The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Better World

Mul­ti­col­ored Mar­i­lyn Mon­roes, a can of Camp­bel­l’s soup, that sil­ver wig, some vague but impor­tant role in the for­ma­tion of the Vel­vet Under­ground — how much, apart from a scat­ter­ing of cul­tur­al scraps such as these, does any of us real­ly know about Andy Warhol, one of the defin­ers of art in the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry? Ear­li­er this year, we fea­tured a video from John Green and Sarah Urist Green’s The Art Assign­ment that made the case for Andy Warhol in three min­utes. Assum­ing you accept its argu­ment, where to look next to cul­ti­vate a deep­er appre­ci­a­tion of the man who pro­duced those Mar­i­lyns and Camp­bel­l’s soup cans, wore that sil­ver wig, and presided over the envi­ron­ment in which the likes of the Vel­vet Under­ground could take shape?

Alain de Bot­ton’s School of Life, not just an insti­tu­tion but a pro­lif­ic mak­er of edu­ca­tion­al videos, has dou­bled down on the case for Andy Warhol with a six-minute video of their own, which comes as the first in their series of short primers on fig­ures from art and archi­tec­ture. (See a com­plete playlist of those videos below.) “Andy Warhol was the most glam­orous fig­ure of 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can art,” de Bot­ton unequiv­o­cal­ly states, adding that his “great achieve­ment was to devel­op a gen­er­ous and help­ful view of two major forces in mod­ern soci­ety: com­merce and celebri­ty.”

With­in this frame­work, the les­son finds “four big ideas behind Andy Warhol’s work, which can teach us a more inspired way of look­ing at the world and prompt us to build a bet­ter soci­ety” — and which, in this tech­no­log­i­cal age of which Warhol him­self could only dream, have become more eas­i­ly imple­mentable than ever.

These ideas, on which the video elab­o­rates ver­bal­ly and visu­al­ly, have to do with (1) appre­ci­at­ing life by exam­in­ing the stuff of it — such as a hum­ble soup can — more close­ly, (2) improv­ing the work­ings of soci­ety by dis­trib­ut­ing glam­or dif­fer­ent­ly, grant­i­ng high­er sta­tus to maids and show­ing the nation the Pres­i­dent clean­ing a toi­let once in a while, (3) approach­ing busi­ness as a par­tic­u­lar­ly fas­ci­nat­ing form of art while dis­trib­ut­ing art more wide­ly by approach­ing it as a busi­ness, and (4) using an open and non-vin­dic­tive per­son­al­i­ty as a kind of “brand” to unite seem­ing­ly dis­parate artis­tic and com­mer­cial ven­tures into a coher­ent whole. Will any of this get you shop­ping for a Mar­i­lyn print of your own? It may or may not, but you won’t come away with­out a bit of inspi­ra­tion for how to take your own pur­suits to a new, more Warho­lian lev­el.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Case for Andy Warhol in Three Min­utes

Watch the Uncen­sored Andy Warhol-Direct­ed Video for The Cars’ Hit “Hel­lo Again” (NSFW)

Andy Warhol Shoots “Screen Tests” of Nico, Bob Dylan & Sal­vador Dalí

Andy Warhol’s 1965 Film, Vinyl, Adapt­ed from Antho­ny Burgess’ A Clock­work Orange

The Odd Cou­ple: Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, 1986

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

An Animated Bill Murray on the Advantages & Disadvantages of Fame

I could watch Bill Mur­ray in pret­ty much any film. And, for that mat­ter, any ani­ma­tion too.

So let’s queue up the brand new ani­mat­ed video from Blank on Blank, and watch Mur­ray riff on the pros and cons of being rich & famous.

Pro: You get to buy your moth­er a nice new car.

Con: When her car breaks down, she does­n’t just get the car towed. She whips out your Amex card and buys the tow truck too. And so it goes.

