The Fictional Brand Archives: Explore a Growing Collection of Iconic But Fake Brands Found in Movies & TV

Los Pol­los Her­manos, Madri­gal Elec­tro­mo­tive, Mesa Verde Bank and Trust, Davis & Main: Attor­neys at Law—all of these brands come from the Break­ing Bad/Bet­ter Call Saul uni­verse. They also appear in the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive, a web­site ded­i­cat­ed to “fic­tion­al brands found in films, series and video games.” Tak­ing the brands seri­ous­ly as brands, the site draws on research from a new book writ­ten by Loren­zo Berni­ni enti­tled Fic­tion­al Brand Design. And, with its many entries, the site pro­vides a “com­pre­hen­sive view of each fic­tion­al brand, fram­ing them in their own fic­tion­al con­text and doc­u­ment­ing their use and exe­cu­tion in source work.”

Oth­er notable brands include Acme (Looney Tunes), ATN News (Suc­ces­sion), Dun­der Mif­flin (The Office), Fed­er­al Motor Cor­po­ra­tion (Fight Club), both Grand Budapest Hotel and Mendl’s (Grand Budapest Hotel), and Nakato­mi Cor­po­ra­tion (Die Hard). Enter the Fic­tion­al Brands Archive here.

via Messy­Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Free Dig­i­tal Archive of Graph­ic Design: A Curat­ed Col­lec­tion of Design Trea­sures from the Inter­net Archive

The Let­ter­form Archive Launch­es a New Online Archive of Graph­ic Design, Fea­tur­ing 9,000 Hi-Fi Images

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

40 Years of Saul Bass’ Ground­break­ing Title Sequences in One Com­pi­la­tion


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Ernest Hemingway’s Advice to Aspiring, Young Writers (1935)

Here in the twen­ty-twen­ties, a hope­ful young nov­el­ist might choose to enroll in one of a host of post-grad­u­ate pro­grams, and — with luck — there find a will­ing and able men­tor. Back in the nine­teen-thir­ties, things worked a bit dif­fer­ent­ly. “In the spring of 1934, an aspir­ing writer named Arnold Samuel­son hitch­hiked from Min­neso­ta to Flori­da to see if he could land a meet­ing with his favorite author,” says Nicole Bianchi, nar­ra­tor of the InkWell Media video above. “The writer he had picked to be his men­tor? Ernest Hem­ing­way.”

What Hem­ing­way offered Samuel­son was some­thing more than a lit­er­ary men­tor­ship. “This young man had one oth­er obses­sion,” Hem­ing­way writes in a 1935 Esquire piece. “He had always want­ed to go to sea.” And so “we gave him a job as a night watch­man on the boat which fur­nished him a place to sleep and work and gave him two or three hours’ work each day at clean­ing up and a half of each day free to do his writ­ing.” To Hem­ing­way’s irri­ta­tion, Samuel­son proved not just a clum­sy hand on the Pilar, but a fount of ques­tions about how to craft lit­er­a­ture — some­thing Hem­ing­way gives the impres­sion of con­sid­er­ing eas­i­er done than said.

Nev­er­the­less, in the Esquire piece, Hem­ing­way con­dens­es this long back-and-forth with Samuel­son into a dia­logue con­tain­ing lessons that “would have been worth fifty cents to him when he was twen­ty-one.” He first declares that “good writ­ing is true writ­ing,” and that such truth depends on the writer’s con­sci­en­tious­ness and knowl­edge of life. As for the val­ue of imag­i­na­tion, “the more he learns from expe­ri­ence the more tru­ly he can imag­ine.” But even the most world-weary nov­el­ist must “con­vey every­thing, every sen­sa­tion, sight, feel­ing, place and emo­tion to the read­er,” and that requires round after round of revi­sion, so you might as well do the first draft in pen­cil.

