Bertrand Russell: The Everyday Benefit of Philosophy Is That It Helps You Live with Uncertainty

On the strength of a few quo­ta­tions and the pop­u­lar lec­ture Why I am Not a Chris­t­ian, philoso­pher Bertrand Rus­sell has been char­ac­ter­ized as a so-called “pos­i­tive athe­ist,” a phrase that implies a high degree of cer­tain­ty. While it is true that Rus­sell saw “no rea­son to believe any of the dog­mas of tra­di­tion­al the­ol­o­gy” — he saw them, in fact, as pos­i­tive­ly harm­ful — it would be mis­lead­ing to sug­gest that he reject­ed all forms of meta­physics, mys­ti­cism, and imag­i­na­tive, even poet­ic, spec­u­la­tion.

Rus­sell saw a way to great­ness in the search for ulti­mate truth, by means of both hard sci­ence and pure spec­u­la­tion. In an essay enti­tled “Mys­ti­cism and Log­ic,” for exam­ple, Rus­sell con­trasts two “great men,” Enlight­en­ment philoso­pher David Hume, whose “sci­en­tif­ic impulse reigns quite unchecked,” and poet William Blake, in whom “a strong hos­til­i­ty to sci­ence co-exists with pro­found mys­tic insight.”

It’s inter­est­ing that Rus­sell choos­es Blake for an exam­ple. One of his oft-quot­ed apho­risms cribs a line from anoth­er mys­ti­cal poet, William But­ler Yeats, who wrote in “The Sec­ond Com­ing” (1920), “The best lack all con­vic­tion, while the worst / Are full of pas­sion­ate inten­si­ty.” Russell’s ver­sion of this, from his 1933 essay “The Tri­umph of Stu­pid­i­ty,” is a bit clunki­er rhetor­i­cal­ly speak­ing:

“The fun­da­men­tal cause of the trou­ble is that in the mod­ern world the stu­pid are cock­sure while the intel­li­gent are full of doubt.”

The quote has been sig­nif­i­cant­ly altered and stream­lined over time, it seems, yet it still serves as a kind of mot­to for the skep­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy Rus­sell advo­cat­ed, one he would par­tial­ly define in the 1960 inter­view above as a way to “keep us mod­est­ly aware of how much that seems like knowl­edge isn’t knowl­edge.” On the oth­er hand, phi­los­o­phy push­es ret­i­cent intel­lec­tu­als to “enlarge” their “imag­i­na­tive purview of the world into the hypo­thet­i­cal realm,” allow­ing “spec­u­la­tions about mat­ters where exact knowl­edge is not pos­si­ble.”

Where the quo­ta­tion above seems to pose an insol­u­ble problem—similar to the cog­ni­tive bias known as the “Dun­ning-Kruger Effect”—it seems in Russell’s esti­ma­tion a false dilem­ma. At the 9:15 mark, in answer to a direct ques­tion posed by inter­view­er Woodrow Wyatt about the “prac­ti­cal use of your sort of phi­los­o­phy to a man who wants to know how to con­duct him­self,” Rus­sell replies:

I think nobody should be cer­tain of any­thing. If you’re cer­tain, you’re cer­tain­ly wrong because noth­ing deserves cer­tain­ty. So one ought to hold all one’s beliefs with a cer­tain ele­ment of doubt, and one ought to be able to act vig­or­ous­ly in spite of the doubt…. One has in prac­ti­cal life to act upon prob­a­bil­i­ties, and what I should look to phi­los­o­phy to do is to encour­age peo­ple to act with vig­or with­out com­plete cer­tain­ty.

Russell’s dis­cus­sion of the uses of phi­los­o­phy puts me in mind of anoth­er con­cept devised by a poet: John Keats’ “neg­a­tive capa­bil­i­ty,” or what Maria Popo­va calls “the art of remain­ing in doubt…. The will­ing­ness to embrace uncer­tain­ty, live with mys­tery, and make peace with ambi­gu­i­ty.” Per­haps Rus­sell would not char­ac­ter­ize it this way. He was, as you’ll see above, not much giv­en to poet­ic exam­ples. And indeed, Russell’s method relies a great deal more on log­ic and prob­a­bil­i­ty the­o­ry than Keats’. And yet the prin­ci­ple is strik­ing­ly sim­i­lar.

