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Nietzsche on truth, the forgotten woman astronomer whose work proved that the universe is expanding, Chiura Obata's stunning paintings of Yosemite

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Brain Pickings

Welcome Hello, Blue! This is the weekly email digest of by Maria Popova. If you missed last week's edition — Alan Lightman on our longing for absolutes in a relative world, a tender illustrated celebration of love too large for labels to hold, and more — you can catch up right here. And if you're enjoying this newsletter, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation – each month, I spend hundreds of hours and tremendous resources on it, and every little bit of support helps enormously. If you already donate: THANK YOU.

Nietzsche on Truth, Lies, the Power and Peril of Metaphor, and How We Use Language to Reveal and Conceal Reality

“The need of reason is not inspired by the quest for truth but by the quest for meaning,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her incisive meditation on the vital difference between thinking and knowing. “Knowledge consists in the search for truth,” Karl Popper cautioned in considering truth and the dangers of relativism. “It is not the search for certainty.”

But in an uncertain world, what is the measure of truth and where does the complex, conflicted human impulse for knowledge originate in the first place?

That is what Friedrich Nietzsche (October 15, 1844–August 25, 1900) examined a century before Arendt and Popper in his 1873 essay “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense,” later translated by W.A. Haussmann and included in the indispensable Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche (public library).

Friedrich Nietzsche

Half a century before Bertrand Russell admonished that, in a universe unconcerned with human interests, the equally naïve notions of optimism and pessimism “spring from self-importance, and are best corrected by a little astronomy,” Nietzsche paints the backdrop for the drama of truth:

Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die.

One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no additional mission which would lead it beyond human life. Rather, it is human, and only its possessor and begetter takes it so solemnly — as though the world’s axis turned within it. But if we could communicate with a gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought.

1573 painting by Portuguese artist, historian, and philosopher Francisco de Holanda, a student of Michelangelo’s, envisioning the creation of the Ptolemaic universe by an omnipotent creator. From Cosmigraphics: Picturing Space Through Time.

The desire for knowledge, Nietzsche argues, stems from the same hubristic self-focus and is amplified by the basic human instinct for belonging — within a culture, what is designated as truth is a form of social contract and a sort of “peace pact” among people. A century before Laura Riding observed that “the task of truth is divided among us, to the number of us,” Nietzsche writes:

A uniformly valid and binding designation is invented for things, and this legislation of language likewise establishes the first laws of truth. For the contrast between truth and lie arises here for the first time. The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real. He says, for example, “I am rich,” when the proper designation for his condition would be “poor.” He misuses fixed conventions by means of arbitrary substitutions or even reversals of names. If he does this in a selfish and moreover harmful manner, society will cease to trust him and will thereby exclude him. What men avoid by excluding the liar is not so much being defrauded as it is being harmed by means of fraud. Thus, even at this stage, what they hate is basically not deception itself, but rather the unpleasant, hated consequences of certain sorts of deception. It is in a similarly restricted sense that man now wants nothing but truth: he desires the pleasant, life-preserving consequences of truth. He is indifferent toward pure knowledge which has no consequences.

Suggesting that language itself can become a tool that conceals rather than reveals truth — something Anna Deavere Smith would echo a century later in her observation that “some people use language as a mask [and] create designed language that appears to reveal them but does not” — Nietzsche probes at these linguistic conventions themselves:

Are they perhaps products of knowledge, that is, of the sense of truth? Are designations congruent with things? Is language the adequate expression of all realities?


What is a word? It is the copy in sound of a nerve stimulus. But the further inference from the nerve stimulus to a cause outside of us is already the result of a false and unjustifiable application of the principle of sufficient reason… We speak of a “snake”: this designation touches only upon its ability to twist itself and could therefore also fit a worm. What arbitrary differentiations! What one-sided preferences, first for this, then for that property of a thing!

Illustration from The Little Golden Book of Words

Half a century before the Nobel-winning Indian poet and philosopher Tagore asserted that “relationship is the fundamental truth of this world of appearance,” Nietzsche adds:

The various languages placed side by side show that with words it is never a question of truth, never a question of adequate expression; otherwise, there would not be so many languages. The “thing in itself” (which is precisely what the pure truth, apart from any of its consequences, would be) is likewise something quite incomprehensible to the creator of language and something not in the least worth striving for. This creator only designates the relations of things to men, and for expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors… It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things — metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities… A word becomes a concept insofar as it simultaneously has to fit countless more or less similar cases — which means, purely and simply, cases which are never equal and thus altogether unequal. Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept “leaf” is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the “leaf”: the original model according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted — but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model… We obtain the concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us.

