Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘animation’

20 AUGUST, 2015

A Six-Year-Old’s Advice on Life and Overcoming Fear, Turned into a Heartwarming Movie

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Why thinking about pizza can be a potent form of cognitive-behavioral therapy for self-doubt.

Children, MoMA curator Juliet Kinchin observed in her superb design history of childhood, “help us to mediate between the ideal and the real.” They perform this mediation as supreme masters of metaphor, bridging the real and the ideal by being fiercely unafraid of failure.

There is little more to say about this short film by Brooklyn-based filmmaker and radio producer Bianca Giaever, who asked a six-year-old to write a film with her, except that it’s on par with Neil Gaiman’s animated dream and among the loveliest things I’ve ever seen — a wondrous journey to the center of the imaginative, semi-sensical, immensely insightful consciousness of the child, which yields a profound piece of wisdom on overcoming fear and self-doubt.

Complement with John Gardner on what children can teach us about risk and personal growth, scientists’ and philosophers’ answers to children’s simple yet profound questions, and James Geary on what children’s minds reveal about the evolution of the human imagination.

Thanks, Dawn

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30 JULY, 2015

Neil Gaiman’s Philosophical Dream, in a Whimsical Animation Narrated by Amanda Palmer

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A weird and wonderful journey into the woodland of the subconscious.

“A dream can be so strange that it seems that another subject has come to dream with us,” philosopher Gaston Bachelard observed in his reflection on dreams and reverie. And yet our dream-selves and our waking selves are somehow the same person, linked by an even more mysterious continuity of consciousness than that between our childhood selves and our present selves. As scientists continue to probe the enigma of why we dream, we continue dreaming and interpreting our dreams, hoping to find in them answers to our greatest existential perplexities.

Beloved writer Neil Gaiman may be a sage of storytelling in his wakeful life and one of the most interesting people alive, but he is also a masterful weaver of whimsical, intensely interesting stories while asleep. Over the years, his wife — musician, patronage crusader, and friend-of-Brain-Pickings Amanda Palmer — has been his dutiful dreamkeeper. She regularly amuses herself by engaging half-asleep Neil in semi-sensical conversation, plunging into this unguarded rabbit hole into the surreal wonderland of his mind and writing down the best such conversations in a notepad.

One day, when she didn’t have paper on hand, Amanda slipped into the bathroom and quietly recounted a particularly fantastic dream of Neil’s in a voice memo. A year later, she discovered the recording on her phone. Newly enchanted by its whimsy, she decided to bring it to life in a short film, enlisting the help of her Patreon supporters, of whom I am proudly one. (All of Amanda’s work is freely offered and, like Brain Pickings, relies on audience support.)

She composed an original score and teamed up with animator Avi Ofer to create something utterly magical — something weird and whimsical and strangely philosophical, partway between that curious vintage children’s book about dreaming, illustrated by Freud’s eccentric cross-dressing niece, and Mark Strand’s beautiful poem “Dreams.” Please enjoy:

Complement with the science of dreams and why we have nightmares and the story of how Dostoyevsky discovered the meaning of life in a dream, then revisit Ofer’s wonderful animations of the fluid dynamics of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and Jane Goodall’s remarkable life-story.

Join me in supporting Amanda on Patreon, where she has written about how this piece of magic came to be.

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30 JULY, 2015

Hunter S. Thompson on Violence, Vengeance, and the Only True Fix for Our Destructive Impulses

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“One of the most important things is to recognize that we do have this mounting violence in us, and then to find the reasons.”

More than half a century after Tolstoy’s little-known correspondence with Gandhi on violence, human nature, and why we hurt each other, as the civil rights movement was being built on a philosophy of nonviolence and Leonard Bernstein was making his moving case for the only true antidote to violence, twenty-something Hunter S. Thompson (July 18, 1937–February 20, 2005) became fascinated by a subculture that seemed to embody the most violent and vengeful aspects of human nature and society: Hell’s Angels. Although Thompson was on his way to becoming a counterculture icon himself and would struggle with addiction for the remainder of his life, he was at heart an idealist — from the remarkably precocious letter of life-advice he sent to a jaded friend at the age of only twenty to his unrelenting advocacy of integrity in the media. He viewed lawlessness, violence, and vengeance not as an intelligent and productive act of political dissent but as a moral failing and a vile indulgence of our basest nature, and saw Hell’s Angels as a grotesque microcosm of society’s larger tendencies toward such pointless, lawless violence.

In the mid-1960s, Thompson took a magazine assignment profiling the infamous motorcycle gang of proud “outlaws” and, true to the integrity code of the gonzo journalism movement he founded, he embedded himself with the Angels for more than a year, all the while being upfront with them about his intentions as a journalist. The resulting article became the basis for his first book, Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (public library), published in 1966, which launched his career as a writer.

In 1967, legendary broadcaster Studs Terkel interviewed Thompson — who was about to turn thirty — about his experience with the Hell’s Angels and the deeper themes in the book. Nearly half a century later, the always delightful Blank on Blank has brought a particularly poignant segment of this interview to animated life:

One of the most important things is to recognize that we do have this mounting violence in us, and then to find the reasons — and then once you find that, it’s like curing a boil… The same venom that the Angels are spitting out in public, a lot of people are just keeping bottled up in private.

I think this technological science of obsolescence — the fact that people are becoming obsolete — the people who are most affected by this technological obsolescence are the ones least capable of understanding the reasons for it. So the venom builds up much quicker — it feeds on their ignorance. Until you recognize what’s happening, what makes you do these wild things … it’s like an albatross around your neck.

Complement with Thompson on living a meaningful life and this graphic biography of the famed gonzo journalist, then revisit some favorite Blank on Blank masterpieces: Ray Bradbury on storytelling, John Lennon and Yoko Ono on love, David Foster Wallace on ambition, Jane Goodall on life, and Richard Feynman on the most important thing.

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27 JULY, 2015

The World We Live In: An Extraordinary Reality-Check

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The chilling human story behind an almost-statistic.

“You’ve got to tell the world how to treat you,” James Baldwin told Margaret Mead in their magnificently prescient 1970 conversation on race. “If the world tells you how you are going to be treated, you are in trouble.” And yet the most pernicious seedbed of trouble is a world in which some people, but not others, are routinely told how they deserve to be treated, then routinely treated that way, based on criteria of visible difference that have nothing to do with the invisibilia of who they are. For, as a legendary Zen teacher observed, sameness and difference are constructs of the mind caught in the illusion of separateness — concepts that keep us from our expansive humanity.

Nothing illustrates this more clearly, nor with more harrowing honesty, than Traffic Stop — a breath-stopping animated short film from the always-excellent StoryCorps:

My whole worldview changed that night.

Complement with the wonderful StoryCorps film A Good Man, then revisit Dr. King on how the Ancient Greek notion of “agape” can help us cut off the chain of hate and Mead and Baldwin’s indispensable, urgently important A Rap on Race.

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