ORIGINAL

Pleasure and the good life

7 minutes

Lee Smolin: space and time

9 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

A happy life is built on pleasures such as sex and food, but also company and variety

Pleasure, despite being central to human experience and evolution, is quite hard to define. Aristotle argued that what we call pleasure is comprised of at least two distinct aspects, hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (human flourishing or a life well-lived). However, as Morten Kringelbach, professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the UK and at the Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark, points out this instalment of Aeon’s In Sight series: ‘It’s surprisingly difficult to show that somebody who is happy is also somebody who has had a lot of pleasure.’

Kringelbach’s research into how pleasure works in the brain seeks to find the connections between experiencing hedonistic pleasure – food, sex, drugs – and living an eudaimonic life. When all is well, he discovered, there is a system of give and take between different regions of the brain that yields experiences of pleasure that cumulatively contribute to feelings of wellbeing. However, imperfections in the mechanisms that govern pleasure in the brain leave us susceptible to conditions such as addiction, an unhealthy fixation on the pursuit of pleasure, or depression, in which both the desire for pleasure and pleasure itself are significantly diminished. A common characteristic of these and other affective disorders is that they take people away from what Kringelbach argues are the two key – often overlooked – aspects of pleasure: variety and community. Ultimately, he thinks, variation in pleasure, together with sharing that enjoyment with others, is what’s needed for a well-balanced, eudaimonic life.

Interviewer: Nigel Warburton

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

Time is fundamental, space is emergent – why physicists are rethinking reality

From Isaac Newton’s ‘absolute space’ and ‘absolute time’, which envisioned the two phenomena as fundamental and separate, to Albert Einstein’s ‘spacetime’, which condensed them into a single concept, the relationship between space and time has been the mystery driving fundamental physics for more than four centuries. And over the past several decades, some physicists, including Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have come to believe that the fabric of reality is perhaps due to be torn into yet again. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the series Closer to Truth, Smolin discusses how developments in quantum mechanics have left physicists with questions that special relativity can’t seem to accommodate, and why the solution might be a conception of reality in which time is fundamental, and space emergent.

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 happy life is built on pleasures such as sex and food, but also company and variety

Pleasure, despite being central to human experience and evolution, is quite hard to define. Aristotle argued that what we call pleasure is comprised of at least two distinct aspects, hedonia (pleasure) and eudaimonia (human flourishing or a life well-lived). However, as Morten Kringelbach, professor at the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford in the UK and at the Centre for Music in the Brain at Aarhus University in Denmark, points out this instalment of Aeon’s In Sight series: ‘It’s surprisingly difficult to show that somebody who is happy is also somebody who has had a lot of pleasure.’

Kringelbach’s research into how pleasure works in the brain seeks to find the connections between experiencing hedonistic pleasure – food, sex, drugs – and living an eudaimonic life. When all is well, he discovered, there is a system of give and take between different regions of the brain that yields experiences of pleasure that cumulatively contribute to feelings of wellbeing. However, imperfections in the mechanisms that govern pleasure in the brain leave us susceptible to conditions such as addiction, an unhealthy fixation on the pursuit of pleasure, or depression, in which both the desire for pleasure and pleasure itself are significantly diminished. A common characteristic of these and other affective disorders is that they take people away from what Kringelbach argues are the two key – often overlooked – aspects of pleasure: variety and community. Ultimately, he thinks, variation in pleasure, together with sharing that enjoyment with others, is what’s needed for a well-balanced, eudaimonic life.

Interviewer: Nigel Warburton

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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