A Poignant, Elegant Tribute to the Mars Rover Curiosity

The Curiosity mission on Mars will soon bring us some big news. We don't know what it is. We just know, according to one NASA scientist, the discovery “is going to be one for the history books." As we await more information, we bring you this: a short film by Dan Winters and Shervin Shaeri that weaves together commentary from NASA engineers and some arresting photographs. Together, they remind us of the heart and soul that went into putting a state-of-the-art rover on a red planet some 200 million miles away from our own "pale blue dot," as Carl Sagan once called it.

Arthur Conan Doyle Discusses Sherlock Holmes and Psychics in a Rare Filmed Interview (1927)

While Scottish physician and author Arthur Conan Doyle died in 1930, he seems almost wholly of the nineteenth century: a trained scientist who fervently believed in “spiritualism” and fairies, and an accomplished and prolific writer whose most famous character—that most logical of detectives—had a cocaine addiction and more personal quirks than the average neurotic. Like Joseph Conrad, Doyle sailed--as a ship’s doctor--to European colonies in West Africa and found himself deeply affected by the brutal exploitation he encountered. And like Conrad, he seems to embody a turn-of-the-century Britishness poised between old and new worlds, when Victoria gave way to Edward and modernity limned the Empire. Although the age of film and of television have always embraced Sherlock Holmes, his creator belongs to the age of the novel. Nevertheless, he agreed to the 1927 interview above, possibly his only appearance on film. In the brief monologue, he discusses the two questions that he most received from curious fans and journalists: how he came to write the Sherlock Holmes stories and how he came to believe in “psychic matters.”

Doyle attributes the creation of Holmes to his scientific training, and to a keen irritation when reading detective stories whose protagonists stumbled on solutions by chance or narrative non sequitur. He also describes his admiration for a colleague’s impressive “deductive” abilities. What if, Conan Doyle reasoned, the detectives had the powers of a doctor? Oh, had he lived to see his premise flipped in House (and sue for royalties). Doyle also expresses his amusement at the credulity of his reading public, many of whom believed in the reality of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and who sent them regards and advice. At this point in the interview, Doyle turns to a subject upon which many thought him credulous: psychic and supernatural experience. He goes to some lengths to establish his bona fides, saying that he studied spiritualism for forty-one years and did not arrive at his ideas in haste. But Doyle was easily taken in by several hoaxes and insisted throughout his life that Harry Houdini possessed psychic powers, despite Houdini’s protests to the contrary. It seems this was one area in which Doyle’s reason failed him—in which he resembles the mystical Yeats more than the skeptical Watson and Holmes.

You can download free copies of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from our collections of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks. You can also find four adaptations of Sherlock Holmes in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Tips for Teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (1967)

Few who dip into Kurt Vonnegut's work come away without the influence of his voice. If we can judge by his letter to Richard Gehman (click here to read it in large format), this will go for his personal correspondence as much as it does for his fiction. In addition to such novels as Slaughterhouse-Five, Cat's Cradle, and Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut left behind a great many letters, some of the most interesting of which have just come together in a new 464-page collection. We previously featured one of Vonnegut's dispatches from the army, written to his parents at age 22. 22 years after that, he wrote the above page to Gehman, himself a noted man of letters. It contains the one thing for which nearly ever dedicated reader of Kurt Vonnegut must long: advice from Kurt Vonnegut.

"Mornings are for writing," Vonnegut tells Gehman, "and so are most of the afternoons." The recipient was preparing for a teaching stint at the University of Iowa's famous Writer's Workshop. Vonnegut's own tour of duty there from 1965 to 1967 put him in a position to offer wise counsel. "The classes don't matter much," he writes, a sentiment that will strike creative writing teachers as at once dispiriting and sensible. "The real business, head-to-head, is done during office hours." He also has much to say about university life and how to cope with the remoteness of Iowa City. "Forget your lack of credentials." "You go to Cedar Rapids for seafood." "Cancel classes whenever you damn please." "Every so often you will go nuts. All of a sudden the cornfields get you." "Run with the painters. I did." "Go to all the football games. They are great." Beyond these points, the letter only gets juicier — as a true Vonnegut fan would expect. Again you can read it in large format here.

via Slate

Related content:

22-Year-Old P.O.W. Kurt Vonnegut Writes Home from World War II: “I’ll Be Damned If It Was Worth It”

Kurt Vonnegut Reads from Slaughterhouse-Five

Kurt Vonnegut’s Eight Tips on How to Write a Good Short Story

Kurt Vonnegut: “How To Get A Job Like Mine” (2002)

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

Woody Allen Answers 12 Unconventional Questions He Has Never Been Asked Before

Woody Allen hates personal publicity. He doesn't appear on talk shows or attend the Oscars. He rarely gives interviews, even when he has a new film to promote. But a few years back Allen opened up to filmmaker Robert B. Weide for the making of Woody Allen: A Documentary, which aired last year in the American Masters series on PBS. "He never refused a request," Weide told PBS, "and he never declined to answer a question." At one point Weide asked Allen a series of twelve questions that he was reasonably sure Allen had never been asked before. The resulting interview, shown above, is included as an extra in the DVD version of the film and offers a fascinating little portal into the reclusive filmmaker's personality.

