Brainpickings–a contemplative curation of writers and one of our weblinks

NOTE: When we redesigned this site we added two new categories of weblinks–writers and writing resources. We will move on alphabetically through those two categories, exploring the links one by one. This month we begin with writer Maria Popova’s website, Brain Pickings. From the about page of her site comes this: 

Brain Pickings is my one-woman labor of love — a subjective lens on what matters in the world and why. Mostly, it’s a record of my own becoming as a person — intellectually, creatively, spiritually — and an inquiry into how to live and what it means to lead a good life.

Popova also says that, 

[C]reativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways.

Let’s take a look at a couple samples from her site to see what she means. The look may lead you to sign up for a subscription (free, although donations are encouraged). The first sample discusses cosmologist Janna Levin’s Life on a Moebius Strip. It’s the opening piece in the anthology of 50 stories contained in The Moth. The Moth is a podcast and hour long public radio show featuring diverse storytelling done without notes. I will confess complete ignorance of the show but here is the snippet from Popova’s bit on Levin:

Our lives are shaped by an inescapable confluence of choice and chance. “The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful inquiry into how we find ourselves by getting lost. . . . most of the time we don’t know or only think we know what is on this side of any transformative experience. 


. . . .We tend to make sense of it all by deft mental acrobatics, deducing what we want from what we get, only to realize — and it is never quite clear whether this is a deep truth or a deep delusion — that the strange and unpredictable outcomes of life were what we desired in the first place.


That’s what cosmologist and novelist Janna Levin explores in what remains, in my book, the greatest story ever told on The Moth.

You cannot fail to notice the extensive links to supply more information on one element after another. Reading Brain Pickings is an intellectual exercise not for the faint of mind and heart–or short of time for contemplation. To see the rest of this piece, look here.

Here’s one more example of what you may find on Brain Pickings. This from Proust on Love and How Our Intellect Blinds Us to the Wisdom of the HeartThe subhead introduction to this item says, 

“Our intelligence, however lucid, cannot perceive the elements that compose it and remain unsuspected.”

Popova goes on to post this:

In The Captive & The Fugitive (public library), the fifth volume of his masterwork In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871–November 18, 1922) shines a penetrating sidewise gleam on this paradox of how the intellect, in its coolly rational search for facts, blinds us to the larger truths of our emotional reality.


In one particularly insightful passage, Proust channels through his protagonist, named after himself, universal insight into how our intellect blinds us to the wisdom of the heart and how pain, above all, strips down our intellectual defenses and puts us in raw, direct contact with the emotional truth of our being . . . 

Popova often suggests complementary readings to study in connection with the item she posts. Along with this Proust piece she offers these:

Complement with philosopher Martha Nussbaum on the intelligence of the emotions, British economic theorist and philosopher E.F Schumacher on seeing with the eye of the heart, and Alain de Botton on what Proust can teach us about living more fully.

So who IS Popova? On her site she says this of herself: 

Hey there. My name is Maria Popova and I’m a reader, writer, interestingness hunter-gatherer, and curious mind at large. I’ve previously written for Wired UK, The Atlantic,The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, among others, and am an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow.

Maria Popova at work

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