Brain Pickings

Christopher Sykes, the Filmmaker Behind the Beloved Richard Feynman Documentaries

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Storytelling meets the pleasure of finding things out.

For many years, whenever British filmmaker Christopher Sykes got asked at parties what he did, he would say, “I make films about Richard Feynman.” Which he did — though Sykes has made more than 70 eclectic documentaries, he became best-known for his film on Richard Feynman, including the excellent No Ordinary Genius and The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, from which these timeless excerpts on beauty, honors, and curiosity came. Sykes painted a portrait of Feynman that was as fascinating and full of his scientific genius as it was entertaining and brimming with his playful irreverence.

In this talk from TEDxCaltech, Feynman’s daughter, Michelle, introduces Sykes and as he takes the stage to pull the curtain on this extraordinary partnership between a great scientists and a great documentarian.

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe…

I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.” ~ Richard Feynman

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Dogs in Books: An Illustrated History

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From The Brothers Grimm to Lassie, or what Victorian limericks have to do with Ancient Greece.

If you, like me, are a lover of dogs and a lover of books, then you’ll be head over heels with Dogs In Books: A Celebration of Dog Illustration Through the Ages. From Aesop’s Fables to the Bible to Alice in Wonderland to Oliver Twist and beyond, the slim but mighty volume chronicles the dog’s inextricable presence in our collective history, art, and mythology through contemporary drawings and rare archival illustrations of more than 30 famous dogs culled from the British Library’s collection.

In the introduction, Catherine Britton, Senior Editor at the British Library, reminds us:

The written evidence of the relationship between dogs and humans is almost as old as literature itself. In the eighth century BC Homer wrote in The Odyssey of Odysseus’ return to Ithaca, where only his faithful old dog Argos recognised him. Odysseus had been away, HOmer says, for 7300 days, or twenty years, and Argos was by now old and infirm, but still struggled to greet his master.”

Alongside each image is a short essay that contextualizes the dog and its cultural significance, as well as the history of the illustration itself.

Two shepherd and their sheepdog hear of the birth of Jesus. From a fifteenth century Book of Hours, France.

A huntsman keeps his two greyhounds firmly restrained with a leash. From the Luttrell Psalter, circa 1320-40

A donkey, dog, cat and cockerel make their own form of music in order to frighten away robbers from their house. From The Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Mrs. Edgar Lucas, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. Constable & Co., 1909

The soldier is taken aback by the sight of the supernatural dog standing on the chest of money. From Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Harry Clarke. G G Harrap & Col, 1916

Bizarre dogs (and their equally odd owners) from the limericks of Edward Lear. From The Book of Nonsense written and illustrated by Edward Lear. Frederick Warne & Col, 1885

Toto looks on with some interest as Dorothy talks to the Cowardly Lion. From The New Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum illustrated by W W Denslow. Bobbs-Merrill Co, 1903

The curse of the Baskervilles. From The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, illustrated by Sidney Paget. Strand magazine, serialized 1901-19102

The cover of The Call of the Wild, illustrated by Philip R Goodwin and Charles Livingston Bull. William Heinemann, 1903

Dinah the Aberdeen terrier barks at 'a palpitating vacuum cleaner.' From Collected Dog Stories by Rudyard Kipling, illustrated by Marguerite Kirmse. Macmillan & Co., 1934

The unmistakable features of Lassie. From Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight, illustrated by Marguerite Kirmse. J C Winston Co., 1940

Having eaten 'a whole dish of mayonnaise fish,' there are unsurprisingly 'curious pains in my underneath.' From A Dog Day or The Angel in the House by Walter Emanuel, illustrated by Cecil Aldin. William Heinemann, 1902

Mr and Mrs Dearly, surrounded by their dalmatians. From One Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith, illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame-Johnstone. William Heinemann, 1956

'Are You Lonesome Tonight'

Original silkscreen. George Rodrigue, 2009

Equal parts charming and illuminating, Dogs In Books is an absolute treat for those who love literature’s fuzziest heroes.

Images courtesy of Mark Batty Publisher

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Charles Bukowski on What Love Is

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Once again, Bukowski captures a great truth and tragedy of the human condition:

Love is kind of like when you see a fog in the morning, when you wake up before the sun comes out. It’s just a little while, and then it burns away… Love is a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality.”

More in Bukowski’s Love is a Dog From Hell — because, some days, poetry just holds so much more truth about love than does science.

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