• Category: New Learning

  • In Praise of the Telescopic Perspective: A Reflection on Living Through Turbulent Times – Brain Pickings

    via In Praise of the Telescopic Perspective: A Reflection on Living Through Turbulent Times – Brain Pickings

    Perspective to lift the blinders of our cultural moment.

    It has been a difficult year — politically, personally. Through it all, I have found solace in taking a more telescopic view — not merely on the short human timescale of my own life, looking back on having lived through a Communist dictatorship and having seen poems composed and scientific advances made under such tyrannical circumstances, but on far vaster scales of space and time.

    A 2017 Moon seen through my telescope at home under the Brooklyn skies.

    When I was growing up in Bulgaria, a great point of national pride — and we Bulgarians don’t have too many — was that an old Bulgarian folk song had sailed into space aboard the Voyagerspacecraft, the 1977 mission NASA launched with the scientific objective of photographing the planets of the outer solar system, which furnished the very first portrait of our cosmic neighborhood. Human eyes had never before been laid on the arresting aquamarine of Uranus, on Neptune’s stunning deep-blue orb, on the splendid fury of Jupiter’s Great Red Spot — a storm more than threefold the size of our entire planet, raging for three hundred years, the very existence of which dwarfs every earthly trouble.

    Jupiter’s Great Red Spot as seen by the Voyager. (Photograph courtesy of NASA.)
    Neptune as seen by the Voyager. (Photograph courtesy of NASA.)
    The Voyager‘s farewell shot of Uranus. (Photograph courtesy of NASA.)

    But the Voyager also had another, more romantic mission. Aboard it was the Golden Record — a time-capsule of the human spirit encrypted in binary code on a twelve-inch gold-plated copper disc, containing greetings in the fifty-four most populist human languages and one from the humpback whales, 117 images of life on Earth, and a representative selection of our planet’s sounds, from an erupting volcano to a kiss to Bach — and that Bulgarian folk song.

    The sunflower fields of Bulgaria.

    Bulgaria is an old country — fourteen centuries old, five of which were spent under Ottoman yoke. This song, sung by generations of shepherdesses, encodes in its stunning vocal harmonies both the suffering and the hope with which people lived daily during those five centuries. You need not speak Bulgarian in order to receive its message, its essence, its poetic truth beyond the factual details of history, in the very marrow of your being.

    Carl Sagan, who envisioned the Golden Record, had precisely that in mind — he saw the music selection as something that would say about us what no words or figures could ever say, for the stated objective of the Golden Record was to convey our essence as a civilization to some other civilization — one that surmounts the enormous improbabilities of finding this tiny spacecraft adrift amid the cosmic infinitude, of having the necessary technology to decode its message and the necessary consciousness to comprehend it.

    But the record’s unstated objective, which I see as the far more important one, was to mirror what is best of humanity back to itself in the middle of the Cold War, at a time when we seemed to have forgotten who we are to each other and what it means to share this fragile, symphonic planet.

    When the Voyager completed its exploratory mission and took the last photograph — of Neptune — NASA commanded that the cameras be shut off to conserve energy. But Carl Sagan had the idea of turning the spacecraft around and taking one final photograph — of Earth. Objections were raised — from so great a distance and at so low a resolution, the resulting image would have absolutely no scientific value. But Sagan saw the larger poetic worth — he took the request all the way up to NASA’s administrator and charmed his way into permission.

    The “Pale Blue Dot” — the Voyager‘s view of Earth seen from the outer edge of the Solar System. (Photograph courtesy of NASA.)

    And so, on Valentine’s Day of 1990, just after Bulgaria’s Communist regime was finally defeated after nearly half a century of reign, the Voyager took the now-iconic image of Earth known as the “Pale Blue Dot” — a grainy pixel, “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” as Sagan so poetically put it when he immortalized the photograph in his beautiful “Pale Blue Dot” monologue fromCosmos — that great masterwork of perspective, a timeless reminder that “everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was… every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician” lived out their lives on this pale blue dot. And every political conflict, every war we’ve ever fought, we have waged over a fraction of this grainy pixel barely perceptible against the cosmic backdrop of endless lonesome space.

    In the cosmic blink of our present existence, as we stand on this increasingly fragmented pixel, it is worth keeping the Voyager in mind as we find our capacity for perspective constricted by the stranglehold of our cultural moment. It is worth questioning what proportion of the news this year, what imperceptible fraction, was devoted to the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded for the landmark detection of gravitational waves — the single most significant astrophysical discovery since Galileo. After centuries of knowing the universe only by sight, only by looking, we can now listen to it and hear echoes of events that took place billions of lightyears away, billions of years ago — events that made the stardust that made us.

    I don’t think it is possible to contribute to the present moment in any meaningful way while being wholly engulfed by it. It is only by stepping out of it, by taking a telescopic perspective, that we can then dip back in and do the work which our time asks of us.

