Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘neuroscience’

24 FEBRUARY, 2011

5 Must-Read Books by TED 2011 Speakers

By:

What doodling has to do with the evolution of consciousness and the raw beauty of the Arctic.

Last year, our selection of 7 must-read books by TEDGlobal speakers was one our most popular articles of 2010. Today, as we prepare for next week’s big event, we’re back with 5 essential reads by TED 2011 speakers, once again litmus-tested for brilliance in the world’s most reliable quality-control lab: the TED stage.

SELF COMES TO MIND

You may recall iconic neuroscientist Antonio Damasio from his insights on what it means to be human. Published last fall, Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain is his ambitious exploration of the underpinnings of the self. From distilling cognitive phenomena like creativity and memory to illuminating vital distinctions like brain vs. mind and self vs. consciousness, Damasio does for neuroscience what Malcolm Gladwell does for business, synthesizing complex notions and rigorous research into a digestible, absorbing narrative. The book is a surprisingly worthy follow-up to Damasio’s excellent, impossibly unmatchable 2005 Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain.

AS THE FUTURE CATCHES YOU

Harvard Business School professor and futurist Juan Enriquez, whose Homo Evolutis was one of last month’s revolutionary first crop of TEDBooks, is a thoughtful observer of the profound cultural and biological changes that genomics and other life sciences are sweeping through society. In As the Future Catches You: How Genomics & Other Forces Are Changing Your Life, Work, Health & Wealth, he takes a provocative look at the trajectory of technological progress, contextualizing scientific milestones in relative historical terms that help us grasp the true scale of innovation that surrounds us. (He argues, for instance, that February 2, 2001 — the date that anyone with Internet access could access the entire human genome — is equivalent in magnitude of importance to Columbus’s 1492 discovery of America.)

Sample Enriquez’s genius with his excellent 2009 TED talk on how the evolution of technology is impacting the financial crisis:

Besides the compelling thinking, the As the Future Catches You is a beautiful experience in and of itself, adorned with sophisticated typography and eye-popping graphics. Enriquez has purposely left blank pages for your notes in an effort to stress that the issue is an ongoing conversation with no conclusive answers, inviting you to partake in its intellectual exploration.

GAMESTORMING

We’re big proponents of the value of play in enhancing creativity, productivity and well-being. And while most people have an intuitive understanding of this correlation, it remains a taboo in the formal world of business. In Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers, visual thinker and tinkerer Sunni Brown, along with co-authors Dave Gray and James Macanufo, makes a compelling case for the tangible, practical applications of play in business, applying game mechanics to revolutionize business models and work environments across a remarkably wide spectrum of industries.

The book features 83 actual, playable games designed specifically for honing the creative process, facilitating problem-solving, overcoming organizational tensions, and even making meetings shorter and more productive. Playful and pragmatic, the book is an absolute treat from cover to cover.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Bill Gates is no stranger to TED. But while the world may have had more than its fair share of Gates exposure in recent decades, it’s undeniable that the iconic geek is a bold visionary. To truly appreciate his keen grasp of the future, we need only look at the past: Published more than 15 years ago, The Road Ahead is a priceless compendium of insights from Gates, who predicts the development and application of present-day information technology with astounding accuracy and further projects its future in shaping our lives with the provocative vision of a true entrepreneur. From personal computing to business to education, the book is both a rare timecapsule of the dawn of ubiquitous computing and an extraordinary lens for what lies ahead.

Sample the book’s retrofuturistic genius with this teaser about Gates’ 1995 vision for the future of education:

POLAR OBSESSION

Naturalist and wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen grew up in one of the only non-Inuit families on Baffin Island, Nunavut, in a tiny native settlement in the sprawling ice fields of Northern Canada. In Polar Obsession, he reconnects with his roots in a striking and powetic visual ode to the Arctic at the intersection of art and science. At once a bittersweet portrait of climate change and a passionate call to action in honoring the incredible planet we inhabit, the book is a visceral and deeply alive reminder of just what’s at stake as we talk about a topic so chronically overpoliticized and sterilized of aliveness.

