How Karl Marx Influenced Abraham Lincoln and His Position on Slavery & Labor




If resistance to the Slave Power was the reserved watchword of your first election, the triumphant war cry of your re-election is Death to Slavery.

In 1864, Karl Marx and his International Working Men’s Association (the “First International”) sent an address to Abraham Lincoln, congratulating “the American people upon your re-election by a large majority.” As historian Robin Blackburn writes, “The US ambassador in London conveyed a friendly but brief response from the president. However, the antecedents and implications of this little exchange are rarely considered.” It was not the first time Marx and Lincoln had encountered each other. They never met personally, but their affinities led to what Blackburn calls an “unfinished revolution” — not a communist revolution in the U.S.; but a potential revolution for democracy.

Lincoln and Marx became mutual admirers in the early 1860s due to the latter’s work as a foreign correspondent for The New York Daily Tribune. From 1852 until the start of the Civil War, Marx, sometimes with Engels, wrote “over five hundred articles for the Tribune,” Blackburn notes. Fiercely anti-slavery, Marx compared Southern planters to the European aristocracy, “an oligarchy of 300,000 slaveholders.” Early in the war, he championed the Union cause, even before Lincoln decided on emancipation as a course of action. Marx believed, writes Blackburn, that ending slavery “would not destroy capitalism, but it would create conditions far more favorable to organizing and elevating labor, whether white or black.”


“Marx was intensely interested in the plight of American slaves,” Gillian Brockell writes at The Washington Post. “In January 1860, he told Engels that the two biggest things happening in the world were ‘on the one hand the movement of the slaves in America started by the death of John Brown, and on the other the movement of serfs in Russia.'” Lincoln was an “avid reader” of the Tribune and Marx’s articles. The paper’s managing editor, Charles A. Dana, an American socialist fluent in German who met Marx in 1848, would go on to become “Lincoln’s ‘eyes and ears’ as a special commissioner in the War Department” and later the Department’s Assistant Secretary.

Lincoln was not, of course, a Communist. And yet some of the ideas he absorbed from Marx’s Tribune writings — many of which would later be adapted for the first volume of Capital — made their way into the Republican Party of the 1850s and 60s. That party, writes Brockell, was “anti-slavery, pro-worker and sometimes overtly socialist,” championing, for example, the redistribution of land in the West. (Marx even considered emigrating to Texas himself at one time.) And at times, Lincoln could sound like a Marxist, as in the closing words of his first annual message (later the State of the Union ) in 1961.

“Labor is prior to and independent of capital,” the country’s 16th president concluded in the first speech since his inauguration. “Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.” That full, 7,000 word address appeared in newspapers around the country, including the Confederate South. The Chicago Tribune subtitled its closing arguments “Capital vs. Labor.”

Lincoln’s own position on abolition evolved throughout his presidency, as did his views on the position of the formerly enslaved within the country. For Marx, however, the questions of total abolition and full enfranchisement were settled long before the country entered the Civil War. The democratic revolution that might have begun under Lincoln ended with his assassination. In the summer after the president’s death, Marx received a letter from his friend Engels about the new president, Andrew Johnson: “His hatred of Negroes comes out more and more violently… If things go on like this, in six months all the old villains of secession will be sitting in Congress at Washington. Without colored suffrage, nothing whatever can be done there.” Hear the address Marx drafted to Lincoln for his 1865 re-election read aloud at the top of the post, and read it yourself here.

For more on this subject, you can read Blackburn’s book, An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.

Related Content:

A Short Animated Introduction to Karl Marx

5 Free Online Courses on Marx’s Capital from Prof. David Harvey

The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln

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

1,100 Delicate Drawings of Root Systems Reveals the Hidden World of Plants




We know that plants can inspire art. If you, personally, still require convincing on that point, just have a look at Elizabeth Twining’s Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants, the drawings of Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, Elizabeth Blackwell’s A Curious Herbal, and Nancy Anne Kingsbury Wollstonecraft’s Specimens of the Plants and Fruits of the Island of Cuba — not to mention the paintings of Georgia O’ Keeffe — all previously featured here on Open Culture. But those works concern themselves only with plant life as it exists above ground.

