Maria Popova —
Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age

She has called Brain Pickings, her invention and labor of love, a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.” What Maria Popova really delivers, to hundreds of thousands of people each day, is wisdom of the old-fashioned sort, presented in new-fashioned digital ways. She cross-pollinates — between philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential. We explore her gleanings on what it means to lead a good life — intellectually, creatively, and spiritually.

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is the creator and editor of Brain Pickings and is an MIT Futures of Entertainment Fellow. In 2012, Brain Pickings was included in the Library of Congress permanent web archive. She has written for Wired UK, The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab.

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Maria Popova at work in her apartment.

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Maria is generous, smart and over-the-top in her willingness to bathe each of us in what she's learned. I wish we had 1,000 people who cared as much as she did, who contributed as much as she does.

Maria not only has a brilliant mind -- she's also a great soul, full of Light and Life. This is a marvelous interview, and anyone who cares about "connecting the dots" between -- well, almost anything! -- should know about Brain Pickings and follow it with care. It offers a liberal education of classical proportions, the kind that's harder and harder to find in the American academy.

Thank you very much, Maria. Reading Brain Pickings is always a pleasure.

David Franke, director of the Seven Valleys Writing Prject at SUNY Cortland, has called Brain Pickings a tresure trove. And so it is.

Maria's insights are a joy to discover. She's like a virtual best friend - her nuggets of wisdom, fresh perspectives and generosity of spirit make my heart lighter. In gratitude.

Have treasured many articles on Brain Pickings without considering the great work and dedication required to produce such a treasure. A fault on my part but a reflection of the humble genius of Maria.

Brainpickings has been a constant in my world for a number of years now.Whenever I need inspiration or timeout from the ugliness that is reported constantly in the 24 hour news cycle, I check in and it leads me to where I may never have gone. Maria is an incredible online curator.

My life , and no doubt many others , has been enriched and my spiritual connection to the world has deepend through the many gems of poetic, literary and philosophic insights of Maria Popova's Brain Pickings journal!

Maria's contribution to the busy world is wonderful. I am one who benefit from her writings...hope she continues her work for us...Good luck Maria...

Maria truly gives. I have learned so much from her and have been exposed to more writing and ideas than I ever was in college.

There is so much more for us to discover of life; the quest will go on. Yet to rediscover is as important.Everything changes but some truths endure and words that shine a light upon truth endure. Brief our own existence may be;and we cannot but be aware of it,but every person knows that our longing to understand and to know the eternal is imperishable. Thank you Maria for bringing the world of thinkers to all of us who feel lost amidst the cacophony of materialism.

Wonderful episode! So many nuggets of thought I can't wait to return to. I hope you post the transcript soon so that I can refer back to the authors and quotes she mentions. Thank you for such an inspiring piece.

Yes, I as well would love the transcript. Many gems here. Thank you. Nourishing :) I feel so many humans are so malnourished.

Great title to summarise what she does best! Evernote lover here! :D

Greetings, I heard this weekends episode and forgot to write down the name of the person mentioned who predicted the Internet, etc. Please let me know. I wish on your site you would mentioned names or titles of books spoken of during the show.that we could reference after the broadcast without re listening to the entire thing. Enjoy the show, all the best, thank you, Dena

For years I've remarked often, "It's like Maria Popova is in my head." I love the content on Brain Pickings and have for some time. I click on each and every post that pops in my feed because each and every one seems to be relevant to the ideas I am exploring in my own life and work. When I saw this photo and the Anne Sexton on the table behind (which is also on my bedside table right now), I laughed.

I found Brain Pickings by accident 3 years ago while researching websites for a project that was called Brain Candy. It has since been a daily pleasure in my life and for hordes of others as well. Every single post is stimulating, inspirational, thought provoking and capable of making me my another book, even one that I've already read. She should be dubbed "Santa Maria" not only for her saintly qualities but for participation in the re-finding of America, and putting value back into intellectual values.

I skip ahead through a lot of things online. One, I won't mention, otherwise I fast forward through things because they aren't informing me or at least providing something interesting. I rarely skip ahead in an On being show, sometimes I write comments while semi-listening.
I made a choice of lifestyle almost 30 years ago that provides experiences I can't skip through many hours of every day. My wife and I bought a farm and raised a family.

I enjoyed the interview. I've read nearly every book Alan Watts wrote. I was around twenty when I read "The Book." I picked it up the other day and it reads fresh and relevant. I highly recommend it.

Thank you for this wonderful conversation! I've admired Maria Popova's work for many years and it is truly the most important website on the internet for me.

I haven't enjoyed listening to a wonderful conversation with brilliant snippets of wisdom for made my Sunday afternoon Maria and for that, I thank you in abundance! I also came upon Brain Pickings by accident and have used it's knowledge to choose fantastic children's books for a new English reading program here in Switzerland! Keep sharing the light!

I live in Florissant, Missouri, neighboring community to Ferguson. Here is an idea that may help our struggling communities, not a silver bullet, but may do general good. Let me know please if you think it has merit.

Community Gathering Homes

Community Gathering Homes (CGH) may help to address issues surrounding blight, crime, social-isolation, un-employment, welfare dependency, and community spirit, therefore creating stronger and more vibrant communities. Many whom I have approached about the idea, think it is an idea ahead of its time. I don't think so. You can think of this as a long-term solution, but in the near term, pilot programs may offer hope immediately, especially in neighborhoods like Ferguson.

CGH is my segue from a Public TV documentary* a few years ago, regarding our 50's and 60's styled suburban communities similar to ours in Ferguson/Florissant. It highlighted how communities (Portland and Atlanta) are experimenting with changing neighborhood design and infrastructure to make them more in tune with today’s realities.

At the time of this program's airing, I was retired about 18 months and feeling a bit socially-isolated, volunteering and other activities not withstanding. So, what captured my attention was the program's mention of social-isolation as another outcome today of this earlier style of communities. It mentioned that many of the homes in these communities are now occupied by one person, usually a baby-boomer due to spousal separation of some form, leading to social-isolation. However, I think and my pastor agrees, that our communities have just as many economically struggling young families. I believe physical isolation from their older family members and economic isolation rules their hearts and minds.

So here is the CGH idea:

A GOVERNMENT AGENCY (community, county, state or FEDERAL) in conjunction with some philanthropic foundation (e.g. Gates Foundation, Habitat for Humanity, etc.) would start a pilot program at first in one struggling neighborhood, which would utilize one three-bedroom, two-bath house, that is up for sale or vacant, and buy the house with this in mind:

1. Rent this house to a couple or single person chosen by the gov/philanthropic foundation, who would live there under a special city rental agreement.
2. The renter would open the house and be on premise from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, Monday thru Friday, for neighbors to gather, who live within a quarter-mile or so walking distance.
3. The house functions at other times as in typical domicile via rental agreements. Only master bedroom is not available to visitors.
4. Renters keep the house generally clean and orderly to accommodate visitors. Not a “caretaking” home for community gatherers on any level. Event clean-up by visitors.
5. Neighbors meet for: conversation, read together, pot-luck lunch, games, ping-pong or pool in basement, play cards, horse-shoes in back-yard, watch movies, read together, garden together, plan activities, etc.
6: Landlord (gov/philanthropic agency) takes care of repairs, insurance, heat and a/c utilities. Renter takes care of phone, trash, water and sewer utilities.
7. Rental rates probably lower than normal due to the fact that renter is performing attendant service (not custodial during visitor hours) from 10am to 2pm, Monday thru Friday, essentially a part-time job (hence fostering employment).

Later other neighboring quarter-mile gathering homes could be developed if the pilot program is successful. An invisible linkage of these community gathering homes would then exist within the greater neighborhood. This would strengthen the spirit of the whole community.

Think in terms of Pot-Belly Stove gatherings or talking over the back fence or garden plots. Meeting like this on regular basis would allow neighbors to: plan neighborhood projects, assist economically disadvantaged neighbors in whatever way they agree upon, keep in touch, communicate concerns, enjoy each others company, discuss neighborhood happenings, and feel more connected to their community. Strength in numbers comes to mind.

If the communities are strong and vibrant, good things will happen, even schools will benefit indirectly. Community Gathering Homes might go a long way to address blight, crime, social-isolation, un-employment, welfare dependency, and community spirit, and therefore create a stronger and more vibrant communities.


Fred Weiersmueller

* The program showed how in the 50's and 60's we built subdivisions which accommodated growing families. We typically built three bedroom homes and you needed a car to get around for work, shopping, entertainment and so forth. The program addressed: how that was fine when cars and gasoline were relatively inexpensive, now both are expensive; and that many of the homes are now occupied by one person, usually a baby-boomer due to spousal separation, leading to social-isolation as well as expense in getting about. The project in Portland, OR centered on tearing down an old shopping center, even bigger than the old Northland Shopping Center and then building a kind-of "New Town" as in St. Charles county, but bigger and with actual grocery store, small theater, shops, hardware store, apartments, some homes, condos, offices: everything close at hand. In Atlanta, GA the project centered on developing an old mid-city unused circumferential railroad line into a light-rail line with adjoining bike/walk paths on it to link the cities around the circumference.

Fred- this is an amazing idea. I have definitely experienced first-hand the isolation of living in these kind of neighborhoods. It is unnatural to live this way and very important that we get back to a true community like the kind you've envisioned. Good luck and God bless you!

Public libraries can offer many of the possibilities you envision Fred. In my community, the public libraries offer:

*Book discussions for adults and young adults (including brown bag lunch Book Buffets)

*Regular story times for children

* A community garden

*Films for teens, for adults, for children

*Children's Programming (puppet shows, magicians, art funshops, yoga, games, wildlife encounters, etc.

*Community Gathering Space for a wide variety of discussion groups, presentations, art shows, community up-dates, etc.

* A coffee/cocoa machine so folks can meet over refreshments

A library in a neighboring town offers book bags of multiple copies (including plays) to encourage gatherings in individual homes for book discussions and play-readings..

All this in addition to providing books, periodicals, videos, CD music, computers, photocopying, research help, comfortable seating, museum passes, and all the other resources that libraries have traditionally offered.

Most communities have libraries . . . might we enhance the resources we already have and more fully value their possibility for building community?

Pat McGovern

This is why I love On Being. Maria Popova is one of those people who doesn't tell you to keep absorbing obsessively new information, take some time to reflect on old information.

I've recently discovered BrainPickings, a month ago, and found the site of immense value in developing my literacy. Any individual can find a gain there, so personally I think that the first thought goes without saying. I've only heard the introduction so far, and wow. I'm certain we're all aware of how ideas can influence a country, let alone a soul. I may be un-american with my hopes, but I'm without a doubt faithful towards my patriotic optimism.

I'm putting aside profundity in favor of practicality; the best way to say "thank you" to Maria for the richness she adds to your life is to support her efforts $$$ (I do and encourage you to do the same). Gorgeous exchange of thoughts on this interview...

Ever since discovering Brain Pickings a few months ago I've been preaching the 'Gospel of Maria Popova' and sharing her facile, fluid intelligence and words with others. Her ability to draw out, synthesize and finesse so much wisdom from so many diverse sources makes her a rare teacher and mentor. And in this era of glut, speed and ADD it is wonderful to discover true breathing space for the soul.

What a splendid idea to share Maria over the 'airwaves'.
On radio, the pictures are always better and now to have Maria's voice as well as her Websited insights and selections is a real joy. Thank you.
Mind you, I thought she skipped your question involving the adjective "old-fashioned" very well. She is timeless, even though she says she is a product of her time. Timeless time then.
Greetings from Uithoorn, awfully near the original Brooklyn (Breukelen), in the Netherlands
- Paul

Thank you Maria for Brain Pickings. Sometimes it is the only wise company I occur to have for the entire day. It gives a reason to live and a reason to be happy in the moment. + there are so many tiny thoughts. While I read Brain Pickings with my conscious mind, there is always a sense of gratitude and love for you in the unconscious mind. Good luck!

Two of the people who inspire me most, together in conversation. So wonderful. I downloaded this before heading into a weekend with no phone/internet, and was happy to have this amazing conversation on the drive into the wilderness. I can't wait to listen to the unedited version. Thank you so much for this!

“human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.” This was the job I was meant to do. Well put!

Though the two are often used interchangeably, and I've seldom seen one without the other,I like to think of spirit as the motive, action, doing, energy part of ourselves and the soul as the symbolic structural part that we communicate.Because it is symbolic, it also frees us from mere physics.

I have been waiting for this conversation for quite awhile now.

Over the last five years, many of the people critically instrumental in my spiritual awakening have been connecting with each other and fostering even more connectedness. The two central nexuses for these connections have been Krista and On Being and Maria and Brain Pickings. I am so grateful for all that they give us and overflowing with joy that they have finally connected to each other.

The first two people to write reflections below are perfect examples for me. Parker Palmer from Krista, and Seth Godin from Maria.

I am giddy with anticipation for what Krista and Maria will offer next. The future is bright.

Life is what you make it. Just do your best to make it great.

One of the finest destinations everyone needs to bookmark and visit everyday. Thanks for being there carrying all generosity in your hands, delivering them to us.

Thank you Maria for your work and generosity!

Brain Pickings has enabled me to battle anxiety and other maladies of the mind and the heart. I am forever thankful for Maria Popova for her willingness to share with the world her learnings and reflections.

