Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

20 JUNE, 2012

5 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People, Animated

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On the art of moving words that move people.

“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public,” George Jessel famously quipped. In 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (public library), Dr. Susan Weinschenk unpacks the secrets of eliciting response from people — the core purpose of design, it’s been argued — through a combination of behavioral science, psychology, and practical examples to alleviate the misery and mystery of public speaking.

This great short animated teaser offers five of the most essential secrets to a great presentation, whatever your discipline or topic. (Not so great? The dishearteningly blatant RSA-style animation rip-off.)

  1. People learn best in 20-minute chunks. There must be a reason for the successful TED-sized talk format.
  2. Multiple sensory channels compete. During a talk, you engage both the auditory and visual channels — because we’re visual creatures and the visual channel trumps the auditory, make sure your slides don’t require people to read much or otherwise distract from the talk.
  3. What you say is only one part of your presentation. Paralinguistics explores how information is communicated beyond words — be aware the audience is responding to your body language and tone. Record yourself presenting to get a feel for those and adjust accordingly.
  4. If you want people to act, you have to call them to action. At the end of your presentation, be very specific about exactly what you would like your audience to do.
  5. People imitate your emotions and feel your feelings. If you’re passionate about your topic, this excitement will be contagious for the audience. Don’t hold back.

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20 JUNE, 2012

We Got Merge: Noam Chomsky on the Cognitive Function that Made Language Evolve

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“You got an operation that enables you to take mental objects … already constructed … and make bigger mental objects out of them.”

In 2004, Noam Chomsky — pioneering MIT linguist, cognitive scientist, education guru, Occupy pamphleteer — sat down with McGill University professor James McGilvray to talk about the origin and purpose of language. In 2009, the two reconvened to discuss how half a decade of scientific progress, including developments like “biolinguistics” and computational linguistics, has altered our understanding of the subject. Their fascinating conversations have now been gathered in The Science of Language (public library) — a fine addition to these essential books on language.

Rather than a gradual evolutionary progression, language, says Chomsky, developed incredibly rapidly somewhere between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago — an occurrence he calls “just an outburst of creative energy that somehow takes place in an instant of evolutionary time.” And even though we now know that there is no such thing as a first human being, this cognitive growth spurt could only be explained by some genetic modification that resulted from a small mutation that happened in a single person.

It looks as if — given the time involved — there was a sudden ‘great leap forward.’ Some small genetic modification somehow that rewired the brain slightly [and] made this human capacity available. And with it came an entire range of creative options that are available to humans within a theory of mind — a second-order theory of mind, so you know that somebody is trying to make you think what somebody else wants you to think.

[…]

Well, mutations take place in a person, not in a a group. We know, incidentally, that this was a very small breeding group — some little group of hominids in some corner of Africa, apparently. Somewhere in that group, some small mutation took place, leading to the great leap forward. It had to have happened in a single person.

But what, exactly, happened in our great linguistic grandmother or grandfather? Chomsky calls it Merge — a basic cognitive function that, in its simplest form, enables you to take two things and construct a thing that is the set of the two things.

You got an operation that enables you to take mental objects [or concepts of some sort], already constructed, and make bigger mental objects out of them. That’s Merge. As soon as you have that, you have an infinite variety of hierarchically structured expressions [and thoughts] available to you.

Sound familiar? The origin of language appears to have much in common with the origin of creativity, both operating as combinatorial forces that hinge on synthesizing existing ideas into new combinations. There is a reason, perhaps, that we speak of “creative expression” — how we express ourselves creatively is just another form of language, driven by the same Merge function that sparked language itself.

Photo by Brendan Lynch

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19 JUNE, 2012

Henri Matisse’s Rare 1935 Etchings for James Joyce’s Ulysses

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A 22-karat creative cross-pollination.

Bloomsday — the world’s foremost holiday of talking about books you haven’t read — may come and go, but a rare gem calls for extending the Joyce-related celebrations a little while longer. In 1935, American publisher George Macey offered the great Henri Matisse $5,000 to create as many etchings as this budget would afford for a special illustrated edition of Ulysses. After Open Culture flagged the book last week, I gathered up my year’s worth of lunch money and was able to grab one of the last copies available online — a glorious leather-bound tome with 22-karat gold accents, gilt edges, moire fabric endsheets, and a satin page marker. The Matisse drawings inside it, of course, are the most priceless of its offerings — the best thing since Salvador Dalí’s little-known Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Enjoy.

A few more copies still remain on Amazon, or if you’re so endowed, you could snag a copy signed by both Joyce and Matisse for $30,000.

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