As far as the writ­ing itself, Hem­ing­way rec­om­mends read­ing over at least your last two or three chap­ters at the start of each day, and repeats his well-known dic­tum always to leave a lit­tle water in the well at the end so that “your sub­con­scious will work on it all the time.” But all will be for naught if you haven’t read enough great books so as to “write what has­n’t been writ­ten before or beat dead men at what they have done.” Don’t com­pete with liv­ing writ­ers, whom Hem­ing­way saw as propped up by “crit­ics who always need a genius of the sea­son, some­one they under­stand com­plete­ly and feel safe in prais­ing, but when these fab­ri­cat­ed genius­es are dead they will not exist.”

The video focus­es on a series of men­tal exer­cis­es Hem­ing­way explains to Samuel­son. Recall an excit­ing expe­ri­ence, such as that of catch­ing a fish, and “find what gave you the emo­tion, what the action was that gave you the excite­ment. Then write it down mak­ing it clear so the read­er will see it too and have the same feel­ing you had.” Remem­ber con­flicts and try to under­stand all the points of view: “If I bawl you out try to fig­ure out what I’m think­ing about as well as how you feel about it. If Car­los curs­es Juan think what both their sides of it are. Don’t just think who is right.” When oth­er peo­ple talk, “lis­ten com­plete­ly. Don’t be think­ing what you’re going to say.”

Under­ly­ing this char­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly straight­for­ward advice is the com­mand­ment to find ways out of your own head and into the per­spec­tive of the rest of human­i­ty. The nec­es­sary habits of obser­va­tion can be cul­ti­vat­ed any­where: at sea, yes, but also in the city, where you can “stand out­side the the­atre and see how peo­ple dif­fer in the way they get out of taxis or motor cars.” In the event, Samuel­son nev­er did become a nov­el­ist, though he did write a mem­oir about his year under Hem­ing­way’s tute­lage. What­ev­er the expe­ri­ence taught Samuel­son, it brought Hem­ing­way to a res­o­lu­tion of his own: “If any more aspi­rant writ­ers come on board the Pilar let them be females, let them be very beau­ti­ful and let them bring cham­pagne.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

7 Tips From Ernest Hem­ing­way on How to Write Fic­tion

The (Urban) Leg­end of Ernest Hemingway’s Six-Word Sto­ry: “For sale, Baby shoes, Nev­er worn”

Ernest Hem­ing­way Cre­ates a Read­ing List for a Young Writer (1934)

28 Tips for Writ­ing Sto­ries from Edgar Allan Poe, William Faulkn­er, Ernest Hem­ing­way & F. Scott Fitzger­ald

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.

67 Logical Fallacies Explained in 11 Minutes

Fallacies—notes Pur­due’s Writ­ing Lab—“are com­mon errors in rea­son­ing that will under­mine the log­ic of your argu­ment. Fal­lac­i­es can be either ille­git­i­mate argu­ments or irrel­e­vant points, and are often iden­ti­fied because they lack evi­dence that sup­ports their claim. Avoid these com­mon fal­lac­i­es in your own argu­ments and watch for them in the argu­ments of oth­ers.” Pur­due’s web­site then high­lights a num­ber of the men­tal traps that stu­dents often fall into—for exam­ple, the slip­pery slope, beg­ging the claim, cir­cu­lar argu­ments, the red her­ring, and more. But if you want a rapid-fire intro­duc­tion to many more log­i­cal fal­lac­i­es, look no fur­ther than the video above. In 11 min­utes, you will come across ones you may not have known about before—from the No True Scots­man and the Texas Sharp­shoot­er, to the Tu QuoQue and the Igno­ra­tio Elenchi. But it also has some time­less ones we see every day. Indeed who among us has­n’t expe­ri­enced the Sunk Cost Fal­la­cy at work, or the Ad Hominem attack on TV?

