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192 big thinkers each select the single most elegant explanation of how the world works, Virginia Woolf on the creative benefits of keeping a diary, and more.

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This Explains Everything: 192 Thinkers on the Most Elegant Theory of How the World Works
"The greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way."
Every year since 1998, intellectual impresario and Edge editor John Brockman has been posing a single grand question to some of our time's greatest thinkers across a wide spectrum of disciplines, then collecting the answers in an annual anthology. Last year's answers to the question "What scientific concept will improve everybody's cognitive toolkit?" were released in This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking, one of the year's best psychology and philosophy books. In 2012, the question Brockman posed, proposed by none other than Steven Pinker, was "What is your favorite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?" The answers, representing an eclectic mix of 192 (alas, overwhelmingly male) minds spanning psychology, quantum physics, social science, political theory, philosophy, and more, are collected in the edited compendium This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (UK; pub lic lib rary) and are also available online. In the introduction preceding the micro-essays, Brockman frames the question and its ultimate objective, adding to history's most timeless definitions of science:

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Happy Birthday, Francis Bacon: The Father of Empiricism on Love

"It is impossib le to love, and to

offers a lyrical meditation on the peculiar odds behind coincidences and déja vues: b e wise. The common thread is that a simple and nonobvious idea is proposed as the explanation of a diverse and complicated set of phenomena. and human behavior. On Art and Government: The Poem Robert Frost Didn't Read at JFK's Inauguration I take comfort in the fact that there are two human moments that seem to be doled out equally and democratically within the human condition—and that there is no satisfying ultimate explanation for either. mathematics. Look harder. history. the other is déja vu. they represent the frontiers in such areas as evolutionary biology. and physics. computer science. "Wow. one of the thirty-three miners rescued in Chile. It doesn't matter if you're Queen Elizabeth. Writer. a South Korean housewife or a migrant herder in Zimbabwe—in the span of 365 days you will pretty much have two déja vus as well as one coincidence that makes you stop and say. half-truths. This suggests to me that the universe is designed to ward off coincidence whenever possible —the universe hates coincidence—I don't know why—it just seems to be true. What is it? Look. artist. These explanations are called 'beautiful' or 'elegant. Emerging out of these contributions is a new natural philosophy. the fact is." The Dogs of NYC: An Interactive Watercolor Map of the City's Canine Caucus . One is coincidence. that was a coincidence. and designer Douglas Coupland. whose biography of Marshall McLuhan remains indispensable. What's both eerie and interesting to me about déja vus "Summoning artists to participate / In the august occasions of the state / Seems something artists ought to celeb rate.' […] The contributions presented here embrace scientific thinking in he broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything – including such fields of inquiry as philosophy. language. psychology. and if they do. new ways of thinking that call into question many of our basic assumptions. new ways of understanding physical systems.The ideas presented on Edge are speculative. cosmology. Mathematicians perhaps have a theorem for this. that in practice." The thing about coincidence is that when you imagine the umpteen trillions of coincidences that can happen at any given moment. Coincidences are actually so rare that when they do occur they are. by default be a theorem for something larger than what they think it is. in fact memorable. that coincidence had to work awfully hard to escape the system. economics. coincidences almost never do occur. So when a coincidence happens." Popular Lies About Graphic Design Deb unking the misconceptions. it might. neurophysiology. There's a message there. genetics. and dangerous mythology of creativity. […] Perhaps the greatest pleasure in science comes from theories that derive the solution to some deep puzzle from a small set of simple principles in a surprising way.

