Climate Change Gets Strikingly Visualized by a Scottish Art Installation

What does it accomplish to talk about climate change? Even those who talk about climate change professionally might find it hard to say. If you really want to make a point about rising sea levels — not to mention all the other changes predicted to afflict a warming Earth — you might do better to show, not tell. That reasoning seems to have motivated art projects like the giant hands reaching out from the waters of Venice previously featured here on Open Culture, and it looks even clearer in the more recent case of Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W), an installation now on display on a Scottish island.

All images courtesy of Timo Aho and Pekka Niittyvirta

"At high tide, three synchronized lines of light activate in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland," writes Designboom's Zach Andrews, and in the dark, "wrap around two structures and along the base of a mountain landscape.

Everything below these lines of light will one day be underwater." Created by Finnish artists Pekka Niittyvirta and Timo Aho for Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts CentreLines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W) offers a stark reminder of the future humanity faces if climate change goes on as projected.

But why put up an installation of such apparent urgency in such a thinly populated, out-of-the-way place? "Low lying archipelagos like this one are especially vulnerable to the catastrophic effects of climate change," Andrews writes, adding that the Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum & Arts Centre itself "cannot even afford to develop on its existing site anymore due to the predicted rise of storm surge sea." But though the effects of rising sea levels may be felt first on islands like these, few predictions have those effects stopping there; worst-case scenarios won't spare our major metropolises, and certainly not the coastal ones.

You can get a sense of what Lines (57° 59 ́N, 7° 16 ́W) looks like in action from the photographs on Niittyvirta's site a well as the time-lapse video at the top, which shows the lines of light activating when their sensors detect high tide, then only those lines of light remaining by the time the sun has gone completely down. To experience the full impact of the installation, however, requires seeing it in person in the context for which it was created. So if you've been putting off that trip to the Outer Hebrides, now might be the time to finally take it — not just because of Niittyvirta and Aho's work, but because in a few years, it may not be quite the same place.

via Colossal

Related Content:

Animations Show the Melting Arctic Sea Ice, and What the Earth Would Look Like When All of the Ice Melts

Huge Hands Rise Out of Venice’s Waters to Support the City Threatened by Climate Change: A Poignant New Sculpture

Music for a String Quartet Made from Global Warming Data: Hear “Planetary Bands, Warming World”

A Song of Our Warming Planet: Cellist Turns 130 Years of Climate Change Data into Music

A Map Shows What Happens When Our World Gets Four Degrees Warmer: The Colorado River Dries Up, Antarctica Urbanizes, Polynesia Vanishes

A Century of Global Warming Visualized in a 35 Second Video

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

550 Million Years of Human Evolution in an Illustrated Flipbook

Graphic artist Jurian Moller created a flipbook that lets you watch 550 million years of human evolution unfold in a matter of seconds. He writes: "This flipbook goes back in time and shows you the evolution of the generations in both a personal and scientific way. The differences between the generations on each page are very difficult to see, but the long, continuous ancestral line goes right back to our very origins."

The action is on full display above. Below, watch the same flipbook in an animated form. Purchase the book in various formats at Moller's site here.

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

Also consider following Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and sharing intelligent media with your friends. Or sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

Related Content:

Carl Sagan Explains Evolution in an Eight-Minute Animation

10 Million Years of Evolution Visualized in an Elegant, 5-Foot Long Infographic from 1931

Richard Dawkins Explains Why There Was Never a First Human Being

Neurons as Art: See Beautiful Anatomy Drawings by the Father of Neuroscience, Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Art depends on popular judgments about the universe, and is nourished by the limited expanse of sentiment. . . . In contrast, science was barely touched upon by the ancients, and is as free from the inconsistencies of fashion as it is from the fickle standards of taste. . . . And let me stress that this conquest of ideas is not subject to fluctuations of opinion, to the silence of envy, or to the caprices of fashion that today repudiate and detest what yesterday was praised as sublime.

