Albert Camus Explains Why Happiness Is Like Committing a Crime—”You Should Never Admit to it” (1959)

Note: You can read a translation below.

Happiness, as it has been conceived for at least the past couple thousand years in Western philosophy, is a problem. For the Greeks, happiness was only one component of Eudaimonia, a general human flourishing that must be developed along with ethics, personal growth, and social and civic duty in order for a life to have purpose and meaning. “Positive psychology speaker” Dr. Nico Rose reminds us that the concept contrasts with Hedonia (as in “hedonism”), which relates solely to personal pleasure and enjoyment, such as the kind famously indulged in by many an ancient tyrant.

These are not mutually exclusive categories. “Meaningful experiences can certainly bring about pleasure,” writes Rose, “and taking care of ourselves can certainly add meaning to our lives.” We should, he cautions “refrain from equating the pursuit of hedonia with shallowness.”

The problem, as the Greeks understood it—and as proponents of positive psychology like Jonathan Haidt and founder Martin Seligman recognize as well—is that subjective happiness for some can mean deep unhappiness, or tyranny, for others. It can mean pettiness, apathy, and emotional immaturity, qualities that may not necessarily be immoral but are certainly unpleasant and socially corrosive.

But we might refer to the difference between Hedonia and Eudaimonia another way. Matthew Pianalto at Philosophy Now discusses the contrast as one between “psychological and philosophical concepts of happiness.”

When happiness is equated with subjective well-being, the vast majority of people turn out to be relatively happy. Aristotle and the other Greeks, however, were not concerned with relative or subjective happiness – they wanted to know what the objective features of a truly happy life would be. Greek inquiries into the nature of the good life were really inquiries into the nature of the best life. Thus, when the various Greek philosophers recommended the cultivation of virtue in order to live happily, and since the word we translate as ‘virtue’ really means ‘excellence’, the Greeks were basically telling us that the happiest (and the best) life is the most excellent life.

Is this moralization really necessary for human flourishing, and does it actually promote a superior form of happiness? Or does it simply introduce a means for controlling other people’s behavior and shaming them for their supposed lack of virtue? If you were to ask Albert Camus this question, he might have suggested the latter, and anyone who has read The Stranger and thought about the social coercion the novel portrays will hardly be surprised. In the video above, Camus strongly implies his own view with an imagined Stranger-like dialogue, in French. A translation (generously provided by @TOS1892) roughly reads:

“Today happiness is like a crime—never admit it. Don’t say ‘I’m happy’ otherwise you will hear condemnation all around.”

“’So you’re happy, young man? What do you do with orphans from Kashmir? Or the New Zealand lepers who aren’t “happy” as you say?’” 

“Yes what to do with the lepers? How to get rid of them as Ionesco would say? And all of a sudden, we are sad as toothpicks.”

As Maria Popova points out at Brain Pickings, Camus considered this kind of labored, almost rigorous, kind of unhappiness a “self-imposed prison,” writing in a 1956 letter that “those who prefer their principles over their happiness… refuse to be happy outside the conditions they seem to have attached to their happiness. If they are happy by surprise, they find themselves disabled, unhappy to be deprived of their unhappiness.” (I can’t help but think of these lines: “And if the day came when I felt a natural emotion / I’d get such a shock I’d probably jump in the ocean.”)

Camus recognized emotions not as abstract principles, but as deeply connected to “the solidarity of our bodies, unity at the center of the mortal and suffering flesh.” The corrective to a shallow hedonism that might override our ethics is not a striving after philosophical notions of “excellence,” but another emotion, unhappiness, which we should also not be ashamed to feel. “No,” wrote Camus, “it is not humiliating to be unhappy.” The philosopher wrote these words to a hospitalized friend who was suffering physically, a condition, he admits, that is “sometimes humiliating.” But the more existential “suffering of being cannot be” a humiliation. “It is life,” and it forces us to see things we would rather not see.

