How Sci-Fi Writers Isaac Asimov & Robert Heinlein Contributed to the War Effort During World War II

Robert Hein­lein, Isaac Asi­mov and L. Sprague De Camp at the Navy Yard in 1944

Robert Hein­lein was born in 1907, which put him on the mature side by the time of the Unit­ed States’ entry into World War II. Isaac Asi­mov, his younger col­league in sci­ence fic­tion, was born in 1920 (or there­abouts), and thus of prime fight­ing age. But in the event, they made most of their con­tri­bu­tion to the war effort in the same place, the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion in Philadel­phia. By 1942, Hein­lein had become the pre­em­i­nent sci-fi writer in Amer­i­ca, and the 22-year-old Asi­mov, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in chem­istry at Colum­bia, had already made a name for him­self in the field. It was Hein­lein, who’d signed on to run a mate­ri­als test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry at the Yard, who brought Asi­mov into the mil­i­tary-research fold.

Hav­ing once been a Navy offi­cer, dis­charged due to tuber­cu­lo­sis, Hein­lein jumped at the chance to serve his coun­try once again. Dur­ing World War II, writes John Red­ford at A Niche in the Library of Babel, “his most direct con­tri­bu­tion was in dis­cus­sions of how to merge data from sonar, radar, and visu­al sight­ings with his friend Cal Lan­ing, who cap­tained a destroy­er in the Pacif­ic and was lat­er a rear admi­ral. Lan­ing used those ideas to good effect in the Bat­tle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, the largest naval bat­tle ever fought.” Asi­mov “was main­ly involved in test­ing mate­ri­als,” includ­ing those used to make “dye mark­ers for air­men downed at sea. These were tubes of flu­o­res­cent chem­i­cals that would form a big green patch on the water around the guy in his life jack­et. The patch could be seen by search­ing air­craft.”

Asi­mov schol­ars should note that a test of those dye mark­ers counts as one of just two occa­sions in his life that the aero­pho­bic writer ever dared to fly. That may well have been the most har­row­ing of either his or Hein­lein’s wartime expe­ri­ences, they were both involved in the suit­ably spec­u­la­tive “Kamikaze Group,” which was meant to work on “invis­i­bil­i­ty, death rays, force fields, weath­er con­trol” — or so Paul Mal­mont tells it in his nov­el The Astound­ing, the Amaz­ing, and the Unknown. You can read a less height­ened account of Hein­lein and Asi­mov’s war in Astound­ing, Alec Nevala-Lee’s his­to­ry of Amer­i­can sci­ence fic­tion.

Their time togeth­er in Philade­phia was­n’t long. “As the war end­ed, Asi­mov was draft­ed into the Army, where he spent nine months before he was able to leave, where he returned to his stud­ies and writ­ing,” accord­ing to Andrew Lip­tak at Kirkus Reviews. “Hein­lein con­tem­plat­ed return­ing to writ­ing full time, as a viable career, rather than as a side exer­cise.” When he left the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion, “he resumed writ­ing and work­ing on plac­ing sto­ries in mag­a­zines.” In the decades there­after, Hein­lein’s work took on an increas­ing­ly mil­i­taris­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty, and Asi­mov’s became more and more con­cerned with the enter­prise of human civ­i­liza­tion broad­ly speak­ing. But pin­ning down the influ­ence of their war on their work is an exer­cise best left to the sci-fi schol­ars.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Sci-Fi Icon Robert Hein­lein Lists 5 Essen­tial Rules for Mak­ing a Liv­ing as a Writer

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

Sci-Fi Writer Robert Hein­lein Imag­ines the Year 2000 in 1949, and Gets it Most­ly Wrong

X Minus One: Hear Clas­sic Sci-Fi Radio Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Hein­lein, Brad­bury & Dick

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Read Hun­dreds of Free Sci-Fi Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Love­craft, Brad­bury, Dick, Clarke & More

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

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

In the video above, poet, artist, Nation­al Book Award win­ner, and “god­moth­er of punk” Pat­ti Smith reads a selec­tion from Vir­ginia Woolf’s 1931 exper­i­men­tal nov­el The Waves, accom­pa­nied on piano and gui­tar by her daugh­ter Jesse and son Jack­son. The “read­ing” marked the open­ing of “Land 250,” a 2008 exhi­bi­tion of Smith’s pho­tog­ra­phy and art­work from 1965 to 2007, at the Fon­da­tion Carti­er pour l’art con­tem­po­rain in Paris.