- Santiago Ramón y Cajal

The above drawing is the sort of sublime rendering that attracts throngs of visitors to the world’s great modern art museums, but that’s not the sort of renown the artist, Nobel Prize-winning father of modern neuroscience Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852 -1934), actively sought.

Or rather, he might have back before his father, a professor of anatomy, coerced his wild young son into transferring from a provincial art academy to the medical school where he himself was employed.

After a stint as an army medical officer, the artist-turned-anatomist concentrated on inflammation, cholera, and epithelial cells before zeroing in on his true muse—the central nervous system.

At the time, reticular theory, which held that everything in the nervous system was part of a single continuous network, prevailed.

Ramón y Cajal was able to disprove this widely held belief by using Golgi stains to support the existence of individual nervous cells—neurons—that, while not physically connected, communicated with each other through a system of axons, dendrites, and synapses.

He called upon both his artistic and medical training in documenting what he observed through his microscope. His meticulous freehand drawings are far more accurate than anything that could be produced by the microscopic-image photographic tools available at the time.

His precision was such that his illustrations continue to be published in medical textbooks. Further research has confirmed many of his suppositions.

As art critic Roberta Smith writes in The New York Times, the drawings are “fairly hard-nosed fact if you know your science”:

If you don’t, they are deep pools of suggestive motifs into which the imagination can dive. Their lines, forms and various textures of stippling, dashes and faint pencil circles would be the envy of any modern artist. That they connect with Surrealist drawing, biomorphic abstraction and exquisite doodling is only the half of it.

The drawings’ pragmatic titles certainly take on a poetic quality when one considers the context of their creation:

Axon of Purkinje neurons in the cerebellum of a drowned man

The hippocampus of a man three hours after death

Glial cells of the cerebral cortex of a child

His specimens were not limited to the human world:

Retina of lizard

The olfactory bulb of the dog

In his book Advice for a Young Investigator, Ramón y Cajal took a holistic view of the relationship between science and the arts:

The investigator ought to possess an artistic temperament that impels him to search for and admire the number, beauty, and harmony of things; and—in the struggle for life that ideas create in our minds—a sound critical judgment that is able to reject the rash impulses of daydreams in favor of those thoughts most faithfully embracing objective reality.

Explore more of Ramón y Cajal’s cellular drawings in Beautiful Brain: The Drawings of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the companion book to a recent traveling exhibition of his work. Or immerse yourself at the neural level by ordering a reproduction on a beach towel, yoga mat, cell phone case, shower curtain, or other necessity on Science Source.

Related Content:

Ernst Haeckel’s Sublime Drawings of Flora and Fauna: The Beautiful Scientific Drawings That Influenced Europe’s Art Nouveau Movement (1889)

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

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Animated History of Dogs, Inspired by Keith Haring

That quivering teacup Chihuahua…

The long-suffering Labrador whose child-friendly reputation has led to a lifetime of ear tugging and tail pulling…

The wheezing French bulldog, whose owner has outfitted with a full wardrobe of hoodies, tutus, rain slickers, and pajamas

All descended from wolves.

As anthropologist and science educator David Ian Howe explains in the animated TED-Ed lesson, A Brief History of Dogs, above, at first glance, canis lupus seemed an unlikely choice for man’s best friend.

For one thing, the two were in direct competition for elk, reindeer, bison, and other tasty prey wandering Eurasia during the Pleistocene Epoch.

Though both hunted in groups, running their prey to the point of exhaustion, only one roasted their kills, creating tantalizing aromas that drew bolder wolves ever-closer to the human camps.

The ones who willingly dialed down their wolfishness, making themselves useful as companions, security guards and hunting buddies, were rewarded come suppertime. Eventually, this mutually beneficial tail wagging became full on domestication, the first such animal to come under the human yoke.