The inter­view from this Blank on Blank episode was record­ed in 1988 by writer T.J. Eng­lish, while writ­ing a pro­file on Bill Mur­ray for Irish Amer­i­ca mag­a­zine. Find more Blank on Blank ani­ma­tions list­ed in the Relat­eds below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Joni Mitchell Talks About Life as a Reluc­tant Star in a New Ani­mat­ed Inter­view

New Ani­ma­tion: Hunter S. Thomp­son Talks with Studs Terkel About the Hell’s Angels & The Out­law Life

B.B. King Explains in an Ani­mat­ed Video Whether You Need to Endure Hard­ship to Play the Blues

Stream the Complete Works of Bach & Beethoven: 250 Free Hours of Music


Has the end­less dis­trac­tion of mod­ern life destroyed our abil­i­ty to sit with the sym­phonies of Beethoven and Bach? Do we no longer have the atten­tion span to read nov­els? These are the kinds of ques­tions schol­ar Alan Jacobs asks in books like The Plea­sures of Read­ing in an Age of Dis­trac­tion, and they’re ques­tions he admits—on his blog Text Pat­terns—may obtain dif­fer­ent answers depend­ing on the age of whom you ask. In a post from this past August, Jacobs wrote of his need to coun­ter­act social media with “the more peace­able and order­ly music of Bach and Mozart and Han­del,” and pon­dered the emo­tion­al resilience of younger peo­ple exposed pret­ty much dai­ly to videos of real-life vio­lence online. “It occurs to me,” he con­cludes, “maybe Twitter—maybe social media more generally—really is a young person’s thing after all. Intrin­si­cal­ly, not just acci­den­tal­ly.”

I admit, Jacobs’ post res­onat­ed with me because of the dif­fi­cul­ty I some­times have as I get old­er in dis­con­nect­ing from the con­stant stream of hor­ror and triv­i­al­i­ty on social media—and of get­ting lost in a good book or a mov­ing piece of music after wit­ness­ing spec­ta­cle after spec­ta­cle online. Per­haps it is a func­tion of age, as Jacobs sur­mis­es, and the young are bet­ter equipped to bounce right back. Or per­haps our dai­ly expo­sure to end­less con­flict has all of our ner­vous sys­tems frayed raw, leav­ing us unable to appre­ci­ate the “coun­ter­vail­ing forces” of music and lit­er­a­ture that demands sus­tained atten­tion. The Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal Playlist blog seems to sug­gest as much in quot­ing Pol­ish com­pos­er Witold Lutoslaws­ki’s claim, “peo­ple whose sen­si­bil­i­ty is destroyed by music in trains, air­ports, lifts, can­not con­cen­trate on a Beethoven Quar­tet.” Sub­sti­tute “Twit­ter tsuna­mi” and “24-hour cable news” for “music in trains, air­ports, lifts” and the point may apply to our cur­rent cul­tur­al con­di­tion.

So you may think of the Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal Playlists of all of Beethoven and all of Bach fea­tured here as exer­cis­es in increas­ing your men­tal sta­mi­na, or as ther­a­peu­tic “cop­ing mech­a­nisms” as Jacobs writes, to keep “emo­tion­al bal­ance.” You may think of them as ways to con­nect ful­ly with com­posers who lived in a world very dif­fer­ent from ours, one that moved much more slow­ly and demand­ed much less of our over­taxed sens­es.

Or you can choose not to apply any kind of frame­work, and sim­ply rev­el in the fact that thanks to the internet—be it over­all a scourge or a boon to human life—you can now enjoy all of the works of Beethoven and Bach, each in chrono­log­i­cal order; 250 hours of enthralling clas­si­cal music, for free. So enjoy. And learn more about how these playlists were com­piled at the the Spo­ti­fy Clas­si­cal blog. And if you need Spo­ti­fy soft­ware, get it here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear All of Mozart in a Free 127-Hour Playlist

All of Bach Is Putting Videos of 1,080 Bach Per­for­mances Online

Down­load the Com­plete Organ Works of J.S. Bach for Free

1200 Years of Women Com­posers: A Free 78-Hour Music Playlist That Takes You From Medieval Times to Now

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

New Film Extraordinary Tales Animates Edgar Poe Stories, with Narrations by Guillermo Del Toro, Christopher Lee & More

Edgar Allan Poe cre­at­ed a body of work that will seem­ing­ly nev­er go out of style, espe­cial­ly around Hal­loween time. Not only do his sto­ries and poems still inspire dread in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but so also do the many hun­dreds of Poe retellings and adap­ta­tions cre­at­ed in the 166 years since the author’s mys­te­ri­ous death. But, we might ask, after so many film adap­ta­tions from so many clas­sic hor­ror actors and direc­tors, whether we need yet anoth­er one? You’ll have to make up your own mind, but if you’re any­thing like me, you’ll watch the trail­er above for Lion King and Aladdin ani­ma­tor Raul Garcia’s Poe anthol­o­gy Extra­or­di­nary Tales and answer “Yes!” and “More please!” And you can see more, in the clips below from Garcia’s incred­i­ble-look­ing film, hit­ting the­aters on Octo­ber 23rd.

