Brain Pickings Icon
Brain Pickings

Page 746

A Visual History of Nobel Prizes and Notable Laureates, 1901-2012

Mapping the greatest cultural and scientific advances in modern history with inspiration from John Cage’s music.

After her wonderful visual timeline of the future based on famous fiction last week, I asked Italian information visualization designer Giorgia Lupi and her team at Accurat to create an exclusive English version of another fantastic visualization designed for La Lettura, the Sunday literary supplement of Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera — this time exploring the history of Nobel Prizes and laureates since the dawn of the awards in 1901.

Visualized for each laureate are prize category, year the prize was awarded, and age of the recipient at the time, as well as principal academic affiliations and hometown. Each dot represents a Nobel laureate, and each recipient is positioned according to the year the prize was awarded (x axis) and his or her age at the time of the award (y axis).

(Click image for hi-res version)

Also highlighted are several record-holding laureates — like Marie Curie, for instance, who endures not only as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also as the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different sciences at that, chemistry and physics.

What makes the visualization especially interesting is that Lupi, herself a pianist, was inspired by the work of legendary composer John Cage and the fantastic Notations 21 project. She tells me:

I love the way Cage composes the overall visual architecture of his pieces. Of course, they are functional (sheets to be played) but they are also very graceful in terms of visual beauty.

Indeed, she points out that there are a number of parallels between data visualization and Cage’s work, including non-linear storytelling, layering and hierarchies of information, a clear overall structure for each piece, a focus on overall architecture rather than individual elements, words within diagrams, and a convergence of emotive and functional beauty.

See more of Giorgia’s terrific work on her site, then complement it with some visualization lessons from the world’s top information designers and data artists.


Emotional Anatomy: Stunning Vintage Illustrations of Somatic Consciousness

Dissecting the pulsating accordion of existence.

What would happen if you combined phrenology, sentics, and Benjamin Betts’s geometrical psychology? You might get something like Emotional Anatomy: The Structure of Experience (public library) — a curious vintage tome originally published in 1985 by Stanley Keleman, director of Berkeley’s Center for Energetic Studies, who sets out to map “the geometry of somatic consciousness” based on the idea that physical human shape is interrelated with one’s emotional and psychological reality — a questionable pseudoscientific model akin to a kind of psychological phrenology. But what makes the book remarkable is the stunning black-white-and-red artwork by illustrator, fine artist and anatomist Vincent Perez, depicting Keleman’s various conceptions of somatic functions.

Keleman begins with a biological primer on the structure and function of cells, exploring how energy and substance move through the body:

He then examines the shift “from animal motility to human movement, uprightness and walking,” identifying three core patterns: reaching out, pulling in, and pushing away — the basic motions of swimming, which begin in the womb.

He then moves on to the somatic structure of the body, examining its layers:

Keleman attempts to align body postures with our emotional response to insults and stress, outlining the stages of stress response:

As we face the world we are upright. The soft front of the body is exposed. We are prepared to move out of ourselves into the world or from the world into ourselves. Insults temporarily invoke the startle reflex; it may be perpetuated as stress. Uprightness and our move toward the world is interrupted. We attempt to preserve our humanity by defending ourselves.

We are programmed with the startle reflex, a series of alarm responses lying along a continuum. The startle reflex begins with the investigative response, followed by assertion, then an annoyance reaction, then anger or avoidance, and, finally, submission and collapse. If the first response alleviates the insult, the event that interrupts us, the organism returns to homeostasis. If not, the first response can invoke the second, the second lead to the third, and so on. In cases of severe threat, the early stages of startle are by-passed and we jump immediately to a more extreme response. Yet the continuum of startle responses does not necessarily occur in an invariable order; neither are the steps sequential. One or several steps could be by-passed.

The body, Keleman argues, consists of pouches that “pulsate in a concert of expansion and contraction,” moving “back and forth between arousal and containment … swelling and shrinking — an accordion-like function.” When stress patterns become permanent, the “pulsatory accordion” locks into an inflamed or inhibited position — “overbound,” with pulsation sped up, and “underbound,” slowing it down.

He proposes four basic types of somatic shape, driven by different directions of pulsatory force and “express[ing] what we have experienced, our satisfactions as well as our disappointments.” He writes:

The emotional organization of the four structures demonstrates how morphology expresses personal experiences and conflicts, how layers and inner tubes are affected, where conflictual contraction occurs, how motility is distorted, what happens to excitation and its currents, and what is the emotional result.

He argues that “somatic reality” combines layers and segments of the different types, producing a kind of inner-outer remixing:

Keleman concludes by reminding us that “human relationships are a dynamic emotional process sustaining and expressing morphology.”

Whether as a cautionary souvenir of what has passed for science or as an earnest celebration of vintage illustration blending minimalist and pop art aesthetics, Emotional Anatomy is a treasure from a bygone era worth savoring in its entirety.


Maira Kalman on Art and the Power of Not Thinking

“To have an empty brain is a complete delight.”

There’s no telling how wholeheartedly I adore artist Maira Kalman. Last month, she spoke at my studiomate Tina’s wonderful Creative Mornings breakfast lecture series, held at the Museum of Modern Art, where she took us on a whimsical journey into her creative process, influences, personal history, and infectious outlook on life. Among the works Kalman shows are her collaboration with Lemony Snicket, her visual history of the Constitution, and her illustrated takes on such classics as The Elements of Style and Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.

It was also a passing mention in her talk that sent me digging through Darwin’s papers for this delightfully despondent anecdote.

Kalman echoes Anaïs Nin and adds to history’s finest definitions of art:

There’s a certain freedom to do whatever I want to do, which I guess is the definition of being an artist.

Complement with Kalman on identity, happiness and existence and the difference between thinking and feeling, then treat yourself to some of her marvelous, unassumingly profound books — you can’t go wrong with The Principles of Uncertainty and Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World).


View Full Site

Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support Brain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated