Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘culture’

26 OCTOBER, 2011

Thinking, Fast and Slow: A New Way to Think About Thinking

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Beneath the biases of intuition, or how your experiencing self and your remembering self shape your life.

Legendary Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman is one of the most influential thinkers of our time. A Nobel laureate and founding father of modern behavioral economics, his work has shaped how we think about human error, risk, judgement, decision-making, happiness, and more. For the past half-century, he has profoundly impacted the academy and the C-suite, but it wasn’t until this month’s highly anticipated release of his “intellectual memoir,” Thinking, Fast and Slow, that Kahneman’s extraordinary contribution to humanity’s cerebral growth reached the mainstream — in the best way possible.

Absorbingly articulate and infinitely intelligent, Kahneman examines what he calls the machinery of the mind — the dual processor of the brain, divided into two distinct systems that dictate how we think and make decisions. One is fast, intuitive, reactive, and emotional. (If you’ve read Jonathan Haidt’s excellent The Happiness Hypothesis, as you should have, this system maps roughly to the metaphor of the elephant.) The other is slow, deliberate, methodical, and rational. (That’s Haidt’s rider.)

The mind functions thanks to a delicate, intricate, sometimes difficult osmotic balance between the two systems, a push and pull responsible for both our most remarkable capabilities and our enduring flaws. From the role of optimism in entrepreneurship to the heuristics of happiness to our propensity for error, Kahneman covers an extraordinary scope of cognitive phenomena to reveal a complex and fallible yet, somehow comfortingly so, understandable machine we call consciousness.

Much of the discussion in this book is about biases of intuition. However, the focus on error does not denigrate human intelligence, any more than the attention to diseases in medical texts denies good health… [My aim is to] improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgment and choice, in others and eventually in ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them.” ~ Daniel Kahneman

Among the book’s most fascinating facets are the notions of the experiencing self and the remembering self, underpinning the fundamental duality of the human condition — one voiceless and immersed in the moment, the other occupied with keeping score and learning from experience.

I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.” ~ Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman spoke of these two selves and the cognitive traps around them in his fantastic 2010 TED talk:

The word happiness is just not a useful word anymore because we apply it to too many different things.”

What’s most enjoyable and compelling about Thinking, Fast and Slow is that it’s so utterly, refreshingly anti-Gladwellian. There is nothing pop about Kahneman’s psychology, no formulaic story arc, no beating you over the head with an artificial, buzzword-encrusted Big Idea. It’s just the wisdom that comes from five decades of honest, rigorous scientific work, delivered humbly yet brilliantly, in a way that will forever change the way you think about thinking.

Thanks, Sean

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25 OCTOBER, 2011

Visual Storytelling: New Language for the Information Age

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We now live in a world where information is potentially unlimited. Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive. Where is the meaning? Only human beings can tell you where it is. We’re extracting meaning from our minds and our own lives.”

These words of wisdom come from legendary inventor and futurist George Dyson, who in a recent interview contemplated the growing disconnect between information and meaning in the age of data overload. Over the past several years, our quest to extract meaning from information has taken us more and more towards the realm of visual storytelling — we’ve used data visualization to reveal hidden patterns about the world, employed animation in engaging kids with important issues, and let infographics distill human emotion. In fact, our very brains are wired for the visual over the textual by way of the pictorial superiority effect.

It would be ridiculous to try to express by curved lines moral ideals, the prosperity of peoples, or the decadence of their literature. But anything that has to do with extent or quantity can be presented geometrically. Statistical projections which speak to the senses without fatiguing the mind, possess the advantage of fixing the attention on a great number of important facts.” ~ Alexander von Humboldt, Political Essay on the Kingdom of Spain, 1811

Visual Storytelling: Inspiring a New Visual Language, from the fine folks at Gestalten, gathers the most compelling work by a new generation of designers, illustrators, graphic editors, and data journalists tackling the grand sensemaking challenge of our time by pushing forward the evolving visual vocabulary of storytelling.

Vahram Muratyan: Paris vs. New York: L’obsession

Peter Ørntoft: Information Graphics in Context, a project illustrating a ranked list of social concerns in Denmark

Peter Ørntoft: Information Graphics in Context, a project illustrating a ranked list of social concerns in Denmark

Gregory Ferembach: The Movies Flowcharts

Gregory Ferembach: The Movies Flowcharts

Carl Kleiner's 'Homemade Is Best' IKEA cookbook

Part of the 'Oceans' campaign for Greenpeace, showing the devastating effects of FADs (fish aggregation devices) used in commercial tuna fishing

An infographic showing the details that go into a Formula 1 event, from traveling furniture to vodka to spare engines

Jan Schwochow, Katharina Stipp, David Weinberg: A graphic comparing highway speed limits in countries around the world and showing the number of traffic deaths per 100,000 inhabitants

Road Map of the Eye, part of Katja Günther's Cartographic project visualizing information by mapping relevant elements

Orenzo Petrantoni: Piece was commissioned by the Wall Street Journal for an article about the countries, themes, and characters involved in the Gulf crisis

Alexandra Muresan: The Paper Pie Chart; various paper products such as tissue, cardboard, writing paper, and newsprint are used in corresponding amounts to make a pie chart representing the breakdown of paper production in the united states in 2000

From hand-drawn diagrams to sophisticated data visualization, by way of graphic design, illustration, photography, and information architecture, this magnificent volume of contemporary and experimental visual storytelling explores what it means to convey information with equal parts clarity and creativity, speaking with remarkable aesthetic eloquence about the things that matter in the world today.

Every field has some central tension it is trying to resolve. Visualization deals with the inhuman scale of the information and the need to present it at the very human scale of what the eye can see.” ~ Martin Wattenberg in The Economist, 2010

Wataro Yoshida: Composition of Mammals, a fictional exhibition using fictional places to study the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls and accompanying informational posters about the complex structure of each mammal's body

Wataro Yoshida: Composition of Mammals, a fictional exhibition using fictional places to study the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls and accompanying informational posters about the complex structure of each mammal's body

Lucas Van Vuuren: Lunch, a thorough decision tree

David Garcia Studio: MAP 001 Antarctica, part of MAP (Manual of architectural Possibilities), a publication that aims to merge science and research with architectural design

David Garcia Studio: MAP 002 Quarantine

Stunning, ambitious, and thoughtfully curated, Visual Storytelling is part high-concept dictionary for a language of increasingly critical importance, part priceless time-capsule of bleeding-edge creativity from the Golden Age of information overload, the era we call home.

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25 OCTOBER, 2011

Picasso Paints on Glass

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A voyeuristic peek at the master making magic.

The great Pablo Picasso — painter, sculptor, printmaker, stage designer, notorious list-maker, cross-disciplinary creator and proponent of combinatorial creativity — would have been 130 today. To celebrate, here’s a piece of now-legendary footage of Picasso painting on glass with a camera rolling on the other side of it, revealing a rare glimpse of the genius at work as he paints his famous Torros with meticulously measured yet effortless brush strokes.

The footage is part of Paul Haesaert’s short 1950 documentary, Visit to Picasso, which you can watch online in its entirety. Go ahead, have your breath taken away.

On a semi-related note, while digging for a DVD copy of the film — to no avail, sadly — I serendipitously discovered this utterly gorgeous original 1971 print of a 1946 poster for a lecture by Picasso and Haesaert, designed by Picasso himself:

For an intimate, revealing and, yes, opinionated journey into the great artist’s heart and mind, look no further than Gertrude Stein’s timeless memoir, simply titled Picasso.

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