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John Steinbeck’s Prophetic Dream About How the Commercial Media Machine Is Killing Creative Culture

Half a century before Buzzfeed, a nocturnal epiphany about the greatest threat to art. We are in constant dynamic interaction with the thing we call culture — culture is both shaped by our values and shapes what we come to value.

The Gentle Giant: Oliver Sacks and the Art of Choosing Empathy Over Vengeance

An existential lesson gleaned from a brush with death and foolishness. “Compassion,” Karen Armstrong wrote in her stirring meditation on the true meaning of the Golden Rule, “asks us to look into our own hearts, discover what gives us pain, and then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.” But when our own hearts are gripped with the threat and terror of imminent pain, how can we step outside this fear-fraught circumstance and consider, with kindness and openhearted goodwill, the reality of another?

What to Think About Machines That Think: Leading Thinkers on Artificial Intelligence and What It Means to Be Human

“Once we had neurons. Now we’re becoming the neurons.” When Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage invented the world’s first computer, their “Analytical Engine” became the evolutionary progenitor of a new class of human extensions — machines that think.

Immortal Beloved: Beethoven’s Passionate Love Letters

“My heart overflows with a longing to tell you so many things…” A student of both Mozart and Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) endures as one of the most influential and beloved composers of all time.

Happy 75th Birthday, John Lennon: The Beloved Beatle’s Letters to Fans on the Value of Meditation

“I suggest you try transcendental meditation through which all things are possible.” In February of 1968, a year and a half before their final photo shoot, the Beatles traveled to India in order to meet and study with the famous guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who had pioneered Transcendental Meditation.

Amin Maalouf on the Key to Intelligent Dissent and Effective Criticism

“To approach someone else convincingly you must do so with open arms and head held high, and your arms can’t be open unless your head IS high.” Long before philosopher Daniel Dennett laid out his four rules for criticizing with kindness, the great Lebanese-born French writer Amin Maalouf addressed the key to intelligent dissent and effective criticism in a passage from In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (public library) — his altogether magnificent exploration of conflict and how we inhabit our selves.

The Transfiguration of Aloneness: David Whyte on Longing and Silence

“Reality met on its own terms demands … an ability to live on equal terms with the fleeting and the eternal, the hardly touchable and the fully possible…” Longing is one of those acutely reality-warping emotions that magnify their object — be it a person or an outcome — to astonishing proportions until it eclipses just about everything else in your landscape of priorities.

Galileo on Critical Thinking and the Folly of Believing Your Preconceptions

“To divine that wonderful arts lie hid behind trivial and childish things is a conception for superhuman talents.” Galileo Galilei (February 15, 1564–January 8, 1642) was born into a world without clocks, telescopes, or microscopes, where superstition and anthropocentrism moored the human mind in tyrannical dogma — a world that saw itself as the center of the universe.

Stress and the Social Self: How Relationships Affect Our Immune System

“We are all tethered to our social worlds by invisible but steel strong wires.” Relationships, Adrienne Rich argued in her magnificent meditation on love, refine our truths.

Know Your Clouds: A 1966 Animated Morphology of the Skies

A surprisingly poetic educational film about the ten basic cloud types and their distinct shapes, shades, and altitudes.

Alice Walker on What Her Father Taught Her About Lying and the Love-Expanding Capacity of Telling the Truth

Why telling the truth is a supreme act of love and the most powerful antidote to violence. “The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people,” Adrienne Rich wrote in her beautiful essay on lying and what “truth” really means, “are a kind of alchemy.

A Zen Master Responds to Hate Mail

“Your situation, your condition, your opinions — throw them all away.” Although the internet may have originated the notion of trolling as an act of aggression, the undergirding human impulse is an ancient one.

Why We Fall in Love: The Paradoxical Psychology of Romance and Why Frustration Is Necessary for Satisfaction

“All love stories are frustration stories… To fall in love is to be reminded of a frustration that you didn’t know you had.” Adrienne Rich, in contemplating how love refines our truths, wrote: “An honorable human relationship — that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.” But among the dualities that lend love both its electricity and its exasperation — the interplay of thrill and terror, desire and disappointment, longing and anticipatory loss — is also the fact that our pathway to this mutually refining truth must pass through a necessary fiction: We fall in love not just with a person wholly external to us but with a fantasy of how that person can fill what is missing from our interior lives.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz on What Motivates Us to Work, Why Incentives Fail, and How Our Ideas About Human Nature Shape Who We Become

“Human nature is to a significant degree the product of human design.” The organism we call culture — all of our art and literature and human thought — is in a constant symbiotic dance with human nature.

Virginia Woolf on the Past and How to Live More Fully in the Present

“The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river.” “The future enters into us,” Rilke wrote in a 1904 letter, “in order to transform itself in us long before it happens.” But the past also penetrates the present long after it has happened — and out of that dynamic dialogue we wrest the meaning of our existence as life courses through us from both directions.

Martha Graham on the Life-Force of Creativity and the Divine Dissatisfaction of Being an Artist

“No artist is pleased… There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied,” Zadie Smith counseled in her ten rules of writing.

Gustave Doré’s Hauntingly Beautiful Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” Dante’s poetry endures as one of our civilization’s most enchanting creations — so much so that it has inspired generations of artists to interpret and reimagine it, from William Blake’s breathtaking etchings for the Divine Comedy to Salvador Dalí’s sinister and sensual paintings for the Inferno.

Happy 100th Birthday, Jerome Bruner: The Pioneering Psychologist on the Act of Discovery and the Key to True Learning

“Discovery, like surprise, favors the well-prepared mind.” I’ve always held the art of discovery in higher regard than the art of invention.

Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education

“No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life.” “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

For Seamus: A Cinematic Homage to Beloved Poet Seamus Heaney

“There was a wonderful sense in his writing of a fresh world opening, to which we were all attending… He has created out of his own upbringing a universe.” In his magnificent Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the late Irish poet, playwright, and translator Seamus Heaney (April 13, 1939–August 30, 2013) asserted that the task of poetry is to “persuade that vulnerable part of our consciousness.” Heaney himself was an uncommon master of this art of persuasion — a mastery which wife-and-husband filmmaker duo Elaine McMillon Sheldon and Kerrin Sheldon celebrate in this breathtaking cinematic homage for The New York Times.