One rea­son the new treat­ment of the five sto­ries Gar­cia ani­mates seems to work so well is that they draw on the tal­ents of actors and direc­tors who have pre­vi­ous­ly deliv­ered clas­sic Poe retellings. For exam­ple, “The Fall of the House of Ush­er,” above, is nar­rat­ed by the late, great Christo­pher Lee, who joins hor­ror leg­end Vin­cent Price as one of the great­est read­ers of Poe’s “The Raven.” The voice-over is Lee’s last role, and it’s hard to think of a more fit­ting final act for the ven­er­a­ble hor­ror maven. (Lee was also at the time record­ing “a heavy-met­al-rock-opera based on Charlemagne’s life”—one of many met­al albums he record­ed.)

Gar­cia has cre­at­ed a unique look for each fea­turette. For “Ush­er,” he tells Car­los Aguilar at Indiewire, “the idea was for the char­ac­ters to look as if they were carved out of wood, like if they were fig­ures that belonged to Czech ani­ma­tor Jirí Trn­ka.” Just hear­ing Lee above intone the phrase “an unex­pect­ed sense of insuf­fer­able gloom” is enough to con­vince me I need to see the rest of this film.

Just above, we have a clip from a much less famous Poe sto­ry, “The Facts in the Case of M. Valde­mar,” a chill­ing detec­tive tale about a man mes­mer­ized in artic­u­lo mor­tis—at the moment of death. Nar­rat­ed by Eng­lish actor Julian Sands, who has made his own appear­ances in sev­er­al hor­ror films, the ani­ma­tion style comes direct­ly out of clas­sic E.C. hor­ror comics like Tales From the Crypt, which drew many an idea from Poe, bas­ing one sto­ry “The Liv­ing Death!” on “M. Valde­mar.” The “mauve, yel­low and mossy green com­ic-book pan­els,” writes a New York Times review, “prove that you don’t need fan­cy tech­nol­o­gy to achieve a third dimen­sion.”

You’ll notice the unmis­tak­able vis­age of Vin­cent Price in the char­ac­ter of the mes­merist, and you’ll like­ly know of Price’s own turn as Poe him­self in An Evening with Edgar Allan Poe. Price also starred in Roger Cor­man’s many Poe adap­ta­tions—begin­ning with House of Ush­er—and Gar­cia has tapped the leg­endary Cor­man’s voice for Extra­or­di­nary Tales, as well as con­tem­po­rary hor­ror direc­tor extra­or­di­naire Guiller­mo Del Toro. And if this weren’t hor­ror roy­al­ty enough, Garcia’s ani­mat­ed take on “The Tell-Tale Heart” fea­tures none oth­er than Bela Lugosi, in an archival read­ing of the sto­ry the Drac­u­la actor made some­time before his death in 1956. Read more about how Gar­cia found the Lugosi audio and con­ceived of Extra­or­di­nary Tales in his inter­view here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Vin­cent Price Turn Into Edgar Allan Poe & Read Four Clas­sic Poe Sto­ries (1970)

Down­load The Com­plete Works of Edgar Allan Poe: Macabre Sto­ries as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Clas­sics Sto­ries by Edgar Allan Poe Nar­rat­ed by James Mason in a 1953 Oscar-Nom­i­nat­ed Ani­ma­tion & 1958 Dec­ca Album

The Mys­tery of Edgar Allan Poe’s Death: 19 The­o­ries on What Caused the Poet’s Demise 166 Years Ago Today

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

Free Documentary View from the Overlook: Crafting The Shining Looks at How Kubrick Made “the World’s Scariest Movie”

Only three days remain until Hal­loween, the evening on which every­one loves a scary movie. If you watch one your­self this Hal­loween, why set­tle for a scary movie when you could watch the world’s scari­est movie? Or rather, when you could watch what result­ed when one of the most vision­ary auteurs in cin­e­ma his­to­ry put his mind to craft­ing the world’s scari­est movie: The Shin­ing. Whether or not you think it holds that par­tic­u­lar title, Stan­ley Kubrick­’s adap­ta­tion — or, more accu­rate­ly, total cin­e­mat­ic re-envi­sion­ing — of Stephen King’s nov­el has, since its ini­tial release in 1980, tran­scend­ed the realm of the “scary movie” and tak­en a place in the zeit­geist as some­thing more com­plex, more icon­ic, and more per­sis­tent­ly haunt­ing.

