Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘history’

15 MARCH, 2012

Arthur C. Clarke Predicts the iPad in 1968

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Unpacking humanity’s collective conscience through ‘the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications.’

In 1964, legendary science fiction writer, inventor, and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted the future with astounding accuracy, presaging everything from telecommuting to the digital convergence. It turns out he predicted the future in even more granular detail in his 1968 novel-turned-Kubrick-classic 2001 A Space Odyssey, where in Chapter 9 he describes the “newspad” — a strikingly prescient vision for the iPad.

When [Floyd] had tired of official reports, memoranda and minutes, he would plug his foolscap-sized Newspad into the ship’s information circuit and scan the latest reports from Earth. One by one, he would conjure up the world’s major electronic papers. He knew the codes of the more important ones by heart and had no need to consult the list on the back of his pad. Switching to the display’s short-term memory, he would hold the front page while he searched the headlines and noted the items that interested him.

Each had its own two-digit reference. When he punched that, a postage-sized rectangle would expand till it neatly filled the screen and he could read it with comfort. When he finished he could flash back to the complete page and select a new subject for detailed examination.

Floyd sometimes wondered if the Newspad, and the fantastic technology behind it, was the last word in man’s quest for perfect communications. Here he was, far out in space, speeding away from Earth at thousands of miles an hour, yet in a few milliseconds he could see the headlines of any newspaper he pleased. (That very word “newspaper,” of course, was an anachronistic hangover into the age of electronics.) The text was updated automatically on every hour; even if one read only the English versions, one could spend an entire lifetime doing nothing but absorbing the ever-changing flow of information from the news satellites.”

The iPad was released in 2010, two years after Clarke’s death.

The past, of course, has a long history of envisioning the future and presaging its inventions — which is to be expected in a culture of combinatorial creativity where ideas build upon other ideas. As neuroscientist David Eagleman reminds us in the excellent Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, one of the 11 best psychology books of 2011:

When an idea is served up from behind the scenes, your neural circuitry has been working on it for hours or days or years, consolidating information and trying out new combinations.”

What is true of a single human brain is no doubt true of humanity’s networked collective conscience.

Margaret Plus

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13 MARCH, 2012

Memories, Dreams, Reflections: A Rare Glimpse Inside Iconic Psychiatrist Carl Jung’s Mind

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“…the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”

In the spring of 1957, at the age of 84, legendary psychiatrist Carl Jung (July 26, 1875–June 6, 1961) set out to tell his life’s story. He embarked upon a series of conversations with his colleague and friend, Aniela Jaffe, which he used as the basis for the text. At times, so powerful was his drive for expression that he wrote entire chapters by hand. He continued to work on the manuscript until shortly before his death in 1961. The result was Memories, Dreams, Reflections — a fascinating peek behind the curtain of Jung’s mind, revealing a wonderland of wisdom, experience, and self-reflection.

Jaffe writes in the introduction in 1961:

The genesis of this book to some extent determined its contents. Conversation or spontaneous narration is inevitably casual, and the tone has carried over the entire ‘autobiography.’ The chapters are rapidly moving beams of light that only fleetingly illuminate the outward events of Jung’s life and work. In recompense, they transmit the atmosphere of his intellectual world and the experience of a man to whom the psyche was a profound reality.”

Jung’s reflections span everything from the minutia of working for a living to the grand truths of the human condition to the nature of the divine. This particular passage, from the closing of a chapter entitled “Life and Death,” struck me as a powerful lens on consciousness and what it means to be human:

Our age has shifted all emphasis to the here and now, and thus brought about a daemonization of man and his world. The phenomenon of dictators and all the misery they have wrought springs from the fact that man has been robbed of transcendence by the shortsightedness of the super-intellectuals. Like them, he has fallen a victim to unconsciousness. But man’s task is the exact opposite: to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious. Neither should he persist in his unconsciousness, nor remain identical with the unconscious elements of his being, thus evading his destiny, which is to create more and more consciousness. As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. It may even be assumed that just as the unconscious affects us, so the increase in our consciousness affects the unconscious.”