Do these alternations of happiness and unhappiness point toward something larger than the fleeting whims of physical pain or personal satisfaction? Yes, Camus thought, but the fact that we need them does not speak especially well of people in what he called a “servile century.” In his notebooks, Camus considered how, through sorrow, Oscar Wilde came to understand art as something that “must blend with all” rather than transcend ordinary life. “It is the culpability of this era,” he writes, “that it always needed sorrow… to catch a glimpse of a truth also found in happiness.”

It is entirely possible to be happy and virtuous, authentic, and truthful, Camus suggests, “when the heart is worthy.” In some ways, it seems, he reframed the ancient Greeks’ idea of Eudaimonia from an abstract philosophical principle to a subjective psychological state, since there is no clear, objective way in an absurd universe, he thought, to know what an “excellent” life should look like. Still, like Aristotle, Camus suggests that pursuing meaningful happiness is a “moral obligation” writes Popova. But he understands this pursuit as perilous and potentially devastating, necessitating “an equal capacity for contact with absolute despair.”

Related Content:

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Hear Albert Camus Read the Famous Opening Passage of The Stranger (1947)

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

Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” Provides a Soundtrack for the Final Scene of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

What happens when you cue up The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973), and play them together? You get something magical. Or, to be more precise, you get “Dark Side of the Rainbow,” a mashup that first began circulating in 1995, back when the internet first went commercial. Watch “Dark Side of the Rainbow” (here) and you could believe that Floyd wrote Dark Side as a stealth Wizard of Oz soundtrack–though that’s something the band firmly denies. And, we believe them.

But bury one rumor, and another takes its place. The Vimeo caption accompanying the other mashup above reads as follows:

It has long been rumoured that Pink Floyd set ‘Echoes‘ to the final sequence of Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. Two years before producing their album ‘Meddle‘, featuring the 23 minute piece ‘Echoes’, Pink Floyd worked on the ‘More’ French film soundtrack, where they worked with film synchronisation equipment. From there the rumours blossomed, with Roger Waters being misquoted as saying the band were originally offered to do the soundtrack (they in fact turned down an offer to feature the ‘Atom Heart Mother’ suite in ‘A Clockwork Orange’). Whether or not the rumours have any basis in fact, there is an undeniable beauty when watching the combination of Kubrick’s intricate stop-motion universe, coupled with the psychedelic wonders of Pink Floyd.

This last thought is seconded by philosophy professor Joe Steiff, who, writing in the edited collection, Pink Floyd and Philosophy, adds this:

A lesser-known mashup is the syncing of “Echoes” (from Meddle) with the final twenty minutes of Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey (beginning with “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite”)… [T]he mashup is coherent and cohesive. The emotional tone of the music and the images work in near-harmony, resulting in a mashup that stands up to repeated viewings…. Both the movie and the music feed into and expand the sense of mystery and unknowability that each explores independently.

Watch “Echoes Odyssey” above and see for yourself.

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Download Russian Futurist Book Art (1910-1915): The Aesthetic Revolution Before the Political Revolution

Given the image of Communist Russia we’ve mostly inherited from Cold War Hollywood propaganda and cherry-picked TV documentaries, we tend to think of Communist art as sterile, brutalist, devoid of expressive emotion and experiment. But this has never been entirely so. While Party-approved social realism dominated in certain decades, experimental Russian animation, film, design, and literature flourished, even under extremely harsh conditions one wouldn’t wish on any artist.

In the early days of the Revolution, one of the most influential forms of expression, Russian Futurism, brought its avant-gardism to the masses, and praised the Revolution while formally challenging every received idea or doctrine. Beginning in the early 20th century and working until the Soviet Union was formed and Trotsky banished, Futurist poets and artists like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Kazimir Malevich, Nalia Goncharova, and Velimir Khlebnikov contributed to a style called “Zaum,” a word, as we noted in a previous post, that can mean “transreason” or “beyond sense.” (A very unscientific, bourgeois approach, it would later be alleged by the Central Committee.)