Relat­ed Con­tent 

24 Com­mon Cog­ni­tive Bias­es: A Visu­al List of the Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sys­tems Errors That Keep Us From Think­ing Ratio­nal­ly

Daniel Den­nett Presents Sev­en Tools For Crit­i­cal Think­ing

Phi­los­o­phy Ref­er­ee Hand Sig­nals

How Photos Were Transmitted by Wire in 1937: The Innovative Technology of a Century Ago

When did you last send some­one a pho­to? That ques­tion may sound odd, owing to the sheer com­mon­ness of the act in ques­tion; in the twen­ty-twen­ties, we take pho­tographs and share them world­wide with­out giv­ing it a sec­ond thought. But in the nine­teen-thir­ties, almost every­one who sent a pho­to did so through the mail, if they did it at all. Not that there weren’t more effi­cient means of trans­mis­sion, at least to pro­fes­sion­als in the cut­ting-edge news­pa­per indus­try: as dra­ma­tized in the short 1937 doc­u­men­tary above, the visu­al accom­pa­ni­ment to a suf­fi­cient­ly impor­tant scoop could also be sent in mere min­utes through the mir­a­cle of wire.

“Trav­el­ing almost as fast as the tele­phone sto­ry, wired pho­tos now go across the con­ti­nent with the speed of light,” declares the nar­ra­tor in breath­less news­reel-announc­er style. “It’s not a mat­ter of send­ing the whole pic­ture at once, but of sep­a­rat­ing the pic­ture into fine lines, send­ing those lines over a wire, and assem­bling them at the oth­er end.”

Illus­trat­ing this process is a clever mechan­i­cal prop involv­ing two spin­dles on a hand crank, and a length of rope print­ed with the image of a car that unwinds from one spin­dle onto the oth­er. To ensure the view­er’s com­plete under­stand­ing, ani­mat­ed dia­grams also reveal the inner work­ings of the actu­al scan­ning, send­ing, and receiv­ing appa­ra­tus.

This process may now seem impos­si­bly cum­ber­some, but at the time it rep­re­sent­ed a leap for­ward for mass visu­al media. In the decades after the Sec­ond World War, the same basic prin­ci­ple — that of dis­as­sem­bling an image into lines at one point in order to reassem­ble it at anoth­er — would be employed in the homes and offices of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans by devices such as the tele­vi­sion set and fax machine. We know, as the view­ers of 1937 did­n’t, just how those ana­log tech­nolo­gies would change the char­ac­ter of life and work in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. As for what their dig­i­tal descen­dants will do to the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry, as they con­tin­ue to break down all exis­tence into not lines but bits, we’ve only just begun to find out.

via Kids Should See This

Relat­ed con­tent:

The His­to­ry of Pho­tog­ra­phy in Five Ani­mat­ed Min­utes: From Cam­era Obscu­ra to Cam­era Phone

Watch a Local TV Sta­tion Switch From Black & White to Col­or for First Time (1967)

Cre­ative Uses of the Fax Machine: From Iggy Pop’s Bile to Stephen Hawking’s Snark

The His­to­ry of Amer­i­can News­pa­pers Has Been Dig­i­tized: Explore 114 Years of Edi­tor & Pub­lish­er, “the Bible of the News­pa­per Indus­try”

From the Annals of Opti­mism: The News­pa­per Indus­try in 1981 Imag­ines its Dig­i­tal Future

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.

Aldous Huxley, Dying of Cancer, Left This World Tripping on LSD (1963)

Aldous Hux­ley put him­self for­ev­er on the intel­lec­tu­al map when he wrote the dystopi­an sci-fi nov­el Brave New World in 1931. (Lis­ten to Hux­ley nar­rat­ing a dra­ma­tized ver­sion here.) The British-born writer was liv­ing in Italy at the time, a con­ti­nen­tal intel­lec­tu­al par excel­lence.

Then, six years lat­er, Hux­ley turned all of this upside down. He head­ed West, to Hol­ly­wood, the newest of the New World, where he took a stab at writ­ing screen­plays (with not much luck) and start­ed exper­i­ment­ing with mys­ti­cism and psy­che­delics — first mesca­line in 1953, then LSD in 1955. This put Hux­ley at the fore­front of the coun­ter­cul­ture’s exper­i­men­ta­tion with psy­che­del­ic drugs, some­thing he doc­u­ment­ed in his 1954 book, The Doors of Per­cep­tion.

