Bertrand Russell: Face to Face

29 minutes

Commodity city

10 minutes

Can apes really ‘talk’ to humans?

8 minutes

Flawed

13 minutes

The Night Watch

8 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.’


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.’


Five miles of fake flowers, cat cushions and muzak: enter the world’s largest market

The Yiwu International Trade City in China is the world’s largest wholesale market for consumer goods, stretching some five miles and featuring roughly 75,000 vendors. The Chinese-American filmmaker Jessica Kingdon’s observational documentary Commodity City employs static shots of everyday scenes from the market – mostly without dialogue – to convey the seemingly endless stretches of vendor booths that specialise in everything from cat pillows to Santa figurines. Through these vignettes, Kingdon captures the incongruous interplay of boredom and commerce, vastness and claustrophobia that characterises this otherworldly space, offering a hypnotic anthropologic exploration of consumer culture and capitalism.

Director: Jessica Kingdon

Producers: Daniel Cooper, Kira Simon-Kennedy

People have been trying to talk with apes for nearly a century. How far have we got?

Since the early 20th century, a number of curious (and sometimes ethically dubious) psychological studies have tried to figure out if we can communicate with great apes using language. In the 1970s, the answer was reported to be an unequivocal ‘yes’ after Koko, a female western lowland gorilla, learned to sign at her handler, a graduate student at Stanford University, using a modified version of American Sign Language. But more recent critiques of the Koko studies (and others) dispute the idea that great apes have had truly meaningful two-way language communication with humans. This video from NPR’s Skunk Bear offers a brief survey of the history of ape-human communication research, suggesting that ‘Can we talk with them?’ might be the wrong question to ask.

Video by Skunk Bear

Producers: Ryan Kellman, Adam Cole

There’s nothing like falling for a plastic surgeon to help you embrace your body as it is

After meeting a potential romantic partner – ‘the nicest guy in the world’– while on vacation, the Canadian filmmaker Andrea Dorfman had a difficult time reconciling everything she liked about him with her judgment of his work as a plastic surgeon. Although most of his work was reconstructive, she couldn’t kick the feeling that the cosmetic surgeries he performed made people feel imperfect, sending the message that some body shapes are better than others. In her charming, vulnerable and heartfelt animated film Flawed, Dorfman sketches out the story of their romance in time-lapse watercolour animations that recreate how the two corresponded with handmade postcards as she confronted insecurities from childhood that challenged her ideas about herself. Flawed was nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award following its 2010 release.

Director: Andrea Dorfman

Producer: Annette Clark

Website: National Film Board of Canada

How Rembrandt used light and motion to make a mundane commission a masterpiece

The oil painting Militia Company of District II Under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (1642), better-known as The Night Watch, is probably Rembrandt’s most famous work. Its status and critical acclaim, though, have little to do with its subject matter: a civic-guard group tasked with keeping watch on the city walls. In 17th-century Amsterdam, it was highly common for these guilds – mostly well-off men who rarely saw anything resembling conflict – to commission portraits of themselves wearing their uniforms and holding weapons. So why has The Night Watch endured while so many similar portraits have drifted into obscurity? In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) examines how Rembrandt’s riveting interplay of light, motion, texture and expression transformed a commonplace commission into a masterwork.

Video by The Nerdwriter

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