Monoculture: How Our Era’s Dominant Story Shapes Our Lives. By Maria Popova What Galileo has to do with the economy, or how Wall Street is moulding your taste in art. “The universe is made of stories, not atoms,” poet Muriel Rukeyser famously proclaimed. The stories we tell ourselves and each other are how we make sense of the world and our place in it. Some stories become so sticky, so pervasive that we internalize them to a point where we no longer see their storiness — they become not one of many lenses on reality, but reality itself. And breaking through them becomes exponentially difficult because part of our shared human downfall is our ego’s blind conviction that we’re autonomous agents acting solely on our own volition, rolling our eyes at any insinuation we might be influenced by something external to our selves.
Yet we are — we’re infinitely influenced by these stories we’ve come to internalize, stories we’ve heard and repeated so many times they’ve become the invisible underpinning of our entire lived experience. That’s exactly what F. Lucinda Williams on Compassion. Pablo Neruda’s Extraordinary Life, in an Illustrated Love Letter to Language.
By Maria Popova A swirling celebration of one of the greatest creative icons of the twentieth century. Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda was not only one of the greatest poets in human history, but also a man of extraordinary insight into the human spirit — take, for instance, his remarkable reflection on what a childhood encounter taught him about why we make art, quite possibly the most beautiful metaphor for the creative impulse ever committed to paper. As a lover both of Neruda’s enduring genius and of intelligent children’s books, especially ones — such as the wonderful illustrated life-stories of Albert Einstein and Julia Child — I was instantly smitten with Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People (public library) by Monica Brown, with absolutely stunning illustrations and hand-lettering by artist Julie Paschkis.
Neftalí wasn’t very good at soccer or at throwing acorns like his friends, but he loved to read and discovered magic between the pages. Donating = Loving Share on Tumblr. Self-Scrutiny Applied with Kindness: Epictetus’s Enduring Wisdom on Happiness and How Philosophy Helps Us Answer the Soul’s Cry. By Maria Popova “Spirited curiosity is an emblem of the flourishing life.” Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations remains one of humanity’s most significant and influential packets of thought on what it means to live a meaningful life. And yet Aurelius’s ideas were profoundly shaped, if not heavily borrowed, from those of his most formative mentor, the great Stoic philosopher Epictetus — an ordinary man of extraordinary intellect and self-discipline, who was born in the outskirts of the Roman Empire in 55 AD, grew up as a slave, and went on to lay the foundations of Western thought.
The centerpiece of his teachings is at least as urgently valuable today as it was in Ancient Rome — an insistence on gradual self-refinement and the disciplined, systematic cultivation of good character and virtuous behavior. What made Epictetus so popular and influential in his day, Lebell asserts, is also the reason he matters enormously today: Epictetus And yet: Virtue is our aim and purpose. Donating = Loving. John Dewey on the True Purpose of Education and How to Harness the Power of Our Natural Curiosity. By Maria Popova “While it is not the business of education … to teach every possible item of information, it is its business to cultivate deep-seated and effective habits of discriminating tested beliefs from mere assertions, guesses, and opinions.”
“Do not feel absolutely certain of anything,” philosopher Bertrand Russell instructed in the first of his ten timeless commandments of teaching and learning in 1951. And yet formal education, today as much as then, is for the most part a toxic byproduct of industrialism based on the blind acquisition of certainty and the demolition of the “thoroughly conscious ignorance” that gives rise to real progress, both personal and cultural. To fuel the internal engine of learning is a lifelong journey we are left to steer on our own as the education system continues to flounder. Teaching and learning are correlative or corresponding processes, as much so as selling and buying.
He later adds: Illustration from 'My Teacher Is a Monster' by Peter Brown. Jazz Legend Bill Evans on the Creative Process, Self-Teaching, and Balancing Clarity with Spontaneity in Problem-Solving. The Flat Rabbit: A Minimalist Scandinavian Children’s Book about Making Sense of Death and the Mysteries of Life. By Maria Popova A gentle and assuring reminder that we don’t have all the answers. Neil Gaiman, in discussing his gorgeous new adaptation of Hansel and Gretel, asserted that we shouldn’t protect ourselves and children from the dark.
But when the thickest darkness comes, in childhood as much as in adulthood, it brings with it not the monsters and witches of fairy tales but the tragedies of life itself — nowhere more acutely than in confronting death and its ghouls of grief. And when it does come, as Joan Didion memorably put it, it’s “nothing like we expect it to be.” What we need isn’t so much protection as the shaky comfort of understanding — a sensemaking mechanism for the messiness of loss. That’s precisely what Faroese children’s book author and artist Bárður Oskarsson does in The Flat Rabbit (public library) — a masterwork of minimalist storytelling that speaks volumes about our eternal tussle with our own impermanence. “She is totally flat,” said the rat. Donating = Loving. The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge. By Maria Popova “The real enemy is the man who tries to mold the human spirit so that it will not dare to spread its wings.”
In an age obsessed with practicality, productivity, and efficiency, I frequently worry that we are leaving little room for abstract knowledge and for the kind of curiosity that invites just enough serendipity to allow for the discovery of ideas we didn’t know we were interested in until we are, ideas that we may later transform into new combinations with applications both practical and metaphysical. This concern, it turns out, is hardly new.
We hear it said with tiresome iteration that ours is a materialistic age, the main concern of which should be the wider distribution of material goods and worldly opportunities. Mr. Eastman, Marconi was inevitable. Flexner goes on to contend that the work of Hertz and Maxwell is exemplary of the motives underpinning all instances of monumental scientific discovery, bringing to mind Richard Feynman’s timeless wisdom. Further: How to Be Alone: An Antidote to One of the Central Anxieties and Greatest Paradoxes of Our Time. By Maria Popova “We live in a society which sees high self-esteem as a proof of well-being, but we do not want to be intimate with this admirable and desirable person.” If the odds of finding one’s soul mate are so dreadfully dismal and the secret of lasting love is largely a matter of concession, is it any wonder that a growing number of people choose to go solo?
