s Morgan Library.

From The Morgan Library’s collection of Islamic manuscript paintings comes this remarkable glimpse of the rare manuscript, which captures the illustrated “life and miracles” of Rumi with equal parts visual poetry and deep respect.

The Seljuk Sultan's Courtier Disturbs Rumi's Visit to his Father's Grave

Rumi Leaves the ?alawiyya Madrasa at Aleppo at Midnight Followed by his Teacher Kamal Al-Din Ibn Cadim, Ruler of Aleppo

Religious Dispute Between Rumi and the Qa?i Siraj Al-Din Ormavi

A Young Merchant and Rumi Follower Cures the Gravely Ill Frankish King in Eqypt

A Water Monster Begs Rumi's Wife to Intercede for Him

Dogs in a Market Listen to Rumi, Who Praises their Understanding and Attention

Mystical Scene with Shams Al-Din Tabrizi and the Reflection of Sun in a Pool

Rumi Spends a Day in the Hot Baths od a ?ammam

The Prophet Mu?ammad Reveals to Cali Secrets Revealed to Him During the Miscraj (Night Ride to Heaven)

An Escaped Bull Seeks Refuge at Rumi's Feet

Musa (Moses) Tells the Giant Cüj Ibn Canaq How to Curb an Appetite

Konya, Besieged During a Fight for the Throne of Sultan Suleyman's Two Sons, is Protected by Clouds of Salt

The Funeral of Jalal Al-Din Rumi

See more in The Morgan Library’s online exhibition Treasures of Islamic Manuscript Painting from the Morgan. You can support the Morgan and their tireless preservation of history here.

For a modern rendering inspired by these classic manuscripts, see the exquisitely designed 2010 tome The Illustrated Rumi: A Treasury of Wisdom from the Poet of the Soul.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

What We Talk About When We Talk About “Curation”

By:

On creative restlessness, the art of context, and the contagion of intellectual curiosity.

First things first — “curation” is a terrible term. It has been used so frivolously and applied so indiscriminately that it’s become vacant of meaning. But I firmly believe that the ethos at its core — a drive to find the interesting, meaningful, and relevant amidst the vast maze of overabundant information, creating a framework for what matters in the world and why — is an increasingly valuable form of creative and intellectual labor, a form of authorship that warrants thought.

My friends at Percolate and m ss ng p eces ( ), who share that belief, produced this fantastic short film on what “curation” really means, in which I was humbled and honored to join far worthier minds like my wonderful studiomate Tina Roth Eisenberg of Swiss Miss, the inimitable Edith Zimmerman of The Hairpin, Peter Hopkins of Big Think, Anthony de Rosa of Soup Soup, and more.

A good curator is thinking not just about acquisition and selection, but also contextualizing.” ~ Joanne McNeil

People really respond to other people’s enthusiasm about things.” ~ Edith Zimmerman

Ideas are the most valuable thing. Good ones make all the difference; bad ones can hold us back, maybe even destroy us. If we can focus on finding the right ones, helping distill them, and transfer them as quickly as possible, we can get more of that. Curation is that means to the end.” ~ Peter Hopkins

The film is the first installment in a series exploring the shifts in content creation and the information economy. Keep an eye out for the remaining parts.

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:





You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:





Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.