Learn Digital Photography with Harvard University’s Free Online Course

Image by Phirac via Wikimedia Commons

Since the taking of the very first photograph in 1826, photography has developed, as it were, in ways hardly imaginable to its first few generations of practitioners. The most thorough transformation so far has, of course, come in the form of the digital revolution (and especially its latest fruit, the camera phone), which has in many real ways delivered on its promise of making “everyone a photographer.” But the ability to take a picture is one thing, and the ability to take a picture worth looking at — let alone looking at more than once — quite another.

Fortunately, high technology has democratized not only the means of production, but also the means of learning with online courses like this free one on digital photography sourced from no less an institution than Harvard University. “The Digital Photography course has been available over at the free certified learning service ALISON since 2013 as part of Harvard’s Open Learning Initiative,” writes Petapixel’s Michael Zhang. (You can view the site’s other Harvard-connected courses here.)

Its materials come from Dan Armendariz’s Harvard course DGMD E-10: Exposing Digital Photography, and its twelve modules “will take an average student about 10 to 15 hours to complete, and they teach a wide range of topics in digital photography, including exposure settings, reading histograms, learning about light, how sensors and lenses work, and how to post-process photos.”

Even a basic understanding of all those topics will put you far ahead of the average social-media snapper, but as with any pursuit, gaining some knowledge creates the desire for more. You thus might also consider taking the digital photography course from Stanford professor and Google researcher Marc Levoy we featured last year. (Also see this free massive open online course, Seeing Through Photographs. It’s from the MoMA, and it starts again on January 23.) It would take a lifetime to master all the gear and attain all the know-how out there, even if photography stopped changing today, but don’t let that intimidate you. Just bear in mind the wise words of Hunter S. Thompson: “Any man who can see what he wants to get on film will usually find some way to get it; and a man who thinks his equipment is going to see for him is not going to get much of anything.”

Harvard’s free digital photography course will be added to our collection, 1200 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

via PetaPixel

Related Content:

An Introduction to Digital Photography: Take a Free Course from Stanford Prof/Google Researcher Marc Levoy

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) Launches Free Course on Looking at Photographs as Art

The History of Photography in Five Animated Minutes: From Camera Obscura to Camera Phone

How to Take Photographs Like Ansel Adams: The Master Explains The Art of “Visualization”

Henri Cartier-Bresson and the Decisive Moment

Alfred Stieglitz: The Eloquent Eye, a Revealing Look at “The Father of Modern Photography”

Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice for Aspiring Photographers: Skip the Fancy Equipment & Just Shoot

ALISON — A Trove of 750 Free Online Job Training Courses

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Education for Death: The Making of Nazi–Walt Disney’s 1943 Propaganda Film Shows How Fascists Are Made

During World War II, Walt Disney entered into a contract with the US government to develop 32 animated shorts. Nearly bankrupted by Fantasia (1940), Disney needed to refill its coffers, and making American propaganda films didn’t seem like a bad way to do it. On numerous occasions, Donald Duck was called upon to deliver moral messages to domestic audiences (see The Spirit of ’43 and Der Fuehrer’s Face). But that wasn’t the case with Education for Death: The Making of Nazi, a film shown in U.S. movie theaters in 1943.

Based on a book written by Gregor Ziemer, this animated short used a different lineup of characters to show how the Nazi party turned innocent youth into Hitler’s corrupted children. Unlike other topics addressed in Disney war films (e.g. taxes and the draft), this theme, the cultivation of young minds, hit awfully close to home. And it’s perhaps why it’s one of Disney’s better wartime films. (Spiegel Online has more on Disney’s WW II propaganda films here.)