What goes on down below, underneath the soil? That you can see for yourself — and without having to pull up one of our fine flowering (or non-flowering) friends to do so — at Wageningen University’s online archive of root system drawings. “The outcome of 40 years of  root system excavations in Europe,” says that site, the collection contains 1,180 diagrams of species from Abies alba (best known today as a kind of Christmas tree) to Zygophyllum xanthoxylon (a faintly scrubby-looking native of the arid and semi-arid regions of continents like Africa and Australia).

The site explains that “the drawings, their analysis and description were done by Univ. Prof. Dr. Erwin Lichtenegger (1928-2004) and Univ. Prof. Dr. Lore Kutschera (1917-2008), leader of Pflanzensoziologisches Institut, Klagenfurt, (now in Bad Goisern, Austria).”


Over the course of 40 years, writes The Washington Post‘s Erin Blakemore, Lichtenegger and Kustchera “collaborated on an enormous ‘root atlas’ that maps the underground trajectories of common European plants.” Created through “a laborious system of digging up and documenting the intricate systems,” these drawings are “also art in their own right, honoring the beauty of a part of plants most never give that much thought.”

Even the least botanically aware among us knows that plants have roots, but how many of us are aware of the scale and complexity those roots can attain? “Root systems allow plants to gather the water and minerals they use to grow,” writes Blakemore. “As the root system grows, it creates more and more pathways that allow water to get into the deep subsoil, and fostering the growth of microbes that benefit other life. Strong root systems can prevent erosion, protecting the land on which they grow. And the structures allow the soil to capture carbon.” Thus root systems, never a particular locus of coolness, have the distinction of doing their part to fight climate change. And thanks to Lichtenegger and Kustchera’s drawings, they underscore the capacity of art to reveal worlds hidden to most of us. View all of the images here.

via Colossal

Related Content:

Behold an Interactive Online Edition of Elizabeth Twining’s Illustrations of the Natural Orders of Plants (1868)

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

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

A Curious Herbal: 500 Beautiful Illustrations of Medicinal Plants Drawn by Elizabeth Blackwell in 1737 (to Save Her Family from Financial Ruin)

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

The Social Lives of Trees: Science Reveals How Trees Mysteriously Talk to Each Other, Work Together & Form Nurturing Families

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Watch the Destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius, Re-Created with Computer Animation (79 AD)




A good disaster story never fails to fascinate — and, given that it actually happened, the story of Pompeii especially so. Buried and thus frozen in time by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD, the ancient Roman town of 11,000 has provided an object of great historical interest ever since its rediscovery in 1599. Baths, houses, tools and other possessions (including plenty of wine bottles), frescoes, graffiti, an ampitheater, an aqueduct, the “Villa of the Mysteries“: Pompeii has it all, as far as the stuff of first-century Roman life goes.

The ash-preserved ruins of Pompeii, more than any other source, have provided historians with a window into just what life in that time and place was like. A Day in Pompeii, an exhibition held at the Melbourne Museum in 2009, gave its more than 330,000 visitors a chance to experience Pompeii’s life even more vividly. The exhibition included a 3D theater installation that featured the animation above. Watch it, and you can see Pompeii brought back to life with computer-generated imagery — and then, in snapshots over the course of 48 hours, entombed by Vesuvius again.


As inherently compelling as we find the story of Pompeii, modern drama has struggled to capture the power of the disaster that defines it. The late-1960s BBC show Up Pompeii! offered a comedic rendering of life in the city before the explosion, but more serious interpretations, like the 2014 Hollywood movie Pompeii, met with only lukewarm critical reception. Best, it seems, to stick to the words of Pliny the Younger, witness to the destruction and still its most evocative describer:

You could hear the shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; some were calling their parents, others their children or their wives, trying to recognize them by their voices. People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying. Many besought the aid of the gods, but still more imagined there were no gods left, and that the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore.

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. You can contribute through PayPal, Patreon, Venmo (@openculture) and Crypto. Thanks!

via Metafilter

Related Content:

Visit Pompeii (also Stonehenge & Versailles) with Google Street View

Pompeii Rebuilt: A Tour of the Ancient City Before It Was Entombed by Mount Vesuvius

How the Survivors of Pompeii Escaped Mount Vesuvius’ Deadly Eruption: A TED-Ed Animation Tells the Story

See the Expansive Ruins of Pompeii Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before: Through the Eyes of a Drone

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 1 ) |

Read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual: A Timeless Guide to Subverting Any Organization with “Purposeful Stupidity” (1944)

I’ve always admired people who can successfully navigate what I refer to as “Kafka’s Castle,” a term of dread for the many government and corporate agencies that have an inordinate amount of power over our permanent records, and that seem as inscrutable and chillingly absurd as the labyrinth the character K navigates in Kafka’s last allegorical novel. Even if you haven’t read The Castle, if you work for such an entity—or like all of us have regular dealings with the IRS, the healthcare and banking system, etc.—you’re well aware of the devilish incompetence that masquerades as due diligence and ties us all in knots. Why do multi-million and billion dollar agencies seem unable, or unwilling, to accomplish the simplest of tasks? Why do so many of us spend our lives in the real-life bureaucratic nightmares satirized in the The Office and Office Space?

One answer comes via Laurence J. Peter’s 1969 satire The Peter Principle—which offers the theory that managers and executives get promoted to the level of their incompetence—then, David Brent-like, go on to ruin their respective departments. The Harvard Business Review summed up disturbing recent research confirming and supplementing Peter’s insights into the narcissism, overconfidence, or actual sociopathy of many a government and business leader. But in addition to human failings, there’s another possible reason for bureaucratic disorder; the conspiracy-minded among us may be forgiven for assuming that in many cases, institutional incompetence is the result of deliberate sabotage from both above and below. The ridiculous inner workings of most organizations certainly make a lot more sense when viewed in the light of one set of instructions for “purposeful stupidity,” namely the once top-secret Simple Sabotage Field Manual, written in 1944 by the CIA’s precursor, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS).


Now declassified and freely available on the Homeland Security website, the manual the agency describes as “surprisingly relevant” was once distributed to OSS officers abroad to assist them in training “citizen-saboteurs” in occupied countries like Norway and France. Such people, writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “might already be sabotaging materials, machinery, or operations of their own initiative,” but may have lacked the devious talent for sowing chaos that only an intelligence agency can properly master. Genuine laziness, arrogance, and mindlessness may surely be endemic. But the Field Manual asserts that “purposeful stupidity is contrary to human nature” and requires a particular set of skills. The citizen-saboteur “frequently needs pressure, stimulation or assurance, and information and suggestions regarding feasible methods of simple sabotage.”

You can read and download the full document here. To get a sense of just how “timeless”—according to the CIA itself—such instructions remain, see the abridged list below, courtesy of Business Insider. You will laugh ruefully, then maybe shudder a little as you recognize how much your own workplace, and many others, resemble the kind of dysfunctional mess the OSS meticulously planned during World War II.

Organizations and Conferences

  • Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  • Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences.
  • When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committee as large as possible — never less than five.
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  • Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.

Managers

  • In making work assignments, always sign out the unimportant jobs first. See that important jobs are assigned to inefficient workers.
  • Insist on perfect work in relatively unimportant products; send back for refinishing those which have the least flaw.
  • To lower morale and with it, production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions.
  • Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  • Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do.

Employees

  • Work slowly
  • Work slowly.
  • Contrive as many interruptions to your work as you can.
  • Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery, or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right.
  • Never pass on your skill and experience to a new or less skillful worker.

Note: This post originally appeared on our site in December 2015.

Related Content:

The CIA’s Style Manual & Writer’s Guide: 185 Pages of Tips for Writing Like a Spook

The C.I.A.’s “Bestiary of Intelligence Writing” Satirizes Spook Jargon with Maurice Sendak-Style Drawings

How the CIA Secretly Funded Abstract Expressionism During the Cold War

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( 2 ) |

Martin Heidegger Talks Philosophy with a Buddhist Monk on German TV (1963)

Martin Heidegger is often called the most important philosopher of the 20th century. I’m not in a position to evaluate this claim, but his influence on contemporary and successive European and American thinkers is considerable. That influence spread all the way to Thailand, where Buddhist monk and university professor Bhikku Maha Mani came to think of Heidegger as “the German philosopher.” (A conception, writes Otto Poggeler in an essay on Heidegger and Eastern thought, that may have “perverted the monk’s wanting to talk” to the philosopher, “since philosophy never lets itself be embodied in an idol.”) The Buddhist monk, also a radio presenter who later left his order to work for American television, met the German philosopher in 1963 for an interview on German TV station SWR. Maha Mani asks his questions in English, Heidegger responds in German. See the first part of the interview above, the second below.

