culture

Iris Murdoch on Imperfection as Integral to Goodness and How the Beauty of Nature and Art Leavens Our Most Unselfish Impulses – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

To recognize that there are infinitely many kinds of beautiful lives is to step outside the self, beyond its particular conceptions of beauty — which includes, of course, moral beauty — and walking beside it with humble, nonjudgmental curiosity about the myriad other selves afoot on their own paths, propelled by their own ideals of the Good. Such recognition requires what the great moral philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch (July 15, 1919–February 8, 1999) termed unselfing — a difficult, triumphant…

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Whitman’s Immortal Words, Illustrated in Stunning Cyanotype – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

A charitable celebration of art, science, our shared belonging. By Maria Popova “Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” Walt Whitman wrote in one of his profoundest verses, in a golden age of science and social change, yet an era at least as divisive as ours. The sentiment became a focal point for Figuring and inspiration for The Astronomy of Walt Whitman — the special pop-up edition of The Universe in Verse, taking place on Governors Island…

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Rare, Arresting Illustrations for Edgar Allan Poe’s Short Stories by the Irish Stained Glass and Book Artist Harry Clarke – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“I prefer the old fine-lined illustrations… I prefer Grimms’ fairy tales to the newspapers’ front pages,” the Nobel-winning Polish poet Wisława Szymborska wrote in her poignant poem “Possibilities.” Old fine-lined illustrations and classic tales that outgrim the newspapers’ front pages, twisting the grisly into the sublime, come together in a rare 1933 edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (public library), with illustrations by the Irish stained-glass and book artist Harry Clarke (March 17, 1889–January 6, 1931),…

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Bill T. Jones Performs Poet Ross Gay’s Ode to Our Highest Human Potentialities – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“Before I was born out of my mother, generations guided me,” Walt Whitman wrote in Song of Myself, envisioning his unborn self as the product of myriad potentialities converging since the dawn of time — “the nebula cohered to an orb” and “the long, slow strata piled” to make it possible. A century and a half after Whitman, Ross Gay — another poet of uncommon sensitivity to our shared longings and largehearted wonderment at the universe in its manifold expressions…

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Pico Iyer on Finding Beauty in Impermanence and Luminosity in Loss – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

Rilke considered winter the season for tending to one’s inner garden. A century after him, Adam Gopnik reverenced the bleakest season as a necessary counterpoint to the electricity of spring, harmonizing the completeness of the world and helping us better appreciate its beauty — without winter, he argued, “we would be playing life with no flats or sharps, on a piano with no black keys.” What, then, of autumn — that liminal space between beauty and bleakness, foreboding and bittersweet,…

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Shelley on Poetry and the Art of Seeing – Happiness Article

“Poetry… reproduces the common universe of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges from our inward sight the film of familiarity which obscures from us the wonder of our being.” By Maria Popova “We hear and apprehend only what we already half know,” Thoreau wrote in contemplating the crucial difference between knowing and seeing. To apprehend reality unblinded by our preconceptions, to truly see rather than pre-know, takes a special receptivity, a special channel of perception that bypasses…

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Kevin Kelly’s Letter to Children About the Glory of Books and the Superpower of Reading in an Image-Based Digital Culture – Personal Development Article

In his epoch-making 1632 book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican, Galileo made a subtle case for how reading gives us super-human powers. Printed books were a young medium then, still in many ways a luxury for the privileged. But as the cogs of culture continued to turn, revolutionizing ideologies and technologies, making books common as daylight, the written word never lost this power. 350 years later, Carl Sagan — another patron saint of cosmic truth…

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What Miss Mitchell Saw: An Illustrated Celebration of How 19th-Century Astronomer Maria Mitchell Blazed the Way for Women in Science – Self Improvement Article

“Mingle the starlight with your lives and you won’t be fretted by trifles,” Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818–June 28, 1889) often told her Vassar students — the world’s first university class of professionally trained women astronomers — having herself become America’s first professional woman astronomer, thanks to her historic discovery of a new telescopic comet on October 1, 1847, after sixteen tenacious years of sweeping the sky night after night. Mitchell (whose extraordinary life was the seed for what became…

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How to Find Your Silver Linings – Happiness Article

MAGGIE SMITH It’s funny, my daughter this year, in her Mother’s Day card wrote to me, “Thank you for helping me be optimistic.” And it made me cry, but it also made me laugh, because if you had told me even five years ago, but certainly 10 years ago, and definitely 15 years ago, that anyone would accuse me of being an optimist, I would have laughed. I’m sure my own mother would have laughed. I would probably call myself…

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Year of the Monkey: Patti Smith on Dreams, Loss, Love, and Mending the Broken Realities of Life – Happiness Article

“Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us,” Virginia Woolf wrote in Orlando — her groundbreaking novel that gallops across centuries of history, across lines of logic and convention, to telescope a vision for a different future of the human heart. There are moments in life when it is no longer clear whether we dream our dreams or are dreamt by them — moments when reality presses against us with such intensity, acute and overwhelmingly real, that all we…