You will find Education for Death permanently listed in the Animation section of our collection of Free Movies Online.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

Related Content:

How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made: 1939 Documentary Gives an Inside Look

Salvador Dalí & Walt Disney’s Destino: See the Collaborative Film, Original Storyboards & Ink Drawings

Disney’s 12 Timeless Principles of Animation Demonstrated in 12 Animated Primers

Alan Turing Gets Channeled in a New Opera: Hear Audio from The Life And Death(S) Of Alan Turing

Creative Commons image by Steve Parker

It can seem like a cruel irony that some of the most celebrated people of our day didn’t receive the same acclaim during their sometimes troubled lives. Van Gogh may have been on the cusp of fame when he died despairing and broke, but few could have imagined then that he would be the universally beloved and admired artist he became in the following decades. (A recent Doctor Who episode poignantly imagined Van Gogh traveling to our time to witness his legacy.) In a more recent example in the sciences, the book—now film—Hidden Figures celebrates three previously unsung African-American women: mathematicians, or “human computers,” whose calculations were instrumental to NASA’s success but whose accomplishments were obscured by prejudice.

The same could not quite be said for Alan Turing, another genius recently celebrated in a multiple-award-winning Hollywood film, award-winning documentary, and spate of articles, essays, and books. Turing was viciously persecuted for his homosexuality by the state, and he has often been unfairly characterized in many portrayals since.

In 1952, he was convicted of “gross indecency” for a relationship with another man and given the choice between prison and chemical castration. The brilliant English mathematician, codebreaker, and father of modern computing and artificial intelligence chose the latter, and the physical and psychological effects were so demoralizing that he took his own life two years later—perhaps grimly inspiring the Apple logo as he enacted his favorite scene from Snow White (a matter in some dispute, it should be noted).

Turing “left behind a lasting legacy,” note the makers of the docu-drama Codebreakers, “and lingering questions about what else he might have accomplished if society had embraced his unique genius instead of rejecting it.” It’s not fair to say that society rejected his genius—perhaps even more tragically, it rejected his full humanity. Turing’s genius, though cut short at 41, received its due, inspiring, since 1966, the highest award in computer science. His famed “Turing test” became the standard by which nearly all attempts at artificial intelligence have been measured. In addition to those films, books, and essays, Turing has been much lauded in musical productions, namely the Pet Shop Boys “orchestral pop biography” A Man From the Future and a 30-minute oratorio by Adam Gopnik and composer Nico Muhly called Sentences.

And now, a new two-act opera premiered, The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing, just debuted on January 12th at New York’s American Lyric Theater (ALT). Commissioned in 2012, and written by composer Justine Chen with a libretto by David Simpatico, the opera is “a historic-fantasia on Turing’s life” that does not obscure the man as it acknowledges his genius. Many critics felt that 2014’s The Imitation Game “obfuscated his sexuality and desexualized him in an attempt to make the story more mainstream,” remarks Shawn Milnes at The Daily Beast. “He was not a sexual creature in this movie,” agrees Simpatico. “He was in the closet.” That impression of Turing’s personal life has almost become commonplace. And yet the truth “couldn’t be more opposite,” Simpatico argues.

He was completely out. He was out upon meeting people. He would say, ‘How are you doing? I’m a homosexual. Will you have a problem with that? No.’ He was out to everybody. The movie makes it feel like he had something to hide.

Fully acknowledging all of the dimensions of Turing’s life allows the opera–The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing— to draw deeply moving arias from his biography like “Cave of Wonders,” above, in which Turing expresses “his grief over the loss of his first love,” Christopher Morcom, a fellow grade school student who died young in 1930. Turing was “openly devastated” by the event, writes L.V. Anderson at Slate, “and he subsequently developed a relationship with Morcom’s family, going on vacations with them and maintaining a correspondence with Morcom’s mother for years. In The Imitation Game, by contrast, he “denies having known Christopher very well” in a flashback scene.

