Articles by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

We found 88 results.


Maya Angelou (4 Apr 1928 – 28 May 2014): Identity and the Meaning of Life
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 1 Apr 2019

Angelou’s timeless wisdom shines with unparalleled light in a 1977 interview by journalist Judith Rich, in which Angelou explores issues of identity and the meaning of life.

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Maya Angelou (4 Apr 1928 – 28 May 2014): On Identity and the Meaning of Life
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Apr 2017

Angelou’s timeless wisdom shines with unparalleled light in a 1977 interview by journalist Judith Rich, in which Angelou explores issues of identity and the meaning of life.

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A Brief History of the Toilet
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 6 Jun 2016

How the most appropriately named inventor in history saved humanity from a centuries-long crisis. Perhaps no word in English has undergone more transformations in its lifetime than toilet. And the final link in this chain of problem-solving came from an inventor with perhaps the most brilliantly appropriate name in history: Thomas Crapper.

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Don’t Heed the Haters: Albert Einstein’s Wonderful Letter of Support to Marie Curie in the Midst of Scandal
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 25 Apr 2016

“If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.”

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Aldous Huxley on the Transcendent Power of Music and Why It Sings to Our Souls
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 11 Apr 2016

From pure sensation to the intuition of beauty, from pleasure and pain to love and the mystical ecstasy and death — all the things that are fundamental, all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence. After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

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The Art of Living: The Great Humanistic Philosopher Erich Fromm on Having vs. Being and How to Set Ourselves Free from the Chains of Our Culture
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 28 Mar 2016

“The full humanization of man requires the breakthrough from the possession-centered to the activity-centered orientation, from selfishness and egotism to solidarity and altruism.”

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Seneca on How to Fortify Yourself against Fear and Misfortune
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Feb 2016

“If you would not have a man flinch when the crisis comes, train him before it comes.” The great Roman philosopher — a man of timeless wisdom on ‘how to stretch life’s shortness by living wide rather than long’ — took this point to its exquisite extreme in a letter to his friend Lucilius Junior.

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The Soul of an Octopus: How One of Earth’s Most Alien Creatures Illuminates the Wonders of Consciousness
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 4 Jan 2016

Montgomery begins with a seemingly simple premise. The octopus is a creature magnificently dissimilar to us — it can change shape and color, tastes with its skin, has its mouth in its armpit, and is capable of squeezing its entire body through a hole the size of an apple. And since we humans experience reality in profoundly different ways from one another, based on our individual consciousnesses, then the octopus must be inhabiting an altogether different version of what we call reality.

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Bruce Lee on Self-Actualization and the Crucial Difference between Pride and Self-Esteem
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 21 Dec 2015

“Real self-esteem is an integration of an inner value with things in the world around you,” Anna Deavere Smith wrote. “When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride — the explosive substitute for self-esteem.” –Bruce Lee

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The Art of Self-Culture and the Crucial Difference between Being Educated and Being Cultured
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 14 Dec 2015

“In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read ‘The Pickwick Papers’ and learnt a monologue from ‘Faust,’ Anton Chekhov wrote in an 1886 letter to his brother, outlining the eight qualities of cultured people — among them sincerity, “no shallow vanity,” and a compassionate heart that “aches for what the eye does not see.”

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Nicole Krauss’s Beautiful Letter to Van Gogh on Fear, Bravery, and How to Break the Loop of Our Destructive Patterns
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 16 Nov 2015

“Bravery is always more intelligent than fear, since it is built on the foundation of what one knows about oneself: the knowledge of one’s strength and capacity, of one’s passion.”
[NOTE FROM TMS EDITOR: Last week we posted: Vincent van Gogh on Fear, Taking Risks, and How Making Inspired Mistakes Moves Us Forward. Here Nicole Krauss answers to Van Gogh. Delightful dialogue of minds.]

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Vincent van Gogh on Fear, Taking Risks, and How Making Inspired Mistakes Moves Us Forward
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 9 Nov 2015

“However meaningless and vain, however dead life appears, the man of faith, of energy, of warmth … steps in and does something.”

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Ben Hecht on Greatness, the Radiance of Realness, and the Rewards of Keeping in Touch with the Soul of Your Childhood
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 2 Nov 2015

In a culture that continually mistakes prestige for purpose and defines who we are by what we do, what remains of our being when the doing is stripped away and what does success really mean to those innermost selves buried beneath layers of cultural conditioning?

