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Stitching the Stars: Trailblazing Astronomer Maria Mitchell on the Needle as an Instrument of the Mind and Why Women Are Better Suited for Astronomy Than Men

“The eye that directs a needle in the delicate meshes of embroidery will equally well bisect a star with the spider web of the micrometer.” In preparing for my conversation with the wonderful artist and philosopher of forms Ann Hamilton, I came upon a striking passage from one of her exhibition catalogs.

This Is Not a Picture Book: An Irreverent Illustrated Ode to Why We Read

“The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed,” Rebecca Solnit wrote in her beautiful meditation on why we read and write.

Weather, Weather: Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler’s Lyrical Illustrated Celebration of the Elements

A dreamlike meditation on our elemental companion. Certain languages, including French and my native Bulgarian, have one word for both “time” and “weather.” Perhaps the conflation arises from an inescapable similarity — like time, which envelops the entirety of our conscious experience, the weather is the indelible backdrop against which our lives are lived, constantly coloring our state of mind and saturating our language with myriad metaphors.

Descartes on the Cure for Indecision

“There are no grounds for fear of the unknown: for often the things we most dreaded, before we experienced them, turn out to be better than those we desired.” “The job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist,” wrote Dani Shapiro in her beautiful meditation on why creativity requires leaping into the unknown, “is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it.” John Keats called this “negative capability” and it resides at the heart of Rilke’s timeless incantation to “live the questions.” But ours is a world strewn with dualities, where everything exists in parallel with its opposite, every point tethered to its counterpoint.

Genes and the Holy G: Siddhartha Mukherjee on the Dark Cultural History of IQ and Why We Can’t Measure Intelligence

“If the history of medical genetics teaches us one lesson, it is to be wary of precisely such slips between biology and culture… Genes cannot tell us how to categorize or comprehend human diversity; environments can, cultures can, geographies can, histories can.” Intelligence, Simone de Beauvoir argued, is not a ready-made quality “but a way of casting oneself into the world and of disclosing being.” Like the rest of De Beauvoir’s socially wakeful ideas, this was a courageously countercultural proposition — she lived in the heyday of the IQ craze, which sought to codify into static and measurable components the complex and dynamic mode of being we call “intelligence.” Even today, as we contemplate the nebulous future of artificial intelligence, we find ourselves stymied by the same core problem — how are we to synthesize and engineer intelligence if we are unable to even define it in its full dimension?

Eileen Myles Reads “For My Rampant Muse, For Her”

“I could fall for lamp-light…” The poet, novelist, memoirist, lesbian icon, and onetime presidential candidate Eileen Myles (b.

An Artist’s Life Manifesto: Marina Abramović’s Rules of Life, Solitude, and Silence

“An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky.” “The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,” E.E.

You Are Here: Creative Cartography Mapping the Soul of New York

“Diversity fills the city with cartographic potential… New York belongs to everyone, and maps prove it.” “Each of us is an atlas of sorts, already knowing how to navigate some portion of the world,” wrote Rebecca Solnit in her imaginative remapping of New York’s untold stories, “containing innumerable versions of place as experience and desire and fear, as route and landmark and memory.” But as fascinating as it is to imagine the world’s greatest metropolis remapped according to its unheralded dimensions, New York’s multitude of parallel realities is itself bountiful fodder for the artistic imagination and has inspired centuries of fanciful cartographic interpretations.

A Truly Human Endeavor: Cosmologist Janna Levin on the Transcendence of Science, the Climb Toward Truth, and Why Scientists Do What They Do

“The climb is personal, a truly human endeavor, and the real expedition pixelates into individuals, not Platonic forms.” “Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity,” wrote pioneering physicist Lise Meitner, “[and] it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep joy and awe that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.” Meitner herself was a true scientist who embodied this selfless, joyful reach for truth — she discovered nuclear fission and was denied the Nobel for the discovery, but went on to pave the way for women in science anyway and lived a long life invigorated by the pleasurable pursuit of knowledge.

Hold Still: Sally Mann on the Treachery of Memory, the Dark Side of Photography, and the Elusive Locus of the Self

“Photographs economize the truth; they are always moments more or less illusorily abducted from time’s continuum.” “Memory is never a precise duplicate of the original… it is a continuing act of creation,” pioneering researcher Rosalind Cartwright wrote in distilling the science of the unconscious mind.

C.S. Lewis on Equality and Our Core Misconception About Democracy

“The tempter always works on some real weakness in our own system of values: offers food to some need which we have starved.” “The notion of obligations comes before that of rights, which is subordinate and relative to the former,” wrote the great French philosopher Simone Weil shortly before her untimely and patriotic death as she contemplated the crucial difference between our rights and our obligations.

Radical Hope: Philosopher Jonathan Lear on the Paradoxical Seedbed of Courage and Cultural Resilience

“Radical hope anticipates a good for which those who have the hope as yet lack the appropriate concepts with which to understand it.” “Courage is the measure of our heartfelt participation with life, with another, with a community, a work; a future,” wrote the poet and philosopher David Whyte in contemplating crisis as a testing ground for courage.

Moon Man: Tomi Ungerer’s Timeless Vintage Illustrated Fable of How Fear and Cynicism Blind Us to Benevolence

A radiant reminder that we transcend our darkness only by choosing to turn toward the light. For billions of years, the Moon has remained our steadfast companion bearing witness to every tumult and triumph of this world, its benevolent radiance reminding us that even the darkest of earthly eras shall pass.

Einstein on Widening Our Circles of Compassion

“Our task must be to free ourselves … by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” “Have compassion for everyone you meet,” Lucinda Williams sang as she put one of her father’s poems to music, “for you do not know what wars are going on down there, where the spirit meets the bone.” But without the recognition that those wars are shared wars — that our suffering is always a part of the suffering, common to the human experience — compassion becomes an intellectual abstraction.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Parker Palmer on Holding the Tension of Our Differences in a Creative Way

“Full engagement in the movement called democracy requires no less of us than full engagement in the living of our own lives.” “America, if eligible at all to downfall and ruin, is eligible within herself, not without,” Walt Whitman wrote in his timeless meditation on democracy.

In the Company of Women: Wisdom and Advice on the Creative Life from Beloved Women Artists, Makers, and Entrepreneurs

Neko Case, Nikki Giovani, Tavi Gevinson, Maira Kalman, Debbie Millman, Carrie Brownstein, and more. “Women had always made a significant contribution to the development of human civilization, but these were consistently ignored, denied, or trivialized,” artist Judy Chicago wrote at the height of the women’s liberation movement in her iconic 1979 celebration of women’s place in creative culture.

Nobel Laureate André Gide on the Freedom of Expression and the Vital Role of Art as Both Insurgency and Acceptance

“The sole art that suits me is that which, rising from unrest, tends toward serenity.” “Art,” Jeanette Winterson observed in a terrific conversation about art and the human spirit, “pulls people up short.

Patti Smith on Listening to the Creative Impulse and the Crucial Difference Between Writing Poetry and Songwriting

“In times of strife, we have our imagination, we have our creative impulse, which are things that are more important than material things.

Young Barack Obama on Identity, the Search for a Coherent Self, and How Polarizing Identity Politics Fragments Our Wholeness

“Without power for the group, a group larger, even, than an extended family, our success always threatened to leave others behind.” “This is the entire essence of life: Who are you?

Maya Angelou on How a Library Saved Her Life

“A library is a rainbow in the clouds.” “You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians.