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7 Essential Books on Optimism

7 Essential Books on Optimism
by Maria Popova What the love of honey has to do with ancient wisdom, our capacity for hope, and the future of technology. Every once in a while, we all get burned out. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, one of our must-read children’s books with philosophy for grown-ups, is among the most poetic and hopeful reflections on human existence ever penned. Here is my secret. Published in 1943, translated into 180 languages since and adapted to just about every medium, Exupéry’s famous novella is one of the best-selling books of all time. Martin Seligman is a Brain Pickings regular — known for his research on learned helplessness and revered as the father of positive psychology, his Authentic Happiness is one of the 7 most essential books on the art and science of happiness, and his Flourish made our 2011 Summer Reading List. As you read this book, you will see that there is an epidemic of depression among young adults and among children in the United States today. Full review here.

Creative Cartography: 7 Must-Read Books about Maps by Maria Popova From tattoos to Thomas More’s Utopia, or what Moby Dick has to do with the nature of time. We’re obsessed with maps — a fundamental sensemaking mechanism for the world, arguably the earliest form of standardized information design, and a relentless source of visual creativity. Today, we turn to seven fantastic books that explore the art and science of cartography from seven fascinating angles. Map As Art, The: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography is the definitive overview of today’s bravest, boldest creative cartography, featuring 360 colorful creations by well-known artists and emerging visual experimenteurs alike, including Brain Pickings favorites Maira Kalman, Paula Scher and Olaful Eliasson. Matthew Cusick, 'Fiona’s Wave,' 2005 Cusick's oversized collages are painted with fragments of vintage atlases and school geography books from the golden era of cartography, 1872-1945. Qin Ga, 'Site 22: Mao Zedong Temple,' 2005 We reviewed it in full here. Donating = Loving

How Family Violence Changes the Way Children's Brains Function - Esther Entin - Health In much the same way that combat affects a soldier, violence causes a kid's natural alarm and response system to become too sensitive. Family violence affects the brains of children in much the same way combat affects soldiers, according to a recent study. The research found that chronic stress in children's lives affects their stress response systems -- in particular, two specific areas of the brain, the amygdala and the anterior insula (AI). Our body and brain are designed to recognize and react to threats to our well-being. This is an important capacity to increase our survival in adverse circumstances. The amygdala is the part of the brain that is involved in emotional responses, memory, anticipation of, and preparation for stress. When a person has been exposed to certain kinds of stressful situations, such as ongoing family violence, the amygdala may become overreactive. But it is not just the brains of those exhibiting the symptoms of PTSD that are affected.

7 Must-Read Books on the Art & Science of Happiness by Maria Popova From Plato to Buddha, or what imperfection has to do with the neuroscience of the good life. If you, like me, are fascinated by the human quest to understand the underpinnings of happiness but break out in hives at the mere mention of self-help books, you’re in luck: I’ve sifted through my personal library, a decade’s worth of obsessive reading, to surface seven essential books on the art and science of happiness, rooted in solid science, contemporary philosophy and cross-disciplinary insight. From psychology and neuroscience to sociology and cultural anthropology to behavioral economics, these essential reads illuminate the most fundamental aspiration of all human existence: How to avoid suffering and foster lasting well-being. The question of what makes us happy is likely as old as human cognition itself and has occupied the minds of philosophers, prophets and scientists for millennia. Human rationality depends critically on sophisticated emotionality. Donating = Loving

The Quest for the Origin of Altruism: The Tragic Story of George Price by Maria Popova From Darwin to Skinner, or what vampire bats have to do with amoebas and random acts of kindness. Where does true altruism come from? Does it really exist? These are the questions that occupied the brilliant and troubled mind of population geneticist and author George Price, who developed what’s still regarded as the most accurate mathematical, biological and evolutionary model for altruism before taking his own life at the age of 52. In The Price of Altruism: George Price and the Search for the Origins of Kindness, Oren Harman tells the fascinating story of Price’s life and his tireless quest, intersecting it with the seminal work of iconic psychiatrist B. [I]f the search for the natural origins of goodness has woven a historical tapestry of unusual complexity and color, of strikingly original science and dramatic personalities and events, one important thread has so far been missing. For a taste of this extraordinary story, see Harman’s recent RSA talk: Donating = Loving

(Almost) Everything You Need to Know about Culture in 10 Books by Maria Popova What the limits of the universe have to do with the history of jazz and the secret of happiness. Last week, I was reorganizing my library and realized that some of my favorite books are ones that introduced me to subjects I either admired but knew little about or was unaware of altogether. The kinds of reads that profoundly enrich one’s lens on the world. So I thought I’d put together a modest reading list of essential primers for, well, everything. Okay, maybe not everything — I’m keenly aware of how laughable that proposition is — but a fair amount to offer a basis for the kind of cross-disciplinary understanding of culture that I believe is crucial to contributing to the world in a meaningful way. Images courtesy of insect54 The idea of a ragtime ballet or opera must have seemed an oxymoron to those on both sides of the great racial divide that characterized turn-of-the-century American society. Popular films are a special kind of drama. Share on Tumblr