“What is essential is invisible to the eye.” One of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s original watercolors for The Little Prince.

With this, Nietzsche returns to his central premise and distills the notion of truth as a social contract in language:

What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, and anthropomorphisms: in short, a sum of human relations which have been poetically and rhetorically intensified, transferred, and embellished, and which, after long usage, seem to a people to be fixed, canonical, and binding. Truths are illusions which we have forgotten are illusions — they are metaphors that have become worn out and have been drained of sensuous force, coins which have lost their embossing and are now considered as metal and no longer as coins.

And yet what Nietzsche tenders is not relativism but a framework for differentiating between truth and lie, rooted in the understanding that language — a human invention and social adaptation — is too porous a vessel for holding pure reality beyond the anthropocentric:

To be truthful means to employ the usual metaphors. Thus, to express it morally, this is the duty to lie according to a fixed convention, to lie with the herd and in a manner binding upon everyone… From the sense that one is obliged to designate one thing as “red,” another as “cold,” and a third as “mute,” there arises a moral impulse in regard to truth. The venerability, reliability, and utility of truth is something which a person demonstrates for himself from the contrast with the liar, whom no one trusts and everyone excludes.

As a “rational” being, he now places his behavior under the control of abstractions. He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions. First he universalizes all these impressions into less colorful, cooler concepts, so that he can entrust the guidance of his life and conduct to them. Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept.

Art by Alessandro Sanna from Pinocchio: The Origin Story

He illustrates this transfiguration of physical fact into abstract concept in the recognition, construction, and articulation of “truth”:

If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal” I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be “true in itself” or really and universally valid apart from man.

At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation. Similar to the way in which astrologers considered the stars to be in man’s service and connected with his happiness and sorrow, such an investigator considers the entire universe in connection with man: the entire universe as the infinitely fractured echo of one original sound-man; the entire universe as the infinitely multiplied copy of one original picture-man. His method is to treat man as the measure of all things, but in doing so he again proceeds from the error of believing that he has these things [which he intends to measure] immediately before him as mere objects. He forgets that the original perceptual metaphors are metaphors and takes them to be the things themselves.

Our purest contact with reality, Nietzsche suggests, lies in breaking free from the trap of language and standing in absolute attentive presence with the actuality of what is before us — beyond classification, beyond description, beyond constriction into concept:

Only by forgetting this primitive world of metaphor can one live with any repose, security, and consistency: only by means of the petrification and coagulation of a mass of images which originally streamed from the primal faculty of human imagination like a fiery liquid, only in the invincible faith in this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in short, only by forgetting that he himself is an artistically creative subject, does man live with any repose, security, and consistency.

Long before Rachel Carson invited the human imagination to experience reality from the perspective of marine creatures and before cognitive scientists explored what the world looks like through others’ eyes, Nietzsche adds:

It is even a difficult thing for [man] to admit to himself that the insect or the bird perceives an entirely different world from the one that man does, and that the question of which of these perceptions of the world is the more correct one is quite meaningless, for this would have to have been decided previously in accordance with the criterion of the correct perception, which means, in accordance with a criterion which is not available. But in any case it seems to me that “the correct perception” — which would mean “the adequate expression of an object in the subject” — is a contradictory impossibility.


So far as we can penetrate here — from the telescopic heights to the microscopic depths — everything is secure, complete, infinite, regular, and without any gaps. Science will be able to dig successfully in this shaft forever, and the things that are discovered will harmonize with and not contradict each other. How little does this resemble a product of the imagination, for if it were such, there should be some place where the illusion and reality can be divined. Against this, the following must be said: if each us had a different kind of sense perception — if we could only perceive things now as a bird, now as a worm, now as a plant, or if one of us saw a stimulus as red, another as blue, while a third even heard the same stimulus as a sound — then no one would speak of such a regularity of nature, rather, nature would be grasped only as a creation which is subjective in the highest degree.

Art by Alessandro Sanna from Pinocchio: The Origin Story

Nietzsche shines a sidewise gleam on the abiding question of whether mathematics — that supreme catchpool and calculator of the laws of nature — is discovered, a fundamental fact of the universe, or invented, a human language:

After all, what is a law of nature as such for us? We are not acquainted with it in itself, but only with its effects, which means in its relation to other laws of nature — which, in turn, are known to us only as sums of relations. Therefore all these relations always refer again to others and are thoroughly incomprehensible to us in their essence. All that we actually know about these laws of nature is what we ourselves bring to them — time and space, and therefore relationships of succession and number. But everything marvelous about the laws of nature, everything that quite astonishes us therein and seems to demand explanation, everything that might lead us to distrust idealism: all this is completely and solely contained within the mathematical strictness and inviolability of our representations of time and space. But we produce these representations in and from ourselves with the same necessity with which the spider spins. If we are forced to comprehend all things only under these forms, then it ceases to be amazing that in all things we actually comprehend nothing but these forms. For they must all bear within themselves the laws of number, and it is precisely number which is most astonishing in things. All that conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of the stars and in chemical processes, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way.