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A New and Sweeping Utopia of Life: Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 2 Nov 2015

“A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

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Nietzsche on How to Find Yourself and the True Value of Education
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 12 Oct 2015

No one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life. There may be countless trails and bridges and demigods who would gladly carry you across; but only at the price of pawning and forgoing yourself. There is one path in the world that none can walk but you. Where does it lead? Don’t ask, walk!

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Physicist David Bohm and Philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti on Love, Intelligence, and How to Transcend the Wall of Being
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 5 Oct 2015

Physicist David Bohm and Indian spiritual philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti sat down for a mind-bending, soul-stretching series of conversations about some of the most abiding human concerns: time, transcendence, compassion, death, the nature of reality, and the meaning of existence.

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Physicist David Bohm and Buddhist Monk Matthieu Ricard on How We Shape What We Call Reality
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 28 Sep 2015

“Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe… What we believe determines what we take to be true.”

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The Four Desires Driving All Human Behavior: Bertrand Russell’s Magnificent Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 28 Sep 2015

“All human activity is prompted by desire. There is a wholly fallacious theory advanced by some earnest moralists to the effect that it is possible to resist desire in the interests of duty and moral principle. I say this is fallacious, not because no man ever acts from a sense of duty, but because duty has no hold on him unless he desires to be dutiful. If you wish to know what men will do, you must know not only, or principally, their material circumstances, but rather the whole system of their desires with their relative strengths.” — Bertrand Russell, Nobel Literature Laureate

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The Oldest Living Things on Earth
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 21 Sep 2015

“Our overblown intellectual faculties seem to be telling us both that we are eternal and that we are not,” philosopher Stephen Cave observed in his poignant meditation on our mortality paradox. And yet we continue to long for the secrets of that ever-elusive eternity.

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Why Some People Are Left-Handed
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 14 Sep 2015

An evolutionary parable of how the contradictory forces of competition and cooperation shaped human destiny.

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Bruce Lee on the Power of Repose and the Strength of Yielding
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 7 Sep 2015

Nothing in the world is more yielding and softer than water; yet it penetrates the hardest. Insubstantial, it enters where no room is. It is so fine that it is impossible to grasp a handful of it; strike it, yet it does not suffer hurt; stab it, and it is not wounded. Be the water.

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A Zen Master Explains Death and the Life-Force to a Child and Outlines the Three Essential Principles of Zen Mind
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Aug 2015

“Zen practice … requires great faith, great courage, and great questioning.” If death is so enormous a mystery that we remain unable to wrap our grownup minds around it, despite comfort from our great poets and consolation from our great philosophers, how are tiny humans to make sense of it all?

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Get Out of Your Own Light: Aldous Huxley on Who We Are, the Trap of Language, and the Necessity of Mind-Body Education
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 27 Jul 2015

What are we in relation to our own minds and bodies — or, seeing that there is not a single word, let us use it in a hyphenated form — our own mind-bodies? What are we in relation to this total organism in which we live? The moment we begin thinking about it in any detail, we find ourselves confronted by all kinds of extremely difficult, unanswered, and maybe unanswerable questions.

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An Experiment in Love: Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Six Pillars of Nonviolent Resistance and the Ancient Greek Notion of ‘Agape’
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 6 Jul 2015

Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used Christian social ethics and the New Testament concept of “love” heavily in his writings and speeches, he was as influenced by Eastern spiritual traditions, Gandhi’s political writings, Buddhism’s notion of the interconnectedness of all beings, and Ancient Greek philosophy.

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On Balance and the Necessary Excesses of Life
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 15 Jun 2015

On Being Too Much for Ourselves – “There are situations in which it is more dangerous to keep your balance than to lose it.”

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Ralph Waldo Emerson on Small Mercies, the True Measure of Wisdom, and How to Live with Maximum Aliveness
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 1 Jun 2015

“To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom.” In contemplating the shortness of life, Seneca considered what it takes to live wide rather than long.

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Consider the Octopus: A Little Boy’s Moving Case against Eating Animals
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 1 Jun 2015

A ‘food’ — this exquisite masterwork of evolution, this intelligent alien with an order of consciousness so beyond ours that we can barely begin to grasp its extent with the clumsy and insensitive tentacles of our moral imagination. Disarming wisdom from a tiny-bodied, huge-hearted human animal.

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How to Make Use of Our Suffering: Simone Weil on Ameliorating Our Experience of Pain, Hunger, Fatigue, and All That Makes the Soul Cry
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 25 May 2015

There is almost a Buddhist undertone to Weil’s insistence on accepting everything that is, as it is, without compounding pain with “the second arrow” of our tendency to resist any unpleasantness and judge it as a kind of personal failure, which in turn precipitates an even graver sense of dissatisfaction.