For Rus­sell, cer­tain­ty sti­fles progress, and an inabil­i­ty to take imag­i­na­tive risks con­signs us to inac­tion. A mid­dle way is required to live “vig­or­ous­ly,” that of phi­los­o­phy, which requires both the math­e­mat­ic and the poet­ic. In “Mys­ti­cism and Log­ic,” Rus­sell sums up his posi­tion suc­cinct­ly: “The great­est men who have been philoso­phers have felt the need of sci­ence and of mys­ti­cism: the attempt to har­monise the two was what made their life, and what always must, for all its ardu­ous uncer­tain­ty, make phi­los­o­phy, to some minds, a greater thing than either sci­ence or reli­gion.”

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Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2015.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What If We’re Wrong?: An Ani­mat­ed Video Chal­lenges Our Most Deeply Held Beliefs–With the Help of a Lud­wig Wittgen­stein Thought Exper­i­ment

Bertrand Russell’s Mes­sage to Peo­ple Liv­ing in the Year 2959: “Love is Wise, Hatred is Fool­ish”

Noam Chom­sky Defines The Real Respon­si­bil­i­ty of Intel­lec­tu­als: “To Speak the Truth and to Expose Lies” (1967)

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

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Advice for Time Traveling to Medieval Europe: How to Staying Healthy & Safe, and Avoiding Charges of Witchcraft

Gen­er­a­tions of for­eign tourists in Europe have heard advice about trav­el­ing in groups, hag­gling prices, avoid­ing pick­pock­ets, and being able to com­mu­ni­cate in, if not the local lan­guage, then at least the lin­gua fran­ca. It turns out that very sim­i­lar guid­ance applies to time trav­el in Europe, or at least specif­i­cal­ly to the region of Eng­land, France, Ger­many, and north­ern Italy in the cen­tral Mid­dle Ages, rough­ly between the years 1000 and 1400. In the new video above, his­to­ry Youtu­ber Pre­mod­ernist pro­vides an hour’s worth of advice to the mod­ern prepar­ing to trav­el back in time to medieval Europe — begin­ning with the dec­la­ra­tion that “you will very like­ly get sick.”

The gas­troin­testi­nal dis­tress posed by the “native bio­me” of medieval Euro­pean food and drink is one thing; the threat of rob­bery or worse by its rov­ing packs of out­laws is quite anoth­er. “Crime is ram­pant” where you’re going, so “car­ry a dag­ger” and “learn how to use it.” In soci­eties of the Mid­dle Ages, peo­ple could only pro­tect them­selves by being “enmeshed in social webs with each oth­er. No one was an indi­vid­ual.” And so, as a trav­el­er, you must — to put it in Dun­geons-and-Drag­ons terms — belong to some leg­i­ble class. Though you’ll have no choice but to present your­self as hav­ing come from a dis­tant land, you can feel free to pick one of two guis­es that will suit your obvi­ous for­eign­ness: “you’re either a mer­chant or a pil­grim.”

Unlike mod­ern-day Europe, through which you trav­el for weeks bare­ly speak­ing to any­one, the Europe of the Mid­dle Ages offers numer­ous oppor­tu­ni­ties for con­ver­sa­tion, whether you want them or not. With­out any media as we know it today, medievals had to “make their own enter­tain­ment by talk­ing to each oth­er,” and if they could talk to a stranger from an exot­ic land, so much the more enter­tain­ing. But hav­ing none of our rel­a­tive­ly nov­el ideas that “every­body’s on an equal foot­ing, that every­body’s equal to each oth­er, nobody’s bet­ter or worse than any­body else, nobody gets any spe­cial treat­ment,” they’ll guess your social rank and treat you accord­ing­ly; you, in turn, would do well to act the part.

Imag­in­ing them­selves in medieval Europe, many of our con­tem­po­raries say things like, “If I go there, they’ll hang me as a witch, or they’ll burn me at the stake as a witch, because I’m wear­ing mod­ern clothes and because I talk fun­ny.” But that fear (not untaint­ed, per­haps, by a cer­tain self-regard) is unfound­ed, since medievals “were not scared of peo­ple just because they were dif­fer­ent. They were scared of peo­ple who were dif­fer­ent in a way that chal­lenged the social order or threat­ened social chaos.” Their world­view put reli­gious affil­i­a­tion above all, with­out con­sid­er­a­tion for even the most hot­ly debat­ed twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry polit­i­cal or racial bat­tle lines. But then, as we nev­er need­ed time trav­el to under­stand, the past is a for­eign coun­try; they do things dif­fer­ent­ly there.

Relat­ed con­tent:

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

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

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

What Sex Was Like in Medieval Times?: His­to­ri­ans Look at How Peo­ple Got It On in the Dark Ages

Behold a 21st-Cen­tu­ry Medieval Cas­tle Being Built with Only Tools & Mate­ri­als from the Mid­dle Ages

A Con­cise Break­down of How Time Trav­el Works in Pop­u­lar Movies, Books & TV Shows

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.