with important implications for the nature of the human mind. but was formalized by the social psychologist Daryl Bem in his selfperception theory. Psychologist Timothy Wilson. we often need to look to our behavior to figure out who we are. everything in the world is enough and every day is holy. They seem to me to be a signal from larger point of view that wants to remind us that our lives are distinct. Self-perception theory turns common wisdom on its head. Not three.g. and that they occur throughout a span of time. Robert Burns: Prince Charles Reads "My Heart's In The Highlands" . Instead. Often. But my favorite essay comes from social media researcher and general "For atheists. about one every six months. Bem suggested. reminds us we are alive. We are important. Stephen Hawking and someone working in a Beijing luggage-making factory each experience two déja vus a year. Penn Jillette on Why Every Day is a Holiday My favorite is the idea that people become what they do. and when they weren't sure at the outset how they felt). Two.is that they occur almost like metronomes throughout our lives. The underlying biodynamics of déja vus is probably ascribable to some sort of tingling neurons in a certain part of the brain." Happy Birthday. when people believe they freely chose to behave the way they did. that they have meaning. But it is also quite deep. I can safely assume that my thirteen year old niece.. a poetic timekeeping device that." Gertrude Stein Reads from The Making of Americans: A Rare Recording from 19341935 "More and more then every one comes to b e clear to some one. a revolution that revealed the limits of introspection. yet this doesn't tell us why they exist. People draw inferences about who they are. But it turns out that we don't just use our behavior to reveal our dispositions—we infer dispositions that weren't there before. we mistakenly believe that our behavior emanated from some inner disposition. and what makes us valuable to the universe is our sentience and our curse and blessing of perpetual self-awareness. at the very least. our behavior is shaped by subtle pressures around us. This explanation of how people acquire attitudes and traits dates back to the philosopher Gilbert Ryle. explores the Möbius loop of self-perception and behavior: Visualizing the geography of common b reeds and names. if we knew our own minds. by observing their own behavior. Two other powerful ideas follow from it. Not one. author of the excellent Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change. As a result. After all. Self-perception theory thus anticipated the revolution in psychology in the study of human consciousness. Self-perception theory is an elegant in its simplicity. we would know exactly how honest we are and how much we like lattes. but we fail to recognize those pressures. The first is that we are strangers to ourselves. why would we need to guess what our preferences are from our behavior? If our minds were an open book. … Hundreds of experiments have confirmed the theory and shown when this self-inference process is most likely to operate (e.

perfect replication is the norm. but sharply reduced flow between groups. who considers the propagation of ideas in culture and the problems with Richard Dawkins's notion of the meme in a context of combinatorial creativity: Something happens to keep one group of people behaving in a certain set of ways. though he also made its problems clear—with genetic material. Dan Sperber has. he outlined a theory of culture as the residue of the epidemic spread of ideas." How to Write with Style: Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Keys to the Power of the Written Word "The most damning revelation you can make ab out yourself is that you do not know what is interesting and what is not. let us ask how the behaviors of individuals create larger. In this model. it is the opposite – events are misremembered and then misdescribed. and mutations rare. As Sperber puts it. With culture. In the early 1970s. for a generation. an evocative idea of not much analytic utility. Others move from ubiquitous to marginal in a matter of years." 17-Year-Old Virginia Woolf on Nature. elegant volume of 15 years ago with the modest title Explaining Culture. my heart is not here. asynchronous network of replication. Some public representations are consistently learned and then re-expressed and relearned—Mother Goose rhymes. ideas turning into expressions which turn into other. all cultural transmission can be reduced to one of two types: making a mental representation public. tartan patterns. to my eye. longerlived patterns. or internalizing a mental version of a public presentation. … Sperber's idea also suggests increased access to public presentation of ideas will increase the dynamic range of culture overall. Dawkins' response was to assume a hypothetical unit of culture called the meme. even jokes (pure meme) vary from telling to telling." Sperber's two primitives—externalization of ideas. Imitation and the Arts Virginia Woolf on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary "All the Arts … imitate as far as they can the one great truth that all can see." . buzzing confusion of transactions. there is no meme. […] This is what is so powerful about Sperber's idea: culture is a giant. both E. no unit of culture separate from the blooming.. drawn carefully. In a slim. "Culture is the precipitate of cognition and communication in a human population. but rather as a network whose traces.O.. internalization of expressions—give us a way to think of culture not as a big container people inhabit.genius Clay Shirky. author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. cracked this problem. quotes are mangled. Wilson and Richard Dawkins noticed that the flow of ideas in a culture exhibited similar patterns to the flow of genes in a species—high flow within the group. and peer review have all survived for centuries. Instead. :: READ FULL ARTICLE :: "My heart's in the Highlands. related ideas. The gene/meme comparison remained.