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Richard Feynman on Science vs. Religion and Why Uncertainty Is Central to Morality
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 18 May 2015

“It is impossible to find an answer which someday will not be found to be wrong. I do not believe that science can disprove the existence of God; I think that is impossible. And if it is impossible, is not a belief in science and in a God — an ordinary God of religion — a consistent possibility?”

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Dante and the Eternal Quest for Nonreligious Divinity: Physicist Margaret Wertheim on Science and God
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 11 May 2015

Centuries after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer, contemplated the relationship between science and religion, and decades after Carl Sagan did the same in his exquisite ‘Varieties of Scientific Experience,’ physicist-turned-science-writer Margaret Wertheim offers perhaps the most elegant and emboldening reconciliation of these two frequently contrasted approaches to the human longing for truth and meaning.

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What Makes a Hero: Joseph Campbell’s Seminal Monomyth Model for the Eleven Stages of the Hero’s Journey, Animated
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 4 May 2015

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward.”

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Einstein on the Common Language of Science in a Rare 1941 Recording
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 4 May 2015

“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem — in my opinion — to characterize our age.”

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Why War: Einstein and Freud’s Little-Known Correspondence on Violence, Peace, and Human Nature
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 20 Apr 2015

“As long as all international conflicts are not subject to arbitration and the enforcement of decisions arrived at by arbitration is not guaranteed, and as long as war production is not prohibited we may be sure that war will follow upon war. Unless our civilization achieves the moral strength to overcome this evil, it is bound to share the fate of former civilizations: decline and decay.” — Einstein

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André Gide on Sincerity, Being vs. Appearing, and What It Really Means to Be Yourself
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 16 Mar 2015

‘Dare to be yourself.’ I must underline that in my head too. Don’t ever do anything through affectation or to make people like you or through imitation or for the pleasure of contradicting.

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How to Read Intelligently and Write a Great Essay: Robert Frost’s Letter of Advice to His Young Daughter
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 23 Feb 2015

«Take it easy with the essay whatever you do. Be as concrete as the law allows in it — concrete and experiential. Don’t let it scare you. Don’t strain. Remember that any old thing that happens in your head as you read may be the thing you want. If nothing much seems to happen, perhaps another reading will help.»

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The Island of Knowledge: How to Live with Mystery in a Culture Obsessed with Certainty and Definitive Answers
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 9 Feb 2015

We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery. “To think of science as separate from spirituality to me is a big mistake… It’s exactly because I feel very spiritually connected with nature that I am a scientist.” –astrophysicist/philosopher Marcelo Gleiser

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The Shortness of Life: Seneca on Busyness and the Art of Living Wide Rather Than Living Long
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 19 Jan 2015

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today… The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” I frequently worry that being productive is the surest way to lull ourselves into a trance of passivity and busyness the greatest distraction from living, as we coast through our lives day after day, showing up for our obligations but being absent from our selves, mistaking the doing for the being.

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Be Like Water: The Philosophy and Origin of Bruce Lee’s Famous Metaphor for Resilience
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 12 Jan 2015

“In order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”
Nothing is weaker than water,
But when it attacks something hard
Or resistant, then nothing withstands it,
And nothing will alter its way.

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Anne Lamott on Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 12 Jan 2015

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

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Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves? Leo Tolstoy on Why We Drink
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 5 Jan 2015

Decades before the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous and nearly a century before alcohol abuse was recognized as a disease by the World Health Organization, Tolstoy writes: “What is the explanation of the fact that people use things that stupefy them: vodka, wine, beer, hashish, opium, tobacco, and other things less common: ether, morphia, fly-agaric, etc.?”

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Leonardo’s Brain: What a Posthumous Brain Scan Six Centuries Later Reveals about the Source of Da Vinci’s Creativity
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 5 Jan 2015

An astonishing intellectual, and at times spiritual, journey into the particular brain of one undereducated, left-handed, nearly ambidextrous, vegetarian, pacifist, gay, singularly creative Renaissance male who was able to attain a different state of consciousness than “practically all other humans.”

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Alan Lightman and ‘The Accidental Universe’
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 29 Dec 2014

Science does not reveal the meaning of our existence, but it does draw back some of the veils. Theoretical physics is the deepest and purest branch of science. It is the outpost of science closest to philosophy, and religion.

