What ancient beadwork has to do with the blessings of the digital age.
By Maria Popova
91-year-old Tlingit Native elder Mabel Pike learned beading when she was six and her great-grandmother taught her how to sew moccasins in the 1920s. In 1926, after their village in Douglas, Alaska burned down, Mabel’s parents moved the family to Juneau, where Mabel and her sisters began making and selling handcrafted Native wares. Mabel eventually became a Tlingit master artist, going on to teach beadwork at Stanford and pass on the traditions of her clan’s culture.
In this lovely video portrait, part of Etsy’s Handmade Portraits series, Mabel talks about the traditional patterns of her culture, her deep passion for her craft and everything it stands for, and her hate for the word “abstract.” It exudes the same kind of bittersweet poeticism you might recall from these 7 short documentaries about dying crafts, but it’s also lined with Mabel’s steady, quiet optimism.
When I finish a pair of moccasins, I sure hate to part with them. I’m not in this for money-making. I do my sewing because that’s my life, it’s always been my life, from the day I was six years old.” ~ Mabel Pike
I just lose myself in my sewing. I don’t know how to describe it. You know, when I start beading, it’s like I’m so absorbed in what I’m doing, I forget everything. I’m sewing, and I’m creating, and I’m designing. And I just don’t know how to describe it. I just lose myself in it.” ~ Mabel Pike
The way Mabel describes her work — this state of total engagement, of complete immersion — encapsulates the state renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as “flow,” the true mark of creativity in action.
For your daily pause moment: It’s utterly remarkable that we live in an age when online platforms like Vimeo and Etsy and Twitter and WordPress are allowing us to not only learn about the fascinating cultural heritage of ancient traditions, but to also actively support these indigenous artists in ways that would’ve never been possible a mere decade ago.
To support Mabel’s work and that of other indigenous artists, do visit Alaksa Native Arts Foundation’s online shop.
An antidote to cynicism by way of typography, or what it’s all right to have everything you want.
By Maria Popova
In a world brimming with cynicism, it’s a rare and wonderful occasion to find an oasis of sincerity and optimism. That’s exactly what we found in the recently released Everything Is Going To Be OK — an absolutely lovely pocket-sized anthology of positive artwork from a diverse lineup of indie artists, designers and illustrators, including Brain Pickings favorites Marian Bantjes, Marc Johns and Mike Perry. What makes the book exceptional is that it manages to take existential truisms we’d ordinarily roll our eyes at, reframe them in a context of honesty and simplicity, and deliver them through such outstanding graphic design that the medium itself becomes part of the delight of the message.
What the free speech movement of the 1960s has to do with digital learning and The Beatles.
By Maria Popova
Education is something we’re deeply passionate about, but the fact remains that today’s dominant formal education model is a broken system based on antiquated paradigms. While much has been said and written about education reform over the past couple of years, the issue and the public discourse around it are hardly new phenomena. Today, we round up the most compelling and visionary reading on reinventing education from the past century.
ISAAC ASIMOV: THE ROVING MIND
Earlier this year, we featured a fantastic Bill Moyers archival interview with Isaac Asimov, in which the iconic author and futurist echoes some of own beliefs in the power of curiosity-driven, self-directed learning and the need to implement creativity in education from the onset. These insights, and more, are eloquently captured in The Roving Mind — a compelling collection of 62 edifying essays on everything from creationism to censorship to the philosophy of science, in which Asimov predicts with astounding accuracy not only the technological developments of the future but also the complex public debates they have sparked, from cloning to stem-cell research. While intended to encourage young people to pursue a career in science, the book is both a homage to the inquisitive mind and a living manifesto for freedom of thought across all disciplines as the backbone of education and creativity.