Like modernist movements all over Europe, Russian Futurism took risks in every medium, but took a much more Dadaist approach than the Italian Futurists who had partly inspired them. They published prolifically—creating hundreds of books and journals between 1910 and 1930. A new book from Getty Research Institute curator Nancy Perloff, Explodity: Sound, Image, and Word in Russian Futurist Book Art, covers the first five years of that period—pre-Revolutionary but no more nor less radical. Her book is accompanied by an “interactive companion,” a site that allows users to see the publications and poems Perloff examines. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you’ll find a link to “digitized Russian avant-garde books from the Getty Research Institute.”

This archive contains about four dozen books by artist/poets like Khlebnikov whose 1914 Old-Fashioned Love; Forestly Boom, you can see pages from at the top of the post. Further up and just above, we see excerpts from Alexei Kruchenykh’s 1913 Vzorval’ (Explodity), a mostly hand-lettered publication with whimsical, dynamic drawings alternating with and surrounding the text. You’ll find over four dozen of these books at the Getty Research Institute. As you browse or search their catalogue, then click on an entry, you’ll want to click on the “View Online” button to see scanned images.

Each of these books—like Vladimir Mayakovsky’s 1913 play, Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy, above and below—makes a forceful visual impression even if we cannot understand the text. But in many ways, this is beside the point. Zaum poetry was meant to be heard as sound, not sense, and looked at as a physical artifact. Perloff’s book, writes the Getty, “uncovers a wide-ranging legacy in the midcentury global movement of sound and concrete poetry (the Brazilian Noigandres group, Ian Hamilton Finlay, and Henri Chopin), contemporary Western conceptual art, and the artist’s book.” In many ways, these artists represent a parallel tradition in modernism to the one we generally learn of in Western Europe and the U.S., and one just as rich and fascinating.

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

Every Page of Depero Futurista, the 1927 Futurist Masterpiece of Graphic Design & Bookmaking, Is Now Online

You can try to dismantle your e-reader, but you can’t unscrew an eBook. Despite having cast his artistic mind, as did his fellow 20th-century Italian Futurists, forcefully into the world to come, could Fortunato Depero have imagined that such a question would arise in the 21st? The Trentino-born painter, writer, sculptor, and graphic designer, led a highly creative life, producing no work more enduring than the instantly recognizable Campari Soda bottle. But just last year, a group of enthusiasts successfully raised more than $250,000 on Kickstarter to bring back into print Depero’s second-best-known creation: Depero Futurista, also known as “The Bolted Book.”

Designed by Depero as “a kind of portable museum or calling card, a portfolio of his career to date — including paintings, sculptures, textile and architectural designs, theater and advertising work, wordplays, manifestoes, and reviews he received in many different languages,” Depero Futurista, as described by the reprint project’s web site, also shows off his “skills as a designer and typographical wizard.” These impress as much in 2017 as they must have at the time of the book’s first publication ninety years ago in Milan, and the binding method remains as distinctive: “Comprising 240 pages, the book is secured by two large industrial aluminum bolts that when removed allow for the pages to be removed, rearranged, or exhibited individually.”

You may never have heard of Depero, but today’s most respected designers certainly have, and some of them appear in the project’s Kickstarter promo video giving testimonials not just to the importance of Depero’s aesthetic achievements in general but The Bolted Book in particular. It offers a “bridge between the past and the future” in design, an innovative, ironic, and playful use of the “machine aesthetic,” and evidence that “Depero, despite his idiosyncrasies, was one of the most creative of the Futurists.” (It also, of course, holds the title of the first-ever book “bolted by two giant clasps.”) But perhaps the most compelling comes from Stefan Sagmeister: “This book contains the favorite packaging of my favorite drink, Campari Soda. For this alone, it should be contributed at properly — Kickstarted.”

Successfully Kickstarted, the new and 100 percent faithful reprint of Depero Futurista (whose few surviving originals sit mostly in institutional collections) should arrive in July of this year. Even if you can’t get your hands on a real, bolted copy just yet, you can view each and every one of its pages on the reprint project’s site. All the brilliance on display does make one regret that the Futurist movement ended with the tarnish of Fascism. But now that references to the latter seems to have re-entered the public conversation, maybe the time has come to bring back the vigorous, forward-looking artistic inventiveness of the former as a kind of countervailing inspiration.

