Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘anthropology’

31 AUGUST, 2010

Fault Line Living: The World’s Most Dangerous Landscapes to Live


Geysers, mud pots, and what Barba Papa has to do with the benefits of geothermal energy.

Fault lines are cracks in Earth’s crusts where tectonic plates converge. As you’d expect, these areas have an extraordinarily propensity for earthquakes due to the constant geodesic activity going on beneath. And yet millions of people around the world live on and around fault lines, in a constant state of alertness, with the sound of the earthquake drill alarm growing more familiar than the doorbell.

Faul Line Living is a 15,000-mile expedition from Iceland to Iran documenting the lives of people who live along the world’s most notorious fault lines. The multi-media project explores the human stories that populate these high-risk natural environments, working with school students, seismologists and citizens of each country along the way to better understand how different communities adapt to the challenges of life in fault zones.

Broken jug, damaged in the 1976 earthquake at Kopaska, belonging to Jon Halldorsson

The Blue Lagoon – despite the wind and rain, the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon provide a fillip to tourists and locals alike

Faul Line Living won the 2010 Go Beyond bursary from the UK’s Royal Geographical Society and Land Rover, a £10,000 award encouraging winners to push past their own limits as a way of promoting a wider understanding and appreciation of geography.

Fun after the rain

Steaming mud pots at Namafjall

On July 31, the UK-based team — Tamsin Davies, Serena Davies and Adam Whitaker — embarked upon their journey into these collision zones of nature and humanity. For 12 weeks, they will drive across the UK, Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Lebanon, learning to use a seismometer and delving into the social anthropology of fault line living through photography, interviews and real-time mapping.

Honeycomb basalt formations at Dimmuborgir

Barba Papa house at Seysdisfjordur

Explore the project’s breathtaking gallery and follow along vicariously on Twitter. Meanwhile, keep yourself grounded by appreciating the geological stability of your own locale.

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11 AUGUST, 2010

What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets


From Bangladesh to Brazil, or what photojournalism can reveal about food and cultural context.

In case you ever wondered, the most popular Brain Pickings post to date is our review of photographers Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio’s Hungry Planet — a grounding portrait of what the world eats, from the $376.45 an Australian family spends on food per week to the $1.23 weekly budget of a same-sized family in Chad’s poorest refugee camp. This week, Menzel and D’Alusio are back with their much-anticipated new book, What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets (public library) — a fascinating project telling the global story of our relationship to food through portraits of 80 people from 30 countries and the food they eat in one day.

I want people to understand their own diets better — and their own chemistry and their own biology. And make better decisions for themselves.” ~ Peter Menzel on NPR

38-year-old Maasai herder, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 103 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 800 calories. Food staples: Maize meal and milk.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

40-year-old Egyptian camel broker, 5 feet 8 inches tall, 165 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,200 calories. Some food staples: Eggs with butter, fava beans, country bread, potato chips, feta cheese, soup, rice, black tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

From a Japanese sumo wrestler to an American competitive eater to a Massai herdswoman, the book offers an exploration of demography through photography, contextualized by compelling essays from some of today’s leading food activists and thinkers, including indispensible voices on the issue like Brain Pickings favorite Michael Pollan.

20-year-old US Army soldier, 6 feet 5 inches tall, 195 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,000 calories. Food staples: Mostly instant ready-to-eat meals.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

36-year-old Latvian vocal teacher and composer, 6 feet tall, 183 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 3,900 calories. Some food staples: Egg, rye bread with ham, cheese and butter, chicken, potato with mayonnaise, cookies.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

Alongside each of Menzel’s photographs, text by D’Alusio outlines the specifics of the daily diet depicted and places it in a cultural context that explains why, for instance, a Brazilian fisherman of average build can consume 5,200 calories per day and an American truck driver who consumes a comparable amount is clinically obese. Ultimately, the project aims to illuminate the relationship between food and where we are, in life and in the world.

16-year-old Chinese acrobat, 5 feet 2 inches tall, 99 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 1,700 calories. Some food staples: Yogurt, pork ribs, noodles, eggs, broth, green tea.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

45-year-old Tibetan head monk, 5 feet 5 inches tall, 158 lbs, typical daily caloric intake: 4,900 calories. Some food staples: Butter tea, dried cheese curds, barley flour cake, noodle soup with potato.

