Brain Pickings

Higher Than Where It Began

"The people who can afford to buy books and magazines and go to the movies don’t like to hear about people who are poor or sick, so start your story up here [indicates top of the G-I axis]. You will see this story over and over again. People love it, and it is not copyrighted. The story is ‘Man in Hole,’ but the story needn’t be about a man or a hole. It’s: somebody gets into trouble, gets out of it again [draws line A].

It is not accidental that the line ends up higher than where it began. This is encouraging to readers."

~ Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut on the shapes of stories from Maria Popova on Vimeo.

See also:

  • "Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories and Good News vs. Bad News," Brain Pickings, November 26, 2012
  • Vonnegut, K., & Simon, D. (2005). A man without a country. New York: Seven Stories Press. [library]
  • Duate, N. (2011, November). The secret structure of great talks. TED Talks. http://bit.ly/yrDGfo

The Difference Between Wisdom and Understanding

Excerpt from The Forms of Things Unknown: An Essay on the Impact of the Technological Revolution on the Creative Arts by Herbert Read:

Le Penseur (The Thinker), Auguste RodinA distinction which runs through the whole development of human thought has become blurred during the past two hundred years. Implicit in all ancient philosophy, acknowledged by medieval scholastics and the natural philosophers of the Renaissance, and even by Locke and Newton, is a difference of kind, if not of value, between wisdom and understanding.

By wisdom was meant an intuitive apprehension of truth, and the attitude involved was receptive or contemplative. Intellectus was the name given to this faculty in the Middle Ages.

Understanding, on the other hand, was always a practical or constructive activity, and ratio was its name — the power by means of which we perceive, know, remember and judge sensible phenomena. Philosophy was conceived as an endeavour to perfect this constructive power of the mind as an aid to wisdom.

To clarify perception, excluding all distortions due to emotion and prejudice; to analyse statements so that our knowledge is consistent; to establish facts, so that our memory is consolidated; to bring the inquiring will into harmony with the intuitive intellect, so that our judgment is true and constant — such have been the aims of all who called themselves philosophers.


See also: "The Forms of Things Unknown: A 1963 Essay on the Role of the Creative Arts in Society," Brain Pickings, August 29, 2012

What Can You Call Your Own

July 18, 2012

"And your way, is it really your way? . . . What, moreover, can you call your own? The house you live in, the food you swallow, the clothes you wear — you neither built the house nor raised the food nor made the clothes. . . The same goes for your ideas. You moved into them ready-made."

~ Henry Miller, from Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

[Discovered on Brain Pickings]

Balance in Nature

Shinzen Young, in reponse to a Brain Pickings post on seventeen historically significant mathematical equations:

Just for the record, here's my all-time favorite equation:

First, let me admit that the way I just wrote it involves some abuse of notation. Properly, it should be written this way:

 

But I think the former form is justified for the visual effect.

To the eye, it seems to equate two closed curves that have symmetry: A regular triangle, with 3-fold rotational symmetry (the minimum possible) and the circle with infinite rotational symmetry (the maximum possible).

But as a mathematical formula, it represents the "generalized Laplacian equation."

This equation is one of the broadest statements of balance in nature. Phenomena as different as three-dimensional thermodynamic equilibrium and four-dimensional relativistic motion can be described by this equation.

To me, it's a reminder that "mutually-canceling polarities" play a fundamental role both in the physical world as described abstractly by scientists and in the spiritual world as described concretely by mystics. 

See also: