Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Because of Pink Floyd, I’ve Spent Decades Undoing the Idea That There’s a Dark Side of the Moon”

In 1973, Pink Floyd released their influential concept album, The Dark Side of the Moon, which garnered both critical and commercial success. The album sold some 45 million copies, and remained on Billboard's Top LPs & Tapes chart for 741 weeks (from 1973 to 1988). All of which was great for Pink Floyd. But not so much for science and education.

As Neil deGrasse Tyson explains above. "That Pink Floyd had an album with that title meant I spent decades having to undo [that fact] as an educator." That's because "there is no dark side of the moon." "There's a far side and there's a near." "But all sides of the moon receive sunlight across the month."




To delve deeper into this, it's worth reading this short article (Mythbusters: Is There Really a Dark Side of the Moon?) from Yale Scientific Magazine. There, they elaborate:

No matter where we are on Earth, we see and always have seen only one face of the moon. Since the moon rotates on its axis in the same amount of time that it takes the body to orbit our planet, the same half face of the moon is consistently exposed to viewers on Earth. This timing is caused by a phenomenon called tidal locking, which occurs when a larger astronomical body (Earth) exerts a strong gravitational pull on a smaller body (the moon), forcing one side of the smaller body to always face the larger one....

[T]he fact that we earthlings cannot see the far side of the moon does not mean that this face is never exposed to sunlight. In fact, the far side of the moon is no more and no less dark than the hemisphere we do see.

Get the rest here.

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Artist Draws 9 Portraits While on LSD: Inside the 1950s Experiments to Turn LSD into a “Creativity Pill”

LSD was first synthesized in 1938 by chemist Albert Hoffman in a Swiss laboratory but only attained infamy almost two decades later, when it became part of a series of government experiments. At the same time, a UC Irvine psychiatrist, Oscar Janiger (“Oz” to his friends), conducted his own studies under very different circumstances. “Unlike most researchers, Janiger wanted to create a ‘natural’ setting,” writes Brandy Doyle for MAPS (the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies). He reasoned that “there was nothing especially neutral about a laboratory or hospital room,” so he “rented a house outside of LA, in which his subjects could have a relatively non-directed experience in a supportive environment.”

Janiger wanted his subjects to make creative discoveries in a state of heightened consciousness. The study sought, he wrote, to “illuminate the phenomenological nature of the LSD experience,” to see whether the drug could effectively be turned into a creativity pill. He found, over a period lasting from 1954 to 1962 (when the experiments were terminated), that among his approximately 900 subjects, those who were in therapy “had a high rate of positive response,” but those not in therapy “found the experience much less pleasant.” Janiger’s findings have contributed to the research that organizations like MAPS have done on psychoactive drugs in therapeutic settings. The experiments also produced a body of artwork made by study participants on acid.

Janiger invited over 100 professional artists into the study and had them produce over 250 paintings and drawings. The series of eight drawings you see here most likely came from one of those artists (though “the records of the identity of the principle researcher have been lost,” writes LiveScience). In the psych-rock-scored video at the top see the progression of increasingly abstract drawings the artist made over the course of his 8-hour trip. He reported on his perceptions and sensations throughout the experience, noting, at what seems to be the drug’s peak moment at 2.5 and 3 hours in, “I feel that my consciousness is situated in the part of my body that’s active—my hand, my elbow, my tongue…. I am… everything is… changed… they’re calling… your face… interwoven… who is….”

Trippy, but there’s much more to the experiment than its immediate effects on artists’ brains and sketches. As Janiger’s colleague Marlene Dobkin de Rios writes in her definitive book on his work, “all of the artists who participated in Janiger’s project said that LSD not only radically changed their style but also gave them new depths to understand the use of color, form, light, or the way these things are viewed in a frame of reference. Their art, they claimed, changed its essential character as a consequence of their experiences.” Psychologist Stanley Krippner made similar discoveries, and “defined the term psychedelic artist” to describe those who, as in Janiger’s studies “gained a far greater insight into the nature of art and the aesthetic idea,” Dobkin de Rios writes.

Artistic productions—paintings, poems, sketches, and writings that stemmed from the experience—often show a radical departure from the artist’s customary mode of expression… the artists’ general opinion was that their work became more expressionistic and demonstrated a vastly greater degree of freedom and originality.

The work of the unknown artist here takes on an almost mystical quality after a while. The project began “serendipitously” when one of Janiger’s volunteers in 1954 insisted on being able to draw during the dosing. “After his LSD experience,” writes Dobkin de Rios, “the artist was very emphatic that it would be most revealing to allow other artists to go through this process of perceptual change.” Janiger was convinced, as were many of his more famous test subjects.