This was not at all the first time the German philosopher had dialogued with an East Asian thinker. In a study on the Buddhist and Taoist influences on Heidegger’s work, Reinhold May writes that Heidegger’s “direct contact with East Asian thought dates back at least as far as 1922” when he began conversations with several major Japanese thinkers. Nonetheless, Heidegger apparently had little to say on the correspondences between his ideas and those of Eastern philosophers until the 1950s, and the little that he did say seems marginal at best to his main body of work.


May’s claims of “hidden influence” may be highly exaggerated, yet Heidegger was familiar with Buddhist thought, and, in the interview, he makes some interesting distinctions and comparisons. In answer to the Bhikku’s first, very general, question, Heidegger launches into his familiar refrain—“one question was never asked [in “Occidental” philosophy], that is, the question of Being.” Heidegger defines “the human being” as “this essence, that has language,” in contrast to “the Buddhist teachings,” which do not make “an essential distinction, between human beings and other living things, plants and animals.” For Heidegger, consciousness—“a knowing relation to Being” through language—is the exclusive preserve of humans.

In the second part of the interview (read a transcript here), Bhikku Maha Mani asks Heidegger what he thinks about the contradictory Western tendency to identify people without religion as “communists” and those who live “according to religious rules” as insane. Heidegger responds that religion, in its most radical sense, simply means “a bonding-back to powers, forces and laws, that supersede human capability.” In this respect, he says, “no human being is without religion,” whether it be “the belief in science” of communists or “an atheistic religion, namely Buddhism, that knows no God.” Heidegger goes on to explain why he sees little possibility of “immediate and simple understanding” between people of different religions, philosophies, and political groups. While it may be tempting to view Heidegger’s work—and that of other phenomenological, existential, or skeptical philosophers—as working in tandem with much Eastern thought, as perhaps “the” German philosopher himself would caution, the differences are significant. In the interview above, Heidegger largely faults Germany and “all of Europe in general” for a general lack of human harmony: “We do not have any clear, common and simple relation to reality and to ourselves,” he says. “That is the big problem of the Western world.”

Courses on Heidegger’s philosophy can be found in our collection of Free Online Philosophy Courses, part of our larger collection, 1,700 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2014.

Related Content:

The Love Letters of Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger

Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks” Suggest He Was a Serious Anti-Semite, Not Just a Naive Nazi

“Heidegger in the Kitchen”: Alain de Botton’s Video Essay Explains the Philosopher’s Concept of Being

Discovered: Lost Johnny Cash Concert Recorded by the Grateful Dead’s LSD Chemist Owsley Stanley (1968)

On January 13, 1968, Johnny Cash recorded his famous live concerts within the walls of Folsom State Prison, California, a week into what would be one of his busiest years of touring. While Columbia Records worked on trimming down the two sets into one LP, Cash set off across the States, into Canada and back, playing almost every night, and returning to the West Coast for a final stop at the Carousel Ballroom in San Francisco.

Recording the gig that night was Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the Grateful Dead’s engineer and also the man responsible for creating the purest LSD on the West Coast. As Rolling Stone once asked, would there have been a Summer of Love if not for Stanley? Apparently, Stanley had *another* secret stash, and we are only now hearing a tiny fraction of it. This gig is one of over 1,300 the engineer recorded and kept in his private collection. Stanley died in 2011, and ten years later the Oswald Stanley Foundation is selectively releasing recordings from this treasure trove as a way to preserve the recordings and fund more releases. This Cash set was one of the first releases in the “Bear’s Sonic Journals” series, released in October of 2021.


