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Robert Beckstead
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Books:  Leaves of Grass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Short Stay in Hell, The Path, Material World, The Tennis Partner, Beloved, Sailing Alone Around the World, The Hiding Place, Two Years Before the Mast, Working, All Creatures Great and Small, Understanding Comics, Envisioning Information, The Varieties of Religious Experience, Dark Nights of the Soul, Grand Central Winter, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Sum, Leap
Magazines:  Wired, Seed, Life, Colors, NYTimes Magazine, Technology Review, Good, The Sun, Esquire, The Economist, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Lapham's Quarterly, National Geographic, Fast Company, Foreign Affairs, Cabinet, Foreign Policy, NPQ, Outside
Film:  Baraka, The Up Series, Boyhood, Finding Vivian Maier, Silent Light, The Bothersome Man, Tell No One, Hoop Dreams, Limitless, My Dinner With Andre, Devil's Playground,  Sherman's March, Groundhog Day, Stone Reader
Radio:  Fresh Air, This I Believe, Diane Rehm, BBC
Podcast:  Tim Ferriss, On Being, Radiolab
Music:  Gregorian Chant, Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares, Albinoni Adagio in G Minor
TV:  Black Mirror, Six Feet Under, The Returned, Foyle's War, 60 Minutes, GPS, Charlie Rose, Mad Men, Planet Earth, A Glorious Accident, Connections, Turning Point
Art:  Van gogh, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Gauguin, Dale Chihuly, Chuck Close, Rembrandt, Brodsky & Utkin, kozyndan, Ron Mueck, Gustave Doré, Degas, Gustav VigelandErnst Haeckel,  Ward Shelley, Norman Rockwell, Gerard Michel,  Nicholas Felton, Sarah Simblet, Andy Gilmore, David Pearson, James Gilray, Albrecht Durer, Jean-Jacques Sempe, Mark Lombardi, Stefanie Posavec, Bouguereau, Tyler Lang, Keri Smith, Kerr/Noble, Bernini, Dan McCarthy, Thomas Hart Benton, Richard Wilkinson, Andy Goldsworthy, Stephen Wiltshire, Kelly Vivanco, Rick Beerhorst
Photography:   Howard Schatz, Chip Clark, Peter Menzel, Nicholas Nixon, Andrew Zuckerman, Massimo Vitali, Andrew Moore, Toni Frissell, Jan Reurink, Rachel Papo, Raul Gutierrez, Eric Lafforgue, Steve McCurry, Andreas Feininger, Eugene Smith, Ansel Adams, Eadweard Muybridge, Eve Arnold, Edward Burtynsky, Arnaud Frich, Patric Shaw, Giancarlo Rado, Ahmet Ertug, Lennart Nilsson, Mark Laita, G Dan Mitchell, Nina Leen, Thomas Wrede, Antonio Guillen, Lauren Greenfield, Mark Mahaney, Brent Stirton, Ernst Haas, Ivor Prickett, Bernhard Edmaier
Architecture:  Sagrada Familia, Thorncrown Chapel, Kölner Dom, Hallgrímskirkja, Guggenheim Bilbao, Church at Firminy, Sydney Opera House, Selexyz Bookstore, The Vatican, Beinecke Library, Hamilton College Unified Science Center, Bibi-Khanym Mosque, Hagia Sophia, The Alhambra
Ideas:  Steven Berlin Johnson, Kevin Kelly, Fareed Zakaria, George Friedman, Jason Kottke, Jonathan Harris, Matt Haughey, Cory Booker, Blaise Aguera y ArcosTerry Gross, Simon Schama, Rex Sorgatz, Juan Enriquez, Ray Kurzweil, Robert Cringely, Philip Greenspun, Maria Popova, Robert Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, Bill Bryson, Roger Ebert, Richard Branson, Chet Raymo, John Brockman, Bill Gates, Atul Gawande, Richard Saul Wurman, Caterina Fake, Ze Frank, Robert Wright, Tyler Cowen, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Craig Venter, Jorn Barger, James Burke, Alan de Botton, Manuel Lima, Sam Harris, Niall Ferguson, David Eagleman, E.O. Wilson, Albert Laszlo-Barabasi, Francis Collins, James Gleick, Douglas Hofstadter, Amy Chua, Mike Mullen, Craig Barrett, Mario Vargas Llosa, Daniel Gilbert, Jonathan Haidt, Tim O'Reilly, Edward Tufte, Theodore Zeldin, Elon Musk, Sebastian Junger, Francis Fukuyama, Anand Mahindra, Paul Bloom, Peter Diamandis, Michio Kaku, Eric Lander, George Church, Chris Glass, David Byrne, Stephen Wolfram, Robert Pinsky, Bryan Alvarez, Jason Silva, Dexter Filkins, Jeff Hawkins, Chris Hadfield, Lincoln Cannon, Yuval Noah Harari, Roger Scruton
Ideas: Socrates, Seneca, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Erasmus, Spinoza, Newton, Smith, Hume, Mill, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Blake, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Douglass, Lincoln, Darwin, Freud, Wittgenstein, Einstein, Sartre, Beckett, Borges
Subjects:  Art, History, Maps, Timelines, Visualization, Evolution, Religion, Mathematics, Medicine, Science, Technology, Philosophy
“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”   --Charles Darwin
" man who ever lived liked so many things and disliked so few as Walt Whitman. All natural objects seemed to have a charm for him; all sights and sounds, outdoors and indoors, seemed to please him."    --Richard Bucke
 "All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected. But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships. A timeless interval was spent doing that."
--Isaac Asimov
"When you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little mark, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says, "You are here."  --Douglas Adams
"We have been to the moon, we have charted the depths of the ocean and the heart of the atom, but we have a fear of looking inward to ourselves because we sense that is where all the contradictions flow together.” --Terence McKenna


