Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘TED’

14 FEBRUARY, 2011

Bohemian Rhapsody 5 Ways

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What The Muppets have to do with hearing disabilities, self-cloning and TED.

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” from Queen’s 1975 album A Night at the Opera, is one of the most iconic songs in modern music history. And like any creative icon, it has been the subject of countless covers, remixes, parodies, mashups and homages. Today, we look at five of our favorites.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY IN SIGN LANGUAGE

Could this be a new form of syneshtesia? ASL interpreter Sam Farley rocks out to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in his car and we don’t care that his handless wheel is a road safety hazard — we’re just grateful his sister secretly captured him on film from the driver’s seat, because he’s that hat-tip-worthy.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON FOUR VIOLINS

Joe Edmonds arranges and performs the classic on four violins, all written out by hand without any sheet music. Pure joy. He’s also kindly made the track available as a free download.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON SLIDE WHISTLES

He’s kooky. And he’s wonderful. Watch LA-based artist Joe Penna, better-known as Mystery Guitar Man, perform the classic on slide whistles. Don’t miss the excellent making-of.

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY BY THE MUPPETS

A huge cast of the Muppets takes on Freddie & co, and it might just be the best “Bohemian Rhapsody” cover in history — and they’ve even got a Webby win to show for it. From the ingeniously modified lyrics to the priceless a-cappella, it’s equal parts hilarious and brilliant. Lo and behold, the track is even available as a fully legitimate download, proof that the Sesame Street empire can merchandise anything. (But we love them anyway.)

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY ON A UKULELE

We loved it when we saw it live, and we love it still — Jake Shimabukuro’s phenomenal, virtuoso performance of the Queen classic on a tiny Hawaiian ukulele at TED 2010 is a heart-stopper.

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07 FEBRUARY, 2011

The Heroic Imagination Project

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What the root of evil has to do with a summer in 1971 and the untapped capacity for good.

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo is best-known for the infamous Stanford Prison Study, one of modern psychology’s most unsettling experiments on human nature. (Insights from which are distilled in Zimbardo’s excellent The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil — an absolutely essential text of social psychology, timeless and all the more timely in today’s global atmosphere of increasing social and political unrest.)

Zimbardo’s latest project, however, approaches the good/evil dichotomy of the human condition from precisely the opposite angle. The Heroic Imagination Project is an inspired nonprofit that aims to advance everyday heroism though programs designed to harness people’s inherent, extraordinary and often untapped potential for good within.

At HIP, we believe everyone has the potential to transform the private virtue of compassion into the civic virtue of heroic action, and we are dedicated to helping individuals internalize and express their ‘heroic imagination’ in service to humanity.”

In this excellent TEDU talk, Zimbardo delivers a compelling primer for the project:

If you’ve found your moral imagination tickled by the project, there are three ways to get involved and take action: You can take the hero pledge, take the hero challenge and/or join the HIP community on Facebook and Twitter.

via TED Blog

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26 JANUARY, 2011

Democratizing Publishing: TED Launches TEDBooks

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Yesterday, we were thrilled to hear that TED is launching TEDBooks — an imprint of short nonfiction books. Using Amazon’s freshly released Kindle Singles imprint for books under 20,000 words and designed to be read in a single sitting, the $2.99 books are available on the Kindle and Kindle Reader apps for iPad and Android.

The project launched with three promising all-star titles:

The Happiness Manifesto by Nic Marks of Happy Planet Index fame debunks the notion of using economic factors to measure a nation’s well-being and instead explores how people and nations can build real, lasting foundations for well-being — a timely addition to our selection of 7 must-read books on happiness released earlier this week.

Homo Evolutis by Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans is a bold vision for the next human species, portraying mankind as a species in transitions not only through a life science map of evolution but also through a compelling discussion of how the core principles of our civilization — government, religion, social structures — are shifting.

Beware Dangerism! by Gever Tulley takes on the culture of fear perpetuated by mass media and often embedded in parenting, which he terms “dangerism,” with surprising statistics and insights indicating that play and pursuit of curiosity — something we’re big proponents of — is the better model for raising kids to be high-functioning, entrepreneurial, creative, successful, happy people.

The effort is an “idea worth spreading” in more ways than one — it serves not only as a powerful vehicle for some of today’s most compelling thinking, leveraged by the TED brand, but also bespeaks a new frontier of publishing that bypasses the stagnant traditional model of the industry to democratize how authors’ ideas reach their audience. Bravo, TED.

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25 JANUARY, 2011

7 Essential Books on the Art and Science of Happiness

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From Plato to Buddha, or what imperfection has to do with the neuroscience of the good life.

If you, like me, are fascinated by the human quest to understand the underpinnings of happiness but break out in hives at the mere mention of self-help books, you’re in luck: I’ve sifted through my personal library, a decade’s worth of obsessive reading, to surface seven essential books on the art and science of happiness, rooted in solid science, contemporary philosophy and cross-disciplinary insight. From psychology and neuroscience to sociology and cultural anthropology to behavioral economics, these essential reads illuminate the most fundamental aspiration of all human existence: How to avoid suffering and foster lasting well-being.

THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS

The question of what makes us happy is likely as old as human cognition itself and has occupied the minds of philosophers, prophets and scientists for millennia. In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, psychology professor Jonathan Haidt unearths ten great theories of happiness discovered by the thinkers of the past, from Plato to Jesus to Buddha, to reveal a surprising abundance of common tangents. (For example, from Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” From Buddha: “Our life is the creation of our mind.”)

Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. It is only because our emotional brains work so well that our reasoning can work at all.”

Haidt takes this ambitious analysis of philosophical thought over the centuries and examines it through the prism of modern psychology research to extract a remarkably compelling blueprint for optimizing the human condition for happiness.

STUMBLING ON HAPPINESS

Nearly four years ago, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert published Stumbling On Happiness. To this day, it remains the best-researched yet captivatingly digestible book on the art and science of happiness, exposing with equal parts wit and scientific rigor the many misconceptions we have about happiness, the tricks our minds play on us in its pursuit and how the limitations of our imagination get in the way of the grand quest.

Sample the book’s nuggets of wisdom with Gilbert’s excellent TED talk from 2008:

We have within us the capacity to manufacture the very quality we are constantly chasing.” ~ Daniel Gilbert

THE ART OF HAPPINESS

Science may be a reliable source of illumination, but it would be short-sighted to let it completely eclipse centuries of spiritual tradition investigating the underbelly of human nature. There is hardly a cultural figure more revered in that realm than His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Art of Happiness, a landmark articulation of the philosophy of peace and compassion as a foundation of happiness by Gyatso, His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, has served as a powerful guide to well-being for secular and spiritual happiness seekers alike for the past twelve years.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~ His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama

Both timeless and timely in today’s cultural landscape of ubiquitous moral, political and environmental turmoil, where it’s all the more important to develop the skills for finding inner peace amids chaos, The Art of Happiness captures with eloquent simplicity the most important point of all: Happiness, like any art, requires diligent study and disciplined practice.

HAPPINESS

French scientist-turned-Buddhist-monk Matthieu Ricard is one of our greatest intellectual heroes. The son of prominent French philosopher and intellectual Jean-François Revel, Ricard got a degree in molecular genetics, then decided to step away from his career in science and devote his life to the study of Buddhism. His inner scientist, however, remained wide awake as he developed a keen interest in the neurological effects of meditation and mindfulness training.

In Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, he distills 25 centuries of Buddhist spiritual tradition alongside bleeding-edge neuroscience and the most compelling findings of Western cognitive psychology — an intelligent and refreshing vision for fusing the life of the mind and the life of the heart into a path of genuine psychoemotional fulfillment.

For a taste of Ricard’s genius, don’t miss his fantastic TED talk, one of our top five of all time:

THE HAPPINESS PROJECT

On a rainy afternoon in 2006, New York Magazine writer Gretchen Rubin found herself having one of those inevitable carpe diem epiphanies about the fleeting nature of life and the importance of savoring the moment. Instead of shrugging it off as a contrived truism, however, Rubin decided to turn it into an experiment: She set out to test humanity’s ample arsenal of theories about what makes us happy, from ancient philosophies to pop culture prescriptions to the latest scientific studies. She chronicled the experience on her blog and eventually adapted it in The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun — an enlightening and entertaining record of her journey through awkward moments and surprising successes that together weave a rich mesh of existential insight.

We reviewed it in full in 2009 and, after having the pleasure of meeting Gretchen recently, fully recommend the The Happiness Project as a profound yet pragmatic guide to personal growth.

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS

Back in the day, we had the pleasure of studying under Dr. Martin Seligman, father of the thriving positive psychology movement — a potent antidote to the traditional “disease model” of psychology, which focuses on how to relieve suffering rather than how to amplify well-being. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment offers a toolkit for harnessing our core strengths to make everyday interactions more fulfilling, complete with a range of assessment tools and self-tests rooted in cognitive science and behavioral psychology research.

Relieving the states that make life miserable… has made building the states that make life worth living less of a priority. The time has finally arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the ‘good life.'” ~ Martin Seligman

Seligman gives a provocative primer on positive psychology in this must-see TED talk:

THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION

Brené Brown is no ordinary sociologist. She calls herself, quite accurately, a “researcher-storyteller” and her seminal research on vulnerability, shame and empathy has brought about a whole new understanding of an intricate dimension of human authenticity and worth: Something she calls “wholeheartedness.” Her most recent book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, isn’t the self-help bible the title may mislead you to expect. Rather, it’s a treasure trove of insight on emotional health and psychological balance, rooted in a decade’s worth of rigorous research but delivered in a deeply human way. It’s so fantastic, in fact, that when we first featured it late last year, it quickly became one of the most-read, most-shared Brain Pickings articles in all of 2010.

Brown’s talk from TEDxHouston is our favorite TEDx talk of all time and absolutely unmissable, so we’ll repost it here in case you did miss it:

In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen — really seen.

The Gifts of Imperfection examines one of the greatest foundations of happiness — our sense of and need for belonging, both with others and in our own skin — and brings to it a level of authenticity and understanding that fundamentally changes the way we relate to ourselves and each other.

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