Cash’s new bride June Carter Cash joined him onstage. It was on the Ontario stop of the aforementioned tour that Cash proposed to her live on stage, and they were married March 1 in Kentucky. You can hear his pride as he introduces her to the audience; the two immediately launch into “Jackson.” “We got married in a fever,” indeed. (The two remained married until her death in 2003.) June sings several numbers, including “Wabash Cannonball,” and Carl Perkins’ “Long Legged Guitar Pickin’ Man.”

The other artist figuring prominently in these recordings (as an influence) is Bob Dylan. The two had been circling each other in admiration for years, and here Cash covers “One Too Many Mornings” and then “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” The man owns it, turns it into what sounds like a Tennessee Three original. Dylan and Cash would finally record together in 1969, in sessions that would be bootlegged until a recent official release.

Stanley recorded these sets for himself, coming straight out of the soundboard. Where the Carousel Ballroom concert lacks in quality—-vocals, audience, and Cash’s guitar are on the left, the band to the right—-they make up for in history and excitement.

Currently, the label has released full concerts from Tim Buckley, Ali Akbar Khan, with Indranil Bhattacharya and Zakir Hussain, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, New Riders of The Purple Sage, Jorma Kaukonen & Jack Casady, The Allman Brothers Band, and Doc and Merle Watson. As Stanley recorded for two decades of his career, the catalog promises untold delights.

The full playlist from the Carousel Ballroom gig is below:

via BoingBoing

Related Content:

Grateful Dead Fan Creates a Faithful Mini Replica of the Band’s Famous “Wall of Sound” During Lockdown

Two Prison Concerts That Defined an Outlaw Singer: Johnny Cash at San Quentin and Folsom (1968-69)

Take a Trip to the LSD Museum, the Largest Collection of “Blotter Art” in the World

Johnny Cash’s Short and Personal To-Do List

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

When Andy Warhol Guest-Starred on The Love Boat (1985)

On Friday, August 31, 1979, Andy Warhol records in his diary that he took a cab to Elaine’s to “meet the guy who might get me a guest appearance on The Love Boat.” But nearly five years pass before he writes that the writers are working on his episode; with the shooting dates set, “I started to get scared, I don’t know if I can go through with it.” A couple of months later, as the appointed time approaches, he hears the plot: “There’s a girl on the boat named Mary with her husband, and she used to be a superstar of mine, and she doesn’t want her husband to know that she used to be ‘Marina Del Rey.’ And I just have a few lines, things like ‘Hello, Mary.’ But one of the lines I have to say is something like ‘Art is crass commercialism,’ which I don’t want to say.”

Whatever his objections to the script, Warhol doesn’t seem to have been an especially difficult participant, of whom The Love Boat must have had more than a few in its 250 episodes. During its run on ABC from 1977 to 1986, the series became an American pop-cultural phenomenon of a scale difficult to comprehend today. But as a connoisseur of American pop culture, Warhol would have comprehended it fully. By the time of his appearance in October 1985, The Love Boat had entered its ninth season, presumably hungrier than ever for attention-grabbing guest stars; on “his” episode, Warhol shares that billing with, among others, Milton Berle, Happy Days‘ Tom Bosley and Marion Ross, and Andy Griffith (who, Warhol notes, “seems bitter to be on The Love Boat“).


“If there was any space where painters and artists could brush shoulders with soap stars and teen idols, it was aboard the Pacific Princess,” says MeTV. “In one episode dedicated to the fashion industry, designers Gloria Vanderbilt, Geoffrey Beene and Halston all came aboard.” Warhol’s coming aboard, then, “was both unexpected and somehow inevitable.” You can witness this surprising yet unsurprising cultural crossover in the video above, which contains just the scenes from Warhol’s story within the episode (which, like most Love Boat scripts, has three different plotlines). Even if it delivers few profound insights into the nature of art, celebrity, and human aspiration, it does capture Warhol’s presence as it seems really to have been during his final years.