I put the word “read­ing” in quotes above because Smith only reads a very short pas­sage from Woolf’s nov­el. The rest of the dra­mat­ic per­for­mance is Smith in her own voice, pos­si­bly impro­vis­ing, pos­si­bly recit­ing her homage to Woolf—occasioned by the fact that the start of the exhi­bi­tion fell on the 67th anniver­sary of Woolf’s death by sui­cide. Of Woolf’s death, Smith says, “I do not think of this as sad. I just think that it’s the day that Vir­ginia Woolf decid­ed to say good­bye. So we are not cel­e­brat­ing the day, we are sim­ply acknowl­edg­ing that this is the day. If I had a title to call tonight, I would call it ‘Wave.’ We are wav­ing to Vir­ginia.”

Smith’s choice of a title for the evening is sig­nif­i­cant. She titled her 1979 album Wave, her last record before she went into semi-retire­ment in the 80s. And her exhi­bi­tion includ­ed a set of beau­ti­ful pho­tographs tak­en at Woolf’s Sus­sex retreat, Monk’s House. Her per­for­mance seems like an unusu­al con­flu­ence of voic­es, but Woolf might have enjoyed it, since so much of her work explored the unit­ing of sep­a­rate minds, over the bar­ri­ers of space and time. While Smith express­es her indebt­ed­ness to Woolf, one won­ders what the upper-class Blooms­bury daugh­ter of a well-con­nect­ed and artis­tic fam­i­ly would have thought of the work­ing-class punk-poet from the Low­er East Side? It’s impos­si­ble to say, of course, but some­how it’s fit­ting that they meet through Woolf’s The Waves.

Woolf’s nov­el (she called it a “play­po­em”) blends the voic­es of six char­ac­ters, but Woolf didn’t think of them as char­ac­ters at all, but as aspects of a greater, ever-shift­ing whole. As she once wrote in a let­ter:

The six char­ac­ters were sup­posed to be one. I’m get­ting old myself now—I shall be fifty next year; and I come to feel more and more how dif­fi­cult it is to col­lect one­self into one Vir­ginia; even though the spe­cial Vir­ginia in whose body I live for the moment is vio­lent­ly sus­cep­ti­ble to all sorts of sep­a­rate feel­ings. There­fore I want­ed to give the sense of con­ti­nu­ity.

Spec­u­la­tion over Woolf’s men­tal health aside, her ref­er­ences to voic­es in her let­ters, diaries, and in her elo­quent let­ter to Leonard Woolf before she died, were also state­ments of her craft—which embraced the inner voic­es of oth­ers, not let­ting any one voice be dom­i­nant. I like to think Woolf would have been delight­ed with the fierce­ness of Smith—in some ways, Vir­ginia Woolf antic­i­pat­ed punk, and Pat­ti Smith. In her own voice below, you can hear her describe the words of the Eng­lish lan­guage as “irreclaimable vagabonds,” who “if you start a Soci­ety for Pure Eng­lish, they will show their resent­ment by start­ing anoth­er for impure Eng­lish…. They are high­ly demo­c­ra­t­ic.”

The record­ing below comes from an essay pub­lished in a col­lec­tion—The Death of the Moth and Oth­er Essays—the year after Woolf’s death. The talk was called “Crafts­man­ship,” part of a BBC radio broad­cast from 1937, and it is the only sur­viv­ing record­ing of Woolf’s voice.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2013.

Relat­ed Con­tent

Pat­ti Smith on Vir­ginia Woolf’s Cane, Charles Dick­ens’ Pen & Oth­er Cher­ished Lit­er­ary Tal­is­mans

Pat­ti Smith’s Polaroids of Arti­facts from Vir­ginia Woolf, Arthur Rim­baud, Rober­to Bolaño & More

Pat­ti Smith Reads Her Final Let­ter to Robert Map­plethor­pe, Call­ing Him “the Most Beau­ti­ful Work of All”

Pat­ti Smith’s 40 Favorite Books

 Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

Tracking Pianist Yuja Wang’s Heartbeats During Her Marathon Rachmaninoff Performance

The Carnegie Hall YouTube Chan­nel sets the scene:

On Jan­u­ary 28, 2023, pianist Yuja Wang joined The Philadel­phia Orches­tra and con­duc­tor Yan­nick Nézet-Séguin at Carnegie Hall for a once-in-a-life­time, all-Rach­mani­noff marathon that fea­tured the composer’s four piano con­cer­tos plus his “Rhap­sody on a Theme of Pagani­ni.” Through­out the per­for­mance, Wang—along with Nézet-Séguin, mem­bers of the orches­tra, and con­cert­go­ers in attendance—wore devices to track their heart­beats.

Unprece­dent­ed and insane­ly demand­ing, Wang made his­to­ry. These five pieces include two-and-a-half hours of music, 621 pages of score, and more than 97,000 piano notes.