The intense focus on purebreds didn't really become a thing until the Victorians began hosting dog shows. The push to identify and promote breed-specific characteristics often came at a cost to the animals’ wellbeing, as Neil Pemberton and Michael Worboys point out in BBC History Magazine:

…the improvement of breeds towards ‘perfection’ was controversial. While there was approval for the greater regularity of type, many fanciers complained that standards were being set on arbitrary, largely aesthetic grounds by enthusiasts in specialist clubs, without concern for utility or the health of the animal. This meant that breeds were changing, and not always for the better. For example, the modern St Bernard was said to be a beautiful animal, but would be useless in Alpine rescue work.

Cat-fanciers, rest assured that the opposition received fair and equal coverage in a feline-centric TED-Ed lesson, published earlier this year.

And while we applaud TED-Ed for sparking our curiosity with its “Brief History of” series, covering topics as far ranging as cheese, numerical systems, goths, video games, and tea, surely we are not the only ones wondering why the late artist Keith Haring isn’t thanked or name checked in the credits?

Every canine-shaped image in this animation is clearly descended from his iconic barking dog.

While we can’t explain the omission, we can direct readers toward Jon Nelson’s great analysis of Haring’s relationship with dogs in Get Leashed:

They’re symbolic of unanswered questions, prevalent in the 80s: “Can I do this?” “Is this right?” “What are you doing?” “What is happening?” Dogs stand by people, barking or dancing along, sometimes in precarious scenarios, even involved in some of Haring’s explicitly sexual work. Dogs are neither approving nor disapproving of what people do in the images; their mouth angle is neutral or even happy. In some cases, human bodies wear a dog’s head, possibly stating that we know only our own enjoyment, unaware, like a dog, of life’s next stage or the consequences of our actions.

Visit Ethnocynology, David Ian Howe’s Instagram page about the ancient relationship between humans and dogs.

Related Content:

An Animated History of Cats: How Over 10,000 Years the Cat Went from Wild Predator to Sofa Sidekick

Discover David Lynch’s Bizarre & Minimalist Comic Strip, The Angriest Dog in the World (1983-1992)

Photos of Famous Writers (and Rockers) with their Dogs

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Behold an Anatomically Correct Replica of the Human Brain, Knitted by a Psychiatrist

Our brains dictate our every move.

They’re the ones who spur us to study hard, so we can make something of ourselves, in order to better our communities.

They name our babies, choose our clothes, decide what we’re hungry for.

They make and break laws, organize protests, fritter away hours on social media, and give us the green light to binge watch a bunch of dumb shows when we could be reading War and Peace.

They also plant the seeds for Fitzcarraldo-like creative endeavors that take over our lives and generate little to no income.

We may describe such endeavors as a labor of love, into which we’ve poured our entire heart and soul, but think for a second.

Who’s really responsible here?

The heart, that muscular fist-sized Valentine, content to just pump-pump-pump its way through life, lub-dub, lub-dub, from cradle to grave?

Or the brain, a crafty Iago of an organ, possessor of billions of neurons, complex, contradictory, a mystery we’re far from unraveling?

Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Norberg’s brain has steered her to study such heavy duty subjects as the daycare effect, the rise in youth suicide, and the risk of prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a treatment for depression.

On a lighter note, it also told her to devote nine months to knitting an anatomically correct replica of the human brain.

(Twelve, if you count three months of research before casting on.)

How did her brain convince her to embark on this madcap assignment?

Easy. It arranged for her to be in the middle of a more prosaic knitting project, then goosed her into noticing how the ruffles of that project resembled the wrinkles of the cerebral cortex.

Coincidence?

Not likely. Especially when one of the cerebral cortex's most important duties is decision making.

As she explained in an interview with The Telegraph, brain development is not unlike the growth of a knitted piece:

You can see very naturally how the 'rippling' effect of the cerebral cortex emerges from properties that probably have to do with nerve cell growth. In the case of knitting, the effect is created by increasing the number of stitches in each row.

Dr. Norberg—who, yes, has on occasion referred to her project as a labor of love—told Scientific American that such a massive crafty undertaking appealed to her sense of humor because “it seemed so ridiculous and would be an enormously complicated, absurdly ambitious thing to do.”