Once we have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else… that’s what YOU are interested in, and you can ask, and you can find out, and you can do it in your own home, at your own speed, in your own direction, in your own time… Then, everyone would enjoy learning. Nowadays, what people call learning is forced on you, and everyone is forced to learn the same thing on the same day at the same speed in class, and everyone is different.” ~ Isaac Asimov
SIR KEN ROBINSON: THE ELEMENT
Sir Ken Robinson’s blockbuster TED talks have become modern cerebral folklore, and for good reason — his insights on education and creativity, neatly delivered in punchy, soundbite-ready packages, are today’s loudest, most succinct rally cry for a much-needed revolution. That’s precisely what he does in The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything — a passionate celebration for the wide spectrum of human ability and creativity, which current educational models consistently limit and try to fit into predetermined boxes, extricating rather than encouraging young people’s unique abilities and talents. From Paul McCartney to Paulo Coehlo to Vidal Sassoon, Robinson demonstrates the power of properly harnessing innate creativity through fascinating case studies and personal stories, and offers a powerful vision for bringing this respect for natural talent to the world of education.
We have a system of education that is modeled on the interest of industrialism and in the image of it. School are still pretty much organized on factory lines — ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized into separate subjects. We still educate children by batches. Why do we do that?”
For an excellent complement to The Element, we highly recommend Robinson’s prior book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative — re-released last month, it offers a thoughtful and provocative analysis of the disconnect between the kinds of “intelligence” measured and encouraged in schools and the kinds of creativity most essential to our society moving forward.
A NEW CULTURE OF LEARNING
In A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown approach education with equal parts insight, imagination and optimism to deliver a refreshing vision for the relationship between education and technology, where the two progress synchronously and fluidly — a vision that falls somewhere between Sir Ken Robinson’s call for creativity in education paradigms and Clay Shirky’s notion of “cognitive surplus.” The book touches on a number of critical issues in digital learning, from the role of remix culture to the importance of tinkering and experimentation in creating, not merely acquiring, knowledge. Central to its premise is the idea that play is critical to understanding learning — a notion we stand strongly behind.
We’re stuck in a mode where we’re using old systems of understanding learning to try to understand these new forms, and part of the disjoint means that we’re missing some really important and valuable data.” ~ Douglas Thomas
To understand where formal education is going, we must first understand where it came from and what role it served in the cultural context of society. Clark Kerr’s The Uses of the University, originally published in 1963 and based on his Godkin Lectures at Harvard, is arguably the most important work on the purpose of educational institutions ever published. Kerr, an economist with a historian’s sensibility, coins the term “multiversity” at the dawn of the free speech movement of the 60s and examines the role of the university as a living organism of sociopolitical thought and activity. The book, as US Berkley’s Hanna Halborn Gray eloquently puts it, “describes the illnesses to which this organism might be prone, together with diagnoses and prognoses that might prove useful.”
What the railroads did for the second half of the last century and the automobile for the first half of this century may be done for the second half of this century by the knowledge industry: And that is, to serve as the focal point for national growth.” ~ Clark Kerr
ANYA KAMENETZ: DIYU
As big proponents of self-directed learning — the empowering pursuit of knowledge flowing organically from one’s innate curiosity and intellectual hunger — we’re all over Anya Kamenetz’s DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education — an ambitious, albeit slightly alarmist, look at the American higher education system and the flawed economic models at its foundation. Passionately argued and rigorously researched, the book exposes the greatest challenges to education reform and offers a glimmer of hope for new, more open and accessible models of education that transcend the institutional “credential mill” of traditional academia.
The promise of free or marginal-cost open-source content, techno-hybridization, unbundling of educational functions, and learner-centered educational experiences and paths is too powerful to ignore. These changes are inevitable. They are happening now. […] However, these changes will not automatically become pervasive.” ~ Anya Kamenetz
KARL WEBER: WAITING FOR SUPERMAN
Waiting for “SUPERMAN”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools is the companion text to the excellent documentary of the same name, which we featured last year. It explores the human side of education statistics, following five exceptionally talented kids through a system that inhibits rather than inspires academic and intellectual growth. Unlike other fault-finders who fail to propose solutions, the narrative both mercilessly calls out a system full of “academic sinkholes” and “drop-out factories,” and reminds us of the transformational power that great educators have to ushers in true education reform. More than a mere observational argument, the book offers a blueprint for civic engagement with specific ways for parents, students, educators and businesspeople to get involved in driving the movement for quality education, including more than 30 pages’ worth of websites and organizations working towards this shared aspiration.