How high did Wang’s heart rate go? We won’t pro­vide spoil­ers. It plays out above.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

via The Kids Should See This

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Piano Played with 16 Increas­ing Lev­els of Com­plex­i­ty: From Easy to Very Com­plex

John Cage Per­forms His Avant-Garde Piano Piece 4′33″ … in 1′22″ (Har­vard Square, 1973)

Pianist Plays Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Rav­el & Debussy for Blind Ele­phants in Thai­land

World Religions Explained with Useful Charts: Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity & More

It does­n’t take an expert in the field to know that, around the world, there is much dis­agree­ment on the sub­ject of reli­gion. But as explained in the Use­fulCharts video above by Matt Bak­er, whose PhD in Reli­gious Stud­ies makes him an expert in the field, every source does agree on the fact that the four largest reli­gions in the world are Chris­tian­i­ty, Islam, Hin­duism, and Bud­dhism. “These are the undis­put­ed ‘big four,’ ” Bak­er says, and they’ve thus been the sub­jects of the var­i­ous videos and charts he’s made explain­ing their his­to­ries and char­ac­ter­is­tics. But in his area of exper­tise, he adds, “it is often said that there are five major world reli­gions.”

The fifth major reli­gion, as you may have already guessed, is Judaism, though its six­teen mil­lion adher­ents don’t enter the same numer­i­cal league as the world’s 1.9 bil­lion Mus­lims or 2.4 bil­lion Chris­tians. The Jew­ish faith punch­es well above its weight in respects like its age, and its being “the par­ent reli­gion to both Chris­tian­i­ty and Islam.” Com­ing in at 400 mil­lion believ­ers is a reli­gion, or cat­e­go­ry of reli­gions, that to many read­ers may seem much less famil­iar than Judaism: Chi­nese folk reli­gion, or as Bak­er calls it, “Chi­nese Syn­cretism,” refer­ring to its mix­ture of dif­fer­ent ideas and tra­di­tions.

You can get up to speed on Chi­nese Syn­cretism, as well as Islam, Hin­duism, and Bud­dhism, in the two-hour video at the top of the post, which com­piles Bak­er’s Use­fulCharts expla­na­tions of those reli­gions’ evo­lu­tions and all the intel­lec­tu­al, doc­tri­nal, and cul­tur­al branch­es that have grown in the process. To Chris­tian­i­ty, the biggest of the big four, Bak­er has devot­ed an entire series, pre­sent­ed in its entire­ty in the three-hour video just above.  You may be able to describe the dif­fer­ences between Catholi­cism and Protes­tantism, but what about the dif­fer­ences between, say, the Syr­i­ac Catholic Church, the Evan­gel­i­cal Free Church of Amer­i­ca, and the Mekane Yesus Church of Ethiopia?

Bak­er can and does describe those dif­fer­ences, using his own fam­i­ly tree-style charts as a visu­al aid. Only one view­ing may not be enough to gain a clear under­stand­ing of what sep­a­rates each Chris­t­ian denom­i­na­tion from every oth­er. But it will cer­tain­ly be enough to instill an under­stand­ing that, in an impor­tant sense, there is such thing as Chris­tian­i­ty, sin­gu­lar; bet­ter, per­haps, to speak of the many and var­ied Chris­tian­i­ties than have been prac­ticed over the mil­len­nia. The same goes, in dif­fer­ent ways, for the oth­er major world reli­gions, and if you zoom in far enough, even the minor ones turn out to be rich with their own com­plex­i­ties. But then, as Bak­er sure­ly would agree, there are no minor reli­gions — at least if you’re curi­ous enough about them.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the World’s Five Major Reli­gions: Hin­duism, Judaism, Bud­dhism, Chris­tian­i­ty & Islam

180,000 Years of Reli­gion Chart­ed on a “His­tom­ap” in 1943

A Visu­al Map of the World’s Major Reli­gions (and Non-Reli­gions)

Ani­mat­ed Map Shows How the Five Major Reli­gions Spread Across the World (3000 BC — 2000 AD)

70,000+ Reli­gious Texts Dig­i­tized by Prince­ton The­o­log­i­cal Sem­i­nary, Let­ting You Immerse Your­self in the Curi­ous Works of Great World Reli­gions

Phi­los­o­phy of Reli­gion: A Free Online Course

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

How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Beautiful Purple Dye from Snail Glands

Much has been writ­ten about the loss of col­or in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Our envi­ron­ments offered prac­ti­cal­ly every col­or known to man not so very long ago — and in cer­tain eras, grant­ed, it got to be a bit much. But now, every­thing seems to have retreat­ed to a nar­row palette of grays and browns, not to men­tion stark black and white. We should con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this time of “col­or loss” is a kind of ascetic repen­tance after a long feast. That anal­o­gy holds on more than one lev­el: tech­nol­o­gy and indus­tri­al­iza­tion made food abun­dant and thus inex­pen­sive, and it did the very same thing with col­ors.