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  • How autocratic leaders control populations with fear

    MICHELE GELFAND: You know, I think often we think about social class as just being about our bank accounts. We don’t think about how is class cultural, truly cultural in terms of differences in values and norms that are socialized in different groups for good reasons. And tightness-looseness, it just doesn’t differentiate nations and states, it also differentiates social class with the same exact logic. We went out and we’ve been surveying people from the working class and people from the middle and upper classes, and what’s fascinating is when we ask people about rules, ‘just tell us five words that you think of for rules’, we see that the working class sees rules very positively. Rules in the working class are important. They’re important for helping people to slide into hard living, as sociologists would call it—to poverty, to the dregs of poverty. Rules are helpful if you’re going to be going into occupations where there’s a lot of danger, where there’s less discretion. The middle class and upper class they saw rules more negatively. They saw it as goody two shoes when you’re following the rules. For the working class, rules are important for survival. For the middle class, there’s a safety net so you can actually afford to be rule-breaking in this context.

    And what’s fascinating is, we measure the ZIP codes of people coming into our lab and then we track the neighborhoods they live in. And, for sure, the working class live in much more threatening environments when it comes to crime, unemployment. They report being subject to many more threats. What’s remarkable is that this starts very early. We wanted to see how early can we see these differences developing? And we started to see this even as early as three years old. What we did was we brought three-year-olds into the lab, working-class and middle-class kids. And you can’t exactly ask them about rules, right. But what we did was we borrowed a technique from the Max Planck Institute where we had them interacting with a puppet. His name was Max the Puppet. And they got to know him and they enjoyed playing with him. And Max the Puppet suddenly after a little while became Max the Norm Violator. He started violating all the rules of the game and announcing that he’s actually playing the game correctly. And we simply wanted to know: how did the kids react? Is there a different reaction by age three? And there sure was.

    The middle class, in general, were much more likely to laugh and kind of let it go, and the working-class kids wanted Max the Puppet to stop. They told him to stop. They told him it was wrong. And parents are already socializing their kids, by the age of three, to help them fit into the kind of threatening or non-threatening environments they’re going to be working in. So it’s really important to see that these differences arise for a reason and they arise early.

    So the rise of Donald Trump has been such an enigma to so many people. Is it an ideology? Is it a personality? In fact, Donald Trump is semi—he’s a very good cross-cultural psychologist. He understands the role of fear and threat in mobilizing people to want more tightness and to want autocratic leaders. And we’ve seen this in our data. The people that were interested in voting for Trump felt very threatened and they felt the country was too loose. And this is not just a Trump phenomenon. It’s all over the world. When we measure support for Le Pen in France we had the same exact data that showed that people who feel threatened want stronger rules and leaders to help them to coordinate to survive. These leaders tap into a very important evolutionary type of instinct: when there’s threat and when there’s disorder, we want strong rulers to help us in those contexts.

    And one thing that really predicts whether groups are tight or loose is the amount of threat that they face. And threat can be from a variety of sources; it could be from mother nature, could be natural disasters or famine, or it could be population density. It could also be man-made; it could be the number of invasions you’ve had over the last couple of centuries. And so when there’s threat, there’s the need for strong rules to coordinate to survive. And so actually tightness-looseness has a really important logic, a hidden logic, that helps us understand why certain groups become tight or loose. Loose groups, whether they’re nations or states or organizations, they face less threat so they can afford to be more permissive. Groups tend to evolve to be calibrated to the degree of threat that they have. When you have exaggerated threats, it means that we’re sacrificing liberty for security in contexts when we don’t really need to do that.

    The problem here is that we have to separate objective from subjective threat. It’s true that a lot of the working class does objectively feel very threatened in this country and we need, as a loose culture, to reach out and work to help them deal with the threats that are happening from globalization. But it’s also the case that leaders like Trump and others use threat and target people who are threatened in order to gain popularity.

    Working-class people take rules more seriously. Upper- and middle-class people do not. Why? The latter have financial and social safety nets, so they can afford to break some rules.
    Research shows that, by the age of three, working-class children are primed to be more rigid about rules. Those rules help working-class people survive what sociologists call ‘hard living’: extreme poverty, dangerous jobs, and unsafe neighborhoods. Having strong rules increases chances of safety and survival.
    Harnessing this evolutionary psychology can be very powerful in politics. Populists like Donald Trump or Marine Le Pen exaggerate fear and threat to gain popularity. They understand “the role of fear and threat in mobilizing people to want more tightness and to want autocratic leaders,” Gelfand explains.
    In Rule Makers, Rule Breakers: How Tight and Loose Cultures Wire the World, Michele Gelfand explains her research into ‘tight’ and ‘loose’ cultures. Get a crash course here.

