Brain Pickings

The Mind’s Eye: How We Use Vision to Understand the World

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Nearly a decade ago, legendary neurologist Oliver Sacks told the story of the man who mistook his wife for a hat, which went on to become one of pop culture’s best-known tales of the brain’s incredible machinery. This season, Sacks is back with The Mind’s Eye, a fascinating exploration of how we use vision to make sense of the world.

With his signature blend of scientific illumintion and human interest storytelling, Sacks presents the curious case histories of six people for whom vision played bizarre tricks on the brain — from a writer who develops “word blindness” and becomes incapable of reading his own writing to his own experience with cancer in the eye, which made him unable to perceive depth.

Above all, Sacks approaches these fascinating case studies with extraordinary empathy, which makes The Mind’s Eye as much the brilliant work of a scientist as it is the touching gift of a humanist.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.

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A Creative Commons Christmas Carol

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We’ve examined the absurdities of copyright law on multiple occasions. But hardly anywhere are these more apparent than when it comes to music licensing. (Did you know that every time “Happy Birthday,” the world’s most popular song, is sung in a film, TV show or commercial, someone paid a fee and the song brings AOL Time Warner about $2 million in royalties annually?)

When trying to find holiday songs for their upcoming web series, Scotty Iseri and Matthew Latkiewicz got a first-hand taste for said absurdities. So, to illustrate how copyright law is nipping at the holiday spirit, they rallied some of remix culture‘s greatest advocates — CreativeCommons founder Lawrence Lessig, netcaster Leo Laporte, copyright liberalization crusader Cory Doctorow, Dick DeBartolo (known as Mad‘s maddest writer), Rocketboom’s Zadi Diaz, Wired founder Kevin Kelly, and Mark Frauenfelder of MAKE and BoingBoing fame — to write and record a CreativeCommons Christmas Carol. And it’s just as priceless as you’d expect:

For more on copyright law and remix culture, don’t miss Walking on Eggshells: Borrowing Culture in the Remix Age — the wonderful free documentary from Yale Law & Technology. Meanwhile, please consider putting CreativeCommons on your holiday giving list and support one of the most important movements of our time with a donation.

HT @cheloreilly

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.

Thought of You: Visual Poetry Meets Dance in 2D Animated Magic

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What modern dance has to do with pregnancy and the all-consuming creative impulse.

Brace yourself, for this is the most beautiful, spellbinding animation you’ll see this year.

For the past 15 years, animator and designer Ryan Woodward has created visual magic for just about every major Hollywood studio, most recently by storyboarding Spiderman 3 and Where The Wild Things Are. But it was his personal fascination with the motion of the human body in dance and his childhood nostalgia for 2D animation that sparked an absolutely wonderful personal project: Thought of You, a beautiful short film that blends figurative works, 2D animation, visual Fx, and contemporary dance.

Hold your breath and drink in.

The story’s emotional range is quite extraordinary, from the sweet restlessness of new love to the all-absorbing infatuation of passion at its peak to the hollow longing for a lover gone.

The creative process of the film is almost as beautiful as the animation itself, from the 35-weeks-pregnant choreographer who worked on it to the tender dynamic of the love story that underlies the film.

It’s one of those things that it’s tough to answer, when you ask an artist why they decide to be an artist. There’s this inner beast of creativity that, for me personally, it will consume me to the point of being miserable if I don’t let it out and do something with it.” ~ Ryan Woodward

But perhaps most gratifying of all is the wonderful cross-pollination of different arts that the film embodies — living proof of our credo that interdisciplinary curiosity informs and inspires creative work more powerfully than any one silo possibly could.

Enjoying the score? The song used in the film is World Spins Madly On by The Weepies, one of our favorite bands.

via @kirstinbutler

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





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Helmut Newton’s SUMO: An Epic Retrospective

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German-American fashion photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004) is easily among the 20th century’s most prolific and provocative visual creators. His signature erotic black-and-white photos graced the pages of just about every major fashion magazine and style bible of our time. In 1999, Newton and his wife Jane enlisted a team of 50 people — writers, editors, photographers, art directors, designers, book binders — to spend three years capturing Newton’s ambitious body of work in an equally ambitious volume. With 480 pages weighing in at 66 lbs, Helmut Newton’s SUMO — published by Taschen, of course — became a prized collector’s item, was included in the MoMA’s permanent collection, and even earned recognition as ” the biggest, most lavish book production of the 20th century.” The limited edition of 10,000 signed and numbered copies sold out so quickly that it multiplied its value to the eyeball-popping price tag of $150,000 and the copy numbered 1 even broke the record for the most expensive book published in the 20th century, selling for $430,000 at an auction in Berlin in 2000.

Ten years later, Taschen released a “budget” version of the book at the vastly more affordable price of $150 (or, if you get it on Amazon, $94.50.) But don’t be fooled — this new volume is far from a poor man’s version of the original. It features 15 lbs of iconic Helmut Newton photographs, some rare images, and a fascinating making-of booklet that offers a behind-the-scenes peek at what’s easily the most ambitious book production process in the history of photography.

The new edition of SUMO even comes with special stand for proud owners to display the book in their homes — now that’s a homage done right.

In 2010, we spent more than 4,500 hours bringing you Brain Pickings. If you found any joy and inspiration here this year, please consider supporting us with a modest donation — it lets us know we’re doing something right and helps pay the bills.





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