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The Art of Knowing What to Do in Life: Pioneering Astronomer Maria Mitchell on Purpose Beyond Expectation and Choice Unbounded by Convention


On rising above the maze of conditions and conditionings that limit who we can be. “To know what one ought to do is certainly the hardest thing in life.

Anaïs Nin on How Reading Awakens Us from the Hibernation of Almost-Living


“It appears like an innocuous illness. Monotony, boredom, death. Millions live like this (or die like this) without knowing it.” Galileo believed that books are our only means of having superhuman powers.

Philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft on the Imagination and Its Seductive Power in Human Relationships


“These emotions … appear to me to be the distinctive characteristic of genius, the foundation of taste, and of that exquisite relish for the beauties of nature, of which the common herd of eaters and drinkers and child-begeters, certainly have no idea.” “Independence I have long considered as the grand blessing of life, the basis of every virtue,” philosopher and political theorist Mary Wollstonecraft (April 27, 1759–September 10, 1797) wrote in her 1792 proto-feminist masterwork A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, “and independence I will ever secure by contracting my wants, though I were to live on a barren heath.” Independence became the animating force of Wollstonecraft’s life, and there was no form of it she valued more highly than the independence of the imagination — something her second daughter, Frankenstein author Mary Shelley, would come to inherit.

Encke’s Comet, Celestial Poetics, and the Dawn of Popular Astronomy: How Emma Converse Became the Carl Sagan of the 19th Century


“The moment so long looked for may be nearer than we think, when, with a powerful grasp, like that of Newton, some watcher of the stars shall seize the secret of cometic history.” “A comet,” wrote Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, “[is] a great clock, ticking out decades or geological ages once each perihelion passage, reminding us of the beauty and harmony of the Newtonian universe, and of the daunting insignificance of our place in space and time.” But a century before Sagan, another writer became the poet laureate of popular astronomy and distilled the science of space in luminous prose — Emma Converse (1820–1893), who pioneered the art of astropoetics in the 19th century.

How Do You Know That You Love Somebody? Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on the Heart’s Knowledge and Self-Deception, from Plato to Proust


“The alterations between love and its denial, suffering and denial of suffering … constitute the most essential and ubiquitous structural feature of the human heart.” “The state of enchantment is one of certainty,” W.H.

Rachel Carson’s Touching Farewell to Her Dearest Friend and Beloved


From butterflies to Beethoven, an ode to the heart’s uncontainable dimensions. As if classifying platonic relationships weren’t complex enough a task — one that requires a taxonomy of friendship types — what happens when the platonic and the romantic begin to blur?

John Cheever on the Pain of Loneliness and How It Feeds the Beauty and Creative Restlessness of Youth


“A lonely man is a lonesome thing, a stone, a bone, a stick, a receptacle for Gilbey’s gin, a stooped figure sitting at the edge of a hotel bed, heaving copious sighs like the autumn wind.” “If I could catch the feeling, I would; the feeling of the singing of the real world, as one is driven by loneliness and silence from the habitable world,” Virginia Woolf wrote in contemplating the relationship between loneliness and creativity.

Wonder-Sighting in the Medieval World: Stunning Sixteenth-Century Drawings of Comets


“A comet is … a great clock, ticking out decades or geological ages once each perihelion passage, reminding us of the beauty and harmony of the Newtonian universe, and of the daunting insignificance of our place in space and time.” In 1985, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan wrote in the introduction to their book Comet (public library): Before the Earth was formed, there were comets here.

Legendary Anthropologist Margaret Mead on Work, Leisure, and Creativity


“If we make one criterion for defining the artist… the impulse to make something new… — a kind of divine discontent with all that has gone before, however good — then we can find such artists at every level of human culture, even when performing acts of great simplicity.” The question of what creativity is and how it can be cultivated has occupied philosophers for millennia and psychologists for a century.

Sleep Demons: Bill Hayes on REM, the Poetics of Yawns, and Maurice Sendak’s Cure for Insomnia


“Sleep acts … more like an emotion than a bodily function. As with desire, it resists pursuit. Sleep must come find you.” We spend — or are biologically supposed to spend — a third of our lives in sleep, yet it remains a state we neither fully understand nor can bend to our will.

Simone de Beauvoir on How Chance and Choice Converge to Make Us Who We Are


“My life … runs back through time and space to the very beginnings of the world and to its utmost limits.

Denise Levertov on Making Art Amid Chaos and the Artist’s Task to Awaken Society’s Sleepers


“I long for poems of an inner harmony in utter contrast to the chaos in which they exist. Insofar as poetry has a social function it is to awaken sleepers by other means than shock.” “The poets (by which I mean all artists) are finally the only people who know the truth about us,” James Baldwin wrote in his sublime 1962 meditation on the artist’s struggle, just as John F.

Poet and Philosopher John O’Donohue on Selfhood, the Crucible of Identity, and What Makes Life’s Transience Bearable


“It is crucial to understand that experience itself is not merely an empirical process of appropriating or digesting blocks of life.

Trailblazing 18th-Century Mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, Who Popularized Newton, on Gender in Science and the Nature of Genius


“One must know what one wants to be. In the latter endeavors irresolution produces false steps, and in the life of the mind confused ideas.” A century before Ada Lovelace became the world’s first computer programmer, a century before the word “scientist” was coined for the Scottish polymath Mary Somerville, another woman of towering genius and determination subverted the limiting opportunities her era afforded her and transcended what astrophysicist and writer Janna Levin has aptly called “the enraging pointlessness of small-minded repressions of a soaring and generous human urge” — the urge to understand the nature of reality and use that understanding to expand the corpus of human knowledge.

Marcus Aurelius on How to Motivate Yourself to Get Out of Bed in the Morning and Go to Work


“You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.” “If we design workplaces that permit people to find meaning in their work, we will be designing a human nature that values work,” psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in his inquiry into what motivates us to work.

Marcus Aurelius on How to Motivate Yourself to Get Out of Bed in the Morning and Go to Work


“You don’t love yourself enough. Or you’d love your nature too, and what it demands of you.” “If we design workplaces that permit people to find meaning in their work, we will be designing a human nature that values work,” psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in his inquiry into what motivates us to work.

Adrienne Rich Reads “What Kind of Times Are These”


“In times like these to have you listen at all, it’s necessary to talk about trees.” “The greatest poet in the English language found his poetry where poetry is found: in the lives of the people.

A New Year’s Perspective: John Steinbeck on Good and Evil, the Necessary Contradictions of the Human Nature, and Our Grounds for Lucid Hope


“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” There are events in our personal lives and our collective history that seem categorically irredeemable, moments in which the grounds for gratefulness and hope have sunk so far below the sea level of sorrow that we have ceased to believe they exist.

A New Year’s Perspective: John Steinbeck on Good and Evil, the Necessary Contradictions of the Human Nature, and Our Grounds for Lucid Hope


“All the goodness and the heroisms will rise up again, then be cut down again and rise up. It isn’t that the evil thing wins — it never will — but that it doesn’t die.” There are events in our personal lives and our collective history that seem categorically irredeemable, moments in which the grounds for gratefulness and hope have sunk so far below the sea level of sorrow that we have ceased to believe they exist.

Democracy: Neil Gaiman’s Transcendent Animated Tribute to Leonard Cohen, with Piano by Amanda Palmer

“…the heart has got to open in a fundamental way.” “I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man.


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