Beautiful episode, very well done. Thank you so much for this show overall and this episode in particular. Spot on.

Maria takes us on a mystical journey each week,sometimes leaving us breathless with the vast intellectual landscape she facilitates our journey through.

That was one of the most stunning interviews I've listened to in a very long time. She is indeed an old soul with a great mind and an expansive spirit. One question, you referenced a wonderful Seth Godin post that I'd love to find and read. Could you give a date for that? Thank you.

Art and Science are two sides of the same coin and philosophy and theology are mixed into the earthly element the coin is covered with. I'm an avid fan of Maria is sharing and how she is sharing and why she is sharing! Very inspiring and she pushes me to want to create in my true voice more and more each day.

My first thought--feeling--gratitude for Maria's mind and heart and spirit being shared with us. At some point I wondered about where the other Marias are in Africa and Asia and Europe and in the Americas--do young people elsewhere have a Maria to turn to, to give hope, to suggest possibilities. More pointedly, in Syria--who models hope for their teens, their 20-somethings?

Maria Popova for president of the internet! :) It has been a true joy to over the years follow the intellectual curiosity and integrity that ooze through Brain Pickings. Thank you, I hope the journey goes on. What the internet direly lacks is more good old fashioned humanism, and that she delivers.

I enjoyed the interview, but I'm also very curious about the tracks being played between the breaks, if anyone can help. Thanks!

Annie Parsons's picture

Hey Eduardo! We list each song title in the transcript at the point at which it occurs in the show. Hope this helps!

Thanks for the opportunity of 'listening' to the voice behind the brain I have been journeying so far, so long. It makes a lot of sense; opens another dimension; to the soul who connects us to these most wonderful multi-verses.

I am another great and long fan of Maria and Brain Pickings. Her thoughtful posts, the very opposite of little sound bites, are an exception to the direction of so much of the blogging on the internet, which leans to the short, shallow, and predictable.
In part inspired by Maria, I now write carefully in a journal daily about every book I read, in my case specifically reflecting on the relevance of the reading at hand to the projects on which I am focusing, the ideas and situations I most want to understand.
Maria provides a wonderful, exceptional service to those thinking about the same kinds of problems that captivate her.

I love that Maria renews her spirit in Thoreau's journals. I'm always happy to note another soul who knows the living power of that great American writer. Maria's humorous remark about sexism in characterization of personal self-writing --what is called a "journal" for men is called "diary" for women -- is not the fault of Thoreau's curators, in this case. He himself used the term 'journal' in his very first entry 22, Oct-1837.

“'What are you doing now?' [Emerson] asked. 'Do you keep a journal?' So I make my first entry to-day."

A brief reflection on "ordinary magic". Uninterrupted time is essential for well being. The water of the shower is indeed not magical but perhaps the sensory, the tactile, the multidimensional, multi-sensory are all also essential. Not only listening or reading but the listening, reading, and experiencing, exploring via all senses available. Senses best attended to best integrated in that uninterrupted time and safe space of something as simple as the cleansing shower.

This is one of the few online websites that I willingly support with an annual donation. And why not? Each edition is an eclectic review of various points of view. I may not agree with them. But I often leave with a fresh perspective.

Thank you for this interesting conversation with Maria Popova. How do we create a thinking civilization? I recently read a hypothesis that one of the reasons US children are bored in the classroom is that they no longer are required to to lengthy repetitive chores where gratification is delayed until the task is completed. They want the instant explosive reward of their digital toys. Instead of TV, phones, or more modern technologies my brother and I painstakingly made most of our own playthings later making canoes, fishing rods, forts, etc.. We grew up in rural Australia where we had to get up at 4 AM to finish our chores and be at school by 8 AM. Our high school was extremely challenging requiring us to take 8 classes including 4 years of chemistry, physics, biology, advanced mathematics, English, French, Latin, and history. As an adult, my brother made multimillion dollar yachts, including America's Cup racing yachts and I became a physician. We only seem to be able to read more substantive books, recently I read Cloudsplitter and The Underground Railroad, generally following thematic trends. My wife is an artist and taught all of our children crafts including making Christmas tree decorations, though ironically we are Buddhists. We study religion, science, and medicine, in addition to leisure reading, as well as meditating every day. We bike, play tennis, and surf. We became organic vegans to avoid cruelty, environmental destruction, as well as not harming ourselves. We live mindfully and are minimalists repairing instead of replacing where at all possible for our own benefit as well as protecting the environment. We try to be mindful of what we do and why we do things whereas much of society seems to be trending toward mindlessness. What can we do?

