One of my favorite places to hang out online is Brain Pickings, an eclectic culture blog founded and curated by Maria Popova, a 27-year-old Bulgaria native who now lives in Brooklyn. The success of the site, founded in 2006, has earned Popova gigs with The Atlantic, Wired, GOOD, and at MIT as a (appropriately) "Futures of Entertainment Fellow."
The Internet, and the information age that it has spawned, can be overwhelming for many people: who can keep up with the latest news, memes, and fads? How can we sort the good from the bad and the ugly on the unregulated net? What do we do about its many brain-numbing distractions?
Through the mire, Popova has created a website that is more like a museum than it is like a blog. She culls through the vast torrents of Internet content to find and highlight bits and pieces that celebrate creativity, ingenuity, and human happiness. In between working two jobs, tweeting compulsively, and going to the gym, Popova writes about three well-crafted posts a day for Brain Pickings, and each of them is unique and inspiring in its own way.
Because creativity, after all, is a combinatorial force. It’s our ability to tap into the mental pool of resources — ideas, insights, knowledge, inspiration — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these ideas and build new ideas — like LEGOs. The more of these building blocks we have, and the more diverse their shapes and colors, the more interesting our creations will become.
Brain Pickings is your LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces across art, design, science, technology, philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology, ecology, anthropology, you-name-itology. Pieces that enrich your mental pool of resources and empower you to combine them into original concepts that are stronger, smarter, richer, deeper and more impactful. Please enjoy.
The themes that she returns to are transcendent and ever-relevant: what makes a good story, minimalism in art, originality and creativity, and popular science. I especially liked a recent post, which was picked up by NPR, on Richard Feynman and "key to science in 63 seconds":
Richard Feynman — Nobel-winning physics icon, curiosity champion, graphic novel hero, bongo drummer, wager-maker, no ordinary genius — would have been 94 today. To celebrate, here is one of Feynman’s most beloved classics, a 1964 lecture in which he distills with equal parts wit and wisdom the essence of the scientific method.
You can watch Feynman's lecture at Popova's blog. Here's the text of it (though you're better of watching it, since the text can't capture Feynman's charisma in communicating these simple principles):
In general, we look for a new law by the following process: First we guess it; then we compute the consequences of the guess to see what would be implied if this law that we guessed is right; then we compare the result of the computation to nature, with experiment or experience, compare it directly with observation, to see if it works. If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is — if it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.
As I mentioned, Popova's blog is eclectic. But one thing unites each of her posts: "interestingness":
Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.
I can't think of anyone who embodies the ethos of the information age more than Popova. She knows that there is a large quantity of fascinating material out there; she's hyperactively in pursuit of it; and she shares it with the rest of world. Brain Pickings, according to one report, has "earned millions of page views." Popova has almost 181,000 followers on Twitter. There's a demand for the ideas that she wants to share.