Hux­ley’s exper­i­men­ta­tion con­tin­ued until his death in Novem­ber 1963. When can­cer brought him to his deathbed, he asked his wife to inject him with “LSD, 100 µg, intra­mus­cu­lar.” He died trip­ping lat­er that day, just hours after Kennedy’s assas­si­na­tion. Three years lat­er, LSD was offi­cial­ly banned in Cal­i­for­nia.

By way of foot­note, it’s worth men­tion­ing that the Amer­i­can med­ical estab­lish­ment is now giv­ing hal­lu­cino­gens a sec­ond look, con­duct­ing con­trolled stud­ies of how psilo­cy­bin and oth­er psy­che­delics can help treat patients deal­ing with can­cer, obses­sive-com­pul­sive dis­or­der, post-trau­mat­ic stress dis­or­der, drug/alcohol addic­tion and end-of-life anx­i­ety.

For a look at the his­to­ry of LSD, we rec­om­mend the 2002 film Hofmann’s Potion by Cana­di­an film­mak­er Con­nie Lit­tle­field. You can watch it here.

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:

Ken Kesey’s First LSD Trip Ani­mat­ed

Hear Aldous Hux­ley Nar­rate His Dystopi­an Mas­ter­piece, Brave New World

Every­thing You Want­ed to Ask About Psy­che­delics: A Johns Hop­kins Psy­che­delics Researcher Answers 24 Ques­tions in 2 Hours

Aldous Hux­ley Pre­dicts in 1950 What the World Will Look Like in the Year 2000

How Was the Great Pyramid Built?; What Did the Ancient Egyptian Language Sound Like?; Were There Bars in Ancient Egypt?: An Egyptologist Answers These Questions & More from Internet Users

What did ancient Egyp­tians sound like? What did they eat and drink? What ancient Egypt­ian med­i­cine and tools do we still use in mod­ern times? Why did they prac­tice mum­mi­fi­ca­tion? Above, Lau­rel Bestock, a pro­fes­sor from Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, dis­cuss­es every­thing you ever want­ed to know about Ancient Egypt. Not a stranger to pop­u­lar media productions—Bestock appears in a recent Nation­al Geo­graph­ic pro­duc­tion, Egyp­t’s Lost Won­ders—the pro­fes­sor fields every ques­tion that comes her way, no mat­ter how big or small. All along, she gives “out­stand­ing and very down-to-earth expla­na­tions,” notes a fel­low pro­fes­sor in the YouTube com­ments. For my mon­ey, the best part comes at the 10:40 mark when she deci­phers and reads hiero­glyphs. Enjoy.

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 

How to Read Ancient Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs: A British Muse­um Cura­tor Explains

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Roset­ta Stone, and How It Unlocked Our Under­stand­ing of Egypt­ian Hiero­glyphs

What the Great Pyra­mid of Giza Would’ve Looked Like When First Built: It Was Gleam­ing, Reflec­tive White

Who Built the Egypt­ian Pyra­mids & How Did They Do It?: New Arche­o­log­i­cal Evi­dence Busts Ancient Myths

When a Medieval Monk Crowdsourced the Most Accurate Map of the World, Creating “the Google Earth of the 1450s”

If we want to know the pre­cise geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion of, say, a par­tic­u­lar church in Madrid, video arcade in Tokyo or cof­fee shop in Addis Aba­ba, we can fig­ure it out in a mat­ter of sec­onds. This is, in his­tor­i­cal terms, a recent devel­op­ment indeed: many of us remem­ber when the most detailed car­to­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion we could get about dis­tant lands (or for that mat­ter, most of our own land) revealed to us only its cities and major roads — assum­ing we even had a world atlas at hand. Now, younger peo­ple take for grant­ed the knowl­edge of not just where every place in the world is, but what it looks like, what its prices are, and what its vis­i­tors have said about it.