Robert Beckstead

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16 cameras in one: Light promises smartphone size and DSLR image quality
Light is a new silicon valley startup that’s focused on the holy grail of photography. A camera the size of a smartphone, that takes photos the quality of a 52-megapixel DSLR, zooms optically between 35 and 150mm, shoots great images in low light, and lets you select focus and depth of field after you shoot. It sounds like more than one camera can handle – and that’s because it’s actually 16 cameras in one.
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Robert Beckstead

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Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind
My synopsis plus key excerpts.

Sapiens is probably the most ambitious book that I have ever read. Within the constraints of space and a lay but intelligent target audience that are typical for a book like this it attempts a truly grand and epic synthesis of human history and human culture. Starting with our divergence from our last common ancestor with chimpanzees Yuval Harari weaves a dense and engaging tapestry of human history that covers human biology, culture, institutions, agriculture, religion, money, industrialisation, and science that succeeds in providing a fascinating overview of historical transitions and novel insights into both key events and our indelible human nature. 

Above all, the key takeaway, and the key lesson that Harari conveys with Sapiens is the overwhelming power of ideas to control our lives, our desires, our history, and even the entire biosphere of our planet. Sapiens repeatedly emphasises the seemingly obvious but so often forgotten or neglected point that all of these ideas have no objective reality, no physical existence in the real world, and exist only as abstract constructs in our minds at both an individual and collective level. One’s programming by collective ideas is most starkly presented when considering issues of morality that one takes to be absolutes. Our seemingly fixed society is represented as a fluid and purely imagined order, as a set of games with rules we all agree to follow and adhere to. 

This is a book that I could not put down and it consumed most of my free time for a week. Harari presents such a different lens, with a different focus on human nature and historical human events that I couldn’t help but find the material endlessly fascinating, the story thoroughly engaging and always stimulating. Old lessons and knowledge were represented and reinforced in a new light with new metaphors and of course new lessons and knowledge were presented in powerful ways. There were many nights when I learned more details about history than I had in many, many years. 

Sapiens was one of those rare, wonderful books that helped make me a better person and a better, more aware thinker. 

Selected Excerpts
The following list of excerpts of ~2,200 words has been culled down from an original list that I made of ~13,000 words. 

Tolerance is not a Sapiens trademark. In modern times, a small difference in skin colour, dialect or religion has been enough to prompt one group of Sapiens to set about exterminating another group. Would ancient Sapiens have been more tolerant towards an entirely different human species?

Over the last few centuries [legal fictions known as] companies have become the main players in the economic arena, and we have grown so used to them that we forget they exist only in our imagination.

Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.

Most millionaires sincerely believe in the existence of money and limited liability companies. Most human rights activists sincerely believe in the existence of human rights.

One of history’s few iron laws is that luxuries tend to become necessities and to spawn new obligations. Once people get used to a certain luxury, they take it for granted. Then they begin to count on it. Finally they reach a point where they can’t live without it.

Both the Code of Hammurabi and the American Declaration of Independence claim to outline universal and eternal principles of justice, but according to the Americans all people are equal, whereas according to the Babylonians people are decidedly unequal. The Americans would, of course, say that they are right, and that Hammurabi is wrong. Hammurabi, naturally, would retort that he is right, and that the Americans are wrong. In fact, they are both wrong. Hammurabi and the American Founding Fathers alike imagined a reality governed by universal and immutable principles of justice, such as equality or hierarchy. Yet the only place where such universal principles exist is in the fertile imagination of Sapiens, and in the myths they invent and tell one another. These principles have no objective validity.