Explore the Florentine Codex: A Brilliant 16th Century Manuscript Documenting Aztec Culture Is Now Digitized & Available Online

The Span­ish con­quista of the Amer­i­c­as hap­pened long enough ago — and left behind a spot­ty enough body of his­tor­i­cal records — that we tend to per­ceive it as much through sim­pli­fi­ca­tions, exag­ger­a­tions, and dis­tor­tions as we do through facts. What we now call Mex­i­co under­went “essen­tial­ly an inter­nal con­flict between dif­fer­ent indige­nous groups who saw the arrival of strangers as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to resist hav­ing to pay trib­ute to the Aztec Empire,” says Uni­ver­si­dad Nacional Autóno­ma de Mex­i­co his­to­ry pro­fes­sor Berenice Alcán­tara Rojas. “When the Spaniards ini­tial­ly attacked the Mex­i­ca cap­i­tal, they were swift­ly dri­ven out.”

“Only when aid­ed by var­i­ous groups of Indige­nous allies, as well as by the spread of a ter­ri­ble small­pox epi­dem­ic, did they man­age to force the ruler Cuauhte­moc and oth­er Mex­i­ca lead­ers to capit­u­late,” Rojas con­tin­ues, draw­ing upon details pro­vid­ed in the ver­sion of the events laid out in the Flo­ren­tine Codex.

That ency­clo­pe­dic series of twelve 16th-cen­tu­ry illus­trat­ed man­u­scripts lav­ish­ly doc­u­ments the known soci­ety and nature of that land at the time — and has now, near­ly 450 years lat­er, been acknowl­edged as “the most reli­able source of infor­ma­tion about Mex­i­ca cul­ture, the Aztec Empire, and the con­quest of Mex­i­co.”

“In 1547, Bernardi­no de Sahagún, a Span­ish Fran­cis­can fri­ar who com­mit­ted most of his life to work­ing close­ly with the Indige­nous peo­ples of Mex­i­co, began col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about cen­tral Mex­i­can Nahua cul­ture, life, peo­ple, his­to­ry, astron­o­my, flo­ra, fau­na, and the Nahu­atl lan­guage, among oth­er top­ics,” says the Get­ty Research Insti­tute. “Nahua elders, gram­mar­i­ans, scribes, and artists worked with Sahagún to com­pile a three-vol­ume, 12-book, 2500-page illus­trat­ed man­u­script, mod­el­ing its con­tent on Euro­pean ency­clo­pe­dias, espe­cial­ly Pliny the Elder’s Nat­ur­al His­to­ry,” all of which has been dig­i­tized, trans­lat­ed, and made avail­able at the Get­ty’s web site.

A thor­ough­ly mul­ti­cul­tur­al project avant la let­tre, the Flo­ren­tine Codex (named for the Medici fam­i­ly library in Flo­rence, where it was sent upon its com­ple­tion) has only just become acces­si­ble to a wide online read­er­ship. Though it’s “been dig­i­tal­ly avail­able via the World Dig­i­tal Library since 2012, for most users it remained impen­e­tra­ble because read­ing it requires knowl­edge of six­teenth-cen­tu­ry Nahu­atl and Span­ish, and of pre-His­pan­ic and ear­ly mod­ern Euro­pean art tra­di­tions.” By offer­ing search­able text in mod­ern ver­sions of both those lan­guages as well as Eng­lish — to say noth­ing of its brows­able sec­tions orga­nized by peo­ple, ani­mals, deities, and even by Nahu­atl terms like coy­ote and tor­tilla — the Dig­i­tal Flo­ren­tine Codex re-illu­mi­nates an entire civ­i­liza­tion.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Codex Quet­za­le­catzin, an Extreme­ly Rare Col­ored Mesoamer­i­can Man­u­script, Now Dig­i­tized and Put Online

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

Explore the Codex Zouche-Nut­tall: A Rare, Accor­dion-Fold­ed Pre-Columbian Man­u­script

How the Ancient Mayans Used Choco­late as Mon­ey

Peru­vian Schol­ar Writes & Defends the First The­sis Writ­ten in Quechua, the Main Lan­guage of the Incan Empire

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

The History of Disco Visualized on a Circuit Diagram of a Klipschorn Speaker: Features 600 Musicians, DJs, Producers, Clubs & Record Labels

Half a cen­tu­ry after it was birthed in New York’s black, Lati­no and gay under­ground club scene–and near­ly 45 years after the infa­mous Dis­co Demo­li­tion in Chicago’s Comiskey Park–dis­co is final­ly being accord­ed some respect in the annals of music his­to­ry.