The music of the opera’s Prologue, above, owes a debt to composers like Steve Reich and John Adams, with its pulsing piano and cacophony of voices, simulating, perhaps, the rush of thought in Turing’s brilliant mind. At the ALT site, you can hear a further excerpt from the opera, “The Social Contract,” which dramatizes the pressure Turing’s mother put on him to marry, and his subsequent consideration of a marriage of convenience to his colleague in cryptoanalysis, Joan Clarke. In the opera, writes Milnes, Simpatico had the idea of “fusing sex and intellect on stage” in order to balance Turing’s portrayal and “see who the person was,” as he puts it. As Simpatico says, the tragically persecuted genius “had no division between his sexual, sensual, physical carnal self and his intellectual, cerebral, interior self.” Only people who couldn’t take them both together seemed to have found it necessary to separate the two, and thus do terrible damage to the man as a whole.

Related Content:

The Books on Young Alan Turing’s Reading List: From Lewis Carroll to Modern Chromatics

Hear the First Recording of Computer Music: Researchers Restore Three Melodies Programmed on Alan Turing’s Computer (1951)

Benedict Cumberbatch Reads a Letter Alan Turing Wrote in “Distress” Before His Conviction For “Gross Indecency”

Vincent van Gogh Visits a Modern Museum & Gets to See His Artistic Legacy: A Touching Scene from Doctor Who

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Jim Henson Creates an Experimental Animation Explaining How We Get Ideas (1966)

What do ideas look like?

Jim Henson’s looked very much like a Muppet nose, as evidenced by “The Idea Man,” a 1966 three-minute animation, above.

The film was originally intended to be part of a live multimedia performance on The Mike Douglas Show. The real star of that segment was Limbo, an abstract Muppet, whose physical manifestation was but a disembodied mouth and a pair of eyes, operated by two puppeteers.

Henson favored the bodiless Limbo (who eventually morphed in Sesame Street’s Nobody) as a delivery mechanism for some of his more profound musings.

His vocal characterization imbued Limbo with a fairly Eeyore-ish outlook, though occasionally one catches an echo of Henson’s most famous creation—Kermit the Frog, making a brief, unbilled appearance, here, along with John F. Kennedy, Mad magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, and Kukla of Kukla, Fran and Ollie.

Limbo, now just a disembodied voice as far as you and I are concerned, bemoans that all the really good ideas have already been taken—the safety pin, television, Atomic energy…

Eventually, though, he succumbs to the sort of excited curiosity that fired his creator, conceding the possibility of one “gloriously marvelous, great big beautiful idea,” visualized as the sort of giddy, collage pile-up beloved by Terry Gilliam.

Watch more of Henson’s experimental short films here.

The Idea Man” will be added to the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Related Content:

Watch The Surreal 1960s Films and Commercials of Jim Henson

Jim Henson’s Violent Wilkins Coffee Commercials (1957-1961)

A Young Jim Henson Teaches You How to Make Puppets with Socks, Tennis Balls & Other Household Goods (1969)

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How the World’s Oldest Computer Worked: Reconstructing the 2,200-Year-Old Antikythera Mechanism

In 1900, Greek sponge divers discovered a shipwreck off the Greek island of Antikythera. The artifacts they came back up with included money, statues, pottery, and various other works of art and craft, as well as a curious lump of bronze and wood that turned out to be by far the most important item onboard. When an archaeologist named Valerios Stais took a look at it two years later, he noticed that the lump had a gear in it. Almost a half-century later, the science historian Derek J. de Solla Price thought this apparently mechanical object might merit further examination, and almost a quarter-century after that, he and the nuclear physicist Charalambos Karakalos published their discovery–made by using X-ray and gamma-ray images of the interior–that those divers had found a kind of ancient computer.

“Understanding how the pieces fit together confirmed that the Antikythera mechanism was capable of predicting the positions of the planets with which the Greeks were familiar — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — as well as the sun and moon, and eclipses,” writes Big Think’s Robby Berman. “It even has a black and white stone that turns to show the phases of the moon.”