One of Salvador Dalí’s rare illustrations for the essays of Montaigne

Nietzsche examines the relationship between language and science, and their analogous functions in the human quest to fathom reality:

We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science.

Just as the bee simultaneously constructs cells and fills them with honey, so science works unceasingly on this great columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions. It is always building new, higher stories and shoring up, cleaning, and renovating the old cells; above all, it takes pains to fill up this monstrously towering framework and to arrange therein the entire empirical world.

He locates the common impulse undergirding both language and science:

The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself.

Two centuries after Pascal, whom Nietzsche greatly admired, examined the difference between the intuitive and the logical mind, he ends by considering the tradeoffs between these two orientations of being — the rational and the intuitive — as mechanisms for inhabiting reality with minimal dissimilation and maximal truthfulness:

There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an “overjoyed hero,” counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty… The man who is guided by concepts and abstractions only succeeds by such means in warding off misfortune, without ever gaining any happiness for himself from these abstractions. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption — in addition to obtaining a defense against misfortune. To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. He is then just as irrational in sorrow as he is in happiness: he cries aloud and will not be consoled. How differently the stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts is affected by the same misfortunes! This man, who at other times seeks nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection against ensnaring surprise attacks, now executes a masterpiece of deception: he executes his masterpiece of deception in misfortune, as the other type of man executes his in times of happiness. He wears no quivering and changeable human face, but, as it were, a mask with dignified, symmetrical features. He does not cry; he does not even alter his voice. When a real storm cloud thunders above him, he wraps himself in his cloak, and with slow steps he walks from beneath it.

Complement “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense” with Adrienne Rich on what “truth” really means, Toni Morrison on the power of language, and Bertrand Russell on our only effective self-defense against the manipulation of realty, then revisit Nietzsche on depression and the rehabilitation of hope, how to find yourself, what it really means to be a free spirit, and why a fulfilling life requires embracing rather than running from difficulty.


Each week of the past eleven years, I have poured tremendous time, thought, love, and resources into Brain Pickings, which remains free and is made possible by patronage. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation. And if you already donate, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

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The Habits of Light: A Celebration of Pioneering Astronomer Henrietta Leavitt, Whose Calculations Proved That the Universe Is Expanding

“Nothing is fixed. All is in flux,” physicist Alan Lightman wrote in his soaring meditation on how to live with our longing for absolutes in a relative universe, reminding us that all the physical evidence gleaned through millennia of scientific inquiry indicates the inherent inconstancy of the cosmos.

This awareness, so unnerving against the backdrop of our irrepressible yearning for constancy and permanence, was first unlatched when the ancients began suspecting that the Earth, rather than being the static center of the heavens it was long thought to be, is in motion, right beneath our feet. But it took millennia for the most disorienting evidence of inconstancy to dawn — the discovery that the universe itself is in flux, constantly expanding, growing thinner and thinner as stars grow farther and farther apart. In 1929, the astronomer Edwin Hubble built on the work of other scientists and formalized this in what is now known as Hubble’s Law — the first observational evidence for the ongoing expansion of the universe, which in turn furnished foundational evidence for the Big Bang model: If the universe is constantly expanding, to trace it backward along the arrow of time is to imagine it smaller and smaller, all the way down to the seeming nothingness that banged into the somethingness within which everything exists.

At the mathematical center of Hubble’s Law were the calculations of Henrietta Swan Leavitt (July 4, 1868–December 12, 1921) — one of the unheralded women astronomers, known as “the Harvard Computers,” who shaped our understanding of the universe long before they could vote. Leavitt’s particular work at the Harvard College Observatory was deemed so valuable that she was paid 20% more than the standard salary of the other computers: 25 cents per hour.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

At the inaugural edition of The Universe in Verse, artist Ann Hamilton brought Leavitt’s legacy to life in her lovely reading of the “The Habits of Light” from Aperture (public library) — a collection of poems by Anna Leahy, celebrating science and many of its unsung heroines. In her wonderful prefatory meditation, Hamilton builds on her animating ethos of not-knowing as a creative act to consider the common impulse driving poetry and science, and the vital role of embracing the unknown as we regard the universe within and without — please enjoy:

by Anna Leahy

After Henrietta Leavitt, astronomer

The difference between luminosity and brightness
is the difference between being

and being perceived, between the energy emitted
and the apparent magnitude. O, to be

significant! To have some scope and scale!
Size and heat. Why not make that obvious,

ostensible, stretch it out for all the world to see?
Distance makes a world of difference.