That’s the point at which many people’s brains would give them permission to stop, but Dr. Norberg and her brain persisted, pushing past the hypothetical, creating colorful individual structures that were eventually sewn into two cuddly hemispheres that can be joined with a zipper.

(She also let slip that her brain—by which she means the knitted one, though the observation certainly holds true for the one in her head—is female, due to its robust corpus callosum, the “tough body” whose millions of fibers promote communication and connection.)

via The Telegraph

Related Content:

A Massive, Knitted Tapestry of the Galaxy: Software Engineer Hacks a Knitting Machine & Creates a Star Map Featuring 88 Constellations

Jazz Musician Plays Acoustic Guitar While Undergoing Brain Surgery, Helping Doctors Monitor Their Progress

How Meditation Can Change Your Brain: The Neuroscience of Buddhist Practice

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Women’s Hidden Contributions to Modern Genetics Get Revealed by New Study: No Longer Will They Be Buried in the Footnotes

It’s too easy, when our historical knowledge is limited, to mistake effects for causes, to fall for just-so stories that naturalize and perpetuate inequality. Many of us may have only recently learned, for example, that the moon landing would not have been possible without mathematician Katherine Johnson and her Hidden Figures colleagues, or that the Hubble telescope would not have been possible without astronomer Nancy G. Roman (now immortalized in LEGO). Prior to this knowledge, we might have been led to believe that women had little to do with humankind’s first leaps into outer space, to the surface of the moon, and beyond.

Cornell University historian of science Margaret Rossiter has called this phenomenon “the Matilda effect,” after an 1893 essay by suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. Rossiter spent years trying to counter the dominant narratives that leave out women in science with a multi-volume scholarly history. Counter-narratives like hers now appear regularly online. And popular media like the book, then film, Hidden Figures have inspired other academics to drill into the history of their fields, find the women who have been ignored, and try to understand the how and why.

When Brown University’s Emilia Huerta-Sánchez and San Francisco State University’s Rori Rohlfs saw Hidden Figures, they decided to research their specialization, theoretical population genetics. It may not be as glamorous as space travel, and their research may not become a Hollywood film or LEGO set, but the results they unearthed are revelatory and important. During the 1970s, for example, “a pivotal time for the field of population genetics,” notes Ed Yong at The Atlantic, the two researchers and their team of undergraduates found that “women accounted for 59 percent of acknowledged programmers, but just 7 percent of actual authors.”

Those women were scientists doing “crucial work,” writes Yong. One programmer, Margaret Wu, created a statistical tool still regularly used to calculate optimal genetic diversity. Her model appeared in a 1975 paper and is now known as the Watterson estimator, after the “one and only" named author, G.A. Watterson. "The paper has been cited 3,400 times.” Today, “if a scientist did all the programming for a study, she would expect to be listed as an author.” But the practice only began to change in the 1980s, when “programming began changing from a ‘pink collar’ job, done largely by low-paid women, to the male-dominated profession it remains today.”

The marginalization of female programmers during some of the field’s most productive years—their relegation to literal footnotes in history—has created the impression, as Huerta- Sánchez, Rohlfs, and their co-authors write, that “this research was conducted by a relatively small number of independent individual scientists nearly all of whom were men.” See a summary of the authors' findings in the video above. To obtain their results, they combed through every issue of the journal Theoretical Population Biology—nearly 900 papers—then pulled out “every name in the acknowledgments, worked out whether they did any programming, and deduced their genders where possible.”

The study, published in the latest issue of Genetics does not comprehensively survey the entire field, nor does it definitively show that every programmer who contributed to a paper did so substantively enough to warrant authorship. But it does not need to do these things. The disparities between named authors and marginally acknowledged scientific laborers in a major journal in the field calls for an explanation beyond selection bias or chance. The explanation of systemic bias not only has the benefit of being well-supported by a huge aggregate of data across the sciences, but it also presents us with a situation that can be changed when the problems are widely seen and acknowledged.