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Social Comparison and “Keeping Up With The Joneses” – Self Improvement Article

You don’t measure up with anyone, because you can’t accurately compare yourself to others. One of the ultimate traps in life, especially when it comes to our happiness and well-being, is spending too much time comparing our lives with others and trying to measure it in relation to someone else. We compare ourselves in virtually every area of our lives. We compare each other’s homes. We compare each other’s jobs. We compare each other’s bodies. We compare each other’s relationships.…

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An Illustrated Ode to Attentiveness and the Art of Listening as a Wellspring of Self-Understanding, Empathy for Others, and Reverence for the Loveliness of Life – Personal Development Article

“To see takes time, like to have a friend takes time,” Georgia O’Keeffe wrote as she contemplated the art of seeing. To listen takes time, too — to learn to hear and befriend the world within and the world without, to attend to the quiet voice of life and heart alike. “If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing,” Pablo Neruda wrote in his gorgeous ode to quietude, “perhaps a huge…

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Iris Murdoch on Reimagining Freedom, Moral Progress, Aloneness, and Our Inner Lives – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“Man cannot stand a meaningless life,” Carl Jung observed as he contemplated human personality in a BBC interview at the end of his life. But how do we wrest meaning from existence, or rather make meaning through the force of our personhood? That is what another titanic mind of the twentieth century — the rare philosopher-novelist Iris Murdoch (July 15, 1919–February 8, 1999) — took up in the year of Jung’s death, in an essay titled “Against Dryness,” originally published…

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U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith’s Soulful Meditation on the Looping, Haunting Mystery of Being – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“There is, in sanest hours, a consciousness, a thought that rises, independent, lifted out from all else, calm, like the stars, shining eternal,” Walt Whitman wrote as he contemplated identity and the paradox of the self — that all-pervading yet ever-shifting sieve of feelings, beliefs, values, memories, and sensibilities through which we experience the world, the locus of the central mystery of being. There is no self, and yet without it there is nothing. A century and a half after…

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Nobel Laureate and Quantum Theory Originator Max Planck on Science and Mystery – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“The universe will always be much richer than our ability to understand it,” Carl Sagan wrote as he marveled at our relationship with mystery a century after Walt Whitman serenaded it in his poem “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.” Midway in time between Whitman and Sagan, another colossal mind clasped its tentacles around this slippery perplexity with equal parts scientific lucidity and poetic luminosity: the great German theoretical physicist Max Planck (April 23, 1858–October 4, 1947), laureate of the…

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Keats on Depression and the Mightiest Consolation for a Heavy Heart – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

“One feels as if one were lying bound hand and foot at the bottom of a deep dark well, utterly helpless,” Van Gogh described depression in a stirring letter to his brother. “The gray drizzle of horror induced by depression takes on the quality of physical pain,” William Styron wrote a century later in his classic masterwork giving voice to the soul-malady so many of us have suffered silently. Before Styron, even before Van Gogh, the great Romantic poet John…

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An Illustrated Dictionary of Poetic Spells Reclaiming the Language of Nature – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“Words belong to each other,” Virginia Woolf’s melodious voice unspools in the only surviving recording of her speech — a 1937 love letter to language. “In each word, all words,” the French philosopher Maurice Blanchot writes a generation later as he considers the dual power of language to conceal and to reveal. But because language is our primary sieve of perception, our mightiest means of describing what we apprehend and thus comprehending it, words also belong to that which they…

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How John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor’s Pioneering Intimate Partnership of Equals Shaped the Building Blocks of Social Equality and Liberty for the Modern World – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

Half a century after the 18th-century political philosophers Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin pioneered the marriage of equals, and just as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller were contorting themselves around the parameters of true partnership, another historic power couple modeled for the world the pinnacle of an intimate union that is also an intellectual, creative, and moral partnership nourishing not only to the couple themselves but profoundly influential to their culture, their era, and the moral and political development…

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Kahlil Gibran on Friendship and the Building Blocks of Meaningful Connection – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“We can count on so few people to go that hard way with us,” the poet Adrienne Rich observed as she contemplated the art of honorable human relationships on the cusp of the Internet revolution that furnished the commodification of the word friend. “Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship,” Seneca counseled two millennia earlier in his meditation on true and false friendship, “but when you have decided to admit him, welcome…

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William Godwin’s Stunning 1794 Advice to a Young Activist on How to Confront the Status Quo with Self-Possession, Dignity, and Persuasive Conviction – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

In the autumn of 1793, the thirty-year-old West Indian political reformer Joseph Gerrald set out for Edinburgh as a delegate for a convention of British reformers gathering there to advance the then-radical causes of universal suffrage and annual parliaments. During the trip, he toured the Scottish countryside to promote the ideals of the reform movement and soon published a fiery pamphlet addressed to the people of England, unambiguously titled A Convention, the Only Means of Saving Us from Ruin. Although…