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A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus on Our Search for Meaning and Why Happiness Is Our Moral Obligation
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Dec 2014

“To decide whether life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question of philosophy,” Albert Camus wrote in ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ in 1942. “Everything else … is child’s play; we must first of all answer the question.” If the question abides, it is because it is more than a matter of historical or biographical interest.

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Haunting Illustrations for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Introduced by the Courageous Journalist Who Broke the Edward Snowden Story
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Dec 2014

As the full impact of the Snowden revelations sank in, many people made the connection, and Amazon announced a dramatic rise in sales of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’ To some, the young NSA analyst had revealed a world which was near-Orwellian; others thought that he had described a state of affairs that Orwell could barely have imagined.

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Margaret Mead on Myth vs. Deception and What to Tell Kids about Santa Claus
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Dec 2014

How to instill an appreciation of the difference between “fact” and “poetic truth,” in kids and grownups alike. Belief in Santa Claus becomes a problem when parents simultaneously are telling their children a lie and insist on the literal belief in a man in a red suit. Children who have been told the truth about birth and death will know when they hear about Santa Claus that this is a truth of a different kind.

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William James on Choosing Purpose Over Profit and the Life-Changing Power of a Great Mentor
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 10 Nov 2014

“After all, the great problem of life seems to be how to keep body and soul together.” Life spoke to him in even more ways than to most men, and he responded to its superabundant confusion with passion and insatiable curiosity. His spiritual development was a matter of intense personal experience.

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Kahlil Gibran on the Absurdity of Self-Righteousness
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Nov 2014

A short poem that speaks with great subtlety and great insight to our illusion of separateness and the self-righteousness it produces, our lamentable tendency to mistake others for interruptions and nuisances, to forget that everybody is simply doing their best in this shared experience called life.

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At Home with Themselves: Sage Sohier’s Moving Portraits of Same-Sex Couples in the 1980s
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Nov 2014

A Tender, Thoughtful Lens on Life and Love in the Margins

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October 22, 1964: Jean-Paul Sartre Becomes the First Person to Decline the Nobel Prize
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Nov 2014

My reasons for refusing the prize concern neither the Swedish Academy nor the Nobel Prize in itself, as I explained in my letter to the Academy. In it, I alluded to two kinds of reasons: personal and objective.

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Friedrich Nietzsche on Why a Fulfilling Life Requires Embracing Rather than Running from Difficulty
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 20 Oct 2014

A century and a half before our modern fetishism of failure, a seminal philosophical case for its value. “The most fulfilling human projects appeared inseparable from a degree of torment, the sources of our greatest joys lying awkwardly close to those of our greatest pains…”

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The Life of the Mind: Hannah Arendt on Thinking vs. Knowing and the Crucial Difference Between Truth and Meaning
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 6 Oct 2014

The questions raised by our thirst for knowledge arise from our curiosity about the world, whatever is given to our sensory apparatus, in principle all answerable by common-sense. But the questions raised by thinking and which it is in reason’s very nature to raise — questions of meaning — are all unanswerable by common sense and the refinement of it we call science.

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How to Be Alone: An Antidote to One of the Central Anxieties and Greatest Paradoxes of Our Time
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Sep 2014

“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.”

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Why We Hurt Each Other: Tolstoy’s Letters to Gandhi on Love, Violence, and the Truth of the Human Spirit
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 25 Aug 2014

The exchange sparked an ongoing correspondence between the two that lasted until Tolstoy’s death — a meeting of two great minds and spirits, eventually collected in Letters from One: Correspondence (and more) of Leo Tolstoy and Mohandas Gandhi and rivaled only by Einstein’s correspondence with Freud on violence and human nature.

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Fascinating: The Universe, “Branes,” and the Science of Multiple Dimensions
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 4 Aug 2014

How a needle, a shower curtain, and a New England clam explain the possibility of parallel universes. Gradually physicists and cosmologists are coming to see our ten billion light years as an infinitesimal pocket of a stupendous megaverse.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay on the Death Penalty and What It Really Means to Be an Anarchist
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 4 Aug 2014

An Anarchist is a person who believes that human beings are naturally good, and that if left to themselves they would, by mutual agreement, govern themselves much better and much more peaceably than they are being governed now by a government based on violence. [TMS editor: The 12-Step self-help Anonymous groups as examples]

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C.S. Lewis on Suffering and What It Means to Have Free Will in a Universe of Fixed Laws
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 28 Jul 2014

If the universe operates by fixed physical laws, what does it mean for us to have free will? That’s what C.S. Lewis considers with an elegant sidewise gleam in an essay titled “Divine Omnipotence” from his altogether fascinating 1940 book The Problem of Pain.