Even those who remain imper­vi­ous to dis­co fever seem will­ing to acknowl­edge its cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as evi­denced by a recent exchange on the Trouser Press forum:

It was every­where and could indeed get tire­some. But today I can appre­ci­ate how well put-togeth­er those records by an artist like the Bee Gees were…

Hear­ing tech­no for the first time in the ear­ly 90s, and real­iz­ing it was just dis­co in a new, all-elec­tron­ic pack­age, made me real­ize how good a lot of it was…

I remem­ber see­ing (A Taste of Hon­ey) on The Mid­night Spe­cial. It was the first time I’d seen a band with female mem­bers play­ing instru­ments…

Hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly cel­e­brat­ed the his­to­ry of hip-hop, UK-based design stu­dio Dorothy gives dis­co its due with a blue­print pay­ing trib­ute to the many artists who made the form what it was, from foun­da­tion lay­ers like Ted­dy Pen­der­grass, Mar­vin Gaye, and James Brown to such trail­blaz­ing super­stars as Don­na Sum­mer, Glo­ria Gaynor, Sylvester, Chic and the Bee Gees.

The Dis­co Love Blue­print also name checks some of disco’s influ­en­tial pro­duc­ers, DJs, and labels, along with water­shed moments like 1969’s Stonewall Upris­ing and 1977’s Sat­ur­day Night Fever, report­ed­ly film crit­ic Gene Siskel’s favorite movie.

And while the dis­co explo­sion even­tu­al­ly saw young straight sin­gles doing the Bump in Indi­anapo­lis, Phoenix, and Spokane, Dorothy sticks close to the epi­cen­ter by includ­ing such leg­endary New York City clubs as Stu­dio 54, The Gallery, Par­adise Garage, The Saint, and The Loft, a pri­vate dis­cotheque in DJ David Man­cu­so’s Low­er Man­hat­tan apart­ment.

In Bill Brewster’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The His­to­ry of the Disc Jock­ey, Man­cu­so’s audio engi­neer, Alex Ros­ner, recalled the Loft’s clien­tele as being “prob­a­bly about six­ty per­cent black and sev­en­ty per­cent gay:”

There was a mix of sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion, there was a mix of races, mix of eco­nom­ic groups. A real mix, where the com­mon denom­i­na­tor was music.

One can’t men­tion the music at The Loft with­out giv­ing props to the inno­v­a­tive and effi­cient sound sys­tem Ros­ner devised for Mancuso’s 1,850-square-foot space, using a McIn­tosh ampli­fi­er, an AR ampli­fi­er, Vega bass bot­tom speak­ers, and two Klip­schorn Corn­wall loud­speak­ers, whose cir­cuit dia­gram inspired the Dis­co Love Blue­print­’s lay­out.

As com­pos­er and pro­duc­er Matt Som­mers told The Vinyl Fac­to­ry, those speak­ers sur­round­ed dancers with the sort of high vol­ume, undis­tort­ed sound they could lose them­selves in:

…the Man­cu­so par­ties were unique because what he did was take it to a whole oth­er lev­el and cre­at­ed that envel­op­ment expe­ri­ence where you could real­ly get lost and I think that’s what peo­ple love about that, because you can just let your trou­bles go and enjoy it.

Get Dorothy’s Dis­co Love Blue­print, fea­tur­ing 600 musi­cians, DJs, pro­duc­ers, clubs and record labels here.

Relat­ed Con­tent

The His­to­ry of Jazz Visu­al­ized on a Cir­cuit Dia­gram of a 1950s Phono­graph: Fea­tures 1,000+ Musi­cians, Artists, Song­writ­ers and Pro­duc­ers

The His­to­ry of Rock Mapped Out on the Cir­cuit Board of a Gui­tar Ampli­fi­er: 1400 Musi­cians, Song­writ­ers & Pro­duc­ers

Dia­gram of a 1950s Theremin: 200 Inven­tors, Com­posers & Musi­cians

A His­to­ry of Alter­na­tive Music Bril­liant­ly Mapped Out on a Tran­sis­tor Radio Cir­cuit Dia­gram: 300 Punk, Alt & Indie Artists

The His­to­ry of Hip Hop Music Visu­al­ized on a Turntable Cir­cuit Dia­gram: Fea­tures 700 Artists, from DJ Kool Herc to Kanye West

How Gior­gio Moroder & Don­na Summer’s “I Feel Love” Cre­at­ed the “Blue­print for All Elec­tron­ic Dance Music Today” (1977)

The Untold Sto­ry of Dis­co and Its Black, Lati­no & LGBTQ Roots

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

Open Planet Lets You Download & Use 4,500 Free Videos That Document Nature & Climate Change

Plas­tic pol­lu­tion in the Red Sea

A melt­ing glac­i­er in Ice­land

Trees scorched by a wild­fire in Aus­tralia…

As the effects of cli­mate change become increas­ing­ly dire, we’ve grown accus­tomed to such grim­ly sober­ing visions.