There was a time when col­ors did­n’t come cheap. Peo­ple had plen­ty of black, reds, and browns in their lives, but pro­duc­ing the pig­ments for hues not often seen in nature entailed going to the ends of the earth (or in the case of ultra­ma­rine blue, the bot­tom of the sea). We all know that, for a long time start­ing around the day of Julius Cae­sar, pur­ple was the col­or of roy­al­ty. The choice was­n’t an acci­dent: Cae­sar’s “Tyr­i­an pur­ple” of choice was extrav­a­gant­ly expen­sive, owing to the fact that it could be extract­ed only from the glands of a par­tic­u­lar Mediter­ranean sea snail. You can learn more about this process from the Busi­ness Insid­er video above.

“Thou­sands of snails were required to pro­duce a sin­gle ounce of pur­ple dye,” writes’s Son­ja Ander­son, quot­ing Pliny the Elder. Though well under­stood for a few decades now, the world of ancient pur­ple-dye pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to yield sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies. “Archae­ol­o­gists were exca­vat­ing recent­ly in the Bronze Age town of Kolon­na, on the Greek island of Aegi­na, when they dis­cov­ered two Myce­naean build­ings,” Ander­son writes. “As the researchers write in a study pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS ONE, the build­ings date to the 16th cen­tu­ry B.C.E., and the old­er one con­tained pig­ment­ed ceram­ics, grind­ing tools and heaps of bro­ken mol­lusk shells: all indica­tive of a pur­ple dye fac­to­ry.”

Notably, these well-pre­served 3,600-year-old ruins date from a time long before pur­ple acquired its pres­tige. “There is no indi­ca­tion in the Bronze Age that pur­ple was a sym­bol of pow­er and that pur­ple-col­ored tex­tiles were only reserved for the elite or lead­ers, as in Roman or Byzan­tine times,” says archae­ol­o­gist Lydia Berg­er, co-author of the study. And when the Byzan­tine Empire fell, the knowl­edge of Tyr­i­an pur­ple was lost with it, only to be recov­ered ear­ly in this cen­tu­ry. These days, one does hear occa­sion­al rumors of a col­or come­back, and a rich pur­ple lead­ing the charge would bring with it a cer­tain his­tor­i­cal sat­is­fac­tion. In any case, we all remem­ber one cul­tur­al roy­al in par­tic­u­lar who sure­ly would have approved.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ten of the Most Expen­sive Arts & Art Sup­plies in the Worlds: Japan­ese Bon­sai Scis­sors & Cal­lig­ra­phy Brush­es, Tunisian Dye Made from Snails and More

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Orig­i­nal Col­ors Still In It

Behold Ancient Egypt­ian, Greek & Roman Sculp­tures in Their Orig­i­nal Col­or

Dis­cov­er Harvard’s Col­lec­tion of 2,500 Pig­ments: Pre­serv­ing the World’s Rare, Won­der­ful Col­ors

YIn­Mn Blue, the First Shade of Blue Dis­cov­ered in 200 Years, Is Now Avail­able for Artists

Prince Gets an Offi­cial Pur­ple Pan­tone Col­or

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

Medievalist Professor Answers Medieval Questions From Twitter: Why Is It called the “Middle” Ages?, What Did Medieval English Sound Like?, and More

From Wired comes this: “Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Medieval Lit­er­a­ture Dr. Dorsey Arm­strong answers your ques­tions about the Mid­dle Ages from Twit­ter. Why is it called the “Mid­dle” Ages? [What did medieval Eng­lish sound like?] What activ­i­ties did peo­ple do for fun? Why were ani­mals tried in court for crimes? Answers to these ques­tions and many more await—it’s Medieval Sup­port.”

The Pur­due pro­fes­sor has also cre­at­ed a num­ber of well-reviewed lec­ture series on The Great Cours­es. Pro tip: If you are a mem­ber of, you can get a num­ber of them for free.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

Take a Free Online Course on the Great Medieval Man­u­script, the Book of Kells

How to Make a Medieval Man­u­script: An Intro­duc­tion in 7 Videos


How Carl Jung Inspired the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous

There may be as many doors into Alco­holics Anony­mous in the 21st cen­tu­ry as there are peo­ple who walk through them—from every world reli­gion to no reli­gion. The “inter­na­tion­al mutu­al-aid fel­low­ship” has had “a sig­nif­i­cant and long-term effect on the cul­ture of the Unit­ed States,” writes Worces­ter State Uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­o­gy Charles Fox at Aeon. Indeed, its influ­ence is glob­al. From its incep­tion in 1935, A.A. has rep­re­sent­ed an “enor­mous­ly pop­u­lar ther­a­py, and a tes­ta­ment to the inter­dis­ci­pli­nary nature of health and well­ness.”

A.A. has also rep­re­sent­ed, at least cul­tur­al­ly, a remark­able syn­the­sis of behav­ioral sci­ence and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty that trans­lates into scores of dif­fer­ent lan­guages, beliefs, and prac­tices. Or at least that’s the way it can appear from brows­ing the scores of books on A.A.’s 12-Steps and Bud­dhism, Yoga, Catholi­cism, Judaism, Indige­nous faith tra­di­tions, shaman­ist prac­tices, Sto­icism, sec­u­lar human­ism, and, of course, psy­chol­o­gy.

