What dirty coastlines have to do with graphic design and talking trees.
By Maria Popova
The Gulf oil spill may well be the greatest environmental disaster of our time and we’re yet to feel the full impact of its aftermath. Cleaning up the mess is one slow but important step towards recovery and creative outfit Happiness Brussels — they of social media talking tree fame — are making a lovely effort towards it. They’ve created Oil & Water Do Not Mix — a limited edition of 200 posters screen-printed with oil from the Gulf disaster, collected on the beaches of Louisiana’s Grand Isle and benefiting the region’s restoration.
What existential epiphanies have to do with New York high schoolers and The Clash.
By Maria Popova
We agree with Paola Antonelli in that “design is the highest form of expression people have, period.” And for it to be a truly transformative force of social change, it has to be woven into a society’s most deep-seated cultural sensibility. What better place to begin than the ripening young mind, whose design sensibility remains unaddressed, if not assaulted, by traditional academia?
Project Interaction is a 10-week afterschool program teaching high school students how to use design to change their communities. From storytelling to critical thinking to interaction design, the curriculum takes a holistic approach to design as a social problem-solving tool and encourages students to tackle issues that matter to them with solutions that are both thoughtful and practically viable.
One of our favorite aspects of the project is the series of interviews with established designers, who share how they got their first a-ha! moment about what design means and the turning point in their self-discovery at which they recognized design as a lifelong calling.
Design is something with a sense of history, something that you can riff off of, flip to the past, tweak it, make it your own, and just kind of keep moving forward and just playing with the world around you and reassembling it.” ~ Bill DeRouchey
[Design] helps you think. It’s assistive to all other disciplines. Whether or not you end up becoming a designer or an artist in the strictest sense, the skills are just valuable aross the board.” ~ Jason Santa Maria
We reported yesterday with great sadness that Benoît Mandelbrot, known as the father of fractal geometry, has passed away. We have to agree with Jason Kottke that one day, Mandelbrot’s contribution to mathematics will be regarded as Einstein’s contribution to physics is today — his geometrical algorithms have been applied to everything from lung surgery to financial markets. And while we don’t go as far as making a dizzifying animated-gif tombstone, we’d like to commemorate the great thinker with a few of our favorite Mandelbrot gems.
In February, we had the pleasure of seeing him speak at TED, where he gave a fantastic talk on fractals and the art of roughness. The talk is based on Mandelbrot’s theory of roughness, best articulated in this excellent Edge interview from 2004.
I prefer the word roughness to the word irregularity because irregularity — to someone who had Latin in my long-past youth — means the contrary of regularity. But it is not so. Regularity is the contrary of roughness because the basic aspect of the world is very rough.” ~ Benoît Mandelbrot
Curiously, Mandelbrot didn’t get his start with fractals as a physicist or mathematician or geometrist. He started by studying stock market prices. His book, Fractals and Scaling In Finance: Discontinuity, Concentration, Risk, is utterly fascinating in a deep yet lateral and cross-disciplinary way that hardly any other financial book has managed to be.
Visually, Mandelbrot fractals have propagated the synth-creative field in the form of trippy, mesmerizing artwork and animation, such as this treat from teamfresh. (An additional hat tip is due to the great mathematician for his indirect contribution to language with such delightfully incongruous linguistic bedfellows as “math porn” — a term that has been used to describe the vibrant, colorful artwork based on Mandelbrot fractals.)
Finally, a gem as priceless as they come — Benoît Mandelbrot in conversation with our greatest creative and curatorial hero, MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, at a SEED/MoMA salon in 2008:
The power of fractals is that they’re so instinctive, immediate graspable, even without knowing there’s a geometric law behind them.” ~ Paola Antonelli
If you haven’t yet read The Fractal Geometry of Nature, his seminal work offering a compelling yet digestible mathematical explanation of everything from snowflakes to coastlines to capillary beds, do yourself a favor and do.
What falling apples have to do with transcendence, politics and The God Helmet.
By Maria Popova
Throughout history, humanity has pitted science and religion against each other. In The End of God?: A Horizon Guide to Science and Religion, a new BBC4 documentary released immediately after the Pope’s visit to the UK, British historian Thomas Dixon makes a compelling case not only for the parallel existence of both but also for evidence of each in the other.
From the condemnation of Galileo by the Catholic Church in 17th-century Italy to the construction of the Large Hadron Collider, Dixon delves into decades worth of original footage from the BBC archives to examine the complex relationship between science and religion, from the political structures that underlie society’s understanding of both to how and why the placebo effect works to the neuroscience underpinnings of the belief in God.
Though the program is no longer available on BBC’s iPlayer and has been yanked from YouTube for copyright violations (bespeaking the tragic Catch-22 of such issues), you can catch it here:
Behind Galileo’s downfall were two questions that are central to the whole story of science and religion: Who owns knowledge, and what makes one source of knowledge more reliable than another?”
In 1987, the highest court in America ruled that teaching creationism was unconstitutional. It violated the required separation of church and state. Creationism was banned from the science curriculum. But despite the ban, creationism hasn’t gone away. Since the 1980’s, polls have found that nearly half of all Americans believe God created humans, just as it says in the Bible.”
Both Newton and Einstein saw a divine beauty in the clarity and order of mathematical laws. Understanding the workings of the universe, they believed, was like looking into the mind of God. But in the last 100 years, this beautiful simplicity has been shattered by an explosion of scientific discovery. And now the divine beauty of the Newtonian clockwork universe and even the classical physics of Einstein have been obscured by bewildering complexity.”
If this subject intrigues you, we highly recommend the deeply compelling God, the Universe and Everything Else by three of the greatest minds of our time: Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and Artur C. Clarke.
And for a lighter, more artistic take on the creationism vs. evolution debate, you may enjoy Duelity, a wonderful split-screen animation we featured some time ago exploring both sides of the story in a visually captivating way.