Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

27 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Bad News: A Media Fiction


Can bad news become a self-fulfilling prophecy? That’s exactly what motion graphics trio Bastian Boehm, Felipe Lima and Tom Duscher explore in their graduation film, Bad News – A Media Fiction. Through the metaphor of a 1950’s newspaper that self-destructs as it reports on an apocalyptic comet, the film offers timely cultural commentary on the potential sociocultural consequences of today’s media negativism and sensationalism. Is Rupert Murdoch the Dorian Grey of our worldview?

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07 SEPTEMBER, 2010

What Does It Mean to Be Human?


Primates, philosophers, and how subjectivity ensures the absolute truth of our existence.

What does it mean to be human? Centuries worth of scientific thought, artistic tradition and spiritual practice have attempted to answer this most fundamental question about our existence. And yet the diversity of views and opinions is so grand it has made that answer remarkably elusive. While we don’t necessarily believe such an “answer” — singular and conclusive by definition — even exists, today we make an effort to understand the wholeness of a human being without compartmentalizing humanity into siloed views of the brain, emotion, morality and so forth. So we look at this complex issue from three separate angles — evolutionary biology, philosophy and neuroscience — hoping weave together a somewhat more holistic understanding of the whole.


From The Leakey Foundation, which aims to increase scientific knowledge and public understanding of human origins, evolution, behavior, and survival, comes What Makes Us Human? — a multifaceted exploration of who we are as a species and how we came to be that way. Barely 8 minutes long, the film features an astounding all-star cast of scientists — Jane Goodall, Robert Sapolsky, Richard Wrangham, Steven Pinker, Eugenie Scott and more — and tackles a number of complex concepts related to consciousness and the essence of being human.

There is a lot more biology to our behavior than we used to think.” ~ Richard Wrangham

Though the film is essentially an ad for The Leakey Foundation, that’s more than okay given that over the past half-century, the foundation has stepped up to the government’s consistent failure to properly fund scientific research and practically launched the careers of some of the greatest scientists of our time — Dian Fossey, Birute Galdikas, Don Johanson, Richard Wrangham, Daniel Lieberman, and even Jane Goodall herself.



Dan Dennett is one of today’s most prominent and prolific philosophers. In this excellent 2003 TED talk, he exposes the flawed and often downright misleading way in which we (mis)understand our consciousness, perpetuated by the many tricks our brains play on us.

It’s very hard to change people’s minds about something like consciousness, and I finally figured out the reason for that. The reason for that is that everybody’s an expert on consciousness.” ~ Dan Dennett

For more of Dennett’s illuminating insight, take a look at The Crucible of Consciousness: An Integrated Theory of Mind and Brain, which builds on Dennett’s iconic — and must-read — 1992 book, Consciousness Explained.


Neuroscientist Antonio Damasio is among the world’s leading researchers on the neurobiology of mind and behavior, focusing more specifically on emotion, memory, decision-making, communication and creativity. In this compelling BigThink interview, Damasio gives a basic definition of “consciousness”

Consciousness is the special quality of mind, the special features that exist in your mind, that permit us to know, for example, that we ourselves exist and that things exist around us. And that is something more than just your mind. Mind allows us to portray in different sensory modalities — visual, auditory, olfactory, you name it — what we are like and what the world is like, but this very, very important quality of subjectivity is the quality that allows us to take a distant view and say, ‘I am.'” ~ Antonio Damasio

Damasio’s new book, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, comes out in November but is already available for pre-order — which we highly recommend, since it’s an absolute must-read.

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12 AUGUST, 2010

HAPPY: A Documentary


From swamps to slums and why owning nothing can mean having everything.

What makes people genuinely happy? The nature and origin of happiness is something we’ve been exploring for a while, across a variety of projects and media — from Charles Spearin’s The Happiness Project to Gretchen Rubin’s’s identically titled but radically different yearlong experiment to the neurological underpinnings of happiness.

Now, an ambitious feature documentary is on a quest to probe deeper and go further to find what it is that truly makes people happy. HAPPY, from Oscar-nominated director Roko Belic (Genghis Blues), treks the globe from the swamps of Louisiana to the slums of Kolkata to unearth the sources of the world’s most precious natural resource through ordinary and extraordinary human stories and powerful interviews with the leading neuroscientists and psychologists researching the science of happiness.

HAPPY seeks to share the wisdom of traditional cultures and the cutting edge science that is now, for the first time, exploring human happiness.”

Inspired by Belic’s insight that the United States is among the world’s wealthiest nations yet reports some of the lowest happiness levels, HAPPY aims to examine this disconnect between wealth and well-being, indentifying the true currency of happiness.

I went to Africa when I was 18 and I had a very shocking experience. I met literally hundreds of people over the course of a few weeks who owned absolutely nothing. And yet they genuinely were exuding happiness.” ~ Roko Belic

WGSO has an excellent interview with Belic, revealing much of the inspiration for and insights from the film:

The film, a nonprofit project, was funded entirely through Kickstarter, of which we’ve been longtime proponents as one of the most potent platforms for crowdfunding creative ventures.

HAPPY is currently in post-production and we’re counting down to its inevitable awards sweep at Sundance.

via Swiss Miss

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17 MAY, 2010

Ayn Rand on Love as a Business Deal: The 1959 Interview


Why state and economics should remain separate and what the true currency of love is.

In the history of modern rational thought, there’s hardly a creed more definitive than Objectivism, the philosophy movement created by Russian-American novelist and thinker Ayn Rand. Among the central tenets of Objectivism is the idea that we can gain objective knowledge through the processes of logic and that the pursuit of our own happiness, framed as rational self-interest, is the sole purpose of existence. While such moral code may seem overly cynical, especially in the age of the Charter for Compassion, it seems to be the silent underwriting of much of today’s modus operandi.

Today, we look at a threepart interview Rand gave in 1959, as part of Mike Wallace’s Gallery of Colorful People series on CBS. More than half a century later, Rand’s code of morality and her bold challenge to altruism theory is equally controversial and no less fascinating to study. Judgement of its moral righteousness aside, Objectivism is still one of the most important cultural conversations to engage, if only for the passionate consideration of all sides of the argument that it ignites.

What makes this particular interview noteworthy is that Wallace plays, with complete composure, the perfect devil’s advocate, eliciting a series of almost emotional retorts from the living epitome of emotionless rationalism. Watch, waver, and draw your own conclusions.

When you are asked to love everybody indiscriminately, that is to love people without any standard, to love them regardless of whether they have any value or virtue, you are asked to love nobody.” ~ Ayn Rand

Love should be treated like a business deal, but every business deal has its own terms and its own currency. And in love, the currency is virtue. You love people not for what you do for them or what they do for you. You love them for the values, the virtues, which they have achieved in their own character.” ~ Ayn Rand

For a deeper look at Rand’s philosophy and moral code, we highly recommend her iconic Atlas Shrugged, one of the most important written works of the 20th century. And we should also point out that you certainly don’t have to agree with Rand’s views in order to appreciate their cultural significance.

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