We live today, in oth­er words, in the dream of Fra Mau­ro, the Venet­ian car­tog­ra­ph­er-monk of the late Mid­dle Ages who cre­at­ed the most detailed and accu­rate world map to that point in human his­to­ry. “As a young man, Fra Mau­ro had been a sol­dier and mer­chant of the famed Venice Mer­chant Fleet,” says the site of New World Car­to­graph­ic. “His trav­els with the fleet around the Mediter­ranean and the Mid­dle East result­ed in his becom­ing inter­est­ed in map­ping, and he even­tu­al­ly set­tled in the monastery of San Michelle on the island of Mura­no, in the Venice Lagoon, where he became a lay broth­er.” In the ear­ly 1450s, “he was com­mis­sioned by King Afon­so V of Por­tu­gal to cre­ate a map of the world.”

Por­tu­gal’s will to dom­i­nate world trade, which required the most detailed maps pos­si­ble, was matched by Fra Mau­ro’s will to gath­er infor­ma­tion about every cor­ner of Earth, no mat­ter how far-flung. And he could do that with­out leav­ing Venice: as Atlas Obscu­ra’s Adam Kessler writes, “Arab traders and world explor­ers passed through the port, giv­ing Fra Mau­ro an incom­pa­ra­ble source of gos­sip and tall tales about the world. The fall of Con­stan­tino­ple, occur­ring a few years before the map was fin­ished, would also have pro­vid­ed a rich source of well-trav­eled refugees, pre­sum­ably will­ing to swap their sto­ries for some bread or beer.” Not only did the map’s phys­i­cal cre­ation require a team of col­lab­o­ra­tors, the gath­er­ing of its con­tents relied upon the fif­teenth-cen­tu­ry equiv­a­lent of crowd­sourc­ing.

This chap­ter of car­to­graph­i­cal his­to­ry invites such tech­no­log­i­cal analo­gies: Kessler calls Fra Mau­ro’s com­plet­ed map­pa mun­di “the Google Earth of the 1450s.” Despite his reli­gious affil­i­a­tion with the monastery of San Michele, Fra Mau­ro’s efforts pro­duced an unprece­dent­ed­ly rad­i­cal ren­di­tion of the world. Break­ing with reli­gious tra­di­tion, he did­n’t put Jerusalem in the cen­ter; “the Gar­den of Eden was rel­e­gat­ed to a side­box, not shown in a real geo­graph­ic loca­tion.” His scrupu­lous­ness made him the first car­tog­ra­ph­er “to depict Japan as an island, and the first Euro­pean to show that you could sail all the way around Africa.” While his map was “the most accu­rate ever made at the time,” its more than 3,000 anno­ta­tions do con­tain plen­ty of tall tales, often of lit­er­al giants. But are they real­ly much less trust­wor­thy than the aver­age twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry user review?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The World Map That Intro­duced Sci­en­tif­ic Map­mak­ing to the Medieval Islam­ic World (1154 AD)

Explore the Here­ford Map­pa Mun­di, the Largest Medieval Map Still in Exis­tence (Cir­ca 1300)

The Evo­lu­tion of the World Map: An Inven­tive Info­graph­ic Shows How Our Pic­ture of the World Changed Over 1,800 Years

Europe’s Old­est Map: Dis­cov­er the Saint-Bélec Slab (Cir­ca 2150–1600 BCE)

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.

17 Minutes of Charles Schulz Drawing Peanuts

Any­one can learn to draw the cast of Peanuts, but few can do it every day for near­ly half a cen­tu­ry. The lat­ter, as far as we know, amounts to a group of one: Charles Schulz, who not only cre­at­ed that world-famous com­ic strip but drew it sin­gle-hand­ed through­out its entire run. He was, as a nine­teen-six­ties CBS pro­file put it, “a one-man pro­duc­tion team: writer, humorist, social crit­ic.” That clip opens the video above, which com­piles footage of Schulz draw­ing Peanuts while mak­ing obser­va­tions on the nature of his craft. “When you draw a com­ic strip, if you’re going to wait for inspi­ra­tion, you’ll nev­er make it,” he says. “You have to become pro­fes­sion­al enough at this so that you can almost delib­er­ate­ly set down an idea at will.”

