Brain Pickings

Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything


Out-geniusing Einstein, or what the Pope and quantum mechanics have in common.

In 1988, iconic theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking — the living paradox of a superhuman brain trapped in a body that doesn’t work, held in the merciless grip of Lou Gehrig’s disease — published the landmark A Brief History of Time as he set out to “know the mind of God” by developing a simple, elegant set of laws that would explain how our universe works and where it came from. And unlike other grand existential questions about the nature of reality, what it means to be human, whether God exists and what time is, his was the grandest quest of all: To build a complete theory everything. To do that, he had to do the seemingly impossible: Unify the two great theories of physics — the theory of the very big, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and the theory of the very small, quantum mechanics.

Twenty years later, Discovery captured Hawking’s grand quest to find the fundamental reasons for our existence and his life’s work in Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything. The ambitious documentary follows Hawking who, at the age of 66, still puts in a tireless full week’s worth of teaching and research, and contextualizes his landmark work over the past two decades through rare and revealing interviews with renowned scientists who collaborated with Hawking, as well as with Hawking himself.

At a conference on cosmology in The Vatican, the pope told the delegates that it was OK to study the universe after it began, but they should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God. I was glad he didn’t realize I had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began — I didn’t fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Though the DVD is most excellent, the film is also available on YouTube in 10 parts, gathered for your cognitive pleasure in this playlist:

My life’s work has been to unify the theories of the very large and the very small. Only then can we answer the more challenging questions: Why are we here? Where did we come from?” ~ Stephen Hawking

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Let’s Dance: A Stop-Motion Homage to Modern Love


What the evolution of cinema has to do with sexuality and storytellers’ moral responsibility.

We’re continuously fascinated by the trial and tribulations of modern romance. Last month, we swooned over You Deserve a Medal, designer Stefan G. Bucher’s lovely homage to the feats of modern love. Today, we’re thrilled to reveal, in a Brain Pickings exclusive — a beautiful short film about that very subject by director John Thompson and producer Sharon Lee, blending 2D cutouts with 3D live-action in a wonderfully playful visual narrative to use dance as a metaphor for, erm, the ultimate act of intimacy.

We sat down with John to chat about the inspiration behind the film, the visual language of romance, and storytellers’ responsibility about framing the cultural expectations for love.


How did the dance metaphor come about?

That was the brainchild of writer/producer Sharon Lee. When she called me about the project, she had the basics figured out: A creative short film about a relationship dealing with modern challenges, and dance would be the metaphor for love and sex. Dance has a long history in literature and film for symbolizing human ecstasy, both the sacred and physical.

From Shakespeare to the modern YouTube dance videos, human rhythmic movement connects us in a primal way.

I absolutely loved that concept and instantly jumped on board.


Filmmakers have been infatuated with the visual language of romance since the dawn of cinema. How are today’s cinematic techniques, styles and vehicles different from what came before in painting intimacy?

For me, the thing that is so exciting about cinema is the way it has continued to evolve. Technology, trends, experimentation and style are always changing, affecting one another, ultimately having a great impact on the story of the film.

After exploring various approaches to our film, we decided to shoot stop-motion hand-held with actors in a simplified world made of grey paper. Since we were telling people a story they already knew, it was important to tell it in a new way stylistically. The tone of the piece kept a nice balance between humor and sincerity, which was something Sharon and I always wanted.


Do you think storytellers have a certain responsibility in terms of conveying the normative expectations of romance and, if so, what does modern romance mean to you as a storyteller and creator?

Personally, I think an artist’s only responsibility is to follow his or her voice. I don’t think you go anywhere really meaningful unless you go deeply personal and highly instinctual, and that can’t be any truer than when dealing with relationships.

‘Modern romance’ sounds like an oxymoron. To me, the guts of love are timeless, and it is the world changing around it.

As a filmmaker, I wanted to break into those timeless basics by stripping down the world in our film to the bare essentials, but it was also a balancing act to accurately represent current challenges in relationships to give the piece an entry point for the audience.

But at the end of the day, the guide for me was my personal experiences; the love and the heartache.

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Viliam: Slovakian Short Film about Happiness & Delusion


We love doodling, paper-cutout art and stop-motion, and have a soft spot for Eastern Europe. Naturally, we’re all over Viliam — an absolutely wonderful stop-motion, paper-cutout short film by Slovakian animator Veronika Obertová.

The film tells the story of a boy who develops an obsession with doodling. After losing his parents to a tragic accident, Viliam escapes from reality by drawing his own animated world.

Part Flatland, part Lars and the Real Girl, Viliam poses, poetically, one of life’s greatest questions: Are we empowered architects of our own happiness or misguided slaves to our own delusion? And, more importantly, does it really matter which it is?

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A Rare Archive: The Lost Beatles Photographs


Last year, we swooned over Nowhere Boy, the lovely documentary about John Lennon’s little-known early life. This month, rock historian Larry Marion furthers our obsession with knowing the unknown Beatles in The Lost Beatles Photographs: The Bob Bonis Archive, 1964-1966 — a rare and revealing look at the iconic band through a series of intimate, never-before-seen photographs taken during The Beatles’ three U.S. tours.

The photos were taken by The Fab Four’s tour manager, Bob Bonis, who carried his Leica M3 camera everywhere, capturing pockets of wonderfully candid private moments tucked beneath the band’s overscheduled, overexposed public selves.

In 1964, The Beatles boarded their charter jet at Seattle-Tacoma airport, heading to Vancouver for their first-ever Canadian concert, and the fourth in their first American tour, at the Empire Stadium on August 22.

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

George Harrison and Ringo Starr get ready to go onstage in Detroit on August 13, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

George Harrison and John Lennon at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, August 21, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

George Harrison tunes up backstage at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium on August 16, 1966, in what was the first concert to ever be held at the now-iconic venue

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

Ringo plays with a toy gun -- allegedly a gift from Elvis Presley -- during The Beatles' stay at British actor Reginald Owen's Bel Air mansion in Los Angeles while on their 1964 U.S. tour

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

While on stage at Bloomington's Metropolitan Stadium on August 12, 1965, George Harrison turns around to face Bonis and gives him a warm thumbs-up

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

The Beatles begin the last tour they'd ever go on in Detroit, August 13, 1966

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

John Lennon in Portland, Oregon, on August 22, 1965

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

After the Vancouver shows, The Beatles flew to Los Angeles, only to find their reservation cancelled when the Ambassador Hotel was overrun by Beatlemaniacs. British actor Reginald Owen stepped in, offering them his Bel Air mansion for $1,000

Image courtesy of NPR / 2269 Productions, Inc. /

Bonis, a man of honor and loyalty, felt wrong about capitalizing on his unprecedented access, so for 40 years his photos remained a rare treat for his friends and family only. He passed away in 1992, and almost two decades later, his son Alex decided it was time to share his father’s collection with the thousands of Beatles fans around the world in The Lost Beatles Photographs. We’re glad he did.

via NPR

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