The study's results "dispel the misconception that women weren't participating in science," the researchers point out in their video, and they suggest that a significant number of women in genetics weren't given the credit they deserved. Huerta- Sánchez and Rohlfs walk their talk. The undergraduate researchers who worked on "Illuminating Women's Hidden Contribution to Historical Theoretical Population Genetics" are all named as authors in the paper, so that their contributions to writing a new history of their field can be recognized.

via The Atlantic

Related Content:

“The Matilda Effect”: How Pioneering Women Scientists Have Been Denied Recognition and Written Out of Science History

The Encyclopedia of Women Philosophers: A New Web Site Presents the Contributions of Women Philosophers, from Ancient to Modern

Henrietta Lacks Gets Immortalized in a Portrait: It’s Now on Display at the National Portrait Gallery

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

Historic Manuscript Filled with Beautiful Illustrations of Cuban Flowers & Plants Is Now Online (1826 )

The internet has become an essential back up system for thousands of pieces of historical art, science, and literature, and also for a specialized kind of text incorporating them all in degrees: the illustrated natural science book, from the golden ages of book illustration and philosophical naturalism in Europe and the Americas. We’ve seen some fine digital reproductions of the illustrated Nomenclature of Colors by Abraham Gottlob Werner, for example—a book that accompanied Darwin on his Beagle voyage.

The same source has also brought us a wonderfully illustrated, influential 1847 edition of Euclid’s Elements, with a semaphore-like design that color-codes and delineates each axiom. And we’ve seen Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s 1903 Color Problems: a Practical Manual for the Lay Student of Color come online (and back in print), a study whose ideas would later show up in the work of modern minimalists like Josef Albers.

Above and below, you can see just a fraction of the illustrations from another example of a remarkable illustrated scientific book, also by a woman on the edge of being forgotten: Nancy Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft's 1826 Specimens of the Plants and Fruits of the Island of Cuba.

This study of Cuban plant life might never have seen the light of day were it not for the new online edition from the HathiTrust digital library, “by way of Cornell University’s Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections,” notes Atlas Obscura. The book is notable for more than its obscurity, however. It is, says scholar of Cuban history and culture Emilio Cueto, “the most important corpus of plant illustrations in Cuba’s colonial history.” Its author first began work when she moved to the island after her husband, Charles Wollstonecraft (brother of Mary and uncle of Mary Shelley) died in 1817.

She began documenting the plant life in the region of Matanzas through the 1820s. That research became Specimens of the Plants and Fruits of the Island of Cuba, a meticulous study, full of Wollstonecraft’s vibrant, striking watercolors. After making several attempts at publication, she died in 1828, and the manuscript never appeared in public. Now, almost two centuries later, all three volumes are available to read online and download in PDF. They had been dormant at the Cornell University Library, and few people knew very much about them. Cueto, the scholar most familiar with the manuscript's place in history, had himself searched for it for 20 years before finding it hidden away at Cornell in 2018.

Now it is freely available to anyone and everyone online, part of an expanding, shared online archive of fascinating works by non-professional scientists and mathematicians whose work was painstakingly interpreted by artists for the benefit of a lay readership. In the case of Wollstonecraft, as with Goethe and many other contemporary scholar-artists, we have the two in one. View and download her 220-page work, with its 121 illustrated plates at the HathiTrust Digital Library.

via Cornell/Atlas Obscura

Related Content:

A Visionary 115-Year-Old Color Theory Manual Returns to Print: Emily Noyes Vanderpoel’s Color Problems

Explore an Interactive Version of The Wall of Birds, a 2,500 Square-Foot Mural That Documents the Evolution of Birds Over 375 Million Years

Two Million Wondrous Nature Illustrations Put Online by The Biodiversity Heritage Library

Wagashi: Peruse a Digitized, Centuries-Old Catalogue of Traditional Japanese Candies

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

More in this category... »
Quantcast