His­tor­i­cal­ly, and often in prac­tice, how­ev­er, the (non)organization of world­wide fel­low­ships has rep­re­sent­ed a much nar­row­er tra­di­tion, inher­it­ed from the evan­gel­i­cal (small “e”) Chris­t­ian Oxford Group, or as A.A. founder Bill Wil­son called them, “the ‘O.G.’” Wil­son cred­its the Oxford Group for the method­ol­o­gy of A.A.: “their large empha­sis upon the prin­ci­ples of self-sur­vey, con­fes­sion, resti­tu­tion, and the giv­ing of one­self in ser­vice to oth­ers.”

The Oxford Group’s the­ol­o­gy, though qual­i­fied and tem­pered, also made its way into many of A.A.’s basic prin­ci­ples. But for the recov­ery group’s gen­e­sis, Wil­son cites a more sec­u­lar author­i­ty, Carl Jung. The famous Swiss psy­chi­a­trist took a keen inter­est in alco­holism in the 1920s. Wil­son wrote to Jung in 1961 to express his “great appre­ci­a­tion” for his efforts. “A cer­tain con­ver­sa­tion you once had with one of your patients, a Mr. Row­land H. back in the ear­ly 1930’s,” Wil­son explains, “did play a crit­i­cal role in the found­ing of our Fel­low­ship.”

Jung may not have known his influ­ence on the recov­ery move­ment, Wil­son says, although alco­holics had account­ed for “about 13 per­cent of all admis­sions” in his prac­tice, notes Fox. One of his patients, Row­land H.—or Row­land Haz­ard, “invest­ment banker and for­mer state sen­a­tor from Rhode Island”—came to Jung in des­per­a­tion, saw him dai­ly for a peri­od of sev­er­al months, stopped drink­ing, then relapsed. Brought back to Jung by his cousin, Haz­ard was told that his case was hope­less short of a reli­gious con­ver­sion. As Wil­son puts it in his let­ter:

[Y]ou frankly told him of his hope­less­ness, so far as any fur­ther med­ical or psy­chi­atric treat­ment might be con­cerned. This can­did and hum­ble state­ment of yours was beyond doubt the first foun­da­tion stone upon which our Soci­ety has since been built.

Jung also told Haz­ard that con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences were incred­i­bly rare and rec­om­mend­ed that he “place him­self in a reli­gious atmos­phere and hope for the best,” as Wil­son remem­bers. But he did not spec­i­fy any par­tic­u­lar reli­gion. Haz­ard dis­cov­ered the Oxford Group. He might, as far as Jung was con­cerned, have met God as he under­stood it any­where. “His crav­ing for alco­hol was the equiv­a­lent,” wrote the psy­chi­a­trist in a reply to Wil­son, “on a low lev­el, of the spir­i­tu­al thirst of our being for whole­ness, expressed in medieval lan­guage: the union with God.”

In his reply let­ter to Wil­son, Jung uses reli­gious lan­guage alle­gor­i­cal­ly. AA took the idea of con­ver­sion more lit­er­al­ly. Though it wres­tled with the plight of the agnos­tic, the Big Book con­clud­ed that such peo­ple must even­tu­al­ly see the light. Jung, on the oth­er hand, seems very care­ful to avoid a strict­ly reli­gious inter­pre­ta­tion of his advice to Haz­ard, who start­ed the first small group that would con­vert Wil­son to sobri­ety and to Oxford Group meth­ods.

“How could one for­mu­late such an insight that is not mis­un­der­stood in our days?” Jung asks. “The only right and legit­i­mate way to such an expe­ri­ence is that it hap­pens to you in real­i­ty and it can only hap­pen to you when you walk on a path which leads you to a high­er under­stand­ing.” Sobri­ety could be achieved through “a high­er edu­ca­tion of the mind beyond the con­fines of mere rationalism”—through an enlight­en­ment or con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, that is. It might also occur through “an act of grace or through a per­son­al and hon­est con­tact with friends.”

Though most found­ing mem­bers of AA fought for the stricter inter­pre­ta­tion of Jung’s pre­scrip­tion, Wil­son always enter­tained the idea that mul­ti­ple paths might bring alco­holics to the same goal, even includ­ing mod­ern med­i­cine. He drew on the med­ical opin­ions of Dr. William D. Silk­worth, who the­o­rized that alco­holism was in part a phys­i­cal dis­ease, “a sort of metab­o­lism dif­fi­cul­ty which he then called an aller­gy.” Even after his own con­ver­sion expe­ri­ence, which Silk­worth, like Jung, rec­om­mend­ed he pur­sue, Wil­son exper­i­ment­ed with vit­a­min ther­a­pies, through the influ­ence of Aldous Hux­ley.

