Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘science’

21 MARCH, 2014

We Are Made of Dead Stuff: Amazing Animation Made of Leaves

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“You and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum.”

The notion that we are all stardust, a poetic observation we owe to Carl Sagan, is among the most inspired insights of modern science — an essential reminder that the atoms in our bodies are made of really old stuff, stuff as old as the universe. But while dead stars in our distant past may be poetic, dead stuff in our immediate present is not so much. And yet, it turns out, you and everyone else you know are just two degrees of separation from detritus — the decomposing matter, or dead stuff, that is the secret ingredient of the food chain. That’s exactly what John C. Moore explores in this short film from TED Ed, directed by Biljana Labovic and featuring intricate, impossibly lovely foliage creatures designed by Celeste Lai based on animator Lisa LaBracio’s lifelong leaf collection.

You and most of the matter in your body are just two or three degrees of separation from things like pond scum. All species in an ecosystem — from the creatures in a coral leaf to the fish in a lake to the lions in the savannah — are directly or indirectly nourished by dead stuff.

Complement with Wild Ones, Jon Mooallem’s poignant and poetic account of the ecosystem of which we are a part — sometimes reluctantly, sometimes neglectfully, but always inescapably — then revisit Whale Fall, a lyrical animation about the afterlife of dying whales.

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19 MARCH, 2014

Happy Birthday, Standard Time: How the Railroads Gave Us Time Zones

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How the quest to prevent train collisions forever changed the global clock.

Our internal time, distorted as it is, may dictate a great deal of our lives, but it is external time — the scientific and cultural conventions of timekeeping — that anchors the rhythms of society. One of those most central timekeeping anchors was born on March 19, 1918, when the United States government passed the Standard Time Act — a federal law formalizing the concept of time zones. In this short animation from TED Ed, historian William Heuisler tells the fascinating story of how the railroad revolution led to the establishment of Standard Time, a seemingly simple development the impact of which profoundly shaped our everyday lives:

Complement with the curious psychology of time slows down when we’re afraid, speeds up as we age, and gets all warped when we’re on vacation, then revisit these 7 excellent books about time.

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18 MARCH, 2014

Astronaut Chris Hadfield Covers Bowie’s “Space Oddity” in Space

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“Now it’s time to leave the capsule if you dare…”

For no other reason than sheer soul-uplifting awesomeness, here’s astronaut Chris Hadfield — yes, him — covering David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station, which Hadfield considers “the world’s first great outpost away from the world”:

Hadfield, whose 2013 book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything is absolutely fantastic, also performed “Space Oddity” at TED 2014. Here’s a serendipitous shot that makes his guitar look like a tiny sun:

It may seem a small thing, silly even, but how little it takes to get Earth excited about space, and how very necessary that we do so. Perhaps we need more Chris Hadfields to rekindle public interest in space exploration.

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