Brain Pickings Becomes the Marginalian

… for the longest time now, Brain Pickings has been a weekly part of my life, one of my principle sources of new reading that uplifts and informs and presents a both spiritual and rational way forward in life… it is, in some ways, a model for my Notes On Attention Paid blog…

… this morning i discovered Maria Popova has renamed it to The Marginalian… hmmm… the implication that her offerings are and have always been about the interstices and in-betweens of important thinking and feeling… finding what isn’t popular culture, but lasting and informative culture…

… i am not sure about the new name, it seems slightly pretentious to me while being a little too uncertain about it’s usefulness… i am absolutely sure about Maria Popova’s beautiful and inspiring offerings… so, i will go forward with her and maybe the name will grow on me and feel right… it’s her journey, not mine… i am just along for the ride…

A Brain Pickings Post on Panpsychism and Consciousness

… two of my most favorite rabbit holes, though they are really one rabbit hole… i have read a lot on panpsychism and find i believe in the idea that all matter possesses some level of consciousness which can be as fundamental as the attraction or repulsion between two subatomic particles… the idea that to be attracted or repulsed is to “sense” the proximity of “another”…

… it’s an idea that is often (though increasingly less so) dismissed as new age woo-woo, or a kind of spiritualism the intuitive self is drawn to as a pathway to meaning in life…

Analogia, George Dyson

… of the growing number of rabbit holes i am prone to going down, AI, which i expand to “Alternative Intelligence,” is a big one… i wrote a talk on the subject a while back… for a long time i talked about it at family gatherings, dinner parties, etc… until my wife gently brought it to a stop, at least in public… she was bored, she was sure our friends were bored… maybe they were, but i haven’t stopped thinking about it… this presentation by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings of George Dyson’s book, has launched me down the AI rabbit hole again… i bought the Kindle version of the book and it awaits my attention in the near future…

… the notable quote that headlines the article…

Nature’s answer to those who seek to control nature through programmable machines is to allow us to build systems whose nature is beyond programmable control.1

… the best way i found to come at the subject was that the rise of AI was evolution in action… that nature was finding a way to progress intelligence and that such progression might or might not include a future for women and men, or if it does, women and men might not constitute the apex, if they ever did… AI does look to me to be the viable way we set sail across the universe… it seems more plausible to me that intelligent and self motivated mechanical life will evolve… alternative intelligence will be much more capable of survival in the interstitial spaces of the cosmos than flesh and blood, which is fragile and in need of extensive protection and support to persist beyond the surface of the planet…

… i am sure i will be writing more on this subject…

 Maria Popova on Willa Cather

… as an artist, i found this Brain Pickings post on Willa Cather particularly welcome this morning… i think it gets at one of the reasons i like living in communities with a lively mixture of working and middle class people who go about their lives largely without the pretensions that wealth can bring, or so it seems to me… from another post on Cather by Maria Popova…

The creative spirit creates with whatever materials are present. With food, with children, with building blocks, with speech, with thoughts, with pigment, with an umbrella, or a wineglass, or a torch. We are not craftsmen only during studio hours. Any more than a man is wise only in his library. Or devout only in church. The material is not the sign of the creative feeling for life: of the warmth and sympathy and reverence which foster being; techniques are not the sign; “art” is not the sign. The sign is the light that dwells within the act, whatever its nature or its medium.1

04 John Coltrane on being the breakthrough creative:

From a post by Maria Popova on Brain Pickings

Truth is indestructible… History shows (and it’s the same way today) that the innovator is more often than not met with some degree of condemnation; usually according to the degree of his departure from the prevailing modes of expression or what have you. Change is always so hard to accept.1

… may we all find truths to tell and the courage to tell them regardless of whether those around us are ready to accept them…


  1. John Coltrane. From: Coltrane a biography, C. O. Simpkins, M.D., via Maria Popova. [return]

04 Maria Popova on Loneliness

… i was about to title this Sylvia Plath, or the Journals of Sylvia Plath… MP’s thoughts here revolve around Sylvia Plath’s journals even as they evoke thoughts and feelings of sadness and loneliness that she herself feels… MP is talking as much about her own experience as she is decoding Sylvia Plath’s…

… i learn that she considers her upbringing less than optimal and that she has struggled in relationships with “people whose claws fit (her) wounds and deepen them,” an experience i certainly had with my first marriage…

… it is strange, though, to talk about the loneliness of love… i don’t really understand this… i suppose that a relationship can leave one unfulfilled (and therefore lonely?)… i suspect that one is lonely on their own when one isn’t good at being with themselves… would this have been Sylvia Plath’s problem?… is this Maria Popova’s problem?…

… i have spent very little of my life truly alone… there has almost always been a love interest and very brief times of solitude between those interests… even so, i have always required large amounts of solitude within my relationships… i wake up early in the morning just to have several hours of that solitude before H wakes up and the household begins to churn…

… i am so good at being alone that i don’t struggle with loneliness much at all… i like who and what i am in solitude… this was my pandemic super power… i did not have to change much about my routines during the height of it… often, it is enough to satisfy my need for human contact to be in a cafe full of strangers, or, during the pandemic, meet someone i know on the street and chat for a few minutes…

05 Rabbit Hole D’jour Part II, James Baldwin

People can’t, unhappily, invent their mooring posts, their lovers and their friends, anymore than they can invent their parents. Life gives these and also takes them away and the great difficulty is to say Yes to life.1

… the idea of saying yes to life immediately takes my mind to Camu’s Myth of Sisyphus, in which the opening salvo is a meditation on the most fundamental philosophical question of them all, To Be, Or Not To Be… that being the question… most of us say yes to life, but i read Sylvia Plath, who did not, and look at the photos of Francesca Woodman, who did not… i look poised to stay with life to the end, bitter or otherwise… my bigger question at the moment is whether i am happy, and if i am not, what i will do to be happier…

04 Rabbit Hole D’jour, Free Will

… Maria Popova sends me down this RH this morning… a post on James Baldwin quickly links to another post on Sam Harris talking about free will… she quotes this from his book on the subject…

The question of free will touches nearly everything we care about. Morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships, feelings of guilt and personal accomplishment — most of what is distinctly human about our lives seems to depend upon our viewing one another as autonomous persons, capable of free choice. If the scientific community were to declare free will an illusion, it would precipitate a culture war far more belligerent than the one that has been waged on the subject of evolution. Without free will, sinners and criminals would be nothing more than poorly calibrated clockwork, and any conception of justice that emphasized punishing them (rather than deterring, rehabilitating, or merely containing them) would appear utterly incongruous. And those of us who work hard and follow the rules would not “deserve” our success in any deep sense. It is not an accident that most people find these conclusions abhorrent. The stakes are high.1

… the thought leaps through my mind, i wonder if the troubles we cause ourselves are all because so many of us believe we are free agents in the cosmos?…

05 Emily Dickinson on Grief, Love and Loss, Brain Pickings

Because the price of living wholeheartedly (which is the only way worth living) is the heartbreak of many losses — the loss of love to dissolution, distance, or death; the loss of the body to gravity and time — and because loss leaves in its wake an experience so private yet so universal, the common record of human experience that we call literature is replete with reflections on grief:1

I Measure Every Grief I Meet: Emily Dickinson on Love and Loss