Schulz’s ded­i­ca­tion to his work may have been an inborn trait, but he did­n’t find his way to that work only through his par­tic­u­lar abil­i­ties. His par­tic­u­lar inabil­i­ties also played their part: “I stud­ied art in a cor­re­spon­dence course, because I was afraid to go to art school,” he says in a lat­er BBC seg­ment.

“I could­n’t see myself sit­ting in a room where every­one else in the room could draw much bet­ter than I.” With bet­ter writ­ing skills, “per­haps I would have tried to become a nov­el­ist, and I might have become a fail­ure.” With bet­ter draw­ing skills, “I might have tried to become an illus­tra­tor or an artist. I would’ve failed there. But my entire being seems to be just right for being a car­toon­ist.”

In draw­ing, he also found a medi­um of thought. “The real­ly prac­ti­cal way of get­ting an idea, when you have noth­ing real­ly to draw, is just tak­ing a blank piece of paper and maybe draw­ing one of the char­ac­ters in a famil­iar pose, like Snoopy sleep­ing on top of the dog­house,” he says. Then, you might nat­u­ral­ly “imag­ine what would hap­pen if, say, it began to snow. And so you’d doo­dle in a few snowflakes, some­thing like that. Per­haps you would be led to won­der what would hap­pen if it snowed very hard, and the snow cov­ered him up com­plete­ly.” If you con­tin­ue on to draw, say, Snoopy­’s loy­al friend Wood­stock being sim­i­lar­ly snowed in, you’re well on your way to a com­plete strip. Now do it 17,897 times, and maybe you’ll qual­i­fy for Schulz’s league.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Charles Schulz Draws Char­lie Brown in 45 Sec­onds and Exor­cis­es His Demons

Hayao Miyazaki’s Sketch­es Show­ing How to Draw Char­ac­ters Run­ning: From 1980 Edi­tion of Ani­ma­tion Mag­a­zine

Umber­to Eco Explains the Poet­ic Pow­er of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts

Hergé Draws Tintin in Vin­tage Footage (and What Explains the Character’s Endur­ing Appeal)

Car­toon­ists Draw Their Famous Car­toon Char­ac­ters While Blind­fold­ed (1947)

The Endur­ing Appeal of Schulz’s Peanuts — Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast #116

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.

Nobel Prize-Winning Psychologist Daniel Kahneman (RIP) Explains the Key Question Every Investor Must Ask, and Why It’s a Fool’s Errand to Pick Stocks

This past week, the influ­en­tial psy­chol­o­gist and econ­o­mist Daniel Kah­ne­man passed away at age 90. The win­ner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Eco­nom­ic Sci­ences, Kah­ne­man wrote the best­selling book Think­ing, Fast and Slow where he explained the two sys­tems of think­ing that shape human deci­sions. These include “Sys­tem 1,” which relies on fast, auto­mat­ic and uncon­scious think­ing, and then “Sys­tem 2,” which requires atten­tion and con­cen­tra­tion and works more slow­ly. And it’s the inter­play of these two sys­tems that pro­found­ly shapes the qual­i­ty of our deci­sions in dif­fer­ent parts of our lives, includ­ing invest­ing.