    via How autocratic leaders control populations with fear

  • Startpreneurs -Fav Newsletter

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    Today’s Top Story Amazon Plans To Add Benefits To Prime To Fuel Offline Expansion After bringing its worldwide Prime Day sale to India, ecommerce giant Amazon now plans to add benefits to its Prime subscription services …

    # 0 Daily Blog, #0 10 Top ListVerse Newsletter, #Friday Mentor, New Advances, New Concepts, New Ideas, New Learning, New Life, Newsletter of the Day, What's New?
  • From my Fav Newsletter Brain Pickings

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     This is the Brain Pickings midweek newsletter: Every Wednesday, I plunge into my twelve-year archive and choose something worth resurfacing and resavoring as a timeless pick-me-up for heart, mind, and spirit. (If you don’t yet …

    # 0 Daily Blog, #0 10 Top ListVerse Newsletter, #Thursday Mentor, New Advances, New Concepts, New Ideas, New Learning, New Life, Newsletter of the Day, R&R- Read and Recommend, What's New?
  • Startpreneur’s Fav. My fav newsletter

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    Monday Wrap | 17th September Ring in the future: Lazy Co wants you to control your world with its smart wearable How do you ring in the future? Lazy Co wants you to control your world …

    # 0 Daily Blog, Branding for Startups, Mentoring SME/ MSMEs and StartUps, New Advances, New Concepts, New Ideas, New Learning, New Life, Newsletter of the Day, R&R- Read and Recommend, Startpreneur, StartPreneur Mentoring, Startup, Startup Marketing, What's New?
  • The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel – Brain Pickings

    via The Courage to Be Yourself: E.E. Cummings on Art, Life, and Being Unafraid to Feel – Brain Pickings

    “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

    “No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,”wrote the thirty-year-old Nietzsche. “The true and durable path into and through experience,” Nobel-winning poet Seamus Heaney counseled the young more than a century later in his magnificent commencement address“involves being true … to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge.”

    Every generation believes that it must battle unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to protect that secret knowledge from which our integrity of selfhood springs. Some of this belief stems from the habitual conceit of a culture blinded by its own presentism bias, ignorant of the past’s contextual analogues. But much of it in the century and a half since Nietzsche, and especially in the years since Heaney, is an accurate reflection of the conditions we have created and continually reinforce in our present informational ecosystem — a Pavlovian system of constant feedback, in which the easiest and commonest opinions are most readily rewarded, and dissenting voices are most readily punished by the unthinking mob.

    E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)
    E.E. Cummings by Edward Weston (Photograph courtesy of the Center for Creative Photography)

    Few people in the two centuries since Emerson issued his exhortation to “trust thyself” have countered this culturally condoned blunting of individuality more courageously and consistently than E.E. Cummings (October 14, 1894–September 3, 1962) — an artist who never cowered from being his unconventional self because, in the words of his most incisive and competent biographer, he “despised fear, and his life was lived in defiance of all who ruled by it.”

    A fortnight after the poet’s fifty-ninth birthday, a small Michigan newspaper published a short, enormous piece by Cummings under the title “A Poet’s Advice to Students,” radiating expansive wisdom on art, life, and the courage of being yourself. It went on to inspire Buckminster Fuller and was later included in E.E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised (public library) — that wonderful out-of-print collection which the poet himself described as “a cluster of epigrams, forty-nine essays on various subjects, a poem dispraising dogmata, and several selections from unfinished plays,” and which gave us Cummings on what it really means to be an artist.

    Illustration from Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess, an illustrated tribute to E.E. Cummings

    Addressing those who aspire to be poets — no doubt in that broadest Baldwinian sense of wakeful artists in any medium and courageous seers of human truth — Cummings echoes the poet Laura Riding’s exquisite letters to an eight-year-old girl about being oneself and writes:

    A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feelings through words.

    This may sound easy. It isn’t.

    A lot of people think or believe or know they feel — but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling — not knowing or believing or thinking.

    Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

    To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

    Page from Enormous Smallness by Matthew Burgess

    Cummings should know — just four years earlier, he had fought that hardest battle himself: When he was awarded the prestigious Academy of American Poets annual fellowship — the MacArthur of poetry — Cummings had to withstand harsh criticism from traditionalists who besieged him with hate for the bravery of breaking with tradition and being nobody-but-himself in his art. With an eye to that unassailable creative integrity buoyed by relentless work ethic, he adds:

    As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time — and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

    If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

    And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world — unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

    Does that sound dismal? It isn’t.

    It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

    Or so I feel.

    Complement the thoroughly invigorating E.E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised with a lovely illustrated celebration of Cummings’s creative bravery, then revisit Pulitzer-winning poet Robert Penn Warren on what it really means to find yourself and Janis Joplin on the courage of being what you find.