Brain Pickings

James Burke’s Connections: A BBC History of Innovation

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What the sociology of the Industrial Revolution has to do with combinatorial creativity.

In 1978, BBC aired a 10-part series entitled Connections, in which science historian James Burke made a compelling case for what’s essentially our founding philosophy: That ideas and innovation don’t occur in isolation, and that creativity is a combinatorial force. (Something more recently echoed by Paula Scher, Nina Paley and Steven Johnson.) True to the program’s subtitle, An Alternative View of Change, Burke debunks the myth of historical progress as a linear force and instead explores the interplay and interconnectedness of events and motives as the origin of modernity’s gestalt.

It’s about the things that surround you in the modern world and, just because they’re there, shape the way you think and behave; and why they exist in the form they do; and who — or what — was responsible for them existing at all.”

The entire Connections series is now available for free online, including the two sequels to the original 1978 program — Connections² (1994) and Connections³ (1997).

For a higher-quality experience, each of the three parts is available as a 5-disc box set, all of which we’ve promptly wishlisted.

The series was also adapted in Burke’s excellent 1995 book Connections, a fascinating 320-page journey into the history of innovation.

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PICKED: Moleskine Passions Wellness Journal

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Earlier this year, the limited-edition Moleskine + Pac-Man series was an instant hit. So we were delighted to discover that the cult notebook brand has a far richer menu of little-known thematic offerings entitled Moleskine Passions, covering the six big passions of the world: Food, wine, music, books, wellness and film. And in the season’s spirit of New Year’s resolutions across the health and self-improvement spectrum, we were particularly taken with the Moleskine Passions Wellness Journal — a lovely little notebook featuring 6 themed sections to be filled in and 6 blank ones to be personalized, plus a treasure trove of food facts, conversions and measurements, blank note pages, and 202 wonderful illustrated health-themed stickers.

Printed on acid-free paper and with an expandable double inner pocket, the journal nudges your wellness plan of attack along with six thoughtful sections: Personal goals, an exercise log, diet, general health, games and sport, and inspirations. The additional blank pages are divided into six 12-page tabbed sections, which you can further personalize with the custom stickers included.

But before we take it all too seriously, there’s also a Moleskine life companion for the wine lover — besides, those wonderful flavonoids count towards your health quota, right?

Moleskine Passions is also available in film, recipes, books and music flavors.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Len Kendall Sketchnotes the Best of Brain Pickings 2010

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This year, we asked some of our favorite visualization artists to each capture the 10 most popular Brain Pickings articles of 2010 in a single piece of artwork, and we’re revealing them one by one this month. After Stefanie Posavec, Sam Potts, Tiffany Farrant and Christina Tsevis, we continue with a longtime favorite — sketchnote master Len Kendall, whose work you may recall from the Brain Pickings 500.

The articles, in order of popularity:

  1. Mythical Beasts & Modern Monsters — three humorous takes on the relational understanding of the monsters ecosystem.
  2. Mapping European Stereotypes — a Bulgarian designer based in London pokes fun at Europeans’ xeno-bias and the subjective reality of nationalism.
  3. 7 Image Search Tools That Will Change Your Life — 7 visually-driven image search interfaces that change how we look for, find and catalog images.
  4. 7 Must-Read Books by TED Global Speakers — selection of the 7 most compelling books by speakers at this year’s TED Global in Oxford.
  5. How Do I Explain It To My Parents — Dutch abstract artists sit down with their parents and try to explain to them what they do, to a delightfully amusing effect.
  6. Vintage Posters for Modern Movies — a look at the faux-vintage design trend as it applies to film poster design, spotlighting the work of seven contemporary designers with a retrostalgic aesthetic.
  7. How To Be Alone — a poetic manifesto for the art of solitude.
  8. Strange Worlds: Miniature Condiment Landscapes — remarkable miniature landscapes made out of spices and condiments by artist Matthew Albanese.
  9. What Does It Mean To Be Human? — three disciplines (evolutionary biology, philosophy and neuroscience) tackle the grand question of existentialism.
  10. Literary Action Figures — you know you want them.

And as if Len’s signature style wasn’t enough of a treat, the artwork is actually image-mapped, which means you can click on the different elements to read the actual articles they represent.

Image Map

Want to go bigger? Grab the image as a PDF.

For more of Len’s work, do check out his brilliant the3six5 project and follow him on Twitter.

We’ve got a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays, offers the week’s main articles, and features short-form interestingness from our PICKED series. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

Walt Disney’s Man In Space: Retrofuturism from 1955

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Before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, Walt Disney took audiences there. Man In Space is a fascinating and rare 1955 Disney program exploring humanity’s obsession with the cosmos with equal parts scientific futurism and historical investigation. The entire segment is now available on YouTube in four parts, gathered here in a convenient playlist for your retrofuturist bemusement.

From prehistoric rockets to the science of the moon to space medicine, each segment explores a different aspect of man’s last frontier of conquest. The series culminates with a vision for launching man’s first foray into space, a purely hypothetical and, for many, unimaginable proposition at the time. The cherry on top: The segments is narrated by Dick Tufeld, the voice of the robot from cult vintage TV series (and subsequent 1998 film adaptation) Lost in Space.

Man In Space appears on the excellent Walt Disney Treasures – Tomorrow Land: Disney in Space and Beyond — a priceless two-disc collection of the “science factual” Disney programming that aired in the 1950s, covering multiple facets of the pre-modern fascination with outer space.

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.