“The crucial job of artists is to find a way to release materials into the animated middle ground between subjects, and so to initiate the difficult but joyful process of human connection.” We inhabit a curious moment in culture, one in which our collective outrage at systemic injustice and the resulting sense of political helplessness have driven us to assert our agency in ways not always constructive — by mistaking self-righteousness for morality, by operating from a reactionary place of indignation rather than a generative place of creative tension-holding and considered response, and above all, by relinquishing our willingness to explore the nuance and complexity beneath the blind literalism with which we have come to interpret cultural material.
From illustrator Carson Ellis, a warm invitation to celebrate the inexorable interdependence of joy and sorrow.
“The key is building fires where you can warm yourself as you wait for the tempest to pass.” Most people know Tim Ferriss as the amicable, quick-witted, high-energy writer, adventurer, and interviewer, who has devoted his life to optimizing human performance across the full spectrum of physical and mental health.
From the sound of spacetime to time travel to the microbiome, by way of polar bears, dogs, and trees.
“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” In the final weeks of 1993, Toni Morrison (b.
“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.” When Brain Pickings turned ten, I looked back on my ten most significant learnings from this decade of reading, writing, and living.
The untold story of the trailblazing women scientists and patrons who catalogued the stars and helped prove that the universe is expanding.
“If we are to live in harmony with ourselves and with nature, we need to be able to communicate freely in a creative movement in which no one permanently holds to or otherwise defends his own ideas.” “Words,” Ursula K.
The unlikely pen that furnished a revolutionary talent for words that move and mobilize mind, body, and spirit.
“When we start deceiving ourselves into thinking not that we want something or need something … but that it is a moral imperative that we have it, then is when we join the fashionable madmen.” “To be a moral human being is to pay, be obliged to pay, certain kinds of attention,” Susan Sontag wrote in what remains some of the finest advice on writing and life.
“The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.” In preparing for my conversation with the wonderful artist and philosopher of forms Ann Hamilton, I came upon a striking passage from one of her exhibition catalogs.
“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful meditation on why we read and write.
A dreamlike meditation on our elemental companion. Certain languages, including French and my native Bulgarian, have one word for both “time” and “weather.” Perhaps the conflation arises from an inescapable similarity — like time, which envelops the entirety of our conscious experience, the weather is the indelible backdrop against which our lives are lived, constantly coloring our state of mind and saturating our language with myriad metaphors.
“There are no grounds for fear of the unknown: for often the things we most dreaded, before we experienced them, turn out to be better than those we desired.” “The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist,” wrote Dani Shapiro in her beautiful meditation on why creativity requires leaping into the unknown, “is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it.” John Keats called this “negative capability” and it resides at the heart of Rilke’s timeless incantation to “live the questions.” But ours is a world strewn with dualities, where everything exists in parallel with its opposite, every point tethered to its counterpoint.
“If the history of medical genetics teaches us one lesson, it is to be wary of precisely such slips between biology and culture… Genes cannot tell us how to categorize or comprehend human diversity; environments can, cultures can, geographies can, histories can.” Intelligence, Simone de Beauvoir argued, is not a ready-made quality “but a way of casting oneself into the world and of disclosing being.” Like the rest of De Beauvoir’s socially wakeful ideas, this was a courageously countercultural proposition — she lived in the heyday of the IQ craze, which sought to codify into static and measurable components the complex and dynamic mode of being we call “intelligence.” Even today, as we contemplate the nebulous future of artificial intelligence, we find ourselves stymied by the same core problem — how are we to synthesize and engineer intelligence if we are unable to even define it in its full dimension?
“I could fall for lamp-light…” The poet, novelist, memoirist, lesbian icon, and onetime presidential candidate Eileen Myles (b.
“An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky.” “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E.
“Diversity fills the city with cartographic potential… New York belongs to everyone, and maps prove it.” “Each of us is an atlas of sorts, already knowing how to navigate some portion of the world,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her imaginative remapping of New York’s untold stories, “containing innumerable versions of place as experience and desire and fear, as route and landmark and memory.” But as fascinating as it is to imagine the world’s greatest metropolis remapped according to its unheralded dimensions, New York’s multitude of parallel realities is itself bountiful fodder for the artistic imagination and has inspired centuries of fanciful cartographic interpretations.
“The climb is personal, a truly human endeavor, and the real expedition pixelates into individuals, not Platonic forms.” “Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity,” wrote pioneering physicist Lise Meitner, “[and] it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep joy and awe that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.” Meitner herself was a true scientist who embodied this selfless, joyful reach for truth — she discovered nuclear fission and was denied the Nobel for the discovery, but went on to pave the way for women in science anyway and lived a long life invigorated by the pleasurable pursuit of knowledge.
“Photographs economize the truth; they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time’s continuum.” “Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,” pioneering researcher Rosalind Cartwright wrote in distilling the science of the unconscious mind.