Death masks of famous scientists

This is Isaac Newton's face, frozen in plaster and wax. It's one of two death masks owned by the Royal Society. (The other preserves the face of mathematician, physicist, and early-20th-century science communicator James Hopwood Jeans.) Why take plaster casts of the faces of the dead? The tradition dates back to the pre-photography era where, if you wanted to see what a person actually looked like, a cast (whether of their face in life, or death) was the most accurate way to do it.

The Royal Society has more on the history of death masks, and pictures of the two they own.

Accessorizing with cats

Photos of famous people with cats thrown jauntily over their shoulders: It's my new favorite cat meme. Visit Heather Archuletta's Facebook collection for more shots like this. Besides Frank Zappa, she's got David Bowie, Freddy Mercury, and more.

Thanks, Joanne Manaster!

What's on Leonardo daVinci's "To-Do" list?

The above image is an illustrated and translated version of an actual "to-do" list written by Leonardo da Vinci. It was put together for NPR by Robert Krulwich and illustrator Wendy MacNaughton, based on information found in a new book, Da Vinci's Ghost: Genius, Obsession, and How Leonardo Created the World in His Own Image, by Toby Lester.

What does a list like this tell us about the guy who wrote it? Krulwich sees in this list an example of what the brain can do when it's allowed to really wander. Maybe you're better off not being able to focus very well on one specific thing:

"We live in an age that worships attention," says my friend (and Radiolab colleague) Jonah Lehrer. "When we need to work, we force ourselves to concentrate. This approach can also inhibit the imagination. Sometimes, it helps to consider irrelevant information, to eavesdrop on all the stray associations unfolding in the far reaches of the brain."

Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, [a scientific study] suggests. Or, as Jonah chose to put it, there are "unexpected benefits of not being able to focus."

That's not a bad point. But I see something else here as well. Take another look at that to-do list. I think it's pretty interesting that of the nine tasks shown, six involve consulting and learning from other people. Leonardo da Vinci needs to find a book. Leonardo da Vinci needs to get in touch with local merchants, monks, and accountants who he hopes can help him better understand concepts within their areas of expertise.

Leonardo da Vinci knows he doesn't know everything.

I think that's a big deal.

Dear Mr. Spielberg, please give the raptors feathers

"There had better be feathers on the raptors": Dino-blogger Brian Switek's open letter to Steven Spielberg upon the occasion of rumors about the possibility of a Jurassic Park 4.

Bertrand Russell's advice to internet commenters

Sure, it's not really what he had in mind. But I'm rather struck by the fact that pretty much every flame war ever could be avoided if we only listened to him. Shorter version: Recognize that you could be wrong, be tolerant of people who say things you hate and kind to people with whom you disagree, and, for god's sake, don't feed the trolls*.

*He didn't actually say that last bit, but it's just assumed at this point, right?

Video Link

Via Joe Dwyer