Some look away.

Oth­ers work to height­en aware­ness of these clear and present envi­ron­men­tal dan­gers.

And some strive to imple­ment inno­v­a­tive solu­tions before it’s too late:

Solar pan­els in Cos­ta Rica

Bub­ble bar­ri­ers fil­ter­ing plas­tic refuse from Amsterdam’s canals…

Sus­tain­able agro­forestry in the Ama­zon.

A class­room full of desks con­struct­ed from recy­cled one-time use plas­tics in India…

The cre­ators of Open Plan­et, a soon-to-launch free footage library, hope to sup­port change-mak­ing orga­ni­za­tions and indi­vid­u­als by sup­ply­ing video that can be edit­ed togeth­er into nar­ra­tives to “inspire opti­mism and action in this deci­sive decade for our plan­et.”

Car­o­line Petit, who pri­or­i­tizes edu­ca­tion and aware­ness in her posi­tion as Deputy Direc­tor for the Unit­ed Nations Region­al Infor­ma­tion Cen­tre for Europe, hails Open Plan­et for sup­ply­ing world­wide free access to high-qual­i­ty, accu­rate footage:

At this halfway point of the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, it is cru­cial to pro­vide all pos­si­ble tools to super­charge the break­throughs need­ed to achieve them. Cap­tur­ing hearts and minds to moti­vate action is one pow­er­ful way to do so.

Enlist­ing some non-humans play­ers to help achieve that end is a sound idea.

Behold a Nepal Gray Lan­gur moth­er and baby hang­ing out in the tree­tops…

Chee­tah cubs play­ful­ly spar­ring with each oth­er in Kenya’s Masai Mara Nation­al Reserve…

A group of Pash­mi­na goats peace­ful­ly graz­ing on wild sea buck­thorn berries on the high plateaus of Ladakh.

Open Plan­et’s 4,500 clip strong col­lec­tion also teems with pho­to­genic birds, insects, and marine life, with more being added all the time.

Stu­dio Sil­ver­back, which is col­lab­o­rat­ing with Carnegie Mel­lon University’s CREATE Lab on this project, cre­at­ed some of the footage specif­i­cal­ly for the plat­form.

The remain­der has been donat­ed by out­side film­mak­ers, broad­cast­ers, and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies who are cred­it­ed in their clips’ con­tent details.

In advance of its 2024 glob­al launch, Open Plan­et has released a most­ly uplift­ing 74-clip spot­light col­lec­tion drawn from over 2000 pieces of footage filmed in India

A look at the plat­for­m’s search­able fil­ter themes reminds us that the pic­ture is not so over­whelm­ing­ly rosy, but also makes a strong case that change is pos­si­ble:






Extreme Weath­er


Human Health

Land Man­age­ment

Nat­ur­al Dis­as­ters





Sus­tain­able Future


Explore Open Planet’s footage library and cre­ate a free account to down­load the clips of your choice here. The videos are free to use for edu­ca­tion­al, envi­ron­men­tal and impact sto­ry­telling.

via Colos­sal

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Watch 50 Hours of Nature Sound­scapes from the BBC: Sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly Proven to Ease Stress and Pro­mote Hap­pi­ness & Awe

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

Frank Capra’s Sci­ence Film The Unchained God­dess Warns of Cli­mate Change in 1958

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

A Researcher Identifies the Old Man on the Iconic Cover of Led Zeppelin IV, 52 Years After the Album’s Release

Who’s that beard­ed man on the cov­er of Led Zep­pelin IV, the one hunched over, car­ry­ing a large bun­dle of sticks? Bri­an Edwards, a researcher from the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West of Eng­land, has solved the 52-year-old mys­tery. Look­ing through a pho­to album while con­duct­ing research, Edwards spot­ted a pho­to­graph and, being a Led Zep­pelin fan, “instant­ly recog­nised the man with the sticks.” “It was quite a rev­e­la­tion, he told the BBC.” From there, he fig­ured out who took the pho­to­graph in 1892 (Ernest Howard Farmer), and even­tu­al­ly iden­ti­fied the fig­ure in the pho­to itself: Lot Long, a thatch­er from Mere, a town in Wilt­shire, Eng­land. You can see him above.