His search to under­stand his mys­ti­cal “white light” moment in a New York detox room also led Wil­son to William James’ Vari­eties of Reli­gious Expe­ri­ence. The book “gave me the real­iza­tion,” he wrote to Jung, “that most con­ver­sion expe­ri­ences, what­ev­er their vari­ety, do have a com­mon denom­i­na­tor of ego col­lapse at depth.” He even thought that LSD could act as such a “tem­po­rary ego-reduc­er” after he took the drug under super­vi­sion of British psy­chi­a­trist Humphrey Osmond. (Jung like­ly would have opposed what he called “short cuts” like psy­che­del­ic drugs.)

In the let­ters between Wil­son and Jung, as Ian McCabe argues in Carl Jung and Alco­holics Anony­mous, we see mutu­al admi­ra­tion between the two, as well as mutu­al influ­ence. “Bill Wil­son,” writes McCabe’s pub­lish­er, “was encour­aged by Jung’s writ­ings to pro­mote the spir­i­tu­al aspect of recov­ery,” an aspect that took on a par­tic­u­lar­ly reli­gious char­ac­ter in Alco­holics Anony­mous. For his part, Jung, “influ­enced by A.A.’s suc­cess… gave ‘com­plete and detailed instruc­tions’ on how the A.A. group for­mat could be devel­oped fur­ther and used by ‘gen­er­al neu­rotics.’” And so it has, though more on the Oxford Group mod­el than the more mys­ti­cal Jun­gian. It might well have been oth­er­wise.

Read more about Jung’s influ­ence on AA over at Aeon.

Note: Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2019.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Carl Jung Offers an Intro­duc­tion to His Psy­cho­log­i­cal Thought in a 3‑Hour Inter­view (1957)

Take Carl Jung’s Word Asso­ci­a­tion Test, a Quick Route Into the Sub­con­scious (1910)

Carl Jung’s Hand-Drawn, Rarely-Seen Man­u­script The Red Book

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

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The Amazing Engineering of Roman Baths

Few depic­tions of ancient Roman life neglect to ref­er­ence all the time ancient Romans spent at the baths. One gets the impres­sion that their civ­i­liza­tion was obsessed with clean­li­ness, in con­trast to most of the soci­eties found around the world at the time, but that turns out hard­ly to be the case. In fact, bathing seems to have been a sec­ondary activ­i­ty at Roman baths, which were “places to meet friends, make con­nec­tions, per­haps even score a din­ner invi­ta­tion”; “places to buy a snack, have a mas­sage, or face the dread­ed tweez­ers of the hair remover”; “places to escape from a harsh and sta­tus-dri­ven world; “places to be Roman.”

So says Gar­rett Ryan, cre­ator of the ancient-his­to­ry Youtube chan­nel Told in Stone, in the new video above. He might have added that Roman baths were “third places.” Pop­u­lar­ized by the late soci­ol­o­gist Ray Old­en­burg with the 1989 book The Great Good Place, the con­cept of the third place stands in con­trast to our first and sec­ond places, home and work.

A book­store could be a third place, or a café, or any “hang­out” occu­py­ing that hard-to-define (and by the late twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry in Amer­i­ca, hard-to-find) realm between pub­lic and pri­vate. If it makes you feel con­nect­ed to the com­mu­ni­ty in which you live — indeed, if it makes you feel like you live in a com­mu­ni­ty at all — it may well be a third place.

Roman baths weren’t just impres­sive soci­o­log­i­cal­ly, but also tech­no­log­i­cal­ly. Ryan explains their archi­tec­ture, water sup­ply, heat­ing sys­tems, and clean­ing pro­ce­dures, such as they were. He quotes Mar­cus Aure­lius as describ­ing bath water as “a repul­sive blend of oil, sweat, and filth”; in all like­li­hood, it was “only changed when it became so cloudy that it repelled bathers.” San­i­ta­tion prac­tices appear much improved at Ham­mam Essal­i­hine in Alge­ria, one of the very few ancient Roman baths in con­tin­u­ous use since its con­struc­tion. Ryan doc­u­ments his trip there in the video just above from his oth­er chan­nel Scenic Routes to the Past. Though cap­ti­vat­ed by the sight of a real Roman bath func­tion­ing just as designed, he must have been too con­sumed by thoughts of antiq­ui­ty to remem­ber to pack that mod­ern neces­si­ty, a swim­suit.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Did Roman Aque­ducts Work?: The Most Impres­sive Achieve­ment of Ancient Rome’s Infra­struc­ture, Explained

The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved: Why Has Roman Con­crete Been So Durable?