In the inter­view above, Steve Forbes asks why indi­vid­ual investors per­sist in believ­ing that they can pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly over time, despite ample evi­dence to the con­trary. Draw­ing on his research, Kah­ne­man describes the “illu­sion of skill,” where investors “get the imme­di­ate feel­ing that [they] under­stand some­thing,” which is much “more com­pelling than the knowl­edge of sta­tis­tics that tells you that you don’t know any­thing.” Here, Sys­tem 1 cre­ates the “illu­sion of skill,” and it over­whelms the slow­er ana­lyt­i­cal think­ing found in Sys­tem 2—the Sys­tem that could use data to deter­mine that stock pick­ing is a fool’s errand. When Forbes asks if investors should ulti­mate­ly opt for index funds instead of indi­vid­ual stocks, Kah­ne­man replies “I am a believ­er in index funds,” that is, unless you have very rare infor­ma­tion that allows you to pick stocks suc­cess­ful­ly.

Lat­er in the inter­view, Kah­ne­man touch­es on anoth­er impor­tant sub­ject. In his mind, the first ques­tion every investor should ask is not how much mon­ey should I plan to make, but rather, “How much can I afford to lose.” Every investor should assess their risk tol­er­ance, in part so that you can han­dle tur­bu­lence in the mar­ket and stick with your ini­tial invest­ment plan. If you are not aware of your risk tol­er­ance, “when things go bad, you will want to change what you are doing, and that’s the dis­as­ter in invest­ing… Loss aver­sion can kill you.” He con­tin­ues, “Emo­tions are indeed your ene­my. The worst thing that could hap­pen to you …  is to make a deci­sion and not stick with it, so that you bail out when things go bad­ly, so that you sell low and buy high. That is not a recipe for doing well in the stock mar­ket, or any­where.” Ide­al­ly, you should fig­ure out upfront how much you want to put in the stock mar­ket, and how much you want to keep out, so that you can psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly man­age the ups and downs of invest­ing.

From here, Kah­ne­man comes to his most impor­tant piece of advice for investors: Know your­self in terms of what you could regret. If you are prone to regret, if invest­ing makes you feel inse­cure and lose sleep at night, then you should adopt a “regret min­i­miza­tion strat­e­gy” and cre­ate a more con­ser­v­a­tive port­fo­lio to match it. Read more about that here. Also see Chap­ters 31 (Risk Poli­cies) and 32 (Keep Score) in Think­ing, Fast and Slow where Kah­ne­man talks more about invest­ing.

This post orig­i­nal­ly appeared on our sis­ter/­side-project site, Open Per­son­al Finance.

Relat­ed Con­tent on Open Per­son­al Finance: 

All the Finan­cial Advice You’ll Ever Need Fits on a Sin­gle Index Card

Why You Should Diver­si­fy: A Key Invest­ment Les­son from Econ­o­mist Alex Tabar­rok & Van­guard Founder John Bogle

Essen­tial Advice for Any Investor from Jack Bogle, the Founder of Van­guard

War­ren Buf­fett Explains the Pow­er of Com­pound Inter­est



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How to Rewire Your Brain in 6 Weeks: A BBC Reporter Explores How Everyday Life Changes Can Alter Our Brains

If you sus­pect that your brain isn’t quite suit­ed for mod­ern life, you’re not alone. In fact, that state of mind has prob­a­bly been clos­er to the rule than the excep­tion through­out moder­ni­ty itself. It’s just that the mix of things we have to think about keeps chang­ing: “The school run. Work calls. Infla­tion. Remem­ber your lines,” says BBC sci­ence reporter Melis­sa Hogen­boom in the video above. “Our brain nev­er evolved for any of this, and yet here we are, get­ting on with it as best we can, and it’s all thanks to our brain’s incred­i­ble capac­i­ty to adapt, to learn, to grow” — the very sub­ject she inves­ti­gates in this series, Brain Hacks.

In search of neu­ro­sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly sound “hacks to help strength­en cru­cial con­nec­tions and keep our minds younger in the process,” Hogen­boom put her­self through a “a six-week brain-alter­ing course.” The first seg­ment of the series finds her enter­ing into a med­i­ta­tion pro­gram she describes in this arti­cle: “For 30 min­utes a day, either as one sin­gle ses­sion or two 15-minute ses­sions, I prac­ticed a guid­ed mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion by lis­ten­ing to a record­ing.” In addi­tion, she had a week­ly ses­sion with Uni­ver­si­ty of Sur­rey pro­fes­sor of clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gy Thorsten Barn­hofer, who also appears in the video.