Janiger reportedly introduced LSD to Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley during guided therapy sessions. Still, he is not nearly as well-known as other LSD pioneers like Ken Kesey and Timothy Leary, in part because, writes the psychoactive research site Erowid, “his data remained largely unpublished during his lifetime," and he was not himself an artist or media personality (though he was a cousin of Allen Ginsberg).

Janiger not only changed the consciousness of unnamed and famous artists with LSD, but also experimented with DMT with Alan Watts and fellow psychiatrist Humphry Osmond (who coined the word “psychedelic”), and conducted research on peyote with Dobkin de Rios. To a great degree, we have him to thank (or blame) for the explosion of psychedelic art and philosophy that flowed out of the early sixties and indelibly changed the culture. At LiveScience, you can see a slideshow of these drawings with commentary from Yale physician Andrew Sewell on what might be happening in the tripping artist's brain.

Note: IAI Academy has just released a short course called The Science of Psychedelics. You can enroll in it here.

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

An Animated Look at Vladimir Nabokov’s Passion for Butterfly Collecting: “Literature & Butterflies Are the Two Sweetest Passions Known to Man”

Literature and butterflies are the two sweetest passions known to man. - Vladimir Nabokov

A 1941 family road trip along Route 66 planted the seeds for Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita.

It also enriched the American Museum of Natural History’s butterfly collection by some 300 North American specimens.

The author, an avid amateur lepidopterist, indulged his hobby along the way, depositing butterflies collected on this and other trips in glassine envelopes labeled with the name of the towns where the creatures encountered his net. Upon his return, he decided to donate most of his haul to the museum’s Lepidoptera collection, where he was as an eager volunteer.




Years later, Suzanne Rab Green, a Tiger Moth specialist and assistant curator at the museum, uncovered Nabokov’s specimens packed in a vintage White Owl cigar box.

Recognizing that this collection had literary value as well as scientific, Green decided to sort it by location rather than species, preserving the carefully hand-lettered envelopes along with the fragile wings and thoraxes.

Using Google Earth, she retraced Nabokov’s 3-week journey for the museum’s Shelf Life series, digitally pinning his finds alongside vintage postcards of Gettysburg, Yosemite National Park, and the Grande Tourist Lodge in Dallas, Texas—all fertile collection sites, at least in 1941.

Butterflies remained a lifelong obsession for the author. He served for six years as curator of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology’s Lepidoptera wing and developed an evolutionary theory related to his study of the Polyommatus blues Green mentions in the 360° video above. (Be aware, the 360° feature will not work in Safari).

He also wooed his wife, Vera, by making charming and keenly observed drawings of butterflies for her.

An avowed enemy of symbols and allegory, Nabokov prevented butterflies from occupying too significant a role in his fictional oeuvre, though he gushed unabashedly in his memoir, Speak, Memory:

Let me also evoke the hawkmoths, the jets of my boyhood! Colors would die a long death on June evenings. The lilac shrubs in full bloom before which I stood, net in hand, displayed clusters of a fluffy gray in the dark—the ghost of purple. A moist young moon hung above the mist of a neighboring meadow. In many a garden have I stood thus in later years—in Athens, Antibes, Atlanta—but never have I waited with such a keen desire as before those darkening lilacs. And suddenly it would come, the low buzz passing from flower to flower, the vibrational halo around the streamlined body of an olive and pink Hummingbird moth poised in the air above the corolla into which it had dipped its long tongue…. Through the gusty blackness, one’s lantern would illumine the stickily glistening furrows of the bark and two or three large moths upon it imbibing the sweets, their nervous wings half open butterfly fashion, the lower ones exhibiting their incredible crimson silk from beneath the lichen-gray primaries. “Catocala adultera!” I would triumphantly shriek in the direction of the lighted windows of the house as I stumbled home to show my captures to my father.

Despite the author’s stated distaste for overt symbolism, a few butterflies did manage to flutter onto the pages of his best known work, resulting in at least one thesis papers that makes a case for Lolita as butterfly—irresistible, beautiful, easily ensnared….

Did I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 of vaccination? That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only fourteen? An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us.

- Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955

Track Nabokov's cross-country butterfly collecting trip, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, here.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

36 Abstract Covers of Vintage Psychology, Philosophy & Science Books Come to Life in a Mesmerizing Animation

Animated ebook covers are the wave of the future.

Graphic and motion designer Henning M. Lederer surfs that wave on the most unexpected of boards—a collection of abstract mid-century covers drawn from the Instagram feed of artist Julian Montague, who shares his enthusiasm for vintage minimalism.

Lederer first came to our attention in 2015, when we covered the first installment of what seems destined to become an ongoing project.