The universe is made of distance and of dust.
More dust than star out there,

more crimson than cobalt from here, looking,
our eyes telling the truth slant

through the almost-nothing
of the universe’s finely grained mattering.

The Universe in Verse — a celebration of science through poetry — returns in April of 2018. For more highlights from the 2017 edition, hear Amanda Palmer’s reading of Neil Gaiman’s feminist poem about science, Janna Levin’s reading of Adrienne Rich’s tribute to women in astronomy, Tracy K. Smith’s ode to the Hubble Space Telescope, Rosanne Cash’s reading of Adrienne Rich’s homage to Marie Curie, Diane Ackerman’s poem about our search for extraterrestrial life, playwright Sarah Jones’s chorus-of-humanity tribute to Jane Goodall, Iron & Wine’s reading of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ode to Euclid, and my reading of Wisława Szymborska’s ode to the number pi, then watch the complete show for a two-hour poetic serenade to science.

Chiura Obata’s Stunning Paintings of Yosemite

“Place and a mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered,” the Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd wrote in her breathtaking love letter to the mountain. Around the same time, across an ocean and a landmass, another poet laureate of place was serenading nature in a different medium and with a singular voice.

Called to art since childhood, Chiura Obata (November 18, 1885–October 6, 1975) was trained in the traditional Japanese ink and brush painting technique sumi-e from the age of seven. When his family readied him for military school at age fourteen, he ran away, left his home prefecture, and traveled four hundred miles north to Tokyo, where he apprenticed himself to a prominent painter for three years. Shortly before his eighteen birthday, Obata left for the United States and settled in San Francisco, working as a domestic servant while pursuing an arts education. He was soon supporting himself with illustration work for Japanese-language magazines and newspapers. But the American Dream was not on offer — instead, Obata was met with the era’s prevalent racial animosity toward Japanese immigrants, who were socially ostracized, denied entry into restaurants, hotels, and entertainment establishments, and legally prohibited from owning land.

Chiura Obata

Perhaps it was this anguishing disappointment with the human world, with its seething cauldron of xenophobia and racism, that made Obata turn his heart and his paintbrush to the natural world. On his first trip to the High Sierra in 1927, watching “beautiful flowers bloom in a stream of icy water,” Obata wrote to his wife, Haruko:

I only feel full of gratitude.

Evening Glow at Mono Lake, from Mono Mills, 1930, color woodblock print

He spent much of the 1920s traveling, capturing California’s tessellated natural beauty — from its bays and beaches to its mountains and redwood forests. In his exquisite watercolors and woodblock prints, Obata deliberately employed a combination of traditional Japanese techniques rather than abiding by any one school.

By the end of the decade, his paintings had garnered considerable attention. In 1928, Obata received his first one-person show in America at a fine arts gallery in San Francisco — a small selection drawn from the ten thousand paintings he had painted over the previous twenty years. The exhibition catapulted Obata into a new stratum of recognition and established him as a central figure in the newborn California Watercolor School, which would go on to shape the sensibility of twentieth-century American art.

Death’s Grave Pass, 1930, color woodblock print

But neither Obata’s stature in the creative world nor his appointment as an art instructor at U.C. Berkeley protected him from the swarming hostility of the country he had made his home and the recipient of his rare gift. In December of 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, locals fired shots at the art supply store Obata and his wife owned in Berkeley. After continued harassment and threats, the Obatas closed the store and cancelled the popular art classes they had been hosting for the community. By the spring, Obata was detained at one of California’s internment camps for Japanese Americans, where he founded an art school using his own funds and donations from friends at the university. Six hundred of the interned became art students and went on to produce work of such quality that it was being exhibited outside the camp by the summer.

After WWII, the Obatas bought a modest house near their old art supply store. Obata was rehired at U.C. Berkeley, from which he retired in 1953 as Professor Emeritus. The following year, he was naturalized as a Untied States citizen.

Reflecting on his life’s work, he captured his governing ethos of art’s regenerative power:

My aim is to create a bowl full of joy
        Clear as the sky,
        Pure as falling cherry petals,
Without worry, without doubt;
Then comes full energy, endless power
        And the road to art.