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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.

How to Tell a Good Story, as Explained by George Saunders, Ira Glass, Ken Burns, Scott Simon, Catherine Burns & Others

All of us instinctively respond to stories. This has both positive and negative effects, but if we don’t understand it about ourselves, we’ve won’t fully understand why people believe what they believe and do what they do. Even given the deep human attachment to narrative, can we clearly explain what a story is, or how to tell one? Acclaimed author George Saunders has given the subject a great deal of thought, some of which he lets us in on in the short film above, which Josh Jones previously wrote about here on Open Culture. “A good story,” he tells us, says “at many different levels, ‘We’re both human beings. We’re in this crazy situation called life that we don’t really understand. Can we put our heads together and confer about it at a very high, non-bullshitty level?'”

At this point in his career, Saunders has tried out that approach to story using numerous different techniques and in a variety of different contexts, most recently in his new novel Lincoln in the Bardo, which takes place in the aftermath of the assassination of the titular sixteenth President of the United States. Few living creators understand the appeal of American history as a trove of story material better than Ken Burns, author of long-form documentaries like JazzBaseball, and The Civil War, who finds that its “good guys have serious flaws and the villains are very compelling.”

And though he ostensibly works with only the facts, he acknowledges that “all story is manipulation,” some of it desirable manipulation and some of it not so much, with the challenge of telling the difference falling to the storyteller himself.

“The common story,” Burns says, “is ‘one plus one equals two.’ We get it. But all stories — the real, genuine stories — are about one and one equaling three.” Where his mathematical formula for storytelling emphasizes the importance of the unexpected, the one offered by Andrew Stanton, director of Pixar films like Finding NemoWALL-E, and John Carter, emphasizes the importance of a “well-organized absence of information.” In the TED Talk just above  (which opens with a potentially NSFW joke), he suggests always giving the audience “two plus two” instead of four, encouraging the audience to do the satisfying work of putting the details of the story together themselves while never letting them realize they’re doing any work at all.

“Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty,” said the playwright William Archer. Stanton quotes it in his talk, and the notion also seems to underlie the views on storytelling held by This American Life creator Ira Glass. In the interview above, he describes the process of telling a story as recounting a sequence of actions, of course, but also continually throwing out questions and answering them all along the way, oscillating between actions in the story and moments of reflection on those actions which cast a little light on their meaning — a form surely familiar to anyone who’s heard so much as a segment of his radio show. And how do you become as skilled as he and his team at telling stories? Do what he did: tell a huge number of them, telling and telling and telling until you develop the killer instinct to mercilessly separate the truly compelling ones from the rest.

Glass illustrates the benefits of his lessons by playing some tape of a news report he produced early in his career, highlighting all the ways in which he failed to tell its story properly. He turned out to be cut out for something slightly different than straight-up reporting, a job of which reporters like Scott Simon of National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition have made an art. Simon takes his storytelling process apart in three and a half minutes in the video just above: beyond providing such essentials as a strong beginning, vivid details, and a point listeners can take away, he says, you’ve also got to consider the way you deliver the whole package. Ideally, you’ll tell your story in “short, breathable sections,” which creates an overall rhythm for the audience to follow, whether they’re sitting on the barstool beside you or tuned in on the other side of the world.

What else does a good story need? Conflict. Tension. The feeling of “seeing two opposing forces collide.” Honesty. Grace. The ring of truth. All these qualities and more come up in the Atlantic‘s “Big Question” video above, which asks a variety of notables to name the most important element of a good story. Responders include House of Cards writer and producer Beau Willimon, The Moth artistic director Catherine Burns, PBS president Paula Kerger, and former Disney CEO Michael Eisner. Since humans have told stories since we first began, as Saunders put it, conferring about this crazy situation called life, all manner of storytelling rules, tips, and tricks have come and gone, but the core principles have remained the same. As to whether we now understand life any better… well, isn’t that one of those unanswered questions that keeps us on the edge of our seats?