The inimitable Austin Kleon — of Steal Like An Artist fame — has a lovely sketchnote visualization of the book:

Among the most fascinating elements of the book, especially for a lover of letters such as myself, is the Appendix, which features never-before-published letters from Freud to Jung. In one, dated April 16, 1909, Freud discusses — with an odd blend of reverence for mysticism and keen self-awareness of the selective attention at work — how he became obsessed with the idea that he would die between the ages of 61 and 62, and subsequently started seeing the two numbers everywhere. Freud concludes, with a subtle jab at Jung’s own views on “poltergeist phenomena”:

Here is another instance where you will find confirmation of the specifically Jewish character of my mysticism. Apart from this, I only want to say that adventures such as mine with the number 62 can be explained by two thing. The first is an enormously intensified alertness on the part of the unconscious, so that one is led like Faust to see Helen in every woman. The second is the undeniable ‘co-operation of chance,’ which plays the same role in the formation of delusions as somatic co-operation in hysterical symptoms or linguistic co-operation in puns.

I therefore look forward to hearing more about your investigations of the spook-complex, my interest being the interest one has in a lovely delusion which one does not share oneself.”

Though not without faults, Jung’s was one of modern history’s most intriguing minds and Memories, Dreams, Reflections presents a rare, infinitely insightful glimpse of its inner workings.

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13 MARCH, 2012

The Lady Anatomist: The Wax Sculptures of 18th-Century Artist-Scientist Anna Morandi Manzolini

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In eighteenth-century Italy, the “medical Venus” becomes the professor.

For 2,000 years of medical history, the human body has been inked out, penciled in, the nervous system mapped, the gut lovingly rendered, and the brain lit up in color. To make these renderings, doctors-in-training would for hundreds of years dissect the corpse of criminals, the insane, or the unknown, sometimes even digging up the body themselves or buying one from the black market.

In the eighteenth century, a less gross form of anatomy marked the beginning of a scientific enlightenment in Italy: the anatomical wax model. The Specola collection of anatomical waxes opened to the public in 1775, and with the blessing of a scientifically-minded Pope, societies and lectures opened up new opportunities for public education across class and gender lines. Wax anatomists had to be both incredibly well-versed in medicine and incredibly skilled at sculpture, and few were as talented as Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714-1774, whose extraordinary life and work have been recently collected in Rebecca Messbarger‘s The Lady Anatomist.

Anna Morandi, mouth and tongue (University of Bologna)

Anna Morandi, a set of wax eyes (University of Bolonga)

When she married at twenty-six, Morandi had been trained as a professional artist and could also read and write Latin, the language of academia. She entered into the world of the university as the wife of a professor of anatomy, and when he died of tuberculosis in 1755, Anna, a widow with two children, stepped into her husband’s former teaching position at the University of Bologna, continuing his studies and establishing an anatomical laboratory that even caught the attention of Russia’s Catherine the Great.

Modern anatomical hall at La Specola

Clemente Susini, anatomical Venus (University of Bologna)

“Medical Venuses” were a popular attraction among the anatomical wax models of the day, life-size figures of reclining, naked women, sometimes wearing pearls, whose stomachs were flayed to reveal the female reproductive system. Instead, Morandi tore away the fig leaf of the opposite sex, mastering the anatomy of the male reproductive system.

Anna Morandi, self-portrait in wax (University of Bologna)

Morandi was bold enough to cast her own wax portrait as “The Lady Anatomist,” a richly dressed lady, fingers hovering over a freshly opened brain like it was a breakfast of hard boiled egg.

Anna Morandi and Giovanni Manzolini, muscles of the forearm (University of Bologna)

The Lady Anatomist reveals the life of Anna Morandi Manzolini as one of influence, intelligence, and rigor; a woman who was born into a circumstance and age that allowed her to take hold of the narrative of her life and define herself as a professional scientist.

Michelle Legro is an associate editor at Lapham’s Quarterly. You can find her on Twitter.

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