Decades lat­er, Robert Plant appar­ent­ly found a col­orized ver­sion of the pho­to­graph in an antique shop. On the 1971 album cov­er, we see the pho­to turned into a framed paint­ing and lay­ered onto the wall of a drab home. The rest, as they say, is rock ’n’ roll his­to­ry…

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Decon­struct­ing Led Zeppelin’s Clas­sic Song ‘Ram­ble On’ Track by Track: Gui­tars, Bass, Drums & Vocals

William S. Bur­roughs Reviews a Led Zep­pelin Con­cert for Craw­dad­dy! Mag­a­zine (1975)

Hear Led Zeppelin’s First Record­ed Con­cert Ever (1968)

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

A few years ago here on Open Cul­ture, we fea­tured a re-cre­ation of The Great Wave off Kanaza­wa made entire­ly out of LEGO by a seri­ous enthu­si­ast named Jumpei Mit­sui. Though the work’s depth does come across to some extent in still pho­tos, it bears repeat­ing that Mit­sui assem­bled not just a two-dimen­sion­al image, but a com­plete three-dimen­sion­al scene that, when viewed straight on, looks just like Hoku­sai’s famous wood­block print. All told, the project required 50,000 LEGO bricks, all of which you can now watch Mit­sui lay down in the ten-minute time-lapse video above.

By pre­sent­ing the whole con­struc­tion process from a vari­ety of angles, the video allows us to bet­ter appre­ci­ate not just the painstak­ing man­u­al labor involved, but the amount of cre­ative and tech­ni­cal work nec­es­sary to con­cep­tu­al­ize the Great Wave — per­haps the fore­most exam­ple of the vivid­ly flat ukiyo‑e wood­block print style — in phys­i­cal real­i­ty.

View­ers who’ve nev­er tried their hand at large-scale LEGO build­ing will also be sur­prised by the way in which Mit­sui goes about build­ing the grid-like sub-struc­ture that under­girds what looks, in the fin­ished prod­uct, like a sold sea of bricks.

It’s nat­ur­al that Mit­sui (now a “LEGO Cer­ti­fied Pro­fes­sion­al”) has shared the details of how he built his best-known LEGO cre­ation on Youtube, giv­en that it was on the same plat­form that he gained some of the knowl­edge nec­es­sary to exe­cute it in the first place. “The brick artist observed waves on Youtube for hours, and read aca­d­e­m­ic papers on waves to bet­ter under­stand their forms and ener­gy,” notes The Kid Should See This, under­scor­ing the inten­si­ty of prepa­ra­tion required even for what may, at first, look like a nov­el­ty project. And if the still-young Mit­sui is any­thing like his nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry coun­try­man, he’ll be tempt­ed to build the Great Wave again, and even bet­ter, a few more times in the decades to come.

via The Kid Should See This

Relat­ed con­tent:

Hokusai’s Icon­ic Print The Great Wave off Kana­gawa Recre­at­ed with 50,000 LEGO Bricks

Ai Wei­wei Recre­ates Monet’s Water Lilies Trip­tych Using 650,000 Lego Bricks

The Frank Lloyd Wright LEGO Set

With 9,036 Pieces, the Roman Colos­se­um Is the Largest LEGO Set Ever

Why Did LEGO Become a Media Empire? Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #37

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

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Political Scientist Ian Bremmer Breaks Down the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Ian Brem­mer, a polit­i­cal sci­en­tist and pres­i­dent of Eura­sia Group, has an intel­li­gent, fair, and humane way of explain­ing crises around the world. That includes the cur­rent cri­sis in the Mid­dle East. Above, he spends an hour dis­cussing the Israeli-Pales­tin­ian con­flict and its geo-polit­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal con­text. Speak­ing with Big­Think’s edi­tor-in-chief, Robert Chap­man-Smith, Brem­mer delves “into inter­nal pol­i­tics in Israel — includ­ing grow­ing dis­sent against the gov­ern­ment, how the con­flict in Gaza is being han­dled, the influ­ence of hard-right polit­i­cal par­ties, and the impact of these fac­tors on the rela­tion­ship between Israel and the Pales­tini­ans.” Below you can find time­stamps for the dif­fer­ent sub­jects cov­ered.

