"Brain Games," the Emmy-nominated Nat Geo show that returns for its second season tonight (Mon. Jan. 13 at 9:00 p.m.) promises more blow-your-mind revelations courtesy of host Jason Silva. Just as you'd expect from enthusiastic "wonder junkie" Silva, this is a TV series that is both smart and great fun (hey, Emmy nomination, people), and the second season explores a new array of topics on how we see, process and think about the world around us - with episodes devoted to attraction, trust, competition, colors, stress and more. Really, everything you need to know? "Brain Games." Okay, everything that's fun to know, at least. Watch this clip from the premiere to get a sense of it.
I got a chance to hang out with the self-proclaimed "wonder junkie" during filming of the show in the Las Vegas desert. Amazingly, Silva is able to deliver long passages of complex ideas with an enthusiasm that's nothing short of infectious (see below if you don't believe me) with a camera running (and for take after take) and keep going until late evening when lesser mortals (like me) had started to droop. Over a group dinner, I discovered that, even after a few drinks, Silva is still smarter than everyone else in the room. He riffed on everything from film (he's a devoted movie buff) to existentialism to big ideas that boggled the mind. Want to be a wonder junkie, too? It's possible! Maybe!
Silva, whose non-commercial micro-documentaries-turned viral video juggernauts (His latest "Shots of Awe" short, "Existential Bummer" has more than 2 million views to date, and you can watch it below), has help. While you may not be able to pick up all of the many references Silva makes to technology, literature and philosophy in his short films, he was able to give me a short list of his favorite books. If you want to sound like a smart cookie at your next cocktail party, you've just received your required reading. You're welcome.
Ernest Becker's "Denial of Death," Pulitzer prize-winning book from 1974. It distills the human condition down to three basic elements. We are faced with the unbearable reality of the fact that we're mortal, we think and obsess about that, and we've come up with psychological devices to address that situation -- the religious impulse, the romantic impulse and the creative impulse. These are our responses to the mortal coil, and the book goes through them brilliantly. I think that anybody who wants to understand themselves and their motivations would benefit from reading that book.
Other book I love is "The Singularity is Near" by Ray Kurzweil. It talks about exponentially merging technologies that are going to radically transform our sphere of possibilities. It talks about curing aging, downloading our brains to the computer, transforming the physical world with nanotechnology that transforms matter into a programmable medium, Talk about mind spilling over into the world. This is when we impregnate the universe with intelligence. That's a singularity. Love that book.
Another great book is by Erik Davis called "TechGnosis." It talks about the mystical undertones of technology, and how beneath our technologies is the human impulse for magic and for finding alchemy in ways that transcend our limits using these magical tools. Fabulous book.
The last one would be "Hamlet on the Holodeck" by Janet H. Murray, which is about how new technologies create new forms of narrative, and it's all about the desire of human beings to be immersed, the power of story, the power of rhetoric, it's a fabulous book. I'd say those four are up there, right now.
Check out "Existential Bummer" and "Awe" below:
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
Let Streaming Genie help you.