In America right now, a kid drops out of high school every 26 seconds. These drop-outs are 8 times more likely to go to prison, 50% less likely to vote, more likely to need social welfare assistance, not eligible for 90% of jobs, are being paid 40 cents to the dollar of earned by a college graduate, and continuing the cycle of poverty.”
HOWARD GARDNER: FIVE MINDS FOR THE FUTURE
Sociologist Howard Gardner, one of our all-time favorite nonfiction authors, is best-known as the father of the theory of multiple intelligences — a radical rethinking of human intellectual and creative ability, arguing that traditional psychometrics like IQ tests or the SAT fail to measure the full scope and diversity of intelligence. In Five Minds for the Future, Gardner’s highly anticipated follow-up published more than two decades later, the author presents a visionary and thought-provoking blueprint for mental abilities that will be most critical in the 21st century as we grapple with issues of information overload and creative entrepreneurship. Perhaps most notable, however, is Gardner’s insistence that the five minds he identifies — disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful and ethical — aren’t genetically encoded givens but, rather, abilities we actively develop and cultivate with time, thought and effort.
The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information objectively, and puts it together in ways that make sense to the synthesizer and also to other persons. Valuable in the past, the capacity to synthesize becomes ever more crucial as information continues to mount at dizzying rates.” ~ Howard Gardner
What Ronald Reagan has to do with gorilla costumes, Shakespeare and fake pennies.
By Maria Popova
The intricate mechanisms of the human mind are endlessly fascinating. We’ve previously explored various facets of how the mind works — from how we decide to what makes us happy to why music affects us so deeply — and today we’re turning to when it doesn’t: Here are five fantastic reads on why we err, what it means to be wrong, and how to make cognitive lemonade out of wrongness’s lemons.
The pleasure of being right is one of the most universal human addictions and most of us spend an extraordinary amount of effort on avoiding or concealing wrongness. But error, it turns out, isn’t wrong. In fact, it’s not only what makes us human but also what enhances our capacity for empathy, optimism, courage and conviction. In Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error, which we featured as one of the 5 must-read books by TED 2011 speakers, Kathryn Schulz examines wrongology with the rigorous lens of a researcher and the cunning wit of a cultural commentator to reveal how the mind works through the eloquent convergence of cognitive science, social psychology and philosophical inquiry.
However disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are.” ~ Kathryn Schulz
From Shakespeare to Freud, Schulz examines some of history’s greatest thinkers’ perspectives on being wrong and emerges with a compelling counterpoint to our collective cultural aversion to wrongness, arguing instead that error is a precious gift that fuels everything from art to humor to scientific discovery and, perhaps most importantly, a transformative force of personal growth that to be embraced, not extinguished.
To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story.” ~ Kathryn Schulz
WHY WE MAKE MISTAKES
In 2005, Joseph Hallinan wrote a front-page story for The Wall Street Journal, investigating the safety record of anesthesiologists with a dreadful track record in the operating room, letting patients turn blue and suffocate before their eyes. These mistakes, Hallinan found, were often attributed to “human error,” which assumes inevitability. Yet a closer analysis of these anesthesiologists’ process and practice revealed much could be done to avoid these deadliest of errors. So Hallinan spent nearly three years translating the insight from this particular story into the general world of human psychology, where error abounds in a multitude of realms.