0:00 Pales­tini­ans for­got­ten
6:30 Israel’s domes­tic insta­bil­i­ty
13:17 Israel and Gulf states
19:28 Hamas’ strat­e­gy
27:06 Social media dis­in­for­ma­tion
37:20 Israel’s strat­e­gy and peace
44:40 U.S. sup­port for Israel
49:32 World War 3?
54:07 Two-state solu­tion

Relat­ed Con­tent 

The Israeli-Pales­tin­ian Con­flict: His­tor­i­cal Primers That Help Explain the Cen­tu­ry-Long Con­flict

by | Permalink | Make a Comment ( Comments Off on Political Scientist Ian Bremmer Breaks Down the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict ) |

Get the First Month of Coursera Plus for $1: Provides Access to 6,000+ Courses and Many Professional Certificates

A quick heads up on a deal: From now (Novem­ber 2) until Novem­ber 24, you can get the first month of Cours­era Plus for just $1. (It nor­mal­ly costs $59 per month.) With a Cours­era Plus plan, you will have unlim­it­ed access to 6,000 cours­es from top uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies. This includes Pro­fes­sion­al Cer­tifi­cate pro­grams offered by com­pa­nies like Google, Meta, and IBM, cov­er­ing such top­ics as: Data Ana­lyt­ics, Project Man­age­ment, UX Design, Cyber­se­cu­ri­ty, Busi­ness Intel­li­gence, and more. The cost of the actu­al cer­tifi­cate is includ­ed in the plan.

You can learn more about Cours­era Plus and sign up for $1 here. Please note that the $1 deal is only avail­able to new Cours­era Plus sub­scribers, not exist­ing ones. And, again, the offer expires on Novem­ber 24.

Nota Bene: Open Cul­ture has a part­ner­ship with Cours­era. If read­ers enroll in cer­tain Cours­era cours­es and pro­grams, it helps sup­port Open Cul­ture.

One Hour of David Lynch Listening to Rain, Smoking & Reflecting on Art

At this point, there’s no need to point out the dan­gers posed by smok­ing. Those who do it these days do it in full knowl­edge of the health risks involved, for rea­sons of their own. Some­times those rea­sons are artis­tic ones: “I had this idea that you drink cof­fee, you smoke cig­a­rettes, and you paint, and that’s it,” says David Lynch in Jon Nguyen’s doc­u­men­tary David Lynch: The Art Life, describ­ing his youth­ful con­cep­tion of what it was to be an artist. “Maybe girls come into it a lit­tle bit, but basi­cal­ly, it’s the incred­i­ble hap­pi­ness of work­ing and liv­ing that life.” Though much bet­ter known as a film­mak­er than a painter, Lynch has nev­er stopped liv­ing that life, cig­a­rette-smok­ing and all.

The “you drink cof­fee, you smoke cig­a­rettes, and you paint” line sur­faces in the audio mix of the video above, which mash­es up that and oth­er of Lynch’s obser­va­tions from var­i­ous places and times with looped footage of him silent­ly smok­ing and lis­ten­ing to the rain falling out­side. Most of his words here have to do with “the art life”: how he con­ceives of it, how he lives it, and how he made his way into it in the first place.

Some of them will be well famil­iar to long­time Lynch fans, not least his notion that, when it comes to get­ting the ideas with which he builds his work, the “lit­tle fish” swim on the sur­face of con­scious­ness, but the “big fish” — the stranger, more pow­er­ful ideas that lead, pre­sum­ably, to a Blue Vel­vet or a Mul­hol­land Dr. — inhab­it the kind of depths acces­si­ble only through med­i­ta­tion.

Along with such pieces of Lynchi­an advice come expres­sions of enthu­si­asm, mem­o­ries from his younger days, and reflec­tions on his­to­ry, soci­ety, and nature, all of them sim­i­lar­ly decon­tex­tu­al­ized and backed by an omi­nous-sound­ing piece of music. The result­ing ambi­ence isn’t entire­ly unlike that of Lynch’s delib­er­ate­ly dis­turb­ing sit­com Rab­bits, but it also fits in with the bur­geon­ing genre of long-form Youtube videos opti­mized for relax­ation val­ue. Thir­ty years ago, when each movie or tele­vi­sion show he made seemed to sur­pass the last in sheer weird­ness, we entered Lynch’s world in order to be unset­tled, to see and hear things at once inex­plic­a­bly com­pelling and obscure­ly hor­ri­fy­ing; in the twen­ty-twen­ties, we go there to unwind.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed David Lynch Explains Where He Gets His Ideas

Bertrand Rus­sell Explains How Smok­ing Para­dox­i­cal­ly Saved His Life

David Lynch Explains How Med­i­ta­tion Enhances Our Cre­ativ­i­ty

Cig­a­rette Com­mer­cials from David Lynch, the Coen Broth­ers and Jean Luc Godard

An Anti, Anti-Smok­ing Announce­ment from John Waters

Two Short Films on Cof­fee and Cig­a­rettes from Jim Jar­musch & Paul Thomas Ander­son

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, 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.