How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined. You always insist that the order sustaining society is an objective reality created by the great gods or by the laws of nature. You also educate people thoroughly. From the moment they are born, you constantly remind them of the principles of the imagined order, which are incorporated into anything and everything.

The imagined order shapes our desires. Most people do not wish to accept that the order governing their lives is imaginary, but in fact every person is born into a pre-existing imagined order, and his or her desires are shaped from birth by its dominant myths. Our personal desires thereby become the imagined order’s most important defences.

It follows that in order to change an existing imagined order, we must first believe in an alternative imagined order. ... There is no way out of the imagined order. When we break down our prison walls and run towards freedom, we are in fact running into the more spacious exercise yard of a bigger prison.

Most people claim that their social hierarchy is natural and just, while those of other societies are based on false and ridiculous criteria. Modern Westerners are taught to scoff at the idea of racial hierarchy. They are shocked by laws prohibiting blacks to live in white neighbourhoods, or to study in white schools, or to be treated in white hospitals. But the hierarchy of rich and poor – which mandates that rich people live in separate and more luxurious neighbourhoods, study in separate and more prestigious schools, and receive medical treatment in separate and better-equipped facilities – seems perfectly sensible to many Americans and Europeans. Yet it’s a proven fact that most rich people are rich for the simple reason that they were born into a rich family, while most poor people will remain poor throughout their lives simply because they were born into a poor family.

Culture tends to argue that it forbids only that which is unnatural. But from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behaviour, one that goes against the laws of nature, simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.

Money was created many times in many places. Its development required no technological breakthroughs – it was a purely mental revolution. It involved the creation of a new inter-subjective reality that exists solely in people’s shared imagination. Money is not coins and banknotes. Money is anything that people are willing to use in order to represent systematically the value of other things for the purpose of exchanging goods and services. Money enables people to compare quickly and easily the value of different commodities (such as apples, shoes and divorces), to easily exchange one thing for another, and to store wealth conveniently.

Money is accordingly a system of mutual trust, and not just any system of mutual trust: money is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.

For thousands of years, philosophers, thinkers and prophets have besmirched money and called it the root of all evil. Be that as it may, money is also the apogee of human tolerance. Money is more open-minded than language, state laws, cultural codes, religious beliefs and social habits. Money is the only trust system created by humans that can bridge almost any cultural gap, and that does not discriminate on the basis of religion, gender, race, age or sexual orientation. Thanks to money, even people who don’t know each other and don’t trust each other can nevertheless cooperate effectively.

Money is based on two universal principles:
a. Universal convertibility: with money as an alchemist, you can turn land into loyalty, justice into health, and violence into knowledge.
b. Universal trust: with money as a go-between, any two people can cooperate on any project.

But if we take into consideration natural-law religions, then modernity turns out to be an age of intense religious fervour, unparalleled missionary efforts, and the bloodiest wars of religion in history. The modern age has witnessed the rise of a number of new natural-law religions, such as liberalism, Communism, capitalism, nationalism and Nazism. These creeds do not like to be called religions, and refer to themselves as ideologies. But this is just a semantic exercise. If a religion is a system of human norms and values that is founded on belief in a superhuman order, then Soviet Communism was no less a religion than Islam.

As long as the hosts live long enough to pass along the parasite, it cares little about the condition of its host. In just this fashion, cultural ideas live inside the minds of humans. They multiply and spread from one host to another, occasionally weakening the hosts and sometimes even killing them.

Modern-day science is a unique tradition of knowledge, inasmuch as it openly admits collective ignorance regarding the most important questions.

Our current assumption that we do not know everything, and that even the knowledge we possess is tentative, extends to the shared myths that enable millions of strangers to cooperate effectively. If the evidence shows that many of those myths are doubtful, how can we hold society together? How can our communities, countries and international system function?

In 1620 Francis Bacon published a scientific manifesto titled The New Instrument. In it he argued that ‘knowledge is power’. The real test of ‘knowledge’ is not whether it is true, but whether it empowers us. Scientists usually assume that no theory is 100 per cent correct. Consequently, truth is a poor test for knowledge. The real test is utility. A theory that enables us to do new things constitutes knowledge.

Poverty, sickness, wars, famines, old age and death itself were not the inevitable fate of humankind. They were simply the fruits of our ignorance. . . . The leading project of the Scientific Revolution is to give humankind eternal life.

Europeans began to draw world maps with lots of empty spaces – one indication of the development of the scientific mindset, as well as of the European imperial drive. The empty maps were a psychological and ideological breakthrough, a clear admission that Europeans were ignorant of large parts of the world.

What enables banks – and the entire economy – to survive and flourish is our trust in the future. This trust is the sole backing for most of the money in the world.The entire enterprise is thus founded on trust in an imaginary future – the trust that the entrepreneur and the banker have in the bakery of their dreams, along with the contractor’s trust in the future solvency of the bank.