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A Brief History of How Bees Sexed Up Earth and Gave Flowers Their Colors
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 21 Jul 2014

How a striped, winged, six-legged love machine sparked “the longest marketing campaign in history.”

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Buddhist Economics: How to Stop Prioritizing Goods Over People and Consumption Over Creative Activity
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 14 Jul 2014

What does it really mean to create wealth for people — for humanity — as opposed to money for governments and corporations? That’s precisely what the influential German-born British economist, statistician, Rhodes Scholar, and economic theorist E. F. Schumacher explores in his seminal 1973 book Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

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Alan Watts on the Difference between Belief and Faith
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 14 Jul 2014

Belief, as I use the word here, is the insistence that the truth is what one would “lief” or wish it to be. The believer will open his mind to the truth on the condition that it fits in with his preconceived ideas and wishes. Faith, on the other hand, is an unreserved opening of the mind to the truth, whatever it may turn out to be. Faith has no preconceptions; it is a plunge into the unknown.

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Isaac Asimov on Optimism vs. Cynicism about the Human Spirit
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 7 Jul 2014

It’s insulting to imply that only a system of rewards and punishments can keep you a decent human being. Isn’t it conceivable a person wants to be a decent human being because that way he feels better?

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Leo Tolstoy on Finding Meaning in a Meaningless World
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 16 Jun 2014

“For man to be able to live he must either not see the infinite, or have such an explanation of the meaning of life as will connect the finite with the infinite… In complete contrast to my ignorance, [they] knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good…”

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The Greatest Commencement Addresses of All Time
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 2 Jun 2014

The commencement address is the secular sermon of our time — a packet of timeless advice on life, dispensed by a podium-perched patronly or matronly shaman of wisdom to a congregation of eager young minds about to enter the so-called “real world.” But the genre’s finest specimens speak to all of us looking for some guidance on the path to the Good Life, transcending boundaries of age or occupation or life-stage.

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Alan Lightman on Our Yearning for Immortality and Why We Long for Permanence in a Universe of Constant Change
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 26 May 2014

A heartening perspective on mortality by way of the physics of the cosmos and the poetics of the night-blooming cereus cactus.

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Love Undetectable: Andrew Sullivan on Why Friendship Is a Greater Gift Than Romantic Love
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 5 May 2014

“A principal fruit of friendship,” Francis Bacon observed, “is the ease and discharge of the fullness and swellings of the heart, which passions of all kinds do cause and induce.” Thoreau would “sometimes awake in the night and think of friendship and its possibilities.” St. Augustine described friendship as “sweet beyond the sweetness of life.”

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How a Smile Saved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Life: A Soul-Lifting Meditation on Our Shared Humanity
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 28 Apr 2014

Care granted to the sick, welcome offered to the banished, forgiveness itself are worth nothing without a smile enlightening the deed. We communicate in a smile beyond languages, classes, and parties.

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Happy 80th Birthday, Jane Goodall: The Beloved Primatologist on Science, Religion, and Our Human Responsibilities
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 7 Apr 2014

Legendary British primatologist Jane Goodall (b. April 3, 1934) is celebrated not only as humanity’s greatest expert on chimpanzees but also as a remarkable mind that bridges the rigor of science with the sensitivity of spirituality.

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Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Crucial Difference Between Success and Mastery
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 17 Mar 2014

Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don’t use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate — perfectionism — an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success — an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.

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The Most Beautiful and Timelessly Bewitching LGBTQ Love Letters in History
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Mar 2014

Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West,
Margaret Mead & Ruth Benedict,
Allen Ginsberg & Peter Orlovsky,
Edna St. Vincent Millay & Edith Wynn Matthison,
Eleanor Roosevelt & Lorena Hickok,
Oscar Wilde & Sir Alfred “Bosie” Taylor.

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Debunking the Myth of the 10,000-Hour Rule: What It Actually Takes to Reach Genius-Level Excellence
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 3 Feb 2014

The main predictor of success is deliberate practice — persistent training to which you give your full concentration rather than just your time, often guided by a skilled expert, coach, or mentor. It’s a qualitative difference in how you pay attention, not a quantitative measure of clocking in the hours.

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From Galileo to Sagan, Famous Scientists on the Art of Wonder, the Mystery of the Universe, and the Heart of Science
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 27 Jan 2014

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavor in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. . . . To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. –- Einstein conversing with Tagore.