Image copyright Peter Menzel,

Part Food, Inc., part FridgeWatcher, the project is a potent antidote to Neil Burgess’s recent rant about the death of photojournalism — What I Eat: Around the World in 80 Diets is a bundle of storytelling and humanity that unravels itself before your eyes, leaving you hungry to better understand the correlation between food, environment and quality of life.

via NPR

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31 MARCH, 2010

Stolen Moments: Secret Glimpses of Neighbors’ Lives


What Lower East Side kisses have to do with oil painting and the age of surveillance.

We love the intersection of art and voyeurism — from PostSecret to AnthroPosts to We Feel Fine to The Apology Line. But Yasmine Chatila takes it to new heights in her Stolen Moments series, an indulgent and fascinating glimpse of raw, private human existence amidst the orchestrated public chaos of New York City.

On a quiet winter night, I looked out a window. I could see a building far away, the windows where illuminated, and I could vaguely make out people inside their apartments. When I imagined what they might be doing, my mind fluttered between wild fantasies and mundane clichés. I was curious to compare my expectations to the reality of their lives.

Chatila spent months staking out NYC apartment interiors with her photographic and telescopic equipment, working from well-situated apartments across the street exclusively under the cover of night. The intimate, painting-like, noirish black-and-white results are part Hitchcock, part Shakespeare, part ephemeral postmodern visual poetry.

woman standing on kitchen counter - Upper West Side, Sat 4:03 AM

At times, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of human nature when it was not guarded, not self-conscious and completely uninhibited. This provided me with a stage where it was possible to observe myself in the most secret and vulnerable moments of others.

the kiss - Lower East Side, Sun 11:37 PM

To preserve both the privacy of her unaware subjects and the authenticity of the art, Chatila spent countless hours in post-production, transforming the recognizable into archetypal, often displacing her subjects from their original habitats and transplanting the unedited human moments into another building in an entirely different location.

fat girls in devil window - Soho, Friday 6:36 PM

Chatila is actually a painter by training, which makes this project all the more interesting as she trades the brush, oil paint and canvas for digital tools while still managing to capture these candid scenes in an incredibly delicate and analog way.

office romance - Tribecca, Thu 5:46 PM

Explore Stolen Moments in its entirety for an unexpected encounter with the city’s most human undercurrents.

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02 MARCH, 2010

Beyond the Dunbar Number: Picking Dunbar’s Brain


Kinship vs. friendship, the cognitive demands of monogamy, or why 400 Facebook friends may be a health hazard.

In 1992, anthropologist and evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar proposed Dunbar’s Number — a theoretical cognitive limit on the number of people with whom we can maintain viable social relationships. He pinned that number at 148, or roughly 150. But how does this translate to today’s social media environment of 400-friend Facebook profiles — does it help us beat Dunbar’s number?

We asked the iconic British social anthropologist himself, who addresses the issue further in his new book, How Many Friends Does One Person Need? — we highly recommend it.

The amount of time we invest in a relationship is proportionate to its quality. Face-to-face relationships are simply unmatched by online ones. “A touch is worth a 1000 words any day,” says Dunbar. But what online relationships are good for is to stall the decay of a relationship.

If you don’t go to the pub sooner or later, it will die.” ~ Dunbar

But what of all those huge numbers of online friends, aren’t they worth something? Perhaps kinship. The difference between friendship and kinship is that kin won’t fall apart with time and distance, “you can abuse your kin and they’ll still come,” says Dunbar.

Dunbar argues that having lots of kin means having fewer friends. Imagine your time-budget devoted to relationships as a pie. When you start handing out slices of your time to your friends, if too many people crowd around, no one gets a proper slice. Kinship is more about similar social groups, interests, geographical locations, whereas a friend, defined by Dunbar, is a person you can have a personal reciprocated relationship where you are willing to do each other favors.

Have humans always been able to handle 150 personal relationships? Dunbar explains that our brains have grown over time to handle our more complex relationships. The most taxing on our brain is the romantic kind (monogamous). Pair-bonded species have unusually big brains to do all the work.

Romance is very hard work and extremely costing to maintain.” ~ Dunbar

Will our brains continue to evolve to accommodate this hyper-connectivity? The brain accounts for only 2 percent of your total body weight, but uses 20 percent of your daily energy.

Hold on, someone just tweeted me…

Filip Matous hosts a pop-philosophy video show at He currently lives in London and is always seeking to find the next interesting person to interview.

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