Determining how it really worked has required the building of various different models of various different kinds, one of which you can see assembled, operated, and disassembled before your very eyes in the CGI rendering at the top of the post. Its design comes from the work of historian of mechanism Michael T. Wright, who also put together the physical recreation of the Antikythera mechanism you can see him explain just above.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

By its very nature, an artifact as fascinating and as incomplete as this draws all sorts of theories about the specifics of its design, purpose, and even its age. (It dates back to somewhere between 205 and 100 BC.) In 2012, Tony Freeth and Alexander Jones published their own model, different from Wright’s, of this “machine designed to predict celestial phenomena according to the sophisticated astronomical theories current in its day, the sole witness to a lost history of brilliant engineering, a conception of pure genius, one of the great wonders of the ancient world,” — but one which “didn’t really work very well.” Some of the problems has to do with the limitations of ancient Greek astronomical theory, and some with the unreliability of its layers of handmade gears.

More recent research, adds Berman, has discovered that “the device was built by more than one person on the island of Rhodes, and that it probably wasn’t the only one of its kind,” indicating that the ancient Greeks, despite the apparent deficiencies of the Antikythera mechanism itself, “were apparently even further ahead in their astronomical understanding and mechanical know-how than we’d imagined.” Now watch the video just above, in which the Apple engineer makes his own Antikythera mechanism with an entirely more modern set of components, and just imagine what the ancient Greeks could have accomplished had they developed Lego.

via Big Think

Related Content:

Introduction to Ancient Greek History: A Free Online Course from Yale

How the Ancient Greeks Shaped Modern Mathematics: A Short, Animated Introduction

How Ancient Greek Statues Really Looked: Research Reveals their Bold, Bright Colors and Patterns

Modern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vases & Artisanal Glass

Discover the “Brazen Bull,” the Ancient Greek Torture Machine That Doubled as a Musical Instrument

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch 100 Randomly Ticking Metronomes Achieve Synchronicity

It’s always satisfying to impose order on chaos, especially if it doesn’t involve bellowing at a roomful of jacked up teenagers.

Witness the experiment above.

Members of Ikeguchi Laboratory, a Japanese organization dedicated to the analysis and prediction of nonlinear phenomena, placed 100 randomly ticking metronomes on a hanging platform, curious as to how long it would take them to synchronize.

(SPOILER ALERT! They start synching up around the 1 minute, 20 second mark.)

How? Why? Is this some mystical, musical variant of menstrual synchrony?

Nope. Physics is doing the heavy lifting here.

The key is that the platform holding the metronomes is not fixed. It affects their movement by moving in response to theirs.

To put it another way, KE = 0.5 • m • v2. Which is to say Kinetic Energy = 0.5 • mass of object • (speed of object)2.

If you’re looking for another scientific explanation, here’s how Gizmodo puts it: “the metronomes are transferring energy to the platform they’re on, which then transfers that energy back to the metronomes—until they all sync up and start hitting the beat in one glorious wavelength.”

By the two and a half minute mark, some viewers will be raring to delve into further study of energy transference.

Others, their brains imploding, may elect to downshift into a purely auditory experience.

Close your eyes and listen as the last hold outs fall into rhythmic step with the rest of the herd. A pleasantly harmonious sound, not unlike that moment when a roomful of jacked up teens simmers down, achieving the sort of blissful hive mind that’s a balm to teacher’s frazzled soul.

Craving more?  Ikeguchi Laboratory also filmed their metronomes in triangular, circular and X-shaped formations, available for your viewing pleasure on the lab’s YouTube channel.

via The Kid Should See This

Related Content:

Watch What Happens When 100 Metronomes Perform György Ligeti’s Controversial Poème Symphonique

The Remarkable Physics of Ants: Watch Them Turn into Fluids and Solids at Will

The Mysterious Physics Behind How Bikes Ride by Themselves

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday

Hip 1960s Latin Teacher Translated Beatles Songs into Latin for His Students: Read Lyrics for “O Teneum Manum,” “Diei Duri Nox” & More

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

I’ve interacted with many entertaining language-learning resources in various classes—from miniseries in Spanish to comic books in French—all geared toward making the unfamiliar language relevant to daily life. Learning counterintuitive pronunciations, parsing a new system of grammar, or memorizing the genders of word after word can be laborious and intimidating in the classroom. Doing so in everyday pop cultural settings, not as much.

