LWR #6

27 December – 2 January

Our brain on art. Noah Charney, Salon. rothko-620x412(image credit: Getty/Daniel Leal-Olivas, taken from the Salon article). Have you ever thought, standing in front of a modern or contemporary art piece, “I could have done it as well”? Have you ever felt like that was not “real” art, to be unable to understand its meaning, value and point altogether? I certainly did. If you did as well, than this article is for you. The author, referring to a book written by neuroscientist Eric Kandel, explains how our inability to appreciate abstract art comes from the fact that it requires a more complex and unusual mental effort. Old Medieval and Renaissance paintings, even though very enigmatic and full of symbols and hidden meanings, depict reality as we know it. The objects and the scenes represented are very similar to what we see around us, thus our brains can follow along well known patterns and draw meaning from the painting. In abstract art though, what we see is very different what we are used to, reality is fragmented, depleted of clear forms and borders, representing mainly concepts and ideas, rather than objects and characters. Though the actual meaning is thus more simple and primordial, our brain needs to do an extra effort, in order to get out of the usual schemes and analyze this new, unknown reality. I don’t know if I will actually make it to look at art in such a way, but I am certainly eager to try. And definitely curious to know more about Kandel and his contribution to art history.

Epictetus. Elif Batuman, The New Yorker. Few practical tips on how stoic philosophy can help us in our everyday life. Very similarly to Yogic philosophers, the stoice Epictetus teaches us that we shouldn’t worry about things that we cannot control and we should consider every negative situation as an opportunity to learn something and to get stronger.

The great A.I. awakening. Gideon Lewis-Kraus, The New York Times Magazine. 18ai-cover2-superjumbo-v4(image by Pablo Delcan, The New York Times Magazine). The story of how Google used machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve its Google Translate service. Long but worth it.

The marvelous Ed Withlock.  Jeré Longman, The New York Times. Meet Ed, the oldest man to have run a marathon in less than 4h (85 years old, Toronto 2016) and the only man above 70 to have run a marathon in less than 3h (73 years old, Toronto 2004).

“Asked why he kept running Withlock candidly said he enjoyed setting records and receiving attention. […] He does not experience a runner’s high, he said, and he does not run for his health. He finds training to be drudgery and even racing brings as much apprehension as joy.”