Until this program I was not familiar with Brainpickings, but now I plan to sign on. What a fascinating, wise young woman. I appreciate her challenges to the idea that we must be constantly in motion - or busy being busy - to have a meaningful, productive life. Also, I am glad she challenges media, including those she has written for. This is a woman who knows who she is.

Do you people actually believe all this? Are you giving her money for this crap (for lack of a better word)? You should all watch Frasier to get a focus on what you all sound like. Have fun living in euphoria...I prefer real life!

After reading Krista's book on wisdom I became convinced that our bodies, anatomy & physiology , should be taken into severe consideration. I'm a little surprised that nothing on this was mentioned either in the interview or maybe even her website. Maybe I'm missing-the-boat as philosophical wisdom is typically in the rational, heady camp.

What really resonated with me was her discussion of how we live in a time of sound bites, and how that trivializes our experience. In a world where twitter seems to be a dominant means of communication for our politicians, as well as for most of our young people, I'm deeply concerned about our ability to sit still long enough to drill deep. Do our young people have the patience for this kind of experience? If not, is there anything that we, as individuals, can do about it?

Young people can build their stamina for thought and other activities through practice. In one-on-one engagements with the young people in your life, you can undertake activities that are interesting and demand longer focus. Kids can stick to such activities best when someone is doing it with them.
I think one can make a case that politeness demands shutting off their phones in the moment, just as they need to turn their phones off at the movies.
These activities can complement what teachers are trying to do with them at school and what coaches are trying to do with them on teams.

I love the wisdom, education and compassion of young women on this planet. THANK YOU and love from Oregon. ON Being broadcasts and podcasts balances me...a bit of sanity in these challenging times.

It was heartening to hear throughout the conversation how Maria held true to Krista's flattering description of her. I enjoyed listening to such a healthy agreement between her attitude and the set of meaning she conveyed. She speaks and thinks with poise. Krista's interviewing instincts were as sharp and seemingly effortless as ever.

I had the privilege and joy of listening to this discussion from 2015 yesterday, January 8, 2017. With the current national and world situation, the ideas and thoughts expressed were just as relevant today as they were back in 2015. Thank you for re-airing it. I will be sharing the link to my Facebook and yes, Twitter friends today.
Then I am headed over to Brain Pickings to read all that I can there and to donate to its continued existence. We need brilliant minds and observations from such sources as Maria Popova. Thank you , Maria, for all you do. And Thank You, Krista for On Being. I listen every week on my local NPR station (KRCC-Colorado Springs) as well as having the app on my iPad.
My brain/mind always feels like it has gotten a good exercise workout after listening.
Bless you!

I've been reading Brain Pickings for a while, but hearing Maria's voice adds that much more depth to the experience of engaging with her texts. I love the notion of cultural stewardship, and the interplay of the spiritual and the intellectual. Brilliant!

Maria's such an impressive person, totally amazing bio !!

I just listened for the 2nd time. I am depressed due to the election and have found that I must stay away from the daily news. Your words, insights, caring have been balm for my soul Maria and Krista. Thank you---your work matters.

Such a wise spirit to have moved us in ways we've always known but more recently seem to have neglected. I do wish for additional dialogues with the two of you. Your selected themes engender intrigue, hopefulness, and substance. You've shown us that our best education can be lessons the past refitted for tomorrow. Such repackaged wisdom is so needed.

I too am new to Brain Pickings, referred via OnBeing. I'm instantly enamored. I too am guilty of the "grab and go" approach to content consumption. I feel like I'm in a panic since there is so much to learn and absorb in my remaining time on the planet. In 2017 I'm attempting to limit my viewing and reading material by making intentional choices which aren't based on fear of missing out. I guess I need to relearn how to learn by applying deeper consideration. Also, I appreciate the thoughtful comment contributions.

Do not be ashamed of the soul
as a way to describe our whole
or the parts we can comprehend.
And growing the soul is understanding more
about how the parts relate.

I've never posted a reply online, but as a long time reader of Brain Pickings, I was most inspired by the interview with Maria Popova. I plan to share some of the interview next week with my college students--as we try to sort through how and why reading and writing matters. Thank you Krista and Maria for letting us in on your conversation.

What a beautiful interview with Maria. Brainpickings weekly newsletter is one of the digital ages great works of art. Maria is a challenging, inspiring and comforting teacher/curator to her readers each week. Thank you! Jennifer reading in Ireland since Nov 2011.