The choice of solitude, of active aloneness, has relevance not only to romance but to all human bonds — even Emerson, perhaps the most eloquent champion of friendship in the English language, lived a significant portion of his life in active solitude, the very state that enabled him to produce his enduring essays and journals. And yet that choice is one our culture treats with equal parts apprehension and contempt, particularly in our age of fetishistic connectivity. Solitude, the kind we elect ourselves, is met with judgement and enslaved by stigma.
It is also a capacity absolutely essential for a full life. Donating = Loving. How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love. “Find something more important than you are,” philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness, “and dedicate your life to it.” But how, exactly, do we find that? Surely, it isn’t by luck. I myself am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of fulfillment, but precisely how you arrive at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery. Still, there are certain factors — certain choices — that make it easier. Gathered here are insights from seven thinkers who have contemplated the art-science of making your life’s calling a living. Every few months, I rediscover and redevour Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham’s fantastic 2006 article, How to Do What You Love. What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends.
More of Graham’s wisdom on how to find meaning and make wealth can be found in Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age. 16. 28. This is your life. Richard Dawkins on The Science of Why You Are Lucky to Be Alive. By Maria Popova What Yeats’s epitaph has to do with the infinitesimal odds of winning the DNA lottery. “To lament that we shall not be alive a hundred years hence,” Montaigne wrote in his fantastic 16th-century meditation on death and the art of living, “is the same folly as to be sorry we were not alive a hundred years ago.”
Half a millennium later, Richard Dawkins — who coined the term “meme” — enlists evolutionary biology in substantiating that strangely assuring philosophical idea. In the altogether fantastic Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder (public library), Dawkins writes: We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The instant at which a particular spermatozoon penetrated a particular egg was, in your private hindsight, a moment of dizzying singularity. Illustration from 'The Baby Tree' by Sophie Blackall. This is another respect in which we are lucky. Neil deGrasse Tyson on Space, Politics, and the Most Important Thing to Know About the Universe. Books. 05 NOVEMBER, 2014By: Maria Popova “If any human being, man, woman, dog, cat or half-crushed worm dares call me ‘middlebrow’ I will take my pen and stab him, dead.”
Susan Sontag once scoffed that reading criticism is “cultural cholesterol” that “clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas.” Despite her svelte frame, Virginia Woolf, on at least one notable occasion, indulged in such a high-cholesterol gorge of the mind. On October 13, 1932, the English novelist and critic J. B. Priestley reviewed Woolf’s The Second Common Reader — the source of that superb essay on how to read a book — and hurled her way the patronizing remark that her writing belonged to the ilk of “terrifically sensitive, cultured, invalidish ladies with private means.” (The privilege narrative, it seems, is the perennial low-hanging fruit of criticism.)
But Woolf, fifty at the time, remained unsettled by the “battle of the brows.” Woolf then offers a definition of “middlebrow”: Donating = Loving. Alain de Botton on How to Think More About Sex. By Maria Popova “The more closely we analyze what we consider ‘sexy,’ the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence.” “When we hook up with another, in sex or love (or, more rarely, both) we prove that our isolation is not permanent,” Dorion Sagan — son of Carl — wrote in his fascinating history of sex.
And yet that very quest to end our isolation has been subject to centuries of stigma and incessant friction with our social values. But it needn’t be this way. Last week, The School of Life taught us how to stay sane by revising our inner stories. De Botton writes in the introduction: Despite our best efforts to clean it of its peculiarities, sex will never be either simple or nice in the ways we might like it to be. But the true mesmerism of sex, de Botton argues, isn’t even in the physical act itself — it’s in the existential promise that it holds: How to Worry Less About Money. By Maria Popova What Goethe can teach us about cultivating a healthy relationship with our finances. The question of how people spend and earn money has been a cultural obsession since the dawn of economic history, but the psychology behind it is sometimes surprising and often riddled with various anxieties.
In How to Worry Less about Money (public library) — another great installment in The School of Life’s heartening series reclaiming the traditional self-help genre as intelligent, non-self-helpy, yet immensely helpful guides to modern living, which previously gave us Philippa Perry’s How to Stay Sane, Alain de Botton’s How to Think More About Sex, and Roman Krznaric’s How to Find Fulfilling Work — Melbourne Business School philosopher-in-residence John Armstrong guides us to arriving at our own “big views about money and its role in life,” transcending the narrow and often oppressive conceptions of our monoculture.
This book is about worries. The U.S. Market scene, 1922 Share on Tumblr. An Antidote to the Age of Anxiety: Alan Watts on Happiness and How to Live with Presence. By Maria Popova Wisdom on overcoming the greatest human frustration from the pioneer of Eastern philosophy in the West. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” Annie Dillard wrote in her timeless reflection on presence over productivity — a timely antidote to the central anxiety of our productivity-obsessed age. Indeed, my own New Year’s resolution has been to stop measuring my days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence. But what, exactly, makes that possible? This concept of presence is rooted in Eastern notions of mindfulness — the ability to go through life with crystalline awareness and fully inhabit our experience — largely popularized in the West by British philosopher and writer Alan Watts (January 6, 1915–November 16, 1973), who also gave us this fantastic meditation on the life of purpose.
If to enjoy even an enjoyable present we must have the assurance of a happy future, we are “crying for the moon.” Thanks, Ken.