Credit enables us to build the present at the expense of the future. It’s founded on the assumption that our future resources are sure to be far more abundant than our present resources. A host of new and wonderful opportunities open up if we can build things in the present using future income.

In the new capitalist creed, the first and most sacred commandment is: ‘The profits of production must be reinvested in increasing production.’

Like the Dutch Empire before it, the British Empire was established and run largely by private joint-stock companies based in the London stock exchange.The Indian subcontinent too was conquered not by the British state, but by the mercenary army of the British East India Company. From its headquarters in Leadenhall Street, London, it ruled a mighty Indian empire for about a century, maintaining a huge military force of up to 350,000 soldiers, considerably outnumbering the armed forces of the British monarchy.

First, capitalism has created a world that nobody but a capitalist is capable of running. The only serious attempt to manage the world differently – Communism – was so much worse in almost every conceivable way that nobody has the stomach to try again. In 8500 BC one could cry bitter tears over the Agricultural Revolution, but it was too late to give up agriculture. Similarly, we may not like capitalism, but we cannot live without it.

At heart, the Industrial Revolution has been a revolution in energy conversion. It has demonstrated again and again that there is no limit to the amount of energy at our disposal. Or, more precisely, that the only limit is set by our ignorance. Every few decades we discover a new energy source, so that the sum total of energy at our disposal just keeps growing.

Yet all of these upheavals are dwarfed by the most momentous social revolution that ever befell humankind: the collapse of the family and the local community and their replacement by the state and the market.

For real peace is not the mere absence of war. Real peace is the implausibility of war.

First and foremost, the price of war has gone up dramatically. The Nobel Peace Prize to end all peace prizes should have been given to Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow architects of the atomic bomb. Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into collective suicide, and made it impossible to seek world domination by force of arms.

But the most important finding of all is that happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.

If happiness is determined by expectations, then two pillars of our society – mass media and the advertising industry – may unwittingly be depleting the globe’s reservoirs of contentment.

People are made happy by one thing and one thing only – pleasant sensations in their bodies. A person who just won the lottery or found new love and jumps from joy is not really reacting to the money or the lover. She is reacting to various hormones coursing through her bloodstream, and to the storm of electric signals flashing between different parts of her brain.

Happiness and misery play a role in evolution only to the extent that they encourage or discourage survival and reproduction. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that evolution has moulded us to be neither too miserable nor too happy. It enables us to enjoy a momentary rush of pleasant sensations, but these never last for ever. Sooner or later they subside and give place to unpleasant sensations.

As Nietzsche put it, if you have a why to live, you can bear almost any how. A meaningful life can be extremely satisfying even in the midst of hardship, whereas a meaningless life is a terrible ordeal no matter how comfortable it is.

Our actions are not part of some divine cosmic plan, and if planet Earth were to blow up tomorrow morning, the universe would probably keep going about its business as usual. As far as we can tell at this point, human subjectivity would not be missed. Hence any meaning that people ascribe to their lives is just a delusion. The otherworldly meanings medieval people found in their lives were no more deluded than the modern humanist, nationalist and capitalist meanings modern people find.

Since we might soon be able to engineer our desires too, perhaps the real question facing us is not ‘What do we want to become?’, but ‘What do we want to want?’ Those who are not spooked by this question probably haven’t given it enough thought.Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?

#sapiens   #history   #human  
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New York 1940's in color 
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Have them in circles
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NASA Mars Curiosity Rover View | Sol 1117 | JPL
Martian sandstone that looks as though it has been altered by fluids —likely groundwater with other dissolved chemicals.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Processing: Credit: Elisabetta Bonora & Marco Faccin /
Date: October 3, 2015

+NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory 

#NASA #Mars #Space #Astronomy #Science #Curiosity #Rover
#Laboratory #Gale #Crater #Robotics #MountSharp #JourneytoMars #RedPlanet #MSL #JPL #Sol1117
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World’s Largest Tibetan Buddhist Institute +Leif Alexander 
High in a treeless valley in China's remote Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture lies the the largest Tibetan Buddhist school in the world. The Seda Larung Wuming Tibetan Buddhist Institute consists of a few main buildings and a tens of thousands of small dormitories built on the surrounding hillsides. At any given time, the Institute houses up to 40,000 monks and nuns.

#amazingplaces  #aerialphotography #hdrphoto #hdrphotography #amazingphotoarountheworld #nirvana #interestingfacts #nationalgeographic #landscapephotography #Larungvalley #Garze #ganzi #China #culture #lifestyle #travelphotography  
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Google Data Center, Council Bluffs, Iowa.
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