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Creativity & Uncertainty

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Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness. Stop Making Plans: How Goal-Setting Limits Rather Than Begets Our Happiness and Success. By Maria Popova “Uncertainty is where things happen.

Stop Making Plans: How Goal-Setting Limits Rather Than Begets Our Happiness and Success

It is where the opportunities — for success, for happiness, for really living — are waiting.” The Perils of Plans: Why Creativity Requires Leaping into the Unknown. By Maria Popova “The job—as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy—of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it.”

The Perils of Plans: Why Creativity Requires Leaping into the Unknown

“Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind,” I offered in one of my 7 lessons from 7 years of Brain Pickings. Indeed, nothing stunts growth more powerfully than our attachment to the familiar, our blind adherence to predetermined plans, and our inability to, as Rilke famously put it, “live the questions.” Keats termed the willingness to embrace uncertainty, live with mystery, and make peace with ambiguity “negative capability” and argued that it’s essential to the creative process; Anaïs Nin believed that inviting the unknown helps us live more richly, and even psychologists confirm that embracing uncertainty is essential to creativity.

And yet we cling so vigorously to our comfort zones, our plans, our knowns — why? When writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. Donating = Loving. How to thrive in a world where change is constant. On a trip to the Bahamas in 2012, I got the chance to feed a group of grey reef sharks.

How to thrive in a world where change is constant

Now, feeding sharks is not an activity to be taken lightly. It’s a complex challenge that essentially requires you to coordinate a group of wild animals; you want them excited enough that they stick around. But you can’t just dump lots of food in the water, because that will whip them into a frenzy, with potentially disastrous consequences. You spend a lot of time training for a dive like this. And the most important thing is for all of that training to be second nature.

Uri Alon: Why truly innovative science demands a leap into the unknown. Rilke on Embracing Uncertainty and Living the Questions. Legendary Harvard Psychologist Jerome Bruner on the Art of “Effective Surprise” and the 6 Essential Conditions of Creativity.

By Maria Popova “Passion, like discriminating taste, grows on its use.

Legendary Harvard Psychologist Jerome Bruner on the Art of “Effective Surprise” and the 6 Essential Conditions of Creativity

You more likely act yourself into feeling than feel yourself into action.” The Dark Side of Certainty: Jacob Bronowski on the Spirit of Science and What Auschwitz Teaches Us About Our Compulsion for Control. Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance: How the Power of Not-Knowing Drives Progress and Why Certainty Stymies the Evolution of Knowledge. 8 tips to make your life more surprising — from a “Surprisologist” A closeup of Tania Luna, with glow stick.

8 tips to make your life more surprising — from a “Surprisologist”

Photo: James Duncan Davidson In today’s talk, Tania Luna shares her experience of immigrating to the United States from Ukraine as a little girl. Perfectly happy with her family’s outhouse and with chewing a single piece of Bazooka gum for a week, Luna found herself blown away by the wonders of her new country. The Magic and Logic of Color: How Josef Albers Revolutionized Visual Culture and the Art of Seeing. By Maria Popova “A thing is never seen as it really is.”

The Magic and Logic of Color: How Josef Albers Revolutionized Visual Culture and the Art of Seeing

“Hundreds of people can talk, for one who can think,” John Ruskin wrote, “but thousands of people can think, for one who can see.” “We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object,” Alexandra Horowitz lamented in her sublime meditation on looking. Hardly anyone has accomplished more in revolutionizing the art of seeing than German-born American artist, poet, printmaker, and educator Josef Albers, as celebrated for his iconic abstract paintings as he was for his vibrant wit and spellbinding presence as a classroom performer. Albers, who headed the legendary Black Mountain College that shaped such luminaries as Zen composer John Cage and reconstructionist Ruth Asawa, lays out the book’s beautifully fulfilled and timeless promise in the original introduction: In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is. Donating = Loving. Chris Hadfield: What I learned from going blind in space.

Anaïs Nin on Embracing the Unfamiliar. By Maria Popova “It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar.”