“My Stephen Sprouse jackets were there on the wardrobe rack,” Warhol writes in his diary during the shoot. “When I wear them, I think I finally look like people want Andy Warhol to look again.” That must have been true of the shiny silver number he wears in his first scene of the episode, when first he rolls up with his “entourage” to the ship’s reception desk. “As we’re walking off, the Love Boat girl asks Raymond St. Jacques, ‘How does an artist know when a painting is really successful?’ And he says, ‘When the check clears.'” But on one take “they did it wrong and it was better — she said, ‘When is a painting really finished.'” Unfortunately, that version of the line seems to have been a bit too Warholian for the Pacific Princess.

Who Betrayed Anne Frank and Her Family?: Machine Learning, a Retired FBI Agent and a Team of Investigators May Have Finally Solved the Case

“Using new technology, recently discovered documents and sophisticated investigative techniques, an international team—led by an obsessed retired FBI agent—has [seemingly] solved the mystery that has haunted generations since World War II: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family? And why?” That retired FBI agent, Vince Pankoke, gets interviewed by 60 Minutes above. The story behind this new investigation also gets documented in a new book, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation.

Related Content 

Watch the Only Known Footage of Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Novel Adaptation

Read the Poignant Letter Sent to Anne Frank by George Whitman, Owner of Paris’ Famed Shakespeare & Co Bookshop (1960): “If I Sent This Letter to the Post Office It Would No Longer Reach You”

How Art Spiegelman Designs Comic Books: A Breakdown of His Masterpiece, Maus

The Philosophy of Games: C. Thi Nguyen on the Philosophy vs. Improv Podcast

 width=

Thi Nguyen (pronounced “TEE NWEEN”) teaches at the University of Utah, and his first book, 2020’s Games: Agency as Art, makes a case for games being treated as a serious object of study for philosophy. Thi sees game analysis as not just a sub-division in the philosophy of art (aesthetics), but in the philosophy of action. How do games relate to other human activities with constraints, like customs, language, and more specifically performative acts within language (like saying “I do” during a marriage ceremony, where you’re not just describing that you do something, but actually taking action)?

On this recording (episode 24 of the podcast), Thi joins philosophy podcaster Mark Linsenmayer of The Partially Examined Life and improvisational comedy coach Bill Arnett of the Chicago Improv Studio to talk about games and improv, and to engage in a couple of improv scenes that explore the connection between the two.

This is the third philosophy guest for the Philosophy vs. Improv podcast, which alternates between guests from the improv world, guests from the philosophy world, and no guest at all. The overall format involves a lesson from each host, which they teach to each other (and the guest) simultaneously. This often results in unexpected synchronicity given the connections between two disciplines that stress the analysis of language, living deliberately, and quick thinking.

For another philosophically rich episode, see episode #20 in which St. Lawrence University’s Jennifer L. Hansen appeared to discuss the many aspects of the concept of “The Other” in philosophy.

Philosophy vs. Improv is a podcast hosted by Mark Linsenmayer, who also hosts The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast, Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast, and Nakedly Examined Music

People in the Middle Ages Slept Not Once But Twice Each Night: How This Lost Practice Was Rediscovered

The importance of a good night’s sleep has been featured now and again here on Open Culture. But were a medieval European to visit our time, he’d probably ask — among other questions — if we didn’t mean a good night’s sleeps, plural. The evidence suggests that the people of the Middle Ages slept not straight through the night but in two distinct stretches. This practice has come back to light in recent years thanks to the research of historian Roger Ekirch, author of At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past. “Both phases of sleep lasted roughly the same length of time,” he writes in that book, “with individuals waking sometime after midnight before returning to rest.”

But “not everyone, of course, slept according to the same timetable. The later at night that persons went to bed, the later they stirred after their initial sleep; or, if they retired past midnight, they might not awaken at all until dawn. Thus, in ‘The Squire’s Tale’ in The Canterbury Tales, Canacee slept ‘soon after evening fell’ and subsequently awakened in the early morning following ‘her first sleep’; in turn, her companions, staying up much later, ‘lay asleep till it was fully prime’ (daylight).” Proof widespread “biphasic sleep” exists not just in Chaucer, but — for those who know where to look — all over the surviving documents from medieval Europe.