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pom­peii

An Ani­mat­ed Recon­struc­tion of Ancient Rome: Take A 30-Minute Stroll Through the City’s Vir­tu­al­ly-Recre­at­ed Streets

Behold 3D Recre­ations of Pompeii’s Lav­ish Homes — As They Exist­ed Before the Erup­tion of Mount Vesu­vius

How Toi­lets Worked in Ancient Rome and Medieval Eng­land

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

The Evolution of Hokusai’s Great Wave: A Study of 113 Known Copies of the Iconic Woodblock Print

The most wide­ly known work by the eigh­teenth- and nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Japan­ese artist Hoku­sai, 神奈川沖浪裏, is usu­al­ly trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish as The Great Wave off Kana­gawa. That ver­sion of the title reflects the icon­ic scene depict­ed in the image well enough, though I can’t help but feel that we should be talk­ing about waves, plur­al. Grant­ed, the Japan­ese lan­guage hard­ly makes a fuss about plu­ral­i­ty and sin­gu­lar­i­ty in the first place, but even by the stan­dards of ukiyo‑e wood­block prints, this is a work of art that takes many forms. It’s not just that there are a lot of par­o­dies float­ing around, but that no sin­gle “orig­i­nal” even exists.

“There’s not just one impres­sion of the Great Wave, as many peo­ple think. There were orig­i­nal­ly thou­sands of them,” says sci­en­tist Capucine Koren­berg in the British Muse­um video above. Back in the mid-nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, “Japan­ese prints were very cheap, and you could buy them for the same amount of mon­ey you could buy a dou­ble help­ing of soup and noo­dles.” Demand for the Great Wave in par­tic­u­lar was such that experts reck­on that at least 8,000 prints were sold, hav­ing been made “until the wood­blocks just start­ed to be so worn out that they could­n’t be used any­more.” Again, note the plur­al: if the blocks used to make the image were replaced, we’d expect to see dif­fer­ences in the actu­al image over time.

We’ve dis­cussed before how the Great Wave went through sev­er­al iter­a­tions over four decades before Hoku­sai found the form rec­og­nized around the world still today. But if you look at a print of the final ver­sion close­ly enough — and know enough about Hoku­sai’s art — you can tell whether it came from an ear­li­er edi­tion or a lat­er one. It was no less an expert than long­time Tokyo-based print­mak­er and Hoku­sai enthu­si­ast David Bull (pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture) who noticed that “he could see small dif­fer­ences between the strokes” of the three Great Wave prints owned by the British Muse­um. Hear­ing this sent Koren­berg on a quest to deter­mine their exact chrono­log­i­cal order.

Many fac­tors com­pli­cat­ed this task, includ­ing the amount of ink and pres­sure applied to the wood­block dur­ing its cre­ation, as well as the chances of mod­i­fi­ca­tion or par­tial replace­ment of par­tic­u­lar blocks along the way. In the end, she found it “more cer­tain than ever” that the British Muse­um’s three Great Waves came from the same key block, which would have been mod­eled after Hoku­sai’s draw­ing. But along the way, she did make a dis­cov­ery: it was pre­vi­ous­ly thought that 111 iden­ti­fied prints exist­ed, but she con­firmed two more, bring­ing the total up to 113.  Deter­min­ing the fate of the oth­er 7,887 is a task best left to the even more obses­sive ukiyo-e-hunters out there.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Intro­duc­tion to Hokusai’s Great Wave, One of the Most Rec­og­niz­able Art­works in the World

The Evo­lu­tion of The Great Wave off Kana­gawa: See Four Ver­sions That Hoku­sai Paint­ed Over Near­ly 40 Years

Watch the Mak­ing of Japan­ese Wood­block Prints, from Start to Fin­ish, by a Long­time Tokyo Print­mak­er

Watch a Mas­ter Japan­ese Print­mak­er at Work: Two Unin­ten­tion­al­ly Relax­ing ASMR Videos

A Col­lec­tion of Hokusai’s Draw­ings Are Being Carved Onto Wood­blocks & Print­ed for the First Time Ever

Watch Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kana­gawa Get Entire­ly Recre­at­ed with 50,000 LEGO Bricks

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

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity Explained in One of the Earliest Science Films Ever Made (1923)

Albert Ein­stein devel­oped his the­o­ry of spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty in 1905, and then men­tal­ly mapped out his the­o­ry of gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty between 1907 and 1915. For years to come, the rest of the world would try to catch up with Ein­stein, try­ing to under­stand the gist, let alone the full impli­ca­tions, of his ground­break­ing ideas.

