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How the Clouds Got Their Names

How a boy who spent his schooldays staring out the classroom window shaped the science of the skies.

“Clouds are thoughts without words,” the poet Mark Strand wrote in his breathtaking celebration of the skies. And yet clouds are in dynamic dialogue with our thoughts beyond the realm of the poetic — psychologists have demonstrated that cloudy days help us think more clearly.

Since our words give shape to our thoughts, it wasn’t until a young amateur meteorologist named and classified the clouds in 1803 that we began to read the skies and glean meaning from their feathery motions.

In this animated primer from TED-Ed, Richard Hamblyn, author of The Invention of Clouds: How an Amateur Meteorologist Forged the Language of the Skies (public library) — the same scintillating book that traced how Goethe shaped the destiny of clouds — tells the story of how the clouds got their names, forever changing our understanding of that most inescapable earthly companion, the weather.

Clouds write a kind of journal on the sky that allows us to understand the circulating patterns of weather and climate.

The unlikely and absolutely fascinating story of how we learned to read that journal comes alive in Hamblyn’s The Invention of Clouds. Complement this animated synthesis with more TED-Ed primers on why some people are left-handed, how melancholy enhances creativity, what makes a hero, how you know you exist, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.


Published November 25, 2015

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/11/25/richard-hamblyn-clouds-ted-ed/

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