“In France, the initial sleep was the premier somme,” writes BBC.com’s Zaria Gorvett. “In Italy, it was primo sonno. In fact, Eckirch found evidence of the habit in locations as distant as Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Australia, South America and the Middle East”; the earliest reference he turned up comes from Homer’s Odyssey. Whatever their era of history, biphasic sleepers seem to have made good use of their intervals of wakefulness, known in English as “the watch.” During it, peasants worked, Christians prayed, and thieves thieved, “but most of all, the watch was useful for socializing – and for sex.” After a long day’s work, “the first sleep took the edge off their exhaustion and the period afterwards was thought to be an excellent time to conceive copious numbers of children.”

Biphasic sleep and its attendant habits didn’t survive the 19th century. The reasons, as Ekirch explains in the interview above, have to do with the Industrial Revolution, that great disruption of traditions followed since time immemorial. Along with “the increasing prevalence of artificial illumination both within homes and outside,” he says, “bedtimes were pushed back, even though people still awakened at the same time in the morning.” Apart from introducing new technologies, the Industrial Revolution “also changed peoples’ attitudes toward work,” making humanity “increasingly time-conscious: productivity, efficiency were the hallmarks of the 19th century.” We continue to set store by them today, though we also handle the disruption of sleep in our own, distinctively 21st-century ways. Would anyone care to explain to our medieval time-traveler the practice of midnight Twitter-scrolling?

via BBC/Medievalists

Related Content:

How Sleep Can Become Your “Superpower:” Scientist Matt Walker Explains Why Sleep Helps You Learn More and Live Longer

Sleep or Die: Neuroscientist Matthew Walker Explains How Sleep Can Restore or Imperil Our Health

How a Good Night’s Sleep — and a Bad Night’s Sleep — Can Enhance Your Creativity

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

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

What Did People Eat in Medieval Times? A Video Series and New Cookbook Explain

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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.

Discover Khipu, the Ancient Incan Record & Writing System Made Entirely of Knots

Khipus, the portable information archives created by the Inca, may stir up memories of 1970s macrame with their long strands of intricately knotted, earth-toned fibers, but their function more closely resembled that of a densely plotted computerized spreadsheet.

As Cecilia Pardo-Grau, lead curator of the British Museum’s current exhibition Peru: a journey in time explains in the above Curators Corner episode, khipus were used to keep track of everything from inventories and census to historical narratives, using a system that assigned meaning to the type and position of knot, spaces between knots, cord length, fiber color, etc.


Much of the information preserved within khipus has yet to be deciphered by modern scholars, though the Open Khipu Repository — computational anthropologist Jon Clindaniel‘s open-source database — makes it possible to compare the patterns of hundreds of khipus residing in museum and university collections.

Even in the Incan Empire, few were equipped to make sense of a khipu. This task fell to quipucamayocs, high born administrative officials trained since childhood in the creation and interpretation of these organic spreadsheets.

Fleet messengers known as chaskis transported khipus on foot between administrative centers, creating an information superhighway that predates the Internet by some five centuries. Khipus’ sturdy organic cotton or native camelid fibers were well suited to withstanding both the rigors of time and the road.

A 500-year-old composite khipu that found its way to British Museum organics conservator Nicole Rode prior to the exhibition was intact, but severely tangled, with a brittleness that betrayed its age. Below, she describes falling under the khipu’s spell, during the painstaking process of restoring it to a condition whereby researchers could attempt to glean some of its secrets.

Visit Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino’s website to learn more about khipu in a series of fascinating short articles that accompanied their groundbreaking 2003 exhibit QUIPU: counting with knots in the Inka Empire.

via Aeon.

Related Content: 

How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

Take a Virtual Tour of Machu Picchu, One of the New 7 Wonders of the World

Ancient Maps that Changed the World: See World Maps from Ancient Greece, Babylon, Rome, and the Islamic World

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.





  • Great Lectures

  • FREE UPDATES!

    GET OUR DAILY EMAIL

    Get the best cultural and educational resources on the web curated for you in a daily email. We never spam. Unsubscribe at any time.



    FOLLOW ON SOCIAL MEDIA

  • About Us

    Open Culture scours the web for the best educational media. We find the free courses and audio books you need, the language lessons & educational videos you want, and plenty of enlightenment in between.


    Advertise With Us

  • Archives

  • Search

  • Quantcast
    Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.