Above, you can watch one such attempt. Pro­duced by Max and David Fleis­ch­er, best known for their Bet­ty Boop and Super­man car­toons, The Ein­stein The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty used the pow­er of ani­ma­tion to explain rel­a­tiv­i­ty to a broad, non-sci­en­tif­ic audi­ence in 1923. One of the first edu­ca­tion­al sci­ence films ever made, the silent ani­mat­ed film was cre­at­ed with the assis­tance of sci­ence jour­nal­ist Gar­rett P. Serviss and oth­er experts who had a han­dle on Ein­stein’s the­o­ries. Accord­ing to a biog­ra­phy of Max Fleis­ch­er, the film was “an out-and-out suc­cess.” “The crit­ics and the pub­lic applaud­ed it. And Ein­stein did too, appar­ent­ly deem­ing it an “excel­lent attempt to illus­trate an abstract sub­ject.”

Watch the short film above. And find it added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, 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, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Hear Albert Ein­stein Read “The Com­mon Lan­guage of Sci­ence” (1941)

Bertrand Russell’s ABC of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty: The Clas­sic Intro­duc­tion to Ein­stein (Free Audio)

Albert Ein­stein Appears in Remark­ably Col­orized Video & Con­tem­plates the Fate of Human­i­ty After the Atom­ic Bomb (1946)

16th-Century Japanese Historians Describe the Oddness of Meeting the First Europeans They Ever Saw

Go to Japan today, and the coun­try will present you with plen­ty of oppor­tu­ni­ties to buy pantabako, and tem­pu­ra. These prod­ucts them­selves — bread, cig­a­rettes, and deep-fried seafood or veg­eta­bles — will be famil­iar enough. Even the words that refer to them may have a rec­og­niz­able ring, espe­cial­ly if you hap­pen to be a Por­tuguese-speak­er. Japan­ese has more than its fair share of nat­u­ral­ized terms, used to refer to every­thing from the kon­bi­ni on the cor­ner to the riizanabu­ru prices found there­in, but none of them are as deeply root­ed as its terms import­ed from Por­tu­gal.

Rela­tions between Japan and Por­tu­gal go back to 1543, when the first Por­tuguese sailors arrived in the south­ern Japan­ese arch­i­pel­ago. Impres­sions of this encounter are includ­ed in the video above, a Voic­es of the Past com­pi­la­tion of how actu­al six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Japan­ese his­to­ri­ans described their unex­pect­ed vis­i­tors. “A south­ern bar­bar­ian ves­sel came to our shores,” writes one of them, anony­mous­ly. From it “emerged an unname­able crea­ture, some­what sim­i­lar in shape to a human being, but look­ing rather more like a long-nosed gob­lin, or the giant demon mikoshi-nyūdō.”

This grotesque, unin­tel­li­gi­ble crea­ture turned to be a bateren; that is, a padre, a mis­sion­ary priest come to spread the kirishi­tan reli­gion in this dis­tant land. In this pri­ma­ry task they faced severe, ulti­mate­ly insur­mount­able chal­lenges, but as the first Euro­peans to make con­tact with Japan, they also hap­pened much more suc­cess­ful­ly to dis­sem­i­nate West­ern con­cepts and tech­niques in agri­cul­ture, sci­ence, and art (not to men­tion dessert cul­ture). Their intro­duc­tion of the gun, described in detail by anoth­er con­tem­po­rary his­to­ri­an, also changed the course of Japan­ese his­to­ry, doing its part to make pos­si­ble the uni­fi­ca­tion of Japan in the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry.

Kurusu in hand, these bateren argued that one should devote one­self to Deusu in order to avoid eter­nal con­dem­na­tion to inheruno and gain admis­sion to paraiso. There were con­verts, though per­haps not in num­bers as large as expect­ed. Then as now, the Japan­ese had their own way of going about things, but in the six­teenth cen­tu­ry, they had rulers inclined to crack down hard on sus­pi­cious for­eign influ­ence. The last sec­tion of the video con­tains tes­ti­mo­ny of a show­down staged between Chris­tian­i­ty and Bud­dhism, a debate in which the bateren seemed to have put on a poor show. Defeat­ed, they were either expelled or exe­cut­ed, and not long there­after, Japan closed the doa — as they now call it — for a cou­ple more cen­turies.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hear the First Japan­ese Vis­i­tor to the Unit­ed States & Europe Describe Life in the West (1860–1862)

The His­to­ry of Ancient Japan: The Sto­ry of How Japan Began, Told by Those Who Wit­nessed It (297‑1274)

What Hap­pens When a Japan­ese Wood­block Artist Depicts Life in Lon­don in 1866, Despite Nev­er Hav­ing Set Foot There

A Japan­ese Illus­trat­ed His­to­ry of Amer­i­ca (1861): Fea­tures George Wash­ing­ton Punch­ing Tigers, John Adams Slay­ing Snakes & Oth­er Fan­tas­tic Scenes

The 17th-Cen­tu­ry Japan­ese Samu­rai Who Sailed to Europe, Met the Pope & Became a Roman Cit­i­zen

Hear an Ancient Chi­nese His­to­ri­an Describe The Roman Empire (and Oth­er Voic­es of the Past)

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

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