Who by now hasn't been intrigued by James Surowiecki's theories in The Wisdom of Crowds? The idea that the collective intelligence of amateurs is very often more inspired, creative, and insightful than that of a known expert has gained great currency of late, perhaps due in part to authors like Surowiecki and Malcolm Gladwell, and certainly the Internet. Apparently "group think" is not the dystopian sci-fi nightmare we all feared it could become. The strength of collective intelligence is its ability to "borrow" the best of everyone's mind—ultimately reaching great strength through diversity—kind of like New York City itself. That same idea inspired NYC's newest learning co-op of sorts, the Brooklyn Brainery.
Calling itself a "book club on steroids" the new group is the brainchild of Jennifer Messier and Jonathan Soma—two New Yorkers addicted to, well, learning. After trying a bunch of inexpensive workshops and informal classes around town (and feeling somewhat shortchanged) they decided to form their own workshops with a flexible approach to content. Each course is designed to evolve over four weeks as individual participants tailor the classes based on their own research and findings. And since you won't be relying on someone else to lead the way, motivated brains will be quick to pick up the slack.
Classes begin with suggested reading lists to get you started. Case in point: The "Looking at Things" Class—billed as a way to untangle your visual arts lexicon—suggests reading, among other titles, John Berger's Ways of Seeing and Tom Wolfe's The Painted Word. Messier, a former art history major, plans on leading her flock with one-part PowerPoint presentations and one-part inspiration. "The basic idea is to encourage people to trust their eyes and talk about the things they see," she told Time Out New York.
Other classes for the Brooklyn Brainery's premier semester include: Meat! (Learning and identifying different cuts and grades, demystifying the ethics behind eating meat, preparing meat, and creating meat substitutes), Optical Collusion (learning how to make your own telescope among other items), and—my favorite—Scents & Sensibility (sort of a mix of hands-on chemistry and the history of the perfume industry).
Class size is limited. Groups meet at the Gowanus Studio Space in Gowanus, Brooklyn. Advance registration is recommended since the classes fill up quickly. Classes meet at various times once per week for four weeks. Each class costs $25 plus materials and books. The first round of classes filled in a few days, so you better sprint over to the Brooklyn Brainery to learn which classes remain open for February.