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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.

NASA’s New Online Archive Puts a Wealth of Free Science Articles Online

Since our website took flight a decade ago, we’ve kept you apprised of the free offerings made available by NASA–everything from collections of photography and space sounds, to software, ebooks, and posters. But there’s one item we missed last summer (blame it on the heat!). And that’s NASA PubSpace, an online archive that gives you free access to science journal articles funded by the space agency. Previously, these articles were hidden behind paywalls. Now, “all NASA-funded authors and co-authors … will be required to deposit copies of their peer-reviewed scientific publications and associated data into” NASA PubSpace.

This project grew out of the Obama administration’s Open Science Initiative, designed to increase public access to federally funded research and make it easier for scientists to build upon existing research. You can search through NASA’s archive here.

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via TheVerge

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Hear Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” Shifted from Minor to Major Key, and Radiohead’s “Creep” Moved from Major to Minor

A few years ago, we shared a version of R.EM.’s 1991 alternative hit “Losing My Religion” as reworked from a minor to a major key through digital processing by Ukranian musician Oleg Berg and his daughter Diana. Many people thought the project a travesty and railed against its violation of R.E.M.’s emotional intent. But the stronger the reactions, the more they seemed to validate Berg’s tacit argument about the important differences between major and minor keys. We know that, in general, minor keys convey sadness, dread, or moody intensity, all familiar colors in the R.E.M. palate. Major keys, on the other hand—as in the band’s inexplicably bouncy “Shiny Happy People”—tend to evoke… shininess and happiness.

Why is this? Goldsmiths University Music Psychology Professor Vicky Williamson has an ambivalent explanation at the NME blog. Her answer: the association seems to be cultural but also, perhaps, biological. “Scientists have shown that the sound spectra—the profile of sound ingredients—that make up happy speech are more similar to happy music than sad music and vice versa.”

This thesis may reduce down to a “water is wet” observation. A more interesting way of thinking of it comes from Aristotle, who “suspected that the emotional impact of music was at least partly down to the way it mimicked our own vocalizations when we squeal for joy or cry out in anger.”

Do these expressions always correspond to major or minor scales or intervals? No. Emotions, like colors, have subtleties of shading, contrast, and hue. Williamson names some notable exceptions, like The Smiths’ “I Know It’s Over,” a song in a major key that is almost comically morbid and maudlin. These may serve to prove the rule, achieving their unsettling effect by playing with our expectations. In general, as you will learn from the video above from Minnesota Public Radio—in which a lumberjack explains the distinctions to an animated blue bird—major and minor keys, scales, intervals, and chords are “tools composers use to give their music a certain mood, atmosphere, and strength.”

If you were to ask for a song that contains these qualities in abundance, you might get in reply Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which, like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or most classical opera, relies on exaggerated quiet-to-loud dynamics for its dramatic effect. But it also uses a minor key as an essential vehicle for its anxiety and rage. So important to the song is this element, in fact, that when shifted into a major key, as Berg has done at the top of the post, it sounds nearly incoherent. The clarity with which “Smells Like Teen Spirit” communicates angst and confusion evaporates, especially in the song’s verses. The digital artifacts of Berg’s processing become more evident here, perhaps because the change in key is so destructive to the melody.

Can we closely correlate this loss of melodic integrity to the critical importance the minor scale plays in this song in particular? I would assume so, but let’s look at the example of a similar type of moody, quiet-loud alt-rock song from around the same time period, Radiohead’s “Creep.” Here’s one of those exceptions, originally written in a major key, which may account for the pleasant, dreamlike quality of its verses. That quality doesn’t necessarily disappear when we hear the song rendered in a minor key. But the chorus, underneath the digital distortion, loses the sense of anguished triumph with which Thom Yorke imbued his defiant declaration of creepiness.