A kittiwake soars in front of a large iceberg. Svalbard, Norway

Looking towards an uncertain future, a huge male bear triggers a camera trap, taking his own picture. Leifdefjorden, Spitsbergen, Norway

A gentoo penguin chick peeks, checking for patrolling leopard seals before tempting fate. Port Lockroy, Antarctic Peninsula

Mother bear and two-year-old cub drift on glacier ice. Hudson Strait, Nunavut, Canada

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

01 FEBRUARY, 2011

The Belief Instinct: Exploring the Science of Spirituality

By:

We’re deeply fascinated by how the human mind makes sense of the world, and religion is one of the primary sensemaking mechanisms humanity has created to explain reality. On the heels of our recent explorations of the relationship between science and religion, the neuroscience of being human and the nature of reality comes The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life — an ambitious new investigation by evolutionary psychologist Jesse Bering, exploring one of the most important questions of human existence:

If humans are really natural rather than supernatural beings, what accounts for our beliefs about souls, immortality, a moral ‘eye in the sky’ that judges us, and so forth?”

A leading scholar of religious cognition, Bering — who heads Oxford’s Explaining Religion Project — proposes a powerful new hypothesis for the nature, origin and cognitive function of spirituality. Far from merely regurgitating existing thinking on the subject, he connects dots across different disciplines, ideologies and materials, from neuroscience to Buddhist scriptures to The Wizard of Oz. Blending empirical evidence from seminal research with literary allusions and cultural critique, Bering examines the central tenets of spirituality, from life’s purpose to the notion of afterlife, in a sociotheological context underlines by the rigor of a serious scientists.

Eloquently argued and engagingly written, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life provides a compelling missing link between theory of mind and the need for God.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.

26 JANUARY, 2011

Synesthesia Spotlight: 3 Visualizations of Music

By:

What Vivaldi has to do with motion graphics, John Coltrane and skyscrapers of color.

Synesthesia is a rare neurological condition that leads stimulation in one sensory pathway to trigger an experience in another. Basically, a short-circuiting in the brain that enables such strange phenomena like perceiving letters and numbers as inherently colored (color-graphemic synesthesia) or hearing sounds in response to visual motion. More than 60 types of synesthesia have been identified, with one of the most common being the cross-sensory experience of color and sound — “hearing” color or “seeing” music.

These neurological eccentricities, however, can often be a source of tremendous artistic inspiration. Today, we look at three mesmerizing near-synesthetic ways of experiencing sound and color.

MICHAL LEVY

Israeli artist and jazz musician Michal Levy (who also happens to be a dear friend) is an actual synesthetic: When she listens to music, she sees shapes and colors as different tones, pitches, frequencies, harmonies, and other elements of the melody unfold. Her fantastic animated film, Giant Steps, captures this unique experience, visualizing the iconic John Coltrane masterpiece as Michal sees it in her mind’s synesthetic eye.

Michal’s latest film, One, is yet another vibrant journey into sonic color. Her creative process is quite extraordinary, like peering into a mind that functions on an entirely different sensory plane.

LET YOURSELF FEEL

Let Yourself Feel is a mesmerizing animation by Argentinian motion graphics designer Esteban Diácono, visualizing “Slowly” by composer Ólafur Arnalds in spellbinding colorful smoke.

MUSIC ANIMATION MACHINE

Since 1985, composer, inventor and software engineer Stephen Malinowski has been bringing an intuitive, visceral understanding to classical music’s greatest masterpieces. His Music Animation Machine, which we have featured previously, distills some of the most complex compositions in music history into digestible, beautiful visualizations.

Music moves, and can be understood just by listening. But a conventional musical score stands still, and can be understood only after years of training. The Music Animation Machine bridges this gap, with a score that moves — and can be understood just by watching.” ~ Stephen Malinowski

Malinowski has made the MIDI player available as downloadable freeware (alas, no Mac version) to encourge people to create their own visualizations. There’s even a free visual harmonizer for iPad — a wonderful educational tool exploring the relationship between pitches.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.