Related Content:

Meetin’ WA: Jean-Luc Godard Meets Woody Allen in 26 Minute Film

How Woody Allen Discovered Ingmar Bergman, and How You Can Too

Neil deGrasse Tyson Answers the Big Enchilada Question, “Does the Universe Have a Purpose?”

Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by the Templeton Foundation to answer the unanswerable question "Does the Universe Have a Purpose?" He read his answer aloud, and Minute Physics helped animate it. If you head to the Templeton Foundation web site, you can find replies by other leading intellectuals, including Lawrence Krauss, Jane Goodall, and Elie Wiesel.

For more pearls of wisdom from Tyson, check out the following:

Neil deGrasse Tyson Lists 8 (Free) Books Every Intelligent Person Should Read

Neil deGrasse Tyson Delivers the Greatest Science Sermon Ever

Stephen Colbert Talks Science with Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson

Woody Guthrie’s Fan Letter To John Cage and Alan Hovhaness (1947)

I’ve always felt a certain close affinity with Woody Guthrie. Could be my admiration for his unstinting working-man’s politics or that he hails from my mother’s home state of Oklahoma. Those are strong appeals, and I suppose it’s all of that and more: Guthrie could carve out compact granite sentences even Robert Frost would envy. If the letter above doesn’t convince you, read the man’s autobiography. In the letter, the unapologetic working-class folksinging Okie who embodied depression-era authenticity writes to “Disc Company of America” to enthuse over John Cage for his “overhaul of the family piano” and his “choked down odd and unusual kinds of things.”

Odd and unusual are two words that spring to mind when imagining Guthrie writing a letter in praise of Cage. (He also praises Armenian composer Alan Hovhaness—Guthrie spells it “Hovaness”). Written in 1947, it is the kind of text one wants to quote in its entirety. Fortunately, we have the reproduction above, and you can read it for yourself. What isn’t reproduced is the postscript, in which Guthrie wrote: “I need something like this oddstriking music to match the things I feel in my soul tonight.” He also wrote that that morning, his wife, Marjorie, had “given birth to a big 7-pound boy”—Arlo.

Guthrie’s letter references a (now extremely rare) two-disc set entitled Piano Compositions by Alan Hovhaness and John Cage played by Maro Ajemian and Alan Hovhanes, featuring a hand-drawn cover by acclaimed jazz-record illustrator David Stone MartinAccording to LA Times music critic Mark Swed, the Cage composition on Guthrie’s 78-rpm record was the prepared piano solos from Cage’s Amores, composed in 1943. Below, watch a performance of the “oddstriking” Amores by Spanish ensemble Neopercusión.

Thanks to Tristan for pointing us to this letter originally blogged over at Stool Pigeon.

Josh Jones is a doctoral candidate in English at Fordham University and a co-founder and former managing editor of Guernica / A Magazine of Arts and Politics.

The Epistemology of Dr. Seuss & More Philosophy Lessons from Great Children’s Stories


Now for a story which "raises questions about the theory and nature of knowledge." An elephant "hears a faint noise coming from a small speck of dust; it seems to him like a tiny person is calling out for help." He "finds it peculiar that a dust speck could speak so he reasons that there must be a very small creature on it. Without being able to see the creature, he seems to know it is there and that it is his duty to save it from harm. The other animals in the jungle see him speak to the dust speck and find it impossible that there could be a creature living on it." Met with only disbelief, "he holds tight to what he knows is true and learns from the voice that there exists an entire universe." At last, the speck's resident tiny townspeople "come together and make enough noise for the animals to hear; they have proven their existence and the jungle animals are able to know what Horton has known all along." Most of us have read this classic children's book, Horton Hears a Who!  by Dr. Seuss. But how many of us have probed its "questions about the nature of human knowledge"?

The last paragraph's quoted text all comes from Teaching Children Philosophy's Horton Hears a Who module. The project, an outgrowth of Mount Holyoke College professor Tom Wartenberg's course "Philosophy for Children," comes premised on the notion not only that youngsters can learn philosophy, but that they possess minds particularly well-suited to its study. Teaching Children Philosophy draws out the relevant philosophical issues and questions from the books they've been reading already, from the epistemology of Horton Hears a Who! to the metaphysics of Sylvester and the Magic Pebble to philosophy of mind in Harold and the Purple Crayon. Targeted toward parents, educators, and kids themselves, the site promises great solace to any philosophically minded reader (or reader-aloud) of children's stories who feel they have long since exhausted the depths of these beloved slim volumes. "How does Horton know that this voice means there is a person on the speck?" "Is the moon that Harold draws the same as the moon we can see in the sky at night?" "If Sylvester is still a donkey because he thinks, what happens when Sylvester is not thinking?" You supply the children's books, and Wartenberg and company supply the philosophy.

Related content:

200 Free K-12 Educational Resources: Video Lessons, Mobile Apps, Free Books & More

Free Philosophy Courses from our Collection of 550 Free Online Courses from Top Universities

Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.

« Go BackMore in this category... »