In the case of the original “Creep,” the G major key seems to push against our expectations, and gives a song about self-loathing an unsettling sweetness that is indeed kinda creepy. (And perhaps helped Prince to turn the song into a genuinely uplifting gospel hymn). What seems clear in the Nirvana and Radiohead examples is that the choice of key determines in large part not only our emotional responses to a song, but also our responses to deviations from the norm.  But those norms are “mostly down to learned associations,” writes Williamson, “both ancient and modern.”

Perhaps she’s right. University of Toronto Music Psychologist Glenn Schellenberg has noticed that contemporary music has trended more toward minor keys in the past few decades, and that “people are responding positively to music that has these characteristics that are associated with negative emotions.” Does this mean we’re getting sadder? Schellenberg instead believes it’s because we associate minor scales with sophistication and major scales with “unambiguously happy-sounding music” like “The Wheels on the Bus” and other children’s songs. “The emotion of unambiguous happiness is less socially acceptable than it used to be,” notes NPR. “It’s too Brady Bunch, not enough Modern Family.”

Maybe we’ve grown cynical, but the trend allows brilliant rock composers like Radiohead’s Johnny Greenwood to do all sorts of odd, unsettling things with major and minor modulation. And it made “Shiny Happy People” stick out like a shockingly joyful sore thumb upon its release in 1991, though at the time the mope of grunge and 90s alt-rock had not yet dominated the airwaves. Now we rarely hear such earnest, “unambiguously happy-sounding” music these days outside of Sesame Street. Find more of Berg’s major-to-minor and vice versa reworkings at his Youtube channel.

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


Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Sleep Plan: He Slept Two Hours a Day for Two Years & Felt “Vigorous” and “Alert”

One potential drawback of genius, it seems, is restlessness, a mind perpetually on the move. Of course, this is what makes many celebrated thinkers and artists so productive. That and the extra hours some gain by sacrificing sleep. Voltaire reportedly drank up to 50 cups of coffee a day, and seems to have suffered no particularly ill effects. Balzac did the same, and died at 51. The caffeine may have had something to do with it. Both Socrates and Samuel Johnson believed that sleep is wasted time, and “so for years has thought grey-haired Richard Buckminster Fuller,” wrote Time magazine in 1943, “futurific inventor of the Dymaxion house, the Dymaxion car and the Dymaxion globe.”

Engineer and visionary Fuller intended his “Dymaxion” brand to revolutionize every aspect of human life, or—in the now-slightly-dated parlance of our obsession with all things hacking—he engineered a series of radical “lifehacks.” Given his views on sleep, that seemingly essential activity also received a Dymaxion upgrade, the trademarked name combining “dynamic,” “maximum,” and “tension.” “Two hours of sleep a day,” Fuller announced, “is plenty.” Did he consult with specialists? Medical doctors? Biologists? Nothing as dull as that. He did what many a mad scientist does in the movies. (In the search, as Vincent Price says at the end of The Fly, “for the truth.”) He cooked up a theory, and tested it on himself.

“Fuller,” Time reported, “reasoned that man has a primary store of energy, quickly replenished, and a secondary reserve (second wind) that takes longer to restore.” He hypothesized that we would need less sleep if we stopped to take a nap at “the first sign of fatigue.” Fuller trained himself to do just that, forgoing the typical eight hours, more or less, most of us get per night. He found—as have many artists and researchers over the years—that “after a half-hour nap he was completely refreshed.” Naps every six hours allowed him to shrink his total sleep per 24-hour period to two hours. Did he, like the 50s mad scientist, become a tragic victim of his own experiment?

No danger of merging him with a fly or turning him invisible. The experiment’s failure may have meant a day in bed catching up on lost sleep. Instead, Fuller kept up it for two full years, 1932 and 1933, and reported feeling in “the most vigorous and alert condition that I have ever enjoyed.” He might have slept two hours a day in 30 minute increments indefinitely, Time suggests, but found that his “business associates… insisted on sleeping like other men,” and wouldn’t adapt to his eccentric schedule, though some not for lack of trying. In his book BuckyWorks J. Baldwin claims, “I can personally attest that many of his younger colleagues and students could not keep up with him. He never seemed to tire.”