Death’s Grave Pass and Tenaya Peak, 1930, color woodblock print

As a young man, Obata had lived through and drawn the devastating San Francisco earthquake of 1906 — a formative experience that seeded in him a reverence for nature’s might and the geologic grandeur of Earth. In 1927, under the spell of that fascination, Obata traveled to Yosemite National Park for the first time and produced one hundred brush-and-ink paintings that became a centerpiece of his first solo show. Enchanted, he returned to Yosemite over the next decade, painting a series of stunning watercolors and woodblock prints later collected in Obata’s Yosemite: Art and Letters of Obata from His Trip to the High Sierra in 1927 (public library).

Lake Basin in the High Sierra, 1930, color woodblock print

Upper Lyell Fork, near Lyell Glacier, 1930, color woodblock print

New Moon, Eagle Peak, 1927, sumi and watercolor on paper

Mono Crater, 1930, color woodblock print

Evening Glow at Yosemite Falls, 1930, color woodblock print

Strewn throughout Obata’s descriptive and rather matter-of-factly letters from Yosemite to his wife are poetic bursts of reverie at nature’s majesty, generosity, and resilience:

The speed of the universe is surprisingly fast. The uproar of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight is no comparison to nature… At a place where yesterday I thought the snow was three to four feet high, a type of flower that I had never seen before is already smiling today. Even the sky deepens its blue color every day, adding infinite thoughts to the morning sunlight.

Lake Mary, Inyo National Forest, 1930, color woodblock print

Mount Lyell, 1930, color woodblock print

In a passage evocative of Georgia O’Keeffe’s exultation at the Southwest sky, Obata writes:

Mount Lyell stands majestically, 13,650 feet high, clad in brilliant snow and towering over the high peaks of the Sierra — Tioga Peak, Mount Dana, Ragged Peak, Johnson Peak, Unicorn Peak, and Mount San Joaquin, which surround her.

The spotlessly clear blue sky that sweeps high up over the mountains changes in a moment to a furious black color. Clouds call clouds. Pealing thunder shrieks and roars across the black heavens. Man stands awestruck in the face of the great change of wondrous nature.

A Storm Nearing Yosemite Government Center, 1939, sumi on silk

Also included in Obata’s Yosemite are the four surviving nature articles Obata wrote for a Japanese newspaper in California in 1928. He closes the final installment in the series with these words:

The old pine on the Tioga plain has borne avalanches, fought wind, rain, ice, and snow, and has suffered bitter times for several hundred years. Like a warrior at the end of his life, he embraces with his rough roots the young trees growing up and surrounding the fallen parent. When I see this I feel that man should be devoted and struggle hard to follow his own ambition without willful, selfish reasons.

I feel that to weep and to be caught in trivial emotions is impure, and I would be ashamed before nature. Now, I have come to Southern California to exhibit my work of the past twenty years to brothers and sisters and young people who are also working hard with similar thoughts in spite of different vocations.

I dedicate my paintings, first, to the grand nature of California, which, over the long years, in sad as well as in delightful times, has always given me great lessons, comfort, and nourishment. Second, to the people who share the same thoughts, as though drawing water from one river under one tree.

My paintings, created by the humble brush of a mediocre man, are nothing but expressions of my wholehearted praise and gratitude.

Along Mono Lake, 1927, sumi and watercolor on paper


Each week of the past eleven years, I have poured tremendous time, thought, love, and resources into Brain Pickings, which remains free and is made possible by patronage. If you found any joy and stimulation here this year, please consider supporting my labor of love with a donation. And if you already donate, from the bottom of my heart: THANK YOU.

monthly donation

You can become a Sustaining Patron with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a Brooklyn lunch.

one-time donation

Or you can become a Spontaneous Supporter with a one-time donation in any amount.
Start Now   Give Now

Live Event (April 25, NYC): Poetry & the Creative Mind

Due to the pesky laws of physics enforcing the finitude of space, The Universe in Verse is sold out. But there is another wonderful celebration of poetry taking place in New York this month: On April 25, The Academy of American Poets (where I serve as Special Advisor) is hosting the 16th annual Poetry & the Creative Mind – a showcase of the many kinds of lives poetry touches and inspires, with creative minds ranging from actors to astrophysicists reading some of the world’s great poems. This year’s stellar lineup of readers includes Krista Tippett, Tim Daly, Patty Griffin, Terrance Hayes, Uma Thurman, and Janna Levin. They will be reading poems about everything from love to social justice to the nature of the universe.



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