His latest effort, above, continues his explorations in the subjects which most frequently traded in these sorts of geometric covers—science, psychotherapy, philosophy and sociology.

No word on what inspired him to toss in the first cover, which features a cheerful, Playmobil-esque mushroom gatherer. It's endearing, but—to quote Sesame Street—is not like the others. Those of us who can’t decipher Cyrillic script get the fun of imagining what sort of text this is—a mycology manual? A children’s tale? A psychological examination—and ultimately rejection—of midcentury publishers’ fascination for spirals, diagonal bars, and other non-narrative graphics?

Whether or not you’d be inclined to pick up any of these titles, you may find yourself wanting to dance to them, compliments of musician Jörg Stierle’s trippy electronics.

Or take your cue from yet another cover  contained therein: I. P. Pavlov’s Essays in Psychology and Psychiatry with a Special Section on Sleep and Hypnosis.

Here’s the one that started it all:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Graphic Shows the House Plants That Naturally Clean the Air in Your Home, According to a NASA Study

This is a quick public service announcement. If you believe in science and facts, read on.

Back in the 1980s, NASA published a research report called "Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement" that grappled with a particular problem: Many modern buildings (particularly office buildings) have become so well insulated and hermetically sealed that they allow for little "free air exchange." As a result, toxins build up in these buildings (for example, from the off gassing of furniture) and the inhabitants eventually pay a price.




In response, NASA looked for natural ways to clean up these sealed spaces (like the International Space Station), particularly by availing themselves of the natural air filtering properties of everyday house plants:

In this study the leaves, roots, soil, and associated microorganisms of plants have been evaluated as a possible means of reducing indoor air pollutants. Additionally, a novel approach of using plant systems for removing high concentrations of indoor air pollutants such as cigarette smoke, organic solvents, and possibly radon has been designed from this work. This air filter design combines plants with an activated carbon filter as shown in Figure 1. The rationale for this design, which evolved from wastewater treatment studies, is based on moving large volumes of contaminated air through an activated carbon bed where smoke, organic chemicals, pathogenic microorganisms (if present), and possibly radon are absorbed by the carbon filter. Plant roots and their associated microorganisms then destroy the pathogenic viruses, bacteria, and the organic chemicals, eventually converting all of these air pollutants into new plant tissue.(31"37) It is believed that the decayed radon products would be taken up by the plant roots and retained in the plant tissue.

You can read the rest of the study here. And, above, find a graphic (created by LovetheGarden) that visualizes the results of the NASA study, showing which particular plants will reduce air pollution in your office and home.

For good measure, we've also added below a short video where researcher Kamal Meattle "shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air."

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter 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. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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Leonardo da Vinci’s Visionary Notebooks Now Online: Browse 570 Digitized Pages

Quick, what do you know about Leonardo da Vinci? He painted the Mona Lisa! He wrote his notes backwards! He designed supercool bridges and flying machines! He was a genius about, um… a lot of other… things… and, um, stuff...

Okay, I’m sure you know a bit more than that, but unless you’re a Renaissance scholar, you’re certain to find yourself amazed and surprised at how much you didn’t know about the quintessential Renaissance man when you encounter a compilation of his notebooks—Codex Arundel—which has been digitized by the British Library and made available to the public.




The notebook, writes Jonathan Jones at The Guardian, represents “the living record of a universal mind.” And yet, though a “technophile” himself, “when it came to publication, Leonardo was a luddite…. He made no effort to get his notes published.”

For hundreds of years, the huge, secretive collection of manuscripts remained mostly unseen by all but the most rarified of collectors. After Leonardo's death in France, writes the British Library, his student Francesco Melzi “brought many of his manuscripts and drawings back to Italy. Melzi’s heirs, who had no idea of the importance of the manuscripts, gradually disposed of them.” Nonetheless, over 5,000 pages of notes “still exist in Leonardo’s ‘mirror writing’, from right to left.” In the notebooks, da Vinci drew “visions of the aeroplane, the helicopter, the parachute, the submarine and the car. It was more than 300 years before many of his ideas were improved upon.”

The digitized notebooks debuted in 2007 as a joint project of the British Library and Microsoft called “Turning the Pages 2.0,” an interactive feature that allows viewers to “turn” the pages of the notebooks with animations. Onscreen glosses explain the content of the cryptic notes surrounding the many technical drawings, diagrams, and schematics (see a selection of the notebooks in this animated format here). For an overwhelming amount of Leonardo, you can look through 570 digitized pages of Codex Arundel here. For a slightly more digestible, and readable, amount of Leonardo, see the British Library’s brief series on his life and work, including explanations of his diving apparatus, parachute, and glider.