When it comes to the teaching of dead languages, the resources can seem less approachable. I certainly appreciate the literary and rhetorical genius of Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Cicero, and Julius Caesar. But during my high school years, I did not always find their work easy to read in English, much less in formal classical Latin. The elation I felt after successfully translating a passage was sometimes dampened as I puzzled over historical notes and glosses that often left me with more questions than answers.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

That’s not at all to say that students of Latin shouldn’t be exposed to cultural and historical context or read the finest exemplars of the written language. Only that a break from the heavy stuff now and then goes a long way. Might I submit to Latin instructors one ingenious tool from Eddie O’Hara, former British Labour Party MP and classics teacher? O’Hara passed away in May of last year, and just this past week, his son Terry O’Hara tweeted these translations of Beatles songs (including two Christmas tunes) his father made in the 60s for his students. At the time, these were the height of pop culture relevance, and, while a far cry from the complexities of the Aeneid, a fun way for Latin learners to relate to a language that can seem cold and imposing.

I will admit, my Latin has fallen into such a state that I can’t immediately vouch for the accuracy or elegance of these translations (“cue fierce arguments among Latin grammarians,” replies one Twitter user), but there’s no reason to doubt Mr. O’Hara knew his stuff. ““He was a born educator,” his son remembers, “He was a teacher and classicist by background and he had a strong interest in educational matters and Greek cultural heritage.” Educated himself at Magdalen College, Oxford, O’Hara taught at Perse School, Cambridge, Birkenhead School, and in the early 70s, C.F. Mott College in the Beatles’ own Liverpool.

Click here (and then click the image) to view in a larger format.

In addition to his role as a statesman, the Liverpool Echo remembers O’Hara‘s many decades as “a popular teacher who brought classes to life translating Beatles lyrics into Latin.” We do not have any indication of whether he actually tried to sing the lyrics, though his students surely must have attempted it. What must the chorus of “All My Loving” sound like as “Ita totum amorem dabo, Tibi totum, numquam cessaba”? Or “She Loves You” as “Amat te, mehercle”? Singing them to myself, I can see that O’Hara was sensitive to the meter of the original English in his Latin renderings. But I’d really love to see someone set these to music and make a video. Any of our readers up to the challenge?

Finally, since early sixties Beatles lyrics aren’t as likely to engage students in 2017, what pop cultural material would you translate today—classics teachers out there—to reach the bemused, bewildered, and the bored? If you’re already hard at work using hip resources in the classroom, please do share them with us in the comments!

Note: To view the images in a larger format, please click on the links to these individuals images: Image 1 Image 2Image 3. When the image opens, click on it again to zoom in.

via Ted Gioia

Related Content:

Learn Latin, Old English, Sanskrit, Classical Greek & Other Ancient Languages in 10 Lessons

What Ancient Latin Sounded Like, And How We Know It

The Story of Lorem Ipsum: How Scrambled Text by Cicero Became the Standard For Typesetters Everywhere

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Mesmerizing GIFs Illustrate the Art of Traditional Japanese Wood Joinery — All Done Without Screws, Nails, or Glue

Traditional Japanese carpentry, whether used to build a dinner table or the entire house containing it, doesn’t use screws, nails, adhesives, or any other kind of non-wooden fastener. So how do its constructions hold together? How have all those thousands of wooden houses, tables, and countless other objects and structures stood up for dozens and even hundreds of years, and so solidly at that? The secret lies in the art of joinery and its elaborate cutting techniques refined, since its origin in the seventh century, through generations and generations of steadily increasing mastery — albeit by a steadily dwindling number of masters.