Can med­i­ta­tion, and the oft-dis­cussed “mind­ful­ness” it empha­sizes, keep our minds from wan­der­ing away from what we real­ly need to think about? “Mind-wan­der­ing is some­thing that, of course, might be help­ful in many ways,” says Barn­hofer, “but it’s also some­thing that can go awry. This is where repet­i­tive think­ing comes in, where rumi­na­tive think­ing comes in, where wor­ry comes in. Those are the fac­tors which increase stress,” increas­ing the pres­ence of hor­mones like cor­ti­sol. And “if lev­els of cor­ti­sol remain high, that can actu­al­ly become tox­ic for your brain, for regions of your brain which are very plas­tic.” Stress, as Hogen­boom sums it up, “is a direct inhibitor of neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty.”

“Research has found that after only a few months of mind­ful­ness train­ing, cer­tain depres­sion and anx­i­ety symp­toms can ease,” Hogen­boom writes, and her own expe­ri­ence seems also to point in that direc­tion. A brain scan per­formed after her med­i­ta­tion course found that “one half of my amyg­dala – an almond-shaped struc­ture impor­tant for emo­tion­al pro­cess­ing – had reduced in vol­ume,” pos­si­bly because the prac­tice “buffers stress seen in the amyg­dala.” It also revealed growth in her cin­gu­late cor­tex, “part of the lim­bic sys­tem that is involved in our behav­ioral and emo­tion­al respons­es,” which indi­cates “increased con­trol of that area.” Hogen­boom acknowl­edges that these changes “could also be ran­dom,” since “the brain is con­stant­ly chang­ing any­way”; the trick, how­ev­er and when­ev­er pos­si­ble, is to nudge it toward change for the bet­ter.

Bonus: Below, sci­ence jour­nal­ist Daniel Gole­man talks about mind­ful­ness and how you can change your brain in 10 min­utes with dai­ly med­i­ta­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Med­i­ta­tion 101: A Short, Ani­mat­ed Beginner’s Guide

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

Alan Watts Presents a 15-Minute Guid­ed Med­i­ta­tion: A Time-Test­ed Way to Stop Think­ing About Think­ing

Dis­cov­er the Back­wards Brain Bicy­cle: What Rid­ing a Bike Says About the Neu­ro­plas­tic­i­ty of the Brain

How Yoga Changes the Brain and May Guard Against Alzheimer’s and Demen­tia

5 Ways to Build an Alzheimer’s‑Resistant Brain: Neu­ro­sci­en­tist Lisa Gen­o­va Explains

David Lynch Explains Why Depres­sion Is the Ene­my of Cre­ativ­i­ty — and Why Med­i­ta­tion Is the Solu­tion

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.

What Earth Could Look Like in 2050 If We Do Nothing About Climate Change


What could our future world look like if we con­tin­ue to do noth­ing about cli­mate change? That’s the ques­tion posed by a new TED ED video, writ­ten by Shan­non Odell and direct­ed by Sofia Pashaei. We are already see­ing the effects of cli­mate change. If you’re pay­ing even a lit­tle atten­tion, you’re feel­ing the hot­ter sum­mers (which is reflect­ed in the data). You’re notic­ing the increas­ing num­ber of droughts. You’re see­ing the grow­ing num­ber of for­est fires, etc. So, “what will our world look like in the next 30 to 80 years, if we con­tin­ue on the cur­rent path?” With the video above, get a glimpse of the pos­si­ble world to come.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Carl Sagan Warns Con­gress about Cli­mate Change (1985)

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

Free: Watch Our Plan­et, a Ground­break­ing Nature Doc­u­men­tary Series Nar­rat­ed by David Atten­bor­ough


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