was not only a masterful letter-writer and little-known children's book author. revisiting his timeless insights on the greatest human aspiration. I am trying to tell whichever self it is that reads this hereafter that I can write very much better. so much more consciously and scrupulously. finding another use for it than the use I put it to. Moreover there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Woolf's journaling was "a method of practicing or trying out the art of writing. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose. slight or beautiful that comes into my mind." Literary icon Virginia Woolf. four days before her death. and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced. pub lic lib rary). I should like to come back. or capacious hold-all. in fiction. A fairly late journaling bloomer. with a kind of guilty intensity. as such deposits so mysteriously do. born on this day in 1882. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object. as one always does read one's own writing. she began writing in 1915. As her husband observes in the introduction to her collected journals. tranquil compounds with the Head Garden: A Lyrical Animated Film by Lilli Carré Visual poetry from the Chicago-b ased illustrator and animator. Dylan's "Forever Young. and forbid her to let the eye of man behold it. in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. often so ungrammatical. drifting material of life. afflicted me somewhat. A Writer's Diary (UK. into a mould. I got out this diary and read. and thus have to lay hands on words. It loosens the ligaments." In an entry from April 20th. More than a mere tool of self-exploration. after a year or two." Released on This Day in 1974. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. transparent enough to reflect the light of our life."The habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly. so elastic that it will embrace anything. and take no time over this. at the age of 33. and crying for a word altered. 1919. Woolf makes a case for the creative benefits of keeping a diary – something Joan Didion echoed nearly a century and a half later in her timeless essay on keeping a notebook – and argues for it as an essential tool for honing one's writing style: Benjamin Franklin on True Happiness "Virtue is … the only true happiness of the mind and the b est means of preserving the health of the b ody." For the Founding Father's b irthday this week. leaving behind 26 volumes written in her own hand. and yet steady. however. Woolf approached the diary as a kind of R&D lab for her craft. solemn. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. And now I may add my little compliment to the effect that it has a slapdash and vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull's eye. I confess that the rough and random style of it. but also a dedicated diarist on par with Susan Sontag and Anaïs Nin. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk. Illustrated . and continued until her last entry in 1941.

19391946 "Lookout in the b lackout – think b efore you cross the road. I think on re-reading my old volumes.aloofness of a work of art. Nor can one let the pen write without guidance. it would never be written at all. and the advantage of the method is that it sweeps up accidentally several stray matters which I should exclude if I hesitated. The main requisite. noting with equal parts sharp self-awareness and near-comic selfconsciousness her own young-person's perception of 50 as an "elderly" age: I note however that this diary writing does not count as writing. A little effort is needed to face a character or an incident which needs to be recorded. since I have just re-read my year's diary and am much struck by the rapid haphazard gallop at which it swings along. but which are the diamonds of the dustheap. 1919. may you grow up to b e true… May you stay forever young. but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever. . Still if it were not written rather faster than the fastest typewriting." Gorgeous Vintage British Road Safety Ads. But looseness quickly becomes slovenly. . . . 1917 Beautiful 1921 Woodcuts by Virginia Woolf's Sister It was also an autobiographical tool. if I stopped and took thought. sometimes indeed jerking almost intolerably over the cobbles. for fear of becoming slack and untidy. since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard. a 37-year-old Woolf considers the utility of the diaries to her future self." Portrait of Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry. In an entry from January 20th. is not to play the part of censor. "May you grow up to b e righteous. and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time. If Virginia Woolf at the age Black-and-white b eauty from a rare vintage edition.