“Even until recent times when carpentry books began to be published, mastery of these woodworking techniques remained the fiercely guarded secret of family carpentry guilds,” writes Spoon & Tamago’s Johnny Strategy. If you find it difficult to grasp how simply cutting two pieces of wood in a certain way could unite them as if they’d grown together in the first place, have a look at a Twitter feed called The Joinery, run by a young enthusiast who has collected a great many of these carpentry books. He’s used them, in combination with mechanical design software skills presumably honed in his career in the auto industry, to create elegantly animated visual explanations of Japanese carpentry’s tried-and-true joinery methods.

Archdaily points to the work of architect Shigeru Ban as one example of how this “uniquely Japanese wood aesthetic” has survived into the modern day, but the man behind The Joinery imagines even more ambitious possibilities: “3D printing and woodworking machinery has enabled us to create complicated forms fairly easily,” he tells Spoon & Tamago. “I want to organize all the joinery techniques and create a catalog of them all,” so that anyone with the tools might potentially make use of their beauty and sturdiness in hitherto unimagined new contexts. And so another traditional Japanese craft that has looked doomed to outmoded oblivion, what with all the more advanced and efficient fabrication and construction techniques developed over the past 1400 years, may well thrive in the future. To learn more about the art of joinery, you’ll want to explore this 1995 book, The Complete Japanese Joinery.

via ArchDaily

Related Content:

Watch Japanese Woodworking Masters Create Elegant & Elaborate Geometric Patterns with Wood

20 Mesmerizing Videos of Japanese Artisans Creating Traditional Handicrafts

The Making of Japanese Handmade Paper: A Short Film Documents an 800-Year-Old Tradition

Watch a Japanese Craftsman Lovingly Bring a Tattered Old Book Back to Near Mint Condition

The Art of Collotype: See a Near Extinct Printing Technique, as Lovingly Practiced by a Japanese Master Craftsman

Japanese Craftsman Spends His Life Trying to Recreate a Thousand-Year-Old Sword

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Introduction to Confucius’ Life & Thought Through Two Animated Videos

Though it isn’t widely acknowledged, there’s been a longstanding and robust debate at least since the nineteenth century over whether or not a historical Jesus existed. The majority of Christians dismiss the evidence, or lack thereof, for reasons of belief, but on a wider view it’s not at all unique that the historical founder of a religion or school might be an invention, or might have been nothing at all like the tradition suggests. Such questions have arisen about the reality of the Buddha, for example, or the authorship of Lao Tzu, writer of the Tao Te Ching, or the historical existence of his supposed contemporary Confucius, founder of the system of philosophy and ethics simply known as Confucianism.

What do we know about Confucius? “Very little for certain,” says Alain de Botton in his School of Life introductory video above. “He’s said to have been born in 551 BC in China,” and he may have been a student of Lao Tzu. Confucius supposedly served as minister of crime under the ruler of the state of Lu. Many mundane stories about the Chinese thinker make his existence seem quite plausible, though his legend picked up miraculous features over time. But the sayings supposedly by and about Confucius, historical or otherwise—like those of Jesus and the Buddha—were only written down many years after his death, collected in the famous Analects (Lunyu, or “edited conversations”).

These sayings became enormously popular during the European Enlightenment and the 20th century, writes Charlotte Allen at The Atlantic, in part because Confucius remained “agnostic on whether a supernatural world actually exists.” Though he encouraged participation in religious rituals, “The Master,” one of the analects remarks, “never talked of: miracles; violence; disorders; spirits.” What he did talk about what was “the Golden Mean: all things in moderation, even moderation itself.” Confucius was a conservative thinker—in the sense that word once had of holding fast to tradition, encouraging adherence to “ritual propriety” and family observances, and respecting the rule of law.

His sayings include a version of the Golden Rule, and he “is said to have taught his disciples the cultivation of personal virtue…. veneration of one’s parents, love of learning, loyalty to one’s superiors, kindness to one’s subordinates, and a high regard for all of the customs, institutions, and rituals that make for civility.” One can see his appeal to many liberal Western philosophers, who have often advanced radical theses alongside the conservative values Max Weber characterized as the Protestant ethic. Thomas Paine, writes Allen, “listed Confucius with Jesus and the Greek philosophers as the world’s great moral teachers” in the Age of Reason, and Ezra Pound had a particularly high regard for the Chinese thinker.

This kind of veneration has meant that “to many educated Westerners, Confucius is the very emblem of Chinese civilization and religious belief.” Or as the TED-Ed video above puts it, “most people recognize his name and know that he is famous for having said… something.” In this video introduction to Confucius, the philosopher’s biography plays a very prominent role, and it does make for an engaging story. But we should be aware that the details of his life are highly contested by scholars in the East and West. The only sources date from “well after his death,” notes the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and “taken together paint contradictory pictures of his personality and the events in his life.” Some scholars even claim he was an invention of the Jesuits, who may have created the Confucius character to accord with their Western desire for a personal founder.

But we need not believe biographical details or decide between scholarly controversies to appreciate Confucian thought. As de Botton makes clear, Confucius’ respect for tradition—though certainly patriarchal and hierarchical—also gives us a lot of insight into how and why we should heed people with expertise and superior knowledge, why we should value education and difficult study, and why personal integrity matters in civic life. Though we cannot verify his life story, we can see it as a popular narrative allegory for his ideas. Confucius exhorted his disciples to obey their leaders, yet he also insisted that those leaders be benevolent and honorable.

It is said that Confucius left Lu, where he had served faithfully as a minister, when the Duke received a gift of courtesans and horses from a neighboring ruler, and began to spend all his time cavorting, and misusing the state’s resources. Thus, according to the tradition, began a period of wandering as the philosopher pondered the cultivation of character. You can read the Analects for yourself in a number of translations—including this free online version from Robert Eno. And if you wish to immerse yourself more fully in the study of Confucianism and Chinese philosophy and culture more generally, you can do so for free through Harvard’s edX course on China or, through Coursera’s “Classics of Chinese Humanities: Guided Readings,” taught by Ou Fan Leo Lee, Professor of Chinese Culture at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Related Content:

Free Online Philosophy Courses

Eastern Philosophy Explained with Three Animated Videos by Alain de Botton’s School of Life

The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps Podcast, Now at 239 Episodes, Expands into Eastern Philosophy

Alan Watts Introduces America to Meditation & Eastern Philosophy: Watch the 1960 TV Show, Eastern Wisdom and Modern Life

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Triumphant Night When a Teacher Saved His Students from a Motorcycle Gang: A True, Hand-Animated Story

“Survival of the fittest, this still exists even today. If you’re weak, people pick on you, they take advantage. And if you don’t respond to what they do, they will continually pick on you. You have to frighten them and attack first.”

Those strong words come from Ralph Whims, a teacher who, one night back in 1973, agreed to chaperone a school dance in a church basement. It was a pretty ordinary affair, until a 20-member biker gang barged in, uninvited, and started harassing the kids. What to do? Retreat? Or step forward and restore order? That’s the story, apparently all true, told by the short animation, The Chaperone, created by Fraser Munden. (His own father once had Ralph Whims as an elementary school teacher in Montreal.) This empowering short film has been screened at 70 film festivals and won 25 awards. You can get more backstory on the film by reading an interview with the director here.

The Chaperone will be added to the Animation section of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

Follow Open Culture on Facebook, Twitter and Flipboard and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. And if you want to make sure that our posts definitely appear in your Facebook newsfeed, just follow these simple steps.

Related Content:

James Joyce Picked Drunken Fights, Then Hid Behind Ernest Hemingway; Hemingway Called Joyce “The Greatest Writer in the World”

10 Rules for Students and Teachers Popularized by John Cage

Hunter S. Thompson Gets Confronted by The Hell’s Angels: Where’s Our Two Kegs of Beer? (1967)