Undead twin girls want­i­ng to play, blood flow­ing from ele­va­tors, a man­u­script con­sist­ing of a sin­gle phrase cease­less­ly repeat­ed, “REDRUM” scrawled on a door, a dog-cos­tumed Jazz Age deca­dent, Jack Nichol­son wield­ing an axe: how did Kubrick and com­pa­ny man­age to lodge so per­ma­nent­ly into our sub­con­scious these deeply trou­bling images? Gary Lev­a’s half-hour doc­u­men­tary View from the Over­look: Craft­ing the Shin­ing tries to answer that ques­tion, bring­ing in a group of inter­vie­wees includ­ing Kubrick­’s biog­ra­phers, his col­leagues in film­mak­ing like Syd­ney Pol­lack and William Fried­kin, and his col­lab­o­ra­tors like The Shin­ing’s exec­u­tive pro­duc­er Jan Har­lan, pro­duc­tion design­er Roy Walk­er, and screen­writer Diane John­son. (Jack Nichol­son also makes an insight­ful and non-scary — or at least less scary — appear­ance as him­self.)

View from the Over­look reveals that the vis­cer­al impact of The Shin­ing, a form­less unease that trans­forms into sharp-edged hor­ror as the film goes on, came as a result of (and this will sur­prise no fan of Kubrick­’s) hard, delib­er­ate work, from the dis­man­tling and rebuild­ing of King’s orig­i­nal sto­ry, to the con­struc­tion of the Over­look Hotel out of a mix­ture of real loca­tions and elab­o­rate sets mod­eled on real loca­tions, to the use of new kinds of cam­era rigs (cam­era oper­a­tor Gar­rett Brown hav­ing invent­ed the Steadicam, a device this pro­duc­tion more than put through its paces), and Kubrick­’s infa­mous, actor-break­ing take after take after take. I did­n’t know about any of this, of course, when I first saw The Shin­ing, pop­ping in a VHS copy late at night dur­ing a junior-high Hal­loween par­ty. But now I won’t for­get it — or any­thing else about this (quite pos­si­bly) scari­est movie ever made.

View from the Over­look: Craft­ing The Shin­ing will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Devour

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mak­ing of The Shin­ing

The Shin­ing and Oth­er Com­plex Stan­ley Kubrick Films Recut as Sim­ple Hol­ly­wood Movies

Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing Reimag­ined as Wes Ander­son and David Lynch Movies

Stan­ley Kubrick’s Anno­tat­ed Copy of Stephen King’s The Shin­ing

Saul Bass’ Reject­ed Poster Con­cepts for The Shin­ing (and His Pret­ty Excel­lent Sig­na­ture)

The Hedge Maze from The Shin­ing Gets Recre­at­ed by Mythbuster’s Adam Sav­age

Room 237: New Doc­u­men­tary Explores Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing and Those It Obsess­es

Down­load & Play The Shin­ing Board Game

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

55 Covers of Vintage Philosophy, Psychology & Science Books Come to Life in a Short Animation

We all know that toys come alive at night, but what about mid-cen­tu­ry vin­tage paper­back cov­ers, such as you might find in the psy­chol­o­gy or phi­los­o­phy sec­tions of a dim­ly-lit used book­store?

Watch­ing 55 min­i­mal­ist cov­ers from graph­ic and motion design­er Hen­ning M. Led­er­er’s 2200 title-strong col­lec­tion begin to spin, drift, and seethe in the short ani­ma­tion above, I got the impres­sion that they were the ones dic­tat­ing the terms. Or per­haps Led­er­er is the ves­sel through which the inten­tions of the orig­i­nal design­ers—Rudolph de Harak and John + Mary Con­don to name a few—flow. Cov­ers is not an act of reimag­i­na­tion or crowd-pleas­ing irrev­er­ence, but rather one log­i­cal motion, ele­gant­ly applied.