A research organization looked into the sleep system and “noted that not everyone was able to train themselves to sleep on command.” The point may seem obvious to the significant number of people who suffer from insomnia. “Bucky disconcerted observers,” Baldwin writes, “by going to sleep in thirty seconds, as if he had thrown an Off switch in his head. It happened so quickly that it looked like he had had a seizure.” Buckminster Fuller was undoubtedly an unusual human, but human all the same. Time reported that “most sleep investigators agree that the first hours of sleep are the soundest.” A Colgate University researcher at the time discovered that “people awakened after four hours’ sleep were just as alert, well-coordinated physically and resistant to fatigue” as those who slept the full eight.

Sleep research since the forties has made a number of other findings about variable sleep schedules among humans, studying shift workers’ sleep and the so-called “biphasic” pattern common in cultures with very late bedtimes and siestas in the middle of the day. The success of this sleep rhythm “contradicts the normal idea of a monophasic sleeping schedule,” writes Evan Murray at MIT’s Culture Shock, “in which all our time asleep is lumped into one block.” Biphasic sleep results in six or seven hours of sleep rather than the seven to nine of monophasic sleepers. Polyphasic sleeping, however, the kind pioneered by Fuller, seems to genuinely result in even less needed sleep for many. It’s an idea that’s only become widespread “within roughly the last decade,” Murray noted in 2009. He points to the rediscovery, without any clear indebtedness, of Fuller’s Dymaxion system by college student Maria Staver, who named her method “Uberman,” in honor of Nietzsche, and spread its popularity through a blog and a book.

Murray also reports on another blogger, Steve Pavlina, who conducted the experiment on himself and found that “over a period of 5 1/2 months, he was successful in adapting completely,” reaping the benefits of increased productivity. But like Fuller, Pavlina gave it up, not for “health reasons,” but because, he wrote, “the rest of the world is monophasic” or close to it. Our long block of sleep apparently contains a good deal of “wasted transition time” before we arrive at the necessary REM state. Polyphasic sleep trains our brains to get to REM more quickly and efficiently. For this reason, writes Murray, “I believe it can work for everyone.” Perhaps it can, provided they are willing to bear the social cost of being out of sync with the rest of the world. But people likely to practice Dymaxion Sleep for several months or years probably already are.

Related Content:

The Power of Power Naps: Salvador Dali Teaches You How Micro-Naps Can Give You Creative Inspiration

Bertrand Russell & Buckminster Fuller on Why We Should Work Less, and Live & Learn More

Everything I Know: 42 Hours of Buckminster Fuller’s Visionary Lectures Free Online (1975)

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

Download Animals and Ethics 101: Thinking Critically About Animal Rights (Free)

FYI: Nathan Nobis, a philosophy professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, recently published Animals and Ethics 101: Thinking Critically About Animal Rights. A well-reviewed introduction to animal ethics, the textbook (created to accompany an online course on the same subject) evaluates the arguments for and against various uses of animals, including:

  • Is it morally wrong to experiment on animals? Why or why not?
  • Is it morally permissible to eat meat? Why or why not?
  • Are we morally obligated to provide pets with veterinary care (and, if so, how much)? Why or why not?

You can buy the paperback on Amazon for $5.99 or Kindle for $2.99. But Nobis has also made the text available free online, under a Creative Commons license. You can download it in multiple formats here.

Ethics 101: Thinking Critically About Animal Rights will be added to our list of Free Textbooks.

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Chuck Berry Jams Out “Johnny B. Goode” with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, John Lennon & Bruce Springsteen

The King of Rock and Roll is dead, and, no, I don’t mean Elvis, but Chuck Berry, who proclaimed himself at every opportunity the rightful sovereign. Next to Berry (according to Berry) every other hip-swiveling, duck-walking, pompadour-combing jackelope was nothing but a lowdown pretender, even those who only bore the faintest resemblance to the above. See, for example, his take on punk rock—so clearly derivative of his work that he can’t help taking credit for most of it. To people raised on The Ramones instead of the Stones his attitude seemed ridiculous. But for those who came of age at a time when rock and roll was a near synonym for Chuck Berry, he was right all along. We failed to appreciate the enormity of his talent, the uniqueness of his style, the genius of his licks.