Animated "The only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over." Last weekend. I attended the heartbreaking memorial for open-access activist Aaron Swartz. I sometimes think that I have worked through the layer of style which suited it – suited the comfortable bright hour. a fraud. putting on her spectacles to read of March 1920 will decidedly wish me to continue. though I anticipate her protest and agree that it is not old) partly to give the year a solid foundation I intend to spend the evenings of this week of captivity in making out an account of my friendships and their present condition. The lady of 50 will be able to say how near to the truth I come. and the thing I've reached now is less pliable. and take heed that I don't think 50 a very great age. presenting the diary as fodder for her future creative output – the building blocks of her combinatorial creativity: The Edge: Hunter S. David Foster Wallace – an excerpt from Wallace's famous Kenyon College commencement address. and to add an estimate of their work and a forecast of their future works. this time with more hopefulness. when she sits down to build her memoirs out of these books.of 50. Never mind. but I have written enough for tonight (only 15 minutes. she returns to her future "elderly" self. the only public talk he ever gave on his views of life. Already my 37th birthday next Saturday is robbed of some of its terrors by the thought. Partly for the benefit of this elderly lady (no subterfuges will then be possible: 50 is elderly. But how I envy her the task I am preparing for her! There is none I should like better. is unable to make a phrase as it should be made. I see). with some account of my friends' characters. Greetings! my dear ghost. which was eventually adapted . being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid. Thompson on the Burden of the Living. I fancy old Virginia. A speaker at the service read a piece by one of Aaron's personal heroes." In spite of some tremors I think I shall go on with this diary for the present. where she has my leave to burn these pages to so many black films with red eyes in them. and here's the bricks for a fine one. after tea. I can only condole with her and remind her of the existence of the fireplace. 1920. :: READ FULL ARTICLE :: Remembering Aaron Swartz: David Foster Wallace on the Meaning of Life "Worship your intellect. On March 9th. Several good books can be written still. always on the verge of being found out. who for the past two years had been relentlessly and unscrupulously prosecuted for making academic journal articles freely available online and who had taken his own life a week prior.

but the particular excerpt read at Aaron's memorial resonates with chilling clarity in light of recent meditations on the meaning of life. always on the verge of being found out. Hear This Is Water in its entirety. :: LISTEN / READ FULL ARTICLE :: Life in Five Seconds: Minimalist Pictogram Summaries of Pop Culture and Historical Events From The Matrix to Marie Antoinette's execution. and whether money can really buy happiness. Worship your intellect. . clichés. and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Never feel you have enough. Worship power – you will feel weak and afraid. I've written about the speech previously.into a slim book titled This Is Water: Some Thoughts. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Help fight the broken system that mauled Aaron here. Delivered on a Significant Occasion. you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. being seen as smart – you will end up feeling stupid. morality vs. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. It’s the truth. here. On one level. irreverent visual synopses of pop culture staples. Wallace remarks: If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. and when time and age start showing. proverbs. bromides. how to find one's purpose. about Living a Compassionate Life (pub lic lib rary). parables: the skeleton of every great story. epigrams. Honor his legacy with a contribution to Creative Commons here. a fraud. And so on. with notable excerpts. intelligence. we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths.

they're out with an entire book titled Life in Five Seconds (UK. In 2011. This year. from Darth Vader to Jesus. pub lic lib rary).While reductionism in science might be a terrible idea. . graphic reductionism in pop culture can be a source of endless delight. Milan-based creative agency H-57 brought us an entertaining series of minimalist pictogram flowcharts depicting famous lives. applying the same irreverent aesthetic to everything from cult movies to the biographies of historical figures.

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Cassandre created an enormous corpus of . M. set designer. was born 112 years ago this week. betterknown as A.Complement with the history of how pictograms came to dominate visual culture and their early use in vintage infographics. Though perhaps best-known for his iconic 1932 Dubonnet wine posters. or a person – to the most 'graphic' expression. highlighted in The Phaidon Archive of Graphic Design. and general visual savant Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron." French-Ukrainian painter. :: READ FULL ARTICLE / MORE IMAGES :: Celebrating Cassandre: Gorgeous Vintage Posters by One of History's Greatest Graphic Designers "He translated the essence of a thing – like a train. Cassandre and celebrated as one of the most influential graphic designers in history. lithographer. commercial artist. a ship.

graphically groundbreaking work. Cassandre's son Henri told the story of his father's life and legacy in A. surrealism and the work of painters like Picasso and Ernst. In 1985. Cassandre eventually returned to design and easel painting after the war but struggled with bouts of depression for many years. . Cassandre (pub lic lib rary) – a beautiful volume published by Rizzoli. M. His sensibility was influenced by cubism. typefaces. and advertising. including travel posters. until he took his own life in 1968. yet his aesthetic was breathtakingly original. But Cassandre's story is as tragic as his design is brilliant – after losing his advertising agency business at the onset of WWII and serving in the French army. but sadly long out of print.

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