Habitués of used book­stores may find their usu­al brows­ing habits slight­ly altered by the hyp­not­ic results.

Led­er­er makes no bones about judg­ing books by their cov­ers. Strong graph­ics, not con­tent, are the pri­ma­ry deter­min­ing fac­tor as to which titles he acquires. The state­ly geo­met­rics set in motion here are relics from anoth­er age, but the unclut­tered abstracts so favored by 60s era pub­lish­ers are not the only genre to catch his eye.

Shame Drifter, Dusky Desire, and Sin­sur­ance are some of the decid­ed­ly non-min­i­mal­ist titles spic­ing up his collection’s online gallery. After all of those arrows, angles, and spheres, Led­er­er might have craved ani­mat­ing some­thing with a bit more…personality.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

Artist Ani­mates Famous Book Cov­ers in an Ele­gant, Under­stat­ed Way

Illus­tra­tions for a Chi­nese Lord of the Rings in a Stun­ning “Glass Paint­ing Style”

Loli­ta Book Cov­ers: 100+ Designs From 37 Coun­tries (Plus Nabokov’s Favorite Design)

83 Years of Great Gats­by Book Cov­er Designs: A Pho­to Gallery

135 Free Phi­los­o­phy eBooks

Free Online Psy­chol­o­gy Cours­es

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her post-dig­i­tal, pre apoc­a­lyp­tic dark com­e­dy, Fawn­book, is now play­ing in New York City. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

Hear Sylvia Plath Read 50+ of Her Dark, Compelling Poems

No mat­ter how casu­al a rela­tion­ship you’ve had with 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can poet­ry, you’ve heard the name Sylvia Plath. Maybe you’ve already dared to expe­ri­ence her dark but com­pelling lit­er­ary world, or maybe you just know a few of the basic ele­ments of her life and career: her auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal nov­el The Bell Jar, her famous­ly har­row­ing poet­ry col­lec­tion Ariel, her stormy mar­riage to British poet lau­re­ate Ted Hugh­es, her death by her own hand at the age of thir­ty. But what bet­ter day than today, the 83rd anniver­sary of Plath’s birth, to get bet­ter acquaint­ed with her work?

And what bet­ter way than to hear that work read in Plath’s own voice? Sure, you could just pick up one of the many yel­lowed mass-mar­ket paper­back copies of Ariel you see on book­shelves all across Amer­i­ca and plunge in, but you might first con­sid­er turn­ing to our archives, which con­tain a 2013 post in which we fea­tured Plath read­ing fif­teen poems that would appear in the Ariel col­lec­tion that, pub­lished two years after her death (“left sit­ting on the kitchen table to be found along with her body,” not­ed Josh Jones), would raise her poet­ic rep­u­ta­tion to new heights. You can hear the first part of these read­ings, record­ed in 1962, at the top of this post, and the rest at this orig­i­nal post.

We might feel lucky that, in her short life, she left even those per­for­mances for pos­ter­i­ty, but there’s more: last year, we fea­tured Sylvia Plath read­ing her poet­ry, the 1977 record released by pio­neer­ing pre-audio­book label Caed­mon which con­tains 23 poems Plath com­mit­ted to tape as ear­ly as 1959. Find all of the read­ings here.

If these two audio col­lec­tions give you a taste for the poet biog­ra­ph­er Carl Rollyson called “the Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture,” have a lis­ten to Cre­do Records’ album Sylvia Plath, which offers some mate­r­i­al you’ll have heard along­side some you won’t have. Hav­ing lis­tened to all this, you’ll hard­ly asso­ciate the adjec­tive “cel­e­bra­to­ry” with Plath’s work — but that does­n’t mean that, on what would have been her 83rd birth­day, poet­ry-lovers can’t cel­e­brate it.