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Varieties of Scientific Experience: Carl Sagan on Science and God
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 13 Jan 2014

“If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed.”

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The Baloney Detection Kit: Carl Sagan’s Rules for Bullshit-Busting and Critical Thinking
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 6 Jan 2014

Necessary cognitive fortification against propaganda, pseudoscience, and general falsehood.

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Stay: The Social Contagion of Suicide and How to Preempt It
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 25 Nov 2013

“In my experience, outside the idea that God forbids it, our society today has no coherent argument against suicide. Instead, many self-described open-minded, rationalist, sophisticated thinkers emphatically defend people’s right to do it. How did those in the modern world – who fight death so fiercely elsewhere – come to accept or at least leave unchallenged an ideology that kills”?

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Love and Math: Equations as an Equalizer for Humanity
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 25 Nov 2013

“Mathematics is the source of timeless profound knowledge, which goes to the heart of all matter and unites us across cultures, continents, and centuries.” Georg Cantor, creator of the theory of infinity, wrote: “The essence of mathematics lies in its freedom.” Mathematics teaches us to rigorously analyze reality, study the facts, follow them wherever they lead. It liberates us from dogmas and prejudice, nurtures the capacity for innovation.

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The Science of Dreams and Why We Have Nightmares
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 21 Oct 2013

The Psychology of Our Built-In Nocturnal Therapy

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How Mind-Wandering and “Positive Constructive Daydreaming” Enhance Creativity and Improve Our Social Skills
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 14 Oct 2013

The science of why fantasy and imaginative escapism are essential elements of a satisfying mental life.

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Wisdom from a MacArthur Genius: Psychologist Angela Duckworth on Why Grit, Not IQ, Predicts Success
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 7 Oct 2013

“Character is at least as important as intellect.” Creative history brims with embodied examples of why the secret of genius is doggedness rather than “god”-given talent, from the case of young Mozart’s upbringing to E. B. White’s wisdom on writing to Chuck Close’s assertion about art to Tchaikovsky’s conviction about composition to Neil Gaiman’s advice to aspiring writers.

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How the Nobel Prize Was Born: A Surprising Story of Bad Journalism, Existential Guilt, and Dynamite
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 30 Sep 2013

How a deplored “tradesman of death” brought to life the highest accolade of human achievement.

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Religion vs. Humanism: Isaac Asimov on Science and Spirituality
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 2 Sep 2013

“The soft bonds of love are indifferent to life and death.”

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Synesthesia and the Poetry of Numbers: Autistic Savant Daniel Tammet on Literature, Math, and Empathy, by Way of Borges
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 19 Aug 2013

Daniel Tammet was born with an unusual mind — he was diagnosed with autistic savant syndrome; his brain’s circuits made possible learning Icelandic in a single week and reciting the number pi to the 22,514th digit. He is also diagnosed with synesthesia — that curious crossing of the senses that causes one to “hear” colors, “smell” sounds, or perceive words and numbers in different hues, shapes, and textures.

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Charles Bukowski’s “Friendly Advice to a Lot of Young Men,”
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 12 Aug 2013

“The crowd is the gathering place of the weakest; true creation is a solitary act.”

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What the Psychology of Suicide Prevention Teaches Us about Controlling Our Everyday Worries
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 5 Aug 2013

Two surprisingly simple yet effective techniques for ameliorating anxiety.

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Happy Birthday, Thoreau: The Beloved Transcendentalist on Friendship, Sympathy, and Animal Consciousness
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 29 Jul 2013

The beloved transcendentalist, born on July 12, 1817, considers the essence of friendship, what it means to be human, and how inextricably connected we are to our fellow non-human beings, who are just as worthy of our sympathy and respect as our human friends.

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Oscar Wilde’s Stirring Love Letters to Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 29 Jul 2013

“It is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing.”

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Do Scientists Pray? Einstein Answers a Little Girl’s Question about Science vs. Religion
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 22 Jul 2013

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man.”
— Albert Einstein

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Carl Sagan on Science and Spirituality
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 1 Jul 2013

“The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a disservice to both.”

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Helen Keller on Optimism
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 24 Jun 2013

“Doubt and mistrust are the mere panic of timid imagination, which the steadfast heart will conquer, and the large mind transcend.”

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Science vs. Scripture and the Difference between Curiosity and Wonder
Maria Popova, Brain Pickings – TRANSCEND Media Service, 24 Jun 2013

From Aristotle to St. Paul, or how rational thought and religion battled over knowledge.

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