Bertrand Russell: Face to Face

29 minutes

A brief history of melancholy

5 minutes

The Sutton Hoo helmet

19 minutes

Gut hack

12 minutes

Sabine Hossenfelder: searching for beauty in mathematics

9 minutes

A fanatic against fanaticism, and other pleasures of Bertrand Russell in his own words

After 378 pages of intensely intricate logical proofs, one comes upon a triumphant sentence: ‘From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.’ The purpose of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica (1910-13), co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead, was to find a logical foundation for mathematics, what is known as the logicist programme. In pursuit of this, the book took 10 years to write and launched modern mathematical logic. For the lay reader, it is the height of esoteric philosophy: hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense logical symbolism, much of which the authors created specifically for their purposes. That is why it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Russell’s political activism earned him two bouts of jail time – one in 1918, the other in 1961. There are not many logicists so willing to get their hands dirty in the muck of the real world. But Russell was much more than a mere philosopher.

In this 1959 interview from the BBC programme Face to Face, Russell recounts episodes of his long and spectacular life. Born in 1872 to a powerful family (his grandfather was a prime minister), he involved himself in many of the most significant political issues of the next century, from the First World War to the Six-Day War, always from a liberal or Left perspective. He was a passionate pacifist (the stance that can be partially blamed for his jail sentence in 1918), an atheist, and supremely moral man whose passion for knowledge was matched only by his empathy for his fellow human. ‘It just won’t do to live in an ivory tower,’ Russell says. ‘This world is too bad, and we must notice it.’

From imbalanced humours to brain chemistry – on the evolution of melancholy

The Ancient Greeks blamed sadness on bodily humours called ‘melaina kole’ (black bile). Today, clinical depression is often understood as an imbalance of brain chemicals – although this is a paradigm that many experts believe is overdue for an update. This animation from TED-Ed offers a brief examination of the history of melancholy, scoping how philosophers, poets, writers and scientists have envisioned and altered our understanding of the experience across the ages.

Video by TED-Ed

Director: Sharon Colman

Writer: Courtney Stephens

The meanings and mysteries of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet brought vividly to life

The early Anglo-Saxon artefact known as the Sutton Hoo helmet has, since its origins in the 7th century, passed through many incarnations, including: exquisite armour, long-dormant burial object, astounding archeological discovery and high-stakes puzzle. Today, the Sutton Hoo helmet – so named for the site in the English county of Suffolk at which it was discovered in 1939 – lives on as one of the British Museum’s most famous pieces. In this video, Sue Brunning, curator of the museum’s European Early Medieval Insular Collection, examines the iconic object, revealing the multitude of meanings and mysteries it holds. Through her investigation, Brunning brilliantly captures how history is an ever-fluid work in progress, being made and remade as new discoveries are brought – often quite literally – to light.

Video by the British Museum

When medicine offers no relief, a biohacker begins a radical self-experiment

In 2015, the US scientist, artist and self-described ‘biohacker’ Josiah Zayner undertook a controversial project to help resolve his lifelong gastrointestinal issues. The plan was to replace the vast colonies of microbiota on and inside his body via transplants from a healthy donor – and then document the proceedings. Although an accomplished biologist with a PhD in biophysics and two years as a NASA researcher under his belt, Zayner’s endeavour was frowned upon by much of the scientific community, with critics condemning the project for operating outside the normal boundaries of bioethics. Especially controversial was Zayner’s plan to self-administer a faecal transplant – a risky procedure usually reserved for potentially fatal conditions. In their documentary Gut Hack, the filmmakers Mario Furloni and Kate McLean follow Zayner’s fascinating, radical and not-for-the-squeamish quest for relief. In so doing, they also confront deeper issues of ethics and autonomy at the core of contemporary science.

Directors: Mario Furloni, Kate McLean

Producer: Laura Heberton

Against ‘beauty’ in science – how striving for elegance stifles progress

That there is an inherent ‘beauty’ and ‘elegance’ to the laws of nature is a view that permeates the field of physics. But, according to the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, the notion that the further you peer into reality, the easier the equation gets, has no basis in reality. Indeed, since the mid-20th-century, the maths of physics has become increasingly knotty, even as many physicists have continued to search for a path back to simplicity. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Hossenfelder makes the case that this fixation on beauty isn’t just misguided – it’s stifling scientific progress.

Video by Closer to Truth

A fanatic against fanaticism, and other pleasures of Bertrand Russell in his own words

After 378 pages of intensely intricate logical proofs, one comes upon a triumphant sentence: ‘From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1 + 1 = 2.’ The purpose of Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica (1910-13), co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead, was to find a logical foundation for mathematics, what is known as the logicist programme. In pursuit of this, the book took 10 years to write and launched modern mathematical logic. For the lay reader, it is the height of esoteric philosophy: hundreds and hundreds of pages of dense logical symbolism, much of which the authors created specifically for their purposes. That is why it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Russell’s political activism earned him two bouts of jail time – one in 1918, the other in 1961. There are not many logicists so willing to get their hands dirty in the muck of the real world. But Russell was much more than a mere philosopher.

In this 1959 interview from the BBC programme Face to Face, Russell recounts episodes of his long and spectacular life. Born in 1872 to a powerful family (his grandfather was a prime minister), he involved himself in many of the most significant political issues of the next century, from the First World War to the Six-Day War, always from a liberal or Left perspective. He was a passionate pacifist (the stance that can be partially blamed for his jail sentence in 1918), an atheist, and supremely moral man whose passion for knowledge was matched only by his empathy for his fellow human. ‘It just won’t do to live in an ivory tower,’ Russell says. ‘This world is too bad, and we must notice it.’

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

Bessie. Holstein cow, aged 20, from the Allowed to Grow Old project and book by the photographer Isa Leshko. All photos © Isa Leshko

Essay/
Ethics
Philosophers and other animals

Christine Korsgaard argues that we can extend a Kantian moral framework to include other animals. But her argument fails

Peter Godfrey-Smith

U Pyinyathee of the All Burma Monks Alliance, a group of exiled monks who fled the protests of the Saffron Revolution of 2007, outside the makeshift monastery he shares in Utica, upstate New York, 27 April 2010. Photo by Mike Segar/Reuters

Essay/
Demography and migration
Exiles on Main Street

To respect exiles as real and important political actors, we should get over casting them as saints, threats or victims

Ashwini Vasanthakumar