Renaissance Knives Had Music Engraved on the Blades & Now You Can Hear the Songs Performed by Modern Singers

Image cour­tesy of The Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um

On any giv­en week­end, in any part of the state where I live, you can find your­self stand­ing in a hall full of knives, if that’s the kind of thing you like to do. It is a very niche kind of expe­ri­ence. Not so in some oth­er weapons expos—like the Arms and Armor gal­leries at the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art, where every­one, from the most war­like to the staunchest of paci­fists, stands in awe at the intri­cate orna­men­ta­tion and incred­i­bly deft crafts­man­ship on dis­play in the suits of armor, lances, shields, and lots and lots of knives.

We must acknowl­edge in such a space that the worlds of art and of killing for fame and prof­it were nev­er very far apart dur­ing Europe’s late Medieval and Renais­sance peri­ods. Yet we encounter many sim­i­lar arti­sanal instru­ments from the time, just as fine­ly tuned, but made for far less bel­liger­ent pur­pos­es.

As Maya Cor­ry of the Fitzwilliam Muse­um in Cam­bridge—an insti­tu­tion with its own impres­sive arms and armor col­lec­tion—com­ments in the video above (at 2:30), one unusu­al kind of 16th cen­tu­ry knife meant for the table, not the bat­tle­field, offers “insight into that har­mo­nious, audi­ble aspect of fam­i­ly devo­tions,” prayer and song.

From the col­lec­tion of the Fitzwilliam Muse­um, in Cam­bridge. (Johan Oost­er­man )

These knives, which have musi­cal scores engraved in their blades, brought a table togeth­er in singing their prayers, and may have been used to carve the lamb or beef in their “strik­ing bal­ance of dec­o­ra­tive and util­i­tar­i­an func­tion.” At least his­to­ri­ans think such “nota­tion knives,” which date from the ear­ly 1500s, were used at ban­quets. “The sharp, wide steel would have been ide­al for cut­ting and serv­ing meat,” writes Eliza Grace Mar­tin at the WQXR blog, “and the accen­tu­at­ed tip would have made for a per­fect skew­er.” But as Kris­ten Kalber, cura­tor at the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um, which hous­es the knives at the top of the post, tells us “din­ers in very grand feasts didn’t cut their own meat.” It’s unlike­ly they would have sung from the bloody knives held by their ser­vants.

The knives’ true pur­pose “remains a mys­tery,” Mar­tin remarks, like many “rit­u­als of the Renais­sance table.”  Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um cura­tor Kirstin Kennedy admits in the video above that “we are not entire­ly sure” what the “splen­did knife” she holds was used for. But we do know that each knife had a dif­fer­ent piece of music on each side, and that a set of them togeth­er con­tained dif­fer­ent har­mo­ny parts in order to turn a room­ful of din­ers into a cho­rus. One set of blades had the grace on one side, with the inscrip­tion, “the bless­ing of the table. May the three-in-one bless that which we are about to eat.” The oth­er side holds the bene­dic­tion, to be sung after the din­ner: “The say­ing of grace. We give thanks to you God for your gen­eros­i­ty.”

Com­mon enough ver­biage for any house­hold in Renais­sance Europe, but when sung, at least by a cho­rus from the Roy­al Col­lege of Music, who recre­at­ed the music and made the record­ings here, the prayers are superbly grace­ful. Above, hear one ver­sion of the Grace and Bene­dic­tion from the Vic­to­ria and Albert Muse­um knives; below, hear a sec­ond ver­sion. You can hear a cap­ti­vat­ing set of choral prayers from the Fitzwilliam Muse­um knives at WQXR’s site, record­ed for the Fitzwilliam’s “Madon­nas & Mir­a­cles” exhib­it. We are as unlike­ly now to encounter singing kitchen knives as we are to run into a horse and rid­er bear­ing 100 pounds of fine­ly-wrought wear­able steel sculp­ture. Such strange arti­facts seem to speak of a strange peo­ple who val­ued beau­ty whether carv­ing up the main course or cut­ting down their ene­mies.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in 2017.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here.

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

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