Brain Pickings

13 Years of Futurism by Cultural Luminaries

By:

Every year since 1998, EDGE, the quintessential arbiter of all things cool and compelling in the world of science and technology, has been asking some of the brightest thinkers and doers across the cultural spectrum to answer one big question about the future of science, technology and society at large. The answers are then published in an annual edition, which serves as a fascinating and illuminating timecapsule of the intelligencia’s collective conscience that year.

This week marks the release of Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net’s Impact on Our Minds and Future — the fantastic compendium of responses to last year’s question, featuring greats like Chris Anderson, Esther Dyson, Howard Gardner, Kevin Kelly, Brian Eno and 167 more.

Here are the past 12 editions, a home library must-have for anyone interested in how technology is changing the way we think, do and live:

This year’s question is perhaps most important of all — because it has to do with improving the very wiring of our existence, human cognition: What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?, with the thoughtful disclaimer that “scientific” is used in the broadest sense possible, referring to the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything from spirituality to history to human genome. So important was the question, in fact, that Daniel Kahneman, the father of behavioral economics, declared it his favorite question yet. “You will get responses and actually move the culture forward.”

Answers come from a remarkably eclectic roster of thinkers, including our friend and Wired UK Editor In Chief David Rowan (“personal data mining”), BoingBoing co-founder Xeni Jardin (“ambient memory and the myth of neutral observation”), The Atlantic‘s Alexis Madrigal (“the new normal”), Wired founder Kevin Kelly (“the virtues of negative results”) and Clay Shirky (“The Pareto Principle”), among 159 others.

Both I as a citizen and society as a whole would gain if individuals’ personal datastreams could be mined to extract patterns upon which we could act. Such mining would turn my raw data into predictive information that can anticipate my mood and improve my efficiency, make me healthier and more emotionally intuitive, reveal my scholastic weaknesses and my creative strengths. I want to find the hidden meanings, the unexpected correlations that reveal trends and risk factors of which I had been unaware. In an era of oversharing, we need to think more about data-driven self-discovery.” ~ David Rowan

This year’s edition was dedicated to the late, great Denis Dutton (1944-2010), whose provocative theory of beauty we featured mere weeks before he passed away last month.

A handful of the annual questions are available in book form, we couldn’t recommend them more.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Hezârfen: The Story of the First Human Flight, Animated

By:

What kvetching chickens have to do with the history of aviation and Turkish folk heroes.

One fine day in 1632, legendary Ottoman inventor Ahmed Çelebi took the first sustained unpowered human flight, which earned him the name Hezârfen, meaning “thousand sciences” — an ancient term for “polymath.” His flight was brief, but epic:

The veracity of the incident has been disputed for centuries, but the writing of 17th century Turkish traveler and historian Evliyâ Çelebi describes it as follows:

First he practiced by flying over the pulpit of Okmeydani eight or nine times with eagle wings, using the force of the wind. Then, as Sultan Murad Khan (Murad IV) was watching from the Sinan Pasha mansion at Sarayburnu, he flew from the very top of the Galata Tower and landed in the Do?anc?lar square in Üsküdar, with the help of the south-west wind. Then Murad Khan granted him a sack of golden coins, and said: ‘This is a scary man. He is capable of doing anything he wishes. It is not right to keep such people,’ and thus sent him to Algeria on exile. He died there.” ~ Evliyâ Çelebi

This lovely 3D animated short film, the collaborative effort of a team of animators, artists and sound designers, captures the story of Hezârfen with wonderful, poetic romanticism — the kind of rewriting of history we often see in folk hero tales which, inaccurate as it may be, is the fundamental storytelling fabric of human civilizations.

For more on Hezârfen’s story and the human hunger for the azure, Mastering the Sky: A History of Aviation from Ancient Times to the Present is worth a look.

via fubiz

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Penguin by Design: “Good Design Is No More Expensive Than Bad”

By:

In 1935, British publisher Sir Allen Lane found himself on a train platform at Exeter railway station, looking for a good book for the ride to London. Disappointed with the limited and unseemly options available, he eventually founded Penguin Books, famously declaring that “good design is no more expensive than bad.” He revolutionized the publishing industry in the 1930s with its affordable and beautifully designed paperbacks, and Penguin eventually went on to become the world’s largest publishing empire, overtaking Random House in 2009. Best known and loved for its paperback covers, the iconic publisher has become a living record of the evolution of contemporary design.

In Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005, graphic designer Phil Baines charts the development of Penguin’s iconic legacy, from the evolution of the Penguin logo itself to the seminal introduction of Romek Marber’s simple cover grid in 1962, which reined in a new era of cover design.

In more than 250 glorious pages, the book features over 600 gorgeous, vibrant illustrations that tell the story of the most monumental testament to the power of graphic design in packaging and disseminating culture.

Images by Robin Benson

As a wonderful companion to the book, you won’t go wrong with Postcards from Penguin: One Hundred Book Covers in One Box — a lovely collection of exactly what the title promises, featuring 100 different Penguin book jackets spanning 70 years of iconic literature, from crime to classics.

And we’d be remiss not to remind you of Coralie Bickford-Smith’s remarkable classics covers, by far our favorite Penguin designs of all time.

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.

Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better

By:

Becoming better versions of ourselves, or how the basic paradigms of gaming culture foster social change.

We’re big fans of game designer and researcher Jane McGonigal, whose insights on gaming for productivity we’ve featured before and whom we had the pleasure of seeing speak at TED 2010. Today marks the release of McGonigal’s debut book, Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World — a compelling vision for harnessing the basic paradigms of gaming culture to foster social change. Armed with equal parts passion and empirical evidence, McGonigal debunks a number of myths about and prejudices against gamers to reveal a complex and highly motivated subculture of dedication and collaboration — the very qualities most fundamental to laying the foundation for global happiness.

When we’re in game worlds, [we] become the best version of ourselves, the most likely to help at a moment’s notice, the most likely to stick with a problem as long at it takes, to get up after failure and try again.” ~ Jane McGonigal

Through fascinating examples of how alternate-reality games are already improving our lives, scientific insight into the neurochemical processes that take place in our brains during gaming, and psychology-rooted blueprints for employing the reward systems of gaming to motivate real-life behaviors, McGonigal showcases the incredible potential of gamers and gaming culture to change not only how we live our lives on an individual level, but also how we do business and engage in our communities socially and globally.

For a teaser taste of McGonigal’s visionary insight, don’t miss her excellent TED talk:

The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games, by the age of 21. For children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance.” ~ Jane McGonigal

We anticipate Reality Is Broken will do for gaming culture what Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalog did for the counterculture sustainability movement of the sixties, reining in a new kind of collective awareness and mainstream reverence for a practical ideology that will shape the course of culture for decades to come.

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.