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Alexander Chee’s Lovely Letter to Children About How Books Save Us – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us,” Franz Kafka wrote to his childhood best friend. For Alexander Chee, another writer of titanic talent, Kafka’s metaphor came alive in his own childhood when his family moved from Guam to America, relinquishing the warm seas of the South Pacific for the frozen seas of Maine in search of a better life. Reading became a portal to places in the outside world he missed, places in his inner…

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Robert Browning on Artistic Integrity, Withstanding Criticism, and the Courage to Create Rather Than Cater – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“Does what goes on inside show on the outside?” the 26-year-old Van Gogh wrote to his brother in his stirring letter about the struggle for artistic purpose and recognition. “Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney.” It is a hollowing feeling every artist experiences at one point or another, this dispiriting mismatch between the ferocity of…

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Cybernetics Pioneer Norbert Wiener’s Prophetic Admonition About Technology and Ethics – Brain Pickings – Personal Development Article

“Intelligence supposes goodwill,” Simone de Beauvoir wrote in the middle of the twentieth century. In the decades since, as we have entered a new era of technology risen from our minds yet not always consonant with our values, this question of goodwill has faded dangerously from the set of considerations around artificial intelligence and the alarming cult of increasingly advanced algorithms, shiny with technical triumph but dull with moral insensibility. In De Beauvoir’s day, long before the birth of the…

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Cecilia Payne, Who Discovered the Chemical Fingerprint of the Universe, on the Science of Stars and the Muse of All Great Scientists – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

In his stirring poem “The More Loving One,” W.H. Auden asked: “How should we like it were stars to burn / With a passion for us we could not return?” It is a perennial question — how to live with our human fragility of feeling in a dispassionate universe. But our passions, along with everything we feel and everything we are, do belong to the stars, in the most elemental sense. “We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for…

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A Peek-Through Picture-Book About the Most Beloved Fixture of the Night Sky – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

Night after night at my telescope, I marvel with undiminished awe at what Margaret Fuller reverenced as “that best fact, the Moon.” How is it that our abiding nocturnal companion, which has stood sentinel and silent witness to the rise and fall of civilizations, to innumerable heartbreaks and triumphs, never loses its luminous mesmerism? It has inspired sonnets and love songs and religious reveries — an enchanted loom onto which humanity has woven entire mythologies and cosmogonies. Nothing else quite…

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Oliver Sacks on the Psychological and Physiological Consolations of Nature – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“I work like a gardener,” the great painter Joan Miró wrote in his meditation on the proper pace for creative work. It is hardly a coincidence that Virginia Woolf had her electrifying epiphany about what it means to be an artist while walking amid the flower beds in the garden at St. Ives. Indeed, to garden — even merely to be in a garden — is nothing less than a triumph of resistance against the merciless race of modern life,…

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“Little Prince” Author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry on Losing a Friend – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“Ponder for a long time whether you shall admit a given person to your friendship,” Seneca counseled in considering true and false friendship, “but when you have decided to admit him, welcome him with all your heart and soul.” To lose a friend who has earned such wholehearted admission into your soul is one of life’s most devastating sorrows. Whatever shape the loss takes — death, distance, the various desertions of loyalty and love that hollow out the heart —…

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The Animated Story of How Eddington’s Historic Eclipse Expedition Confirmed Relativity, Catapulted Einstein into Celebrity, and United Humanity – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

On May 29, 1919, the young English astronomer Arthur Eddington (December 28, 1882–November 22, 1944) catapulted Albert Einstein into celebrity by proving the most significant scientific model of the universe since Newtonian gravity: the general theory of relativity, completed four years earlier. For a quarter millennium, Newton’s conception of space as static and absolute had gone unquestioned. According to his instantaneous-action-at-a-distance theory, gravity is a force that, like magnetism, acts through space but not on space, and light travels only…

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101-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Helen Fagin Reads Walt Whitman – Brain Pickings – Self Improvement Article

“The pleasures of heaven are with me and the pains of hell are with me, / The first I graft and increase upon myself, the latter I translate into a new tongue.” By Maria Popova “Whitman is a projection into literature of the cosmic sense and conscience of the people, and their participation in the forces that are shaping the world,” the great naturalist and essayist John Burroughs wrote of Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819–March 26, 1892) in his…

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The Remarkable Illustrated Story of Wangari Maathai, the First African Woman to Win the Nobel Peace Prize – Brain Pickings – Happiness Article

Walt Whitman saw in trees the wisest of teachers and Hermann Hesse found in them a joyous antidote to the sorrow of our own ephemerality. “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in the way,” William Blake wrote in his most beautiful letter. “As a man is, so he sees.” Many tree-rings after Blake and Whitman and Hesse, another visionary turned to trees as an instrument…

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