Big Thinkers Unite on a New Web Site

In short video clips, the new web site Sputnik Observatory seamlessly links disparate ideas into cohesive, connected trains of thought. One thread—the site prefers the term "pathway"—begins with an elderly physicist speculating about whether humans might have dormant capabilities, like being able to fly, and ends with a neurologist explaining why some brains turn sounds into mental paintings. In between, big thinkers touch on Buddhism, the animal brain, and the cellular response to emotional experiences. Taken together, the speakers articulate a multilayered vision of what it means, presumably, to be in control of one's faculties (thus the pathway's name, "Lost Faculty").

A collaboration between interactive designer Jonathan Harris and New York City–based nonprofit Sputnik, Inc., the site is about its architecture as much as its content (a repository of interviews collected during more than a decade). What may appear to be just some chrome dome going off on a tangent—in the "Muscle Corps" pathway, an architect meditates on the nature of beauty and a geographer speculates on the morality of synthetic biology—is actually an essential bit of dialogue that, when combined with others, presents a cogent, compelling narrative.

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