And for much more on the man—including evidence of his sartorial “preference for pink tights” and his shopping lists—see Jonathan Jones’ Guardian piece, which links to other notebook collections and resources. The artist and self-taught polymath made an impressive effort to keep his ideas from prying eyes. Now, thanks to digitized collections like those at the British Library, “anyone can study the mind of Leonardo.”

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

How Insomnia Shaped Franz Kafka’s Creative Process and the Writing of The Metamorphosis: A New Study Published in The Lancet

Whatever else we take from it, Franz Kafka’s nightmarish fable The Metamorphosis offers readers an especially anguished allegory on troubled sleep. Filled with references to sleep, dreams, and beds, the story begins when Gregor Samsa awakens to find himself (in David Wylie’s translation) “transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin.” After several desperate attempts to roll off his back, Gregor begins to agonize, of all things, over his stressful working hours: “’Getting up early all the time,’ he thought, ‘it makes you stupid. You’ve got to get enough sleep.” Realizing that he has overslept and missed his five o’clock train, he agonizes anew over the frantic workday ahead, and we can hear in his thoughts the complaints of their author. “Sleep and lack thereof,” writes The Independent’s Christopher Hooten, “is of course a central theme in Kafka’s best known work…. It seems there was a strong dose of autobiography at play.”

Chronically insomniac, Kafka wrote at night, then rose early each morning for his hated job at an insurance office. Though he made good use of restlessness, Kafka characterized his insomnia as much more than an inconvenient physical ailment. He thought of it in metaphysical terms, as a kind of soul-sickness. “Sleep,” he wrote in his diaries, “is the most innocent creature there is and sleepless man the most guilty.”




Insomnia transformed Kafka into an unclean thing, quivering in fear of death. “Perhaps I am afraid that the soul, which in sleep leaves me, will not be able to return,” he confessed in a letter to German writer Milena Jesenská. Anxious expressions like this, writes Theresa Fisher, have led researchers to “speculate that Kafka’s pathological traits… indicate borderline personality disorder.” This posthumous diagnosis may be a leap too far. “Unearthing his insomnia, however,” and its effects on his life and work, “requires less speculation.”

Kafka’s descriptions of his anxious insomniac writing habits have led Italian doctor Antonio Perciaccante and his wife and co-author Alessia Coralli to argue in a recent paper published in The Lancet that the writer composed much of his fiction in a state of something like lucid dreaming. In one diary entry, Kafka writes, “it was the power of my dreams, shining forth into wakefulness even before I fall asleep, which did not let me sleep.” Perciaccante and Coralli note that “this seems to be a clear description of a hypnagogic hallucination, a vivid visual hallucination experienced just before the sleep onset.” It’s something we’ve all experienced. Kafka, fearing sleep, stayed there as long as he could. Lest we think of his writing as therapeutic in some way, he gives no indication that it was so. Indeed, it seems that writing introduced more pain: “When I don’t write,” he told Jesenská, “I am merely tired, sad, heavy; when I do write, I am torn by fear and anxiety.”

Kafka made many similar statements about sleep deprivation bringing him to “a depth almost inaccessible at normal conditions.” The visions he encountered, he wrote, “shape themselves into literature.” Through surveying the literature, biographies, interpretations, and the author’s diaries and letters to Jesenská and Felice Bauer, Perciaccante and Coralli pieced together a "psychophysiological" account of Kafka’s dream logic. As Perciaccante told ResearchGate in an interview, his study concerned itself less with the causes of Kafka’s sleeplessness. He admits “it’s difficult to classify Kafka’s insomnia.” Instead the authors concerned themselves with the effects of remaining in a hypnagogic state (a word, notes Drake Baer, that etymologically means “being abducted into sleep”), as well as Kafka’s awareness of his insomnia’s magical and debilitating power.

Metamorphosis, says Perciaccante, in addition to a work about social and familial alienation, “may also represent a metaphor for the negative effects that poor quality sleep, short sleep duration, and insomnia may have on mental and physical health.” Had Kafka overcome his malady, he may never have written his best-known work. Indeed, he may not have written at all. “Perhaps there are other forms of writing,” he told Max Brod in 1922, “but I know only this kind, when fear keeps me from sleeping, I know only this kind.” Perciaccante and Coralli see Kafka’s insomniac torment as a primary theme in his work, but two dissenting voices, writer Saudamini Deo and forensic doctor and anthropologist Philippe Charlier, disagree. Writing into The Lancet to express their view, they assert that despite Kafka’s persistent laments and the squirmy fate of the autobiographical Gregor Samsa, the writer's “insomnia was not at all dehumanizing... but the exact opposite—ie, humanizing the self by bringing to surface elements of unconscious that guide most actions of our waking life.”

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

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