Written by

Chris Gonzales


Samuel Zeller

Welcome to this week’s edition of our Friday Quality Linkage column. Please enjoy this week’s collection of interesting and entertaining links. Brew a fresh cup of coffee, find a comfortable place, and relax.

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Illustration: Rebecca Hendin

Illustration: Rebecca Hendin

Atheists on the Meaning of Life »

Tom Chivers of BuzzFeed asked a bunch of atheists, including authors, scientists, photographers, and podcasters, about the ways they make their lives matter without believing in a higher power or any real “meaning” in the universe.

As a non-religious person myself — I guess you could say agnostic? I used to identify as full-blown atheist but am now basically indifferent to religion, provided it stays out of government (views are my own, etc etc) — many of their answers rang true for me.

In this passage by Gia Milinovich the bit I bolded in the third paragraph is something I think about all the time:

Several years ago I worked on a film called Sunshine which was written by Alex Garland. He wrote the film as an exploration of the inevitable, eventual end. Every day Alex and I would have long, involved discussions about ‘the end of time’. One thing he said stuck with me: “Our problem is that, in an entirely meaningless universe, our lives are entirely meaningful.”

There is meaning in the universe. My children mean something to me. My husband means something to me. The roses blooming in my garden mean something to me. So, there is meaning in the universe, but it is localised: It perhaps only exists here on Earth.

When you start to think in universal time spans, your perception of humanity must necessarily change. Differences of opinion seem pathetic. National borders become ridiculous. The only thing that starts to be important to me is material reality and understanding how it operates and how matter itself came into being in the first place.

Illustrations: Gavin Aung Than

Illustrations: Gavin Aung Than

James Rhodes: “Is That Not Worth Exploring?” »

Inspired by a passage from this brilliant 2013 piece by concert pianist James Rhodes, Gavin Aung Than of Zen Pencils created this lovely comic of a man rediscovering his love for piano.

We seem to have evolved into a society of mourned and misplaced creativity. A world where people have simply surrendered to (or been beaten into submission by) the sleepwalk of work, domesticity, mortgage repayments, junk food, junk TV, junk everything, angry ex-wives, ADHD kids and the lure of eating chicken from a bucket while emailing clients at 8pm on a weekend.


What if for a couple of hundred quid you could get an old upright on eBay delivered? And then you were told that with the right teacher and 40 minutes proper practice a day you could learn a piece you’ve always wanted to play within a few short weeks. Is that not worth exploring?

Trash Planet »

The Disney Insider blog recently shared the story of how WALL-E (one of my favorite Pixar films) could have turned out a completely different movie:

“We were going to try and do it without any dialogue at all,” Reardon said. “We invented a dialogue taken out of the IKEA catalogue.” This language was made up of indecipherable, childlike gibberish, [WALL-E co-writer Jim Reardon] explained. “They were a tribe, really. The whole mislead was that it looks like a tribe of aliens but then you realize humans have gotten really, really fat … and transparent.”

The creative process is a weird and wondrous thing.

Leisure, the Basis of Culture »

Maria Popova of Brain Pickings pulls several excerpts from German philosopher Josef Pieper’s 1952 book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, adding some wonderful commentary of her own:

Today, in our culture of productivity-fetishism, we have succumbed to the tyrannical notion of “work/life balance” and have come to see the very notion of “leisure” not as essential to the human spirit but as self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or deplorable idleness reserved for the lazy. And yet the most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own — our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough — originated in leisure, in moments of unburdened contemplation, of absolute presence with the universe within one’s own mind and absolute attentiveness to life without, be it Galileo inventing modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Oliver Sacks illuminating music’s incredible effects on the mind while hiking in a Norwegian fjord.


This, perhaps, is why when we take a real vacation — in the true sense of “holiday,” time marked by holiness, a sacred period of respite — our sense of time gets completely warped. Unmoored from work-time and set free, if temporarily, from the tyranny of schedules, we come to experience life exactly as it unfolds, with its full ebb and flow of dynamism — sometimes slow and silken, like the quiet hours spent luxuriating in the hammock with a good book; sometimes fast and fervent, like a dance festival under a summer sky.

Photo: Mark Seliger

Photo: Mark Seliger

Mindy Kaling’s Guide to Killer Confidence »

In this excerpt from her new book, Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling explains that self-confidence is something you have to earn:

People get scared when you try to do something, especially when it looks like you’re succeeding. People do not get scared when you’re failing. It calms them. That’s why the show Intervention is a hit and everyone loves “worrying about” Amanda Bynes. But when you’re winning, it makes them feel like they’re losing or, worse yet, that maybe they should’ve tried to do something too, but now it’s too late. And since they didn’t, they want to stop you. You can’t let them.

Rock on.

Too Much “Screen Time” Damages Children’s Brains »

Victoria L. Dunckley M.D., writing for Psychology Today in 2014, shares findings from brain scan research that we parents may “know” instinctually but are often afraid to admit to ourselves:

Although many parents have a nagging sense that they should do more to limit screen-time, they often question whether there’s enough evidence to justify yanking coveted devices, rationalize that it’s “part of our kids’ culture,” or worry that others—such as a spouse—will undermine their efforts. […]

In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.

Ever hear the old adage that TV can rot a kid’s brain? There’s truth to that.

Now, substitute “TV” with any of the wide variety of screens children now have constant access to, and you’ve got a real problem. If you’re guilty of handing your kid a device to keep them entertained so you can “just think for a minute!” (I’m not judging, we’ve all done it), consider not doing that so much anymore.

Photo: Chris Johns (2001)

Photo: Chris Johns (2001)

Six National Geographic Photographers and the Lions They’ve Seen »

Last month, following the killing of Cecil the lion, National Geographic asked some of their photographers — all of whom have spent extensive time documenting lion prides — to share what it’s like witnessing (sometimes encountering!) these awe-inspiring beasts.

Robert Caputo: I’ve spent countless hours photographing lions in the wild. Actually, I should rephrase that because most of those hours were spent sitting in a car watching them. Adult lions spend about 20 hours a day sleeping, and there are only so many pictures you can make of that. But you have to be there—and ready—when they do something. So I’d sit and watch and get to know the habits and personalities of individuals. Some are haughty and aloof, some curious and playful, some aggressive: a whole spectrum that is probably not surprising in lions, given that they are the only social species of cats. And, in my mind at least, not unlike individuals in another species of large social carnivores: us.

Great stories and photos.

Photo: NASA

Photo: NASA

Astronauts Captured Rare Photo of a Giant Red Sprite »

On August 10th, 2015, astronauts aboard the ISS captured this cool photo of a red sprite. Sprites are enormous red sparks that form in Earth’s upper atmosphere, well above storm clouds. They’re also notoriously hard to photograph.

Sprites aren’t just a curious phenomenon. They might play an important role in shaping the the air we breathe by combining and breaking apart different types of atmospheric molecules.

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Got any suggestions for articles, videos, stories, photographs, and any other links you think we should be posting in our weekly Quality Linkage? Please do let us know on Twitter.