Roger Penrose: Why did the Universe begin?

17 minutes

Another Hayride

18 minutes

Why do we, like, hesitate when we, um, speak?

6 minutes

Phrenology: the weirdest pseudoscience of them all?

4 minutes

Samurai rules for peace and war

20 minutes

A cyclical, forgetful Universe – Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis

Since the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965, the Big Bang theory has been the dominant model of our Universe’s origin. In the ensuing decades, an obvious and yet still deeply unsettled question has emerged at the core of cosmology: what happened before it? While many scientists hold firm that there’s no decent evidence to support the notion that anything existed before the Big Bang, new hypotheses have cracked open the door for the possibility.

The UK mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, a professor emeritus at Oxford University and co-recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, is a convert to the camp of thinkers entertaining the notion of a pre-Big Bang state. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Penrose details a somewhat mind-boggling idea he’s advanced known as the ‘conformal cyclic cosmology’ hypothesis, which proposes that our Universe is just one in an infinite series.

For more on the prospect of a before, before the Big Bang, watch Aeon Video’s interview with Tim Maudlin, a professor of philosophy at New York University.

Video by Closer to Truth

The controversial New Age guru who believed self-love healed all – even AIDS

For gay men living with HIV and AIDS in the 1980s, their diagnosis was often accompanied by both fear for their lives and shame for having contracted a highly stigmatised disease. In Another Hayride, the US filmmaker Matt Wolf explores how the US self-help guru Louise Hay (1926-2017) gained an ardent following among HIV-positive gay men in Los Angeles, and then among people experiencing trauma throughout the country, by teaching that they could heal themselves through self-love. The short documentary is built from archival footage – the US talk show hosts Oprah Winfrey and Phil Donahue make cameos – and narration from the US writer and minister David Ault, who attended Hay’s weekly ‘Hayride’ support groups. Through his portrait, Wolf offers a nuanced recollection of Hay and her gospel of New Age healing, in which extraordinary compassion and magical thinking both played central roles.

Director: Matt Wolf

Producer: Sam Bisbee

Ums, likes and y’knows get no respect – but they’re vital to conversation

If you’ve ever listened to a recording of yourself speaking, the frequency with which you used fillers such as ‘um’, ‘uh’, ‘like’ and ‘y’know’ might have grabbed your attention – and perhaps your scorn. Indeed, these verbal hesitations have been viewed as undesirable since the days of ancient Greece and, more recently, the American linguist Noam Chomsky characterised them as ‘errors’ irrelevant to language. But could there be more to these utterances than initially meets the ear? In this short animation from TED-Ed, Lorenzo García-Amaya, assistant professor of Spanish at the University of Michigan, reveals how ‘filled pauses’ can give conversation partners important context clues, communicate emphasis, help tether related thoughts together, and so much more.

Video by TED-Ed

Writer: Lorenzo García-Amaya

Animator: Yael Reisfeld

The ‘dangerous nonsense’ of phrenology shows how pseudoscience takes hold

In the 19th century, the Viennese physiologist Franz Joseph Gall placed a formidable thumb on the scales of the ‘nature vs nurture’ debate when he proposed a simple – and, as we now know, false – solution to the age-old conundrum. Everything you need to know about someone’s character, he argued, could be predicted by the shape of different brain regions – and by extension, the contours of their head. That phrenology, as it became known, was built on conjecture rather than empiricism was clear to a great many scientists of the era. Still, it caught on in the public consciousness, and often with sinister consequences. This animation from BBC Reel provides a brief history of phrenology, shedding light on why facile solutions often gain traction over rigorous empiricism, and how pseudoscience can sometimes open gateways for the real thing.

Video by BBC Reel

A samurai rulebook offers guidance on how to kill enemies and refrain from gossip

From the 10th century till their abolition in the 1870s, samurai were a class of Japanese military nobility who inherited lives as warrior protectorates (bushi) for feudal lords, and had a notoriously strict and intricate honour code. This video from the YouTube channel Voices of the Past explores two scrolls from the famed samurai school Natori-Ryu’s 17th-century rulebook. The first scroll has codes of conduct for peacetime, with guidance ranging from the universal, such as the pitfalls of talking behind someone’s back, to the extremely samurai-specific, such as keeping a home garden that doesn’t leave you vulnerable to enemy attack. The second scroll lays out the rules of engagement in wartime and paints a much more violent portrait of samurai life, built around intricate rules for killing and being killed. These primary sources offer an intriguing window into the samurai value system, in which loss of reputation was considered a fate far worse than death.

A cyclical, forgetful Universe – Roger Penrose details an astonishing origin hypothesis

Since the discovery of cosmic microwave background radiation in 1965, the Big Bang theory has been the dominant model of our Universe’s origin. In the ensuing decades, an obvious and yet still deeply unsettled question has emerged at the core of cosmology: what happened before it? While many scientists hold firm that there’s no decent evidence to support the notion that anything existed before the Big Bang, new hypotheses have cracked open the door for the possibility.

The UK mathematical physicist Roger Penrose, a professor emeritus at Oxford University and co-recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics, is a convert to the camp of thinkers entertaining the notion of a pre-Big Bang state. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Penrose details a somewhat mind-boggling idea he’s advanced known as the ‘conformal cyclic cosmology’ hypothesis, which proposes that our Universe is just one in an infinite series.

For more on the prospect of a before, before the Big Bang, watch Aeon Video’s interview with Tim Maudlin, a professor of philosophy at New York University.

Video by Closer to Truth

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty

Essay/
Knowledge
Philosophy with children

Kids don’t just say ‘the darndest things’. Playful and probing, they can be closer to the grain of life’s deepest questions

Jana Mohr Lone

Photo by Martine Franck/Magnum

Essay/
Philosophy of religion
Reincarnation now

Modern mindfulness strips Buddhism of its spiritual core. We need an ethics of reincarnation for an interconnected world

Avram Alpert