What Does It Mean to Be Human? by Maria Popova Primates, philosophers, and how subjectivity ensures the absolute truth of our existence. What does it mean to be human? Centuries worth of scientific thought, artistic tradition and spiritual practice have attempted to answer this most fundamental question about our existence. And yet the diversity of views and opinions is so grand it has made that answer remarkably elusive. From The Leakey Foundation, which aims to increase scientific knowledge and public understanding of human origins, evolution, behavior, and survival, comes What Makes Us Human? There is a lot more biology to our behavior than we used to think.” ~ Richard Wrangham Dan Dennett is one of today’s most prominent and prolific philosophers. It’s very hard to change people’s minds about something like consciousness, and I finally figured out the reason for that. Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. Share on Tumblr

The Greatest Books of All Time, As Voted by 125 Famous Authors “Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work,” Jennifer Egan once said. This intersection of reading and writing is both a necessary bi-directional life skill for us mere mortals and a secret of iconic writers’ success, as bespoken by their personal libraries. The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books asks 125 of modernity’s greatest British and American writers — including Norman Mailer, Ann Patchett, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Joyce Carol Oates — “to provide a list, ranked, in order, of what [they] consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time– novels, story collections, plays, or poems.” Of the 544 separate titles selected, each is assigned a reverse-order point value based on the number position at which it appears on any list — so, a book that tops a list at number one receives 10 points, and a book that graces the bottom, at number ten, receives 1 point. In introducing the lists, David Orr offers a litmus test for greatness:

What Is a Person? by Maria Popova What remix culture and philosophy have to do with personhood in the age of synthetic biology. We’ve previously explored three different disciplines’ perspectives on what it means to be human and a neuroscientist’s search for the self. Equal parts critical and constructive, Smith confronts the basic paradox of the social sciences — their preoccupation with describing and analyzing human activities, cultures, and social structures but falling short on the core understanding of the human condition — and tackles the four fundamental flaws of social science in defining personhood. Impoverished is he who can predict economic trends but who does not well understand his own self.” ~ Christian Smith (Economic bonus: Amazon has a deal on the Kindle edition, currently available for $4.95 — a sixth of the analog version.) There is nothing new under the sun. HT my mind on books Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. Share on Tumblr

Why We Love: 5 Must-Read Books on the Psychology of Love It’s often said that every song, every poem, every novel, every painting ever created is in some way “about” love. What this really means is that love is a central theme, an underlying preoccupation, in humanity’s greatest works. But what exactly is love? How does its mechanism spur such poeticism, and how does it lodge itself in our minds, hearts and souls so completely, so stubbornly, as to permeate every aspect of the human imagination? Today, we turn to 5 essential books that are “about” love in a different way — they turn an inquisitive lens towards this grand phenomenon and try to understand where it comes from, how it works, and what it means for the human condition. No superlative is an exaggeration of Alain de Botton‘s humble brilliance spanning everything from philosophy to architecture. Every fall into love involves [to adapt Oscar Wilde] the triumph of hope over self-knowledge. Sample her work with this fantastic TED talk on the brain in love: Is love really blind?

Top five regrets of the dying There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'. Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware: 1. "This was the most common regret of all. 2. "This came from every male patient that I nursed. 3. "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. 4. 5.

7 Essential Books on Music, Emotion, and the Brain by Maria Popova What Freud has to do with auditory cheesecake, European opera and world peace. Last year, Horizon’s fascinating documentary on how music works was one of our most-liked pickings of 2010. But perhaps even more fascinating than the subject of how music works is the question of why it makes us feel the way it does. We love the work of neuroscientist and prolific author Oliver Sacks, whose latest book, The Mind’s Eye, was one of our favorite brain books last year. Why music makes us feel the way it does is on par with questions about the nature of divinity or the origin of love. As if to drive a stake through the heart of Levitin and Pinker’s debate, Music, Language, and the Brain by Aniruddh Patel — both a musician himself and one of the greatest living neuroscientists — dissects the unique neuropsychological relationship between two of the most unique hallmarks of our species. Patel also offers this beautiful definition of what music is: Donating = Loving Share on Tumblr

Study: Proof That We Sexually Objectify Women - Lindsay Abrams We look at women the same way we look at houses and sandwiches: as composites of attractive parts. Jason Lee/Reuters PROBLEM: Few would argue that the objectification of women is a real thing -- and a real problem -- but as yet there's been no cognitive explanation for it in a literal sense. Do we really look at women differently than we do men, and are they actually objectified in the eye -- and brain -- of the beholder? METHODOLOGY: Images of average, fully clothed individuals (read: no supermodels in bikinis) were quickly flashed before the eyes of participants. RESULTS: Regardless of gender, participants consistently recognized women's sexual body parts more easily when presented in isolation. CONCLUSION: The cognitive process behind our perception of objects is the same that we use when looking at women, and both genders are guilty of taking in the parts instead of the whole.

New Year's Resolution Reading List: 9 Essential Books on Reading and Writing by Maria Popova Dancing with the absurdity of life, or what symbolism has to do with the osmosis of trash and treasure. Hardly anything does one’s mental, spiritual, and creative health more good than resolving to read more and write better. If anyone can make grammar fun, it’s Maira Kalman — The Elements of Style Illustrated marries Kalman’s signature whimsy with Strunk and White’s indispensable style guide to create an instant classic. The original Elements of Style was published in 1919 in-house at Cornell University for teaching use and reprinted in 1959 to become cultural canon, and Kalman’s inimitable version is one of our 10 favorite masterpieces of graphic nonfiction. On a related unmissable note, let the Elements of Style Rap make your day. Anne Lamott might be best known as a nonfiction writer, but Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life affirms her as a formidable modern philosopher as well. On the itch of writing, Lamott banters: On why we read and write: On feedback:

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