We don’t think our perception is economical; we think it’s perfect. When we look at something, we think we see everything. But we don’t. Same with memory: we might think we remember everything, especially commonly encountered things like the words to the National Anthem, or the details on the surface of a penny—but we don’t. Our brains are wired to give us the most bang for the buck; they strip out all sorts of stuff that seems unimportant at the time. But we don’t know what’s been stripped out. One of the consequences of this is that we tend to be overconfident about the things we think we do know. And overconfidence is a huge cause of human error.” ~ Joseph Hallinan
Can you pick out the real penny? Check your answer here.
THE INVISIBLE GORILLA
In 1999, Harvard researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons conducted a now-iconic selective attention experiment. Chances are, you’ve seen it, as the video made the viral rounds 10 years after the original experiment, but on the off-chance you haven’t, we won’t spoil it for you: Just watch this video in which 6 people — 3 in white shirts and 3 in black — pass basketballs around; you must keep a silent count of the number of passes made by the people in white shirts. Ready?
Now, be honest: Did you notice the gorilla that nonchalantly strolled through the middle of the action at one point? If you answered “yes,” you’re pretty exceptional. Chabris and Simons found that more than half of people didn’t notice it so, astounded, they set out to investigate the curious cognitive glitches that made the gorilla invisible — what is it that makes us so tragicomically susceptible to missing valuable information and misperceiving reality?
Published 11 years after the original experiment, The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us encapsulates Chabris and Simons’ findings on the mechanisms behind this “inattentional blindness” and how they translate into fundamental human behavior. Through six compelling everyday illusions of perception, they swiftly and eloquently debunk conventional wisdom on everything from the accuracy of memory to the correlation between confidence and competence. The book, much to our delight, is written with the subtext of being an antidote to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking which, for all its praises, is tragically plagued by out-of-context “research,” wishful dot-connecting and other classic Gladwellisms.
As fallible human beings, all of us share the impulse to justify ourselves and avoid taking responsibility for any actions that turn out to be harmful, immoral or stupid. Most of us will never be in a position to make decisions affecting the lives and deaths of millions of people, but whether the consequences of our mistakes are trivial or tragic, on a small scale or a national canvas, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible, to say, ‘I was wrong; I made a terrible mistake.’ The higher the stakes — emotional, financial, moral — the greater the difficulty.”
Tavris and Aronson examine the root cause of these self-righteous yet erroneous behaviors: Cognitive dissonance — the mental anguish that results from trying to reconcile two conflicting ideas, such as a belief we hold and a circumstantial fact that contradicts it. In our deep-seated need to see ourselves as honorable, competent and consistent, we often bend reality to confirm this self-perception, which in turn results in a domino effect of errors. Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) holds up an uncomfortable but profoundly illuminating mirror that not only exposes the engine of self-justification but also offers rich insight into the behavioral tactics that prevent and mediate it.
HOW WE KNOW WHAT ISN’T SO
Written 20 years ago, How We Know What Isn’t So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Cornell psychologist Thomas Gilovich is arguably the most important critique on the biases of human reason ever published. It’s as much a throughly researched investigation into the science of mind as it is a compelling — and increasingly timely — treatise on the importance of not letting superstition and sloppy thinking cloud our judgement on a cultural and sociopolitical level.
Gilovich uses classic psychology experiments to extract practical insight and offer a recipe for using logical principles to predict and avoid our natural biases, from seeking confirmatory information to misattributing causality to random events and a wealth in between.
People do not hold questionable beliefs simply because they have not been exposed to the relevant evidence. Nor do people hold questionable beliefs simply because they are stupid or gullible. Quite the contrary. Evolution has given us powerful intellectual tools for processing vast amounts of information with accuracy and dispatch, and our questionable beliefs derive primarily from the misapplication or overutilization of generally valid and effective strategies for knowing. Just as we are subject to perceptual illusions in spite of, and largely because of, our extraordinary perceptual capacities, so too are many of our cognitive shortcomings closely related to, or even an unavoidable cost of, our greatest strengths.” ~ Thomas Gilovich
If this isn’t enough wrongology for you, we’ve compiled a complementary list of additional reading — take a look.