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 Sylvia Plath Read Fif­teen Poems From Her Final Col­lec­tion, Ariel, in 1962 Record­ing

The Art of Sylvia Plath: Revis­it Her Sketch­es, Self-Por­traits, Draw­ings & Illus­trat­ed Let­ters

Sylvia Plath Reads Her Poet­ry: 23 Poems from the Last 6 Years of Her Life

Sylvia Plath, Girl Detec­tive Offers a Hilar­i­ous­ly Cheery Take on the Poet’s Col­lege Years

Col­in Mar­shall writes else­where on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

See Galileo’s Famous Gravity Experiment Performed in the World’s Largest Vacuum Chamber, and on the Moon

It is one of the most famous exper­i­ments in all of sci­ence his­to­ry, but there’s sig­nif­i­cant doubt about whether it actu­al­ly took place. Did Galileo drop objects of dif­fer­ing mass from the Lean­ing Tow­er of Pisa in 1589 to demon­strate the the­o­ries pro­posed in his unpub­lished text De motu (“Of Motion”)? Rice University’s Galileo Project notes that schol­ars have long thought Galileo’s ref­er­ences to exper­i­ments he con­duct­ed “were only rhetor­i­cal devices.” As PBS’s NOVA writes, “it’s the kind of sto­ry that’s easy to imag­ine, easy to remem­ber, but whether he ever per­formed the exper­i­ment at the tow­er is debat­able.” That’s not to say Galileo didn’t test any of his ideas while he taught at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pisa dur­ing 1589 and 1592, only that his most famous the­o­ry about the effects of grav­i­ty on free-falling objects rests main­ly on a con­cep­tu­al thought exper­i­ment.

In fact, it would have been impos­si­ble for Galileo to ful­ly demon­strate his the­o­ry because of the effects of air resis­tance. Sub­tract the atmos­phere, how­ev­er, and we can eas­i­ly con­firm Galileo’s hypoth­e­sis that any two objects, regard­less of weight, shape, or mate­r­i­al of com­po­si­tion, will fall at exact­ly the same rate when dropped. One of the most mem­o­rable times this exper­i­ment did take place was not in Italy or any­where else on earth, but on the Moon, when astro­naut David Scott, com­man­der of the Apol­lo 15 mis­sion, dropped a geo­log­ic ham­mer and a falcon’s feath­er at the same time in 1971 (above).

As cool as Com­man­der Scott’s exper­i­ment is, it’s still not as dra­mat­ic as the ver­sion of the exper­i­ment at the top of the post, con­duct­ed at NASA’s Space Pow­er Facil­i­ty in Ohio in the world’s largest vac­u­um cham­ber. A great deal of the dra­ma comes cour­tesy of physi­cist Bri­an Cox, who presents the exper­i­ment for BBC Two’s Human Uni­verse, explain­ing the his­to­ry and con­struc­tion of the vac­u­um cham­ber, which sim­u­lates the con­di­tions of out­er space. Then we’ve got the mul­ti­ple cam­era angles and dra­mat­ic music… typ­i­cal TV show stuff, effec­tive nonethe­less at set­ting us up for the big drop. Even though we “know how the exper­i­ment will end,” points out io9, and may have seen it per­formed before—on the Moon even—this demon­stra­tion is some­thing spe­cial.

First, we get an anti­cli­mac­tic drop of the objects—a bowl­ing ball and a feather—while the cham­ber is still full of air. As expect­ed, the ball plum­mets, the feath­ers gen­tly drift. Then, in a sequence right out of a sci-fi film, engi­neers seal off the enor­mous cham­ber, and the three-hour removal of air is tele­scoped into a few sec­ond mon­tage of push­ings of but­tons and mum­blings into inter­coms. What hap­pens next will… well, you know the click­bait ver­biage. But it cer­tain­ly sur­pris­es Cox and a room­ful of NASA engi­neers. Cox goes on to explain, using Einstein’s the­o­ry of gen­er­al rel­a­tiv­i­ty, that the rea­son the objects fall at the same rate is “because they’re not falling; they’re stand­ing still.” The sci­ence may be com­mon knowl­edge, but see­ing it in action is indeed pret­ty mind blow­ing.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry of Physics Intro­duces the Dis­cov­er­ies of Galileo, New­ton, Maxwell & Ein­stein

Galileo’s Moon Draw­ings, the First Real­is­tic Depic­tions of the Moon in His­to­ry (1609–1610)

Bohemi­an Grav­i­ty: String The­o­ry Explored With an A Cap­pel­la Ver­sion of Bohemi­an Rhap­sody

Free Online Physics Cours­es

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

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