The Kingdom of Wisdom, the Isle of Knowledge, and other whimsical geographic representations of the human condition
I love maps.
There's something about cartography that lends itself to visualizing
much more than land and geography. I've previously looked at how the London tube map
was appropriated as a visual metaphor for everything from The Milky Way
to the Kabbalah, and today we turn to seven cartographic
interpretations of the human condition, using the visual vocabulary of
classical maps to interpret various facets of the human psyche--a genre
that came of age during the late Renaissance, when it became known as
The Kingdom of Wisdom
In 1961, Norton Juster wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, a timeless children's classic and one of our essential children's books
with philosophy for grown-ups. It tells the story of a bored little boy
named Milo who one day receives a magic tollbooth that transports him
to a fantasy land called The Kingdom of Wisdom.
Though at first he gets lost in the Doldrums, a grey place where
thinking and laughing are not allowed, he goes on to incredible
adventures before returning to his own room as magically as he had left
This map by mid-century American cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who illustrated the book, depicts the marvelous land that Milo finds himself in as he follows his own curiosity.
Isle of Knowledge
Last week, delicious new work by designer Marian Bantjes (whose latest book, I Wonder, is among the most ambitious and beautiful visual communication volumes ever published) made the rounds--and for good reason: Isle of Knowledge
is a beautifully illustrated map of "the 'known' beyond which lie
monsters," created for the second installment in Bantjes's column for U.K.
illustration magazine Varoom on the theme of "Knowledge."
English artist Grayson Perry's 2004 Map of an Englishman
portrays his mind in a mock-Tudor etch of an imaginary island,
surrounded by the "seas" of his perceived psychological flaws--desires,
vanities, prejudices, fears. The island itself is vaguely brain-shaped,
turning the map into a kind of cartographic phrenology of the self.
Image courtesy of Grayson Perry and The Paragon Press via BBC
Carte de Tendre
Carte de Tendre
(Map of Tenderness) is a 17th-century French map by the writer
Madeleine de Scudéry depicting the peaks and valleys of amorous pursuit,
from the River of Inclination to Lake of Indifference to the Great
Spirit. With its undetermined itinerary that offers you multiple routes
to Tenderness, it's part map, part choose-your-own-adventure narrative
The Empire of Love
We first featured this extraordinary antique German map of Das Reich der Liebe
(The Empire of Love) more than three years ago, and it remains an
absolute favorite. Created by Johann Gottlob Immanuel Breitkopf in 1777,
it's a pinnacle of sentimental cartography, as detailed and obsessive
as love itself.
If you don't sprechen Sie Deutch, here's the gist:
DER JUGEND = Land of Youth (Forest of Love, Kiss Field, Flirting Game,
Charm Castle, Stream of Wishes, Worry-Free, Joy's Home, Beautiful House,
Source of Joy, Sweet Look, Wisecrack Place, Rich River, Warning Castle)
GABIET DER RUHE = Land of Rest (Nightcap, Grandfather City, Equanimity, Manly Place)
DER TRAURENDEN LIEBE = Land of Mourning Love (Anger's Home, Flood of
Tears, Whim Mountain, Complaint Place, Hopeless Mountains, Loathing,
Strict Place, Swamp of Profanity, Desert of Melancholy)
GABIET DER LUSTE = Land of Lust (Illness Valley, Weak Home, Intoxication Field, Lechery, Hospital)
GABIET DER GLUCKLICHEN LIEBE = Land of Happy Love (Lust Wood, Answered
Prayers, Pleasant View, Enjoyment, Tenderness, Good Times, Affection
Farm, Satisfaction, Compliance Mountain, Fountain of Joy, Marriage
Harbor, Reward City, Peace of Mind, Bliss Town)
GABIET DER HAGESTOLZE
= Bachelor Country (Stupidity Town, Rejection Place, Irritation,
Indifference, Place of Contempt, Reprehensibility, Old Age Mountains,
Separation, Hat, Obstinacy, Wrangler Hall, Exasperation Heath, Hamlet of
Death, Sea of Doubt)
GABIET DER FIXEN IDEEN = Land of Obsessions
(Place of Sighs, Desire Town, Unrest, City of Dreams, Bridge of Hope,
Disloyalty, Sweet River of Tears, Little Town of Instincts)
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Why the Syrian war—and the future of Europe—may hinge on one city
This week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-supported militias including Hezbollah, launched a major offensive to encircle rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo, choking off one of the last two secure routes connecting the city to Turkey and closing in on the second. This would cut supplies not only to a core of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also to the city’s 300,000 remaining civilians, who may soon find themselves besieged like hundreds of thousands of others in the country. In response, 50,000 civilians have fled Aleppo for the Turkish border, where the border crossing is currently closed. An unnamed U.S. defense official toldThe Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that “the war is essentially over” if Assad manages to seize and hold Aleppo.
By announcing the first detection of gravitational waves, scientists have vindicated Einstein and given humans a new way to look at the universe.
More than a billion years ago, in a galaxy that sits more than a billion light-years away, two black holes spiraled together and collided. We can’t see this collision, but we know it happened because, as Albert Einstein predicted a century ago, gravitational waves rippled out from it and traveled across the universe to an ultra-sensitive detector here on Earth.
This discovery, announced today by researchers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), marks another triumph for Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And more importantly, it marks the beginning of a new era in the study of the universe: the advent of gravitational-wave astronomy. The universe has just become a much more interesting place.
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Once it was because they weren’t as well educated. What’s holding them back now?
Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why, Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?
The hit new indie release is the opposite of action-packed, yet it’s compelling in its simplicity.
Solitude, it turns out, can be addictive. So I learned playing the new hit indie game Firewatch, where all the action amounts to you, the player, being alone in the woods. You’re a lookout assigned to a summer posting in the Shoshone National Forest of Wyoming in 1989, meaning your job consists of nothing more than wandering around, clearing brush, and calling in any fires you might spot. Most video games equip you with tools and weapons, complex missions, and action sequences. All Firewatch gives you is a map, a compass, and a walkie-talkie—but it’s still one of the most compelling video games I’ve ever played.
It’s the latest in a quiet movement of video games, more psychological products that tap into the atmosphere and wonder of loneliness rather than looking for the simpler thrills the medium usually provides. It’s tempting to trace this trend’s origins back to Minecraft, which launched in 2009 and became a worldwide phenomenon on the back of its extraordinary simplicity. But in Minecraft, you start armed only with your bare hands in a world of monsters, and can eventually upgrade into a city-builder armed with powerful tools. Firewatch is a more intimate affair: a short story, playable over a few hours, that succeeds first and foremost as an emotional experience.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
When two black holes collide, the noises scientists hear are birdlike.
This morning, scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory announced that LIGO had detected gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes, an event so cataclysmic that it converted the mass of three solar systems into pure energy in about a tenth of a second.
Scientists have been trying to figure out how to “listen” to gravitational waves—and to prove their existence—ever since Einstein predicted them in 1915. But until September 14, 2015, when the colliding black-hole event was first detected, this was beyond our technical abilities. In the words of Scott Hughes, “Gravity is a weak force. Measuring these things is bloody hard.”
Hughes is a theoretical physicist at MIT who has been contemplating LIGO since its inception in 1992. He has struggled with a question at the heart of the observatory program: Once we do hear gravitational waves, how will we know where they come from? How can we use them to explore the mysteries of the cosmos? To this end, Hughes has modeled the “sounds” of a host of astrophysical events, including colliding black holes. (You can listen to his impressions of these sounds below.)
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?