Anaïs Nin on Embracing the Unfamiliar

We’ve already seen that life is about living the questions, that the unknown is what drives science, and that the most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. John Keats wrote of this art of remaining in doubt “without any irritable reaching after fact & reason” and famously termed it “negative capability.” But count on Anaïs Nin to articulate familiar truths in the most exquisitely poetic way possible, peeling away at the most profound and aspirational aspects of what it means to be human.

In a diary entry from the winter of 1949-1950, found in The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 5: 1947-1955 (public library), which gave us Nin’s whimsical antidote to city life and her poignant meditation on character, parenting, and personal responsibility, she observes: Educators do all in their power to prepare you to enjoy reading after college. Donating = Loving Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. Life Is Like Blue Jelly: Margaret Mead Discovers the Meaning of Existence in a Dream. Happy Birthday, Milton Glaser: The Iconic Designer on Art, Money, Education, and the Kindness of the Universe.

By Maria Popova “If you perceive the universe as being a universe of abundance, then it will be.

Happy Birthday, Milton Glaser: The Iconic Designer on Art, Money, Education, and the Kindness of the Universe

If you think of the universe as one of scarcity, then it will be.” Milton Glaser — legendary mastermind of the famous I♥NY logo, author of delightful and little-known vintage children’s books, notorious notebook-doodler, modern-day sage of art and purpose — is celebrated by many as the greatest graphic designer alive. From How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer (public library) — the same fantastic anthology of conversations with creative icons that gave us Paula Scher’s slot machine metaphor for creativity and Massimo Vignelli on intellectual elegance, education, and love — comes a fascinating and remarkably heartening conversation that reveals the inner workings of this beautiful mind and beautiful spirit.

What E. While other great designers have created cool posters, beautiful book covers, and powerful logos, Milton Glaser has actually lifted this age he inhabits. Situations Matter: How Context Shapes Our Lives. By Maria Popova Debunking the myth of character, or what sitcoms have to do with the mysteries of personality.

Situations Matter: How Context Shapes Our Lives

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire,” Charles Bukowski famously wrote. We walk through life and its fires along narrative paths that define who we are and what our personalities are like. Thoroughly Conscious Ignorance: How the Power of Not-Knowing Drives Progress and Why Certainty Stymies the Evolution of Knowledge. Happy Birthday, Donald Barthelme: The Beloved Writer on the Art of Not-Knowing and the Not-Knowing of Art. By Maria Popova “Our devouring commercial culture… results in a double impoverishment: theft of complexity from the reader, theft of the reader from the writer.”

Happy Birthday, Donald Barthelme: The Beloved Writer on the Art of Not-Knowing and the Not-Knowing of Art

“We try to see in the dark,” Annie Dillard offered in her superb meditation on writing, “we toss up our questions and they catch in the trees.” Postmodernist icon Donald Barthelme (April 7, 1931–July 23, 1989) was not only one of the most innovative and memorable voices in twentieth-century fiction, known for his seemingly plotless verbal-collage narratives, but also a writer with a special sensitivity to language and an exceptional ability to articulate its magic. How to Cope with Uncomfortable Uncertainty. Joy is not the only experience that people try to avoid, to their detriment. Many people cannot tolerate the feeling of uncertainty, and according to mounting evidence, this fear affects mood and health. Intolerance of uncertainty is linked with mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, researchers confirmed in a paper in the June 2013 issue of the Journal of Clinical Psychology; their results also revealed a strong link to panic disorder.

People with this fear try to feel more certain with strategies such as excessive checking, planning and reassurance seeking, worry and rumination, and avoidance of unfamiliar situations. Perhaps unsurprisingly, intolerance of uncertainty has been found to be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder and hoarding—although many more people experience subtle symptoms that disrupt quality of life without meeting the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum on How to Live with Our Human Fragility. By Maria Popova “To be a good human being is to have a kind of openness to the world, an ability to trust uncertain things beyond your own control.”

In 1988, Bill Moyers produced a series of intelligent, inspiring, provocative conversations with a diverse set of cultural icons, ranging from Isaac Asimov to Noam Chomsky to Chinua Achebe. It was unlike any public discourse to have ever graced the national television airwaves before. The following year, the interviews were transcribed and collected in the magnificent tome Bill Moyers: A World of Ideas (public library).