I’ve wrestled with both the dismissal of Berry and the hagiography. My generation’s “classic rock” involved a Richards or a Clapton. Berry’s music may as well have been buried in Pleistocene strata, though he lived until the irascible age of 90, performing until just a few years ago. We knew the pioneers, the Boppers, the Checkers, the Hollys.

They could seem like cartoon characters from our parents’ infantilized 50s childhoods: wholesome, corny, downright creepy. Bleh to all that. But, it’s true, out of his generation of players, Berry has always been special. He was the first rock and roll guitar hero. And if he sometimes seemed salty about it, imagine how you’d feel to have your biggest hit—with the “12th greatest solo of all time”—stolen from you by the Beach Boys and Marty McFly.

Even the most pedestrian guitar players should recognize how many licks Berry built into rock and roll’s architectural vocabulary from the fretboard of his Gibson 335. Consider then the recognition from those greats who learned to play as kids by listening to him on the radio. Chuck Berry may have felt underappreciated, or undercompensated, but read an interview from almost any decade with Richards or Clapton or Harrison or Page, etc. and you’ll be surprised if his name doesn’t come up. He was such an august American patriarch at his death that the National Review called him “the founding father of rock,” his influence “almost impossible to overstate”—sentiments echoed by nearly every living guitar god to have worn the title. NRO‘s Berry eulogy also includes a roundup of covers of “Johnny B Goode,” from Jimi Hendrix to AC/DC, the Grateful Dead, Prince, Judas Priest, the Sex Pistols…. Not all respectful covers, but name a band, they’ve probably done it.

But it was the lucky few guitar gods who got to play with Berry himself, gazing at him in awe, out of their minds with fifteen-year-old glee. Keith Richards and Eric Clapton once traded solos on an extended “Johnny B. Goode” (top—the video and sound go out of sync, making for a slightly surreal viewing experience.) Berry seemed to soak it up as much as they did. Further up, see a boyishly happy John Lennon play “Johnny B. Goode” with Berry on The Mike Douglas Show in 1972. Lennon understood why Berry was so influential not only as a guitarist but as a songwriter. He wrote “good lyrics and intelligent lyrics in the 1950s when people were singing ‘Oh baby, I love you so.’ It was people like him that influenced our generation to try and make sense out of the songs rather than just sing ‘do wa diddy.’” Though Lennon did his share of that.

Finally, Bruce Springsteen plays sideman to Berry during “Johnny B. Goode” at the concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Springsteen paid homage to Berry frequently, and also played in his band in the 70s, “an experience,” writes Ultimate Classic Rock, “that challenged the young musician’s ability to think on his feet.” You may notice Springsteen and Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode” performance seems a “a little wobbly.” This is because Berry decided to shift the song “in gears and a key without talking to us,” remembers guitarist Nils Lofgren. The setlist said “Rock and Roll Music,” Berry decided he’d rather play “Johnny B. Goode.” So they played “Johnny B. Goode.” (See Springsteen replicate the experience by playing Berry’s “You Never Can Tell” live with his band, totally unrehearsed.)

All of Berry’s protégés and musician-admirers quickly learned what to expect when they met their idol: when they got together to jam with him, they were “going to do some Chuck Berry songs,” as Springsteen remembers him saying during their old days together. To Berry and to much of the generation that followed, the phrase was pretty much synonymous with rock and roll.

Related Content:

Chuck Berry (RIP) Reviews Punk Songs by The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads & More (1980)      

Chuck Berry Takes Keith Richards to School, Shows Him How to Rock (1987)

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band Improvises and Plays, Completely Unrehearsed, Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell,” Live Onstage (2013)

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