Brain Pickings

The Tell-Tale Brain: The Neuroscience of Being Human


The question of what it means to be human is something we’ve explored before, and something humanity has grappled with for eons. Now, a compelling new answer may be before us.

V.S. Ramachandran is one of the most influential neuroscientists of our time, whose work has not only made seminal contributions to the understanding of autism, phantom limbs and synesthesia, among other fascinating phenomena, but has also helped introduce neuroscience to popular culture. The fact that he is better-known as Rama — you know, like Prince or Madonna or Che — is a fitting reflection of his cultural cachet.

Today, Rama releases his highly anticipated new book: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human — an ambitious exploration of everything from the origins of language to our relationship with art to the very mental foundation of civilization.

As heady as our progress [in the sciences of the mind] has been, we need to stay completely honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we have only discovered a tiny fraction of what there is to know about the human brain. But the modest amount that we have discovered makes for a story more exciting than any Sherlock Holmes novel. I feel certain that as progress continues through the coming decades, the conceptual twists and technological turns we are in for are going to be at least as mind bending, at last as intuition shaking, and as simultaneously humbling and exalting to the human spirit as the conceptual revolutions that upended physics a century ago. The adage that fact is stranger than fiction seems to be especially true for the workings of the brain.” ~ V. S. Ramachandran

You can sample Rama’s remarkable quest to illuminate the brain with his excellent 2007 TED talk:

Both empirically rooted in specific patient cases and philosophically speculative in an intelligent, grounded way, with a healthy dose of humor thrown in for good measure, The Tell-Tale Brain is an absolute masterpiece of cognitive science and a living manifesto for the study of the brain.

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Citizen King: The Last Five Years of MLK’s Life


Today marks the 25th annual Martin Luther King Day, commemorating the visionary whose work and legacy transcended borders of nationality, ethnicity and ideology to make one of the most important contributions to human rights in history. In 2004, PBS produced Citizen King — an extraordinary documentary that skirts the all-too-familiar stories of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and instead offers a rare glimpse of the last five years of MLK’s life through personal recollections and eyewitness accounts of friends, journalists, policemen, historians and cultural luminaries.

The series is now available on YouTube in 13 parts — or, for those keen on quality, on DVD.

My dear fellow Clergymen: I came across your recent statement calling our present activities ‘unwise and untimely.’ I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~ Letter from the Birmingham Jail, MLK, 1963

Catch the remaining parts here: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.

Finally, no celebration of MLK’s legacy is complete without his iconic I Have a Dream speech — catch it here in its full hair-raising glory:

For more on MLK’s legacy, we highly recommend A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. — published more than 20 years ago, still an absolutely critical capsule of thought leadership and moral history.

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See Something Cite Something: A Fair Use Flowchart


The social web era has introduced new challenges to attribution and citation. In an information system where content discovery is the currency of cool, not crediting your sources is a new form of piracy, plagiarism perpetrated against fellow publishers, driven perhaps by the misguided notion that there somehow isn’t “enough” — enough audience, enough interest, enough status — for everyone. The lack of attribution and source citation across the social web is not only one of our biggest pet peeves, but also one of the most serious issues that journalism has to sort out as it grapples with new publishing platforms. (In fact, we’re working on a forthcoming project in that very vein — stay tuned.)

So we were particularly thrilled to stumble upon this excellent See Something Cite Something flowchart guide to crediting your sources when you “see something cool on the Internet.”

Fair Use and Source Citation Online

Published just in time for yesterday’s World’s Fair Use Day, the flowchart is a tongue-in-cheek reminder to do the decent thing in what’s actually a very serious issue in publishing and content curation. Massive hat tip to co-creators Rosscott and H. Caldwell Tanner for doing what should’ve been done a long time ago.

via Coudal

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The Great Mystery of Photography: How to Photograph a Black Dog


For the past decade, editor Eric Kessels has been sifting through the world’s amateur analog photography, culling fascinating collections of found photos around eccentric and esoteric themes. in almost every picture #9: black dog documents one family’s attempt to solve one of the grand mysteries of photography: How to photograph a black dog. The couple, befallen by their beloved pet’s complete blackness and the technical insufficiencies of their very vintage camera, try over and over again to capture endearing portraits of the pooch, only to find his likeness hovering between brooding silhouette and nondescript black blob.

The collection unfolds across seasons and years, in almost comedic fashion, as the family carries on the seemingly hopeless quest, revealing at once a tender personal story and a timecapsulre of a photography era long gone.

Before the digital age, before cameras that could solve any problem from red-eye to world hunger, there was the 20th century, a time when photographers actually had to take photos themselves. Among other things, this included finding sufficient light for your subject.” ~ Christian Bunyan

And, finally, in a dramatically overexposed shot, we see the dog’s elusive face.

in almost every picture #9: black dog is the latest in a fantastic series of found photography books by Kessels, exploring everything from Japan’s infamous flat-headed Oolong rabbit, one of the earliest internet memes, to missing persons portraits.

via Lensculture

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