Brain Pickings

Sound Is…


Tssss chktchktchkt dubdubdub oeyyy.

The fine folks at SoundCloud have put together a beautiful meditation on what sound is and how it connects us to our environment, featuring sound experts like Imogen Heap, Moby, Radiolab producer and MacArthur “genius” Jad Abumrad, TED speaker Julian Treasure, and multimedia artist Ben Rubin.

Listening to all this random, disparate noise and sound that’s going on around us right now … when you actually tune it in and listen to it, you hear pitches that are like singing together, you hear harmonies, you hear weird textures. It’s about paying attention to the individual components more than the overall effect. The more differences you perceive, the better your life is.”

For some related fascination, see Jad Abumrad’s fantastic PopTech talk on sounds, science and mystery and these 7 fascinating books on music, emotion and the brain.

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.

Astronomy for the Rest of Us: A Naked-Eye Tour of the Sky


A field guide to stargazing, or how to see day and night the way your great-grandfather did.

Since time immemorial, humans have gazed at the skies and mapped their mystery. Like any conscious activity, stargazing too takes skill and practice to bequeath its gifts to the gazer. How We See the Sky: A Naked-Eye Tour of Day and Night is a fantastic new stargazing guide by astronomer Thomas Hockey that offers an accessible blueprint to decoding the starry mess of the heavens. From the solstices and equinoxes to the practice of patience, Hockey takes us on an extraordinary journey into the most organic kind of astronomy, the astronomy of the naked eye — a return to the roots of our stargazing ways which, despite the incredible technological advancements of the past few centuries, have actually taken us further away from the sky. (As Keller keenly points out, the average shepherd of yore had a much better view of the sky than we do today.)

We are so removed from the sky, and other realms of nature, that often we are not cognizant of ways in which they still affect our lives. Speaking more broadly, a lot of our culture continues to draw upon the sky by way of language, myth, and metaphor. To understand ourselves, I believe the sky still matters. For when early people looked up at, and thought about, the sky, they really were trying to answer what is perhaps the most human question of all: Where am I? What is my place in the universe? So are we.” ~ Thomas Hockey

Beneath the fascinating tour of astronomy’s past and present is the bittersweet admission that we’re barely acquainted with one of the few things we share with every single one of our fellow human beings — but implicit to that admission is also an invitation to get to know this wonderland that is at once so foreign and so fundamental.

For some related fascination, see Ordering the Heavens — a remarkable collection of antique images from the Library of Congress, tracing mankind’s quest to explain the skies.

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.

Mark Laita’s Breathtaking Photos of Sea Creatures


From stunning stingrays to jubilant jellyfish, or what cutting-edge technology has to do with Earth’s whimsy.

You might recall photographer Mark Laita and his superb series Created Equal with its beautiful and stark “parallel portraits” of subcultures. Now, Laita takes his masterful eye for visual poetry to another fascinating, even more mysterious and alluring world: Sea captures the creatures of the deep with equal parts cutting-edge photographic technique and imaginative whimsy to explore the extraordinary wonderland that lives beneath the surface of the world’s water. From iridescent jellyfish to prepossessing but deadly puffer fish to playful sea horses, the 104 images in the collection reveal the astounding grace, colors, and personalities of these marine characters with unprecedented artistry and passion.

North Pacific Giant Octopus

Blue Blubber Jellyfish

Golden Butterfly

Green Chromis

Humpback Anglerfish

Red Feather Starfish

Leopard Whiptail

Whale Shark

Blue Spot Stingray

Miniatus Grouper

Otherworldly and utterly breathtaking, Sea sparks newfound awe for the amazing planet we share with other creatures, creatures we’ve been known to tarnish in gruesome ways, and rekindled respect for the precious miracle of their existence.

via New Scientist; images courtesy of Abrams Books / Mark Laita

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.