ORIGINAL

Pleasure and the good life

7 minutes

La reina (the queen)

18 minutes

Santiago

1 minute

Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise

1 minute

Walter Lippmann, public opinion and propaganda

18 minutes

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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.

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Interviewer: Nigel Warburton

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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Heavy is the 11-year-old head that wears the crown at an Argentinian beauty pageant

‘It gets heavier and heavier by the minute. Until the callus forms. Right, Memi?’

With an unflinching focus, the Argentinian filmmaker Manuel Abramovich traces the boredom, annoyance and pain – and perhaps confusion – that pass across the face of María Emilia Frocalassi (‘Memi’) as her mother fits her with a lavish, heavy headpiece. The 11-year-old has recently won a beauty pageant and will be competing in another held as part of carnival celebrations in rural Argentina. Intercutting the pageant preparations with Memi’s tennis and swimming lessons, Abramovich binds the whole spectacle together with a soundtrack of adults relentlessly dispensing directions and expectations. When Memi finally starts to crack, it’s perhaps not just under the weight of her enormous headdress. A winner of dozens of film-festival accolades since its 2013 release, the critically acclaimed short La Reina (The Queen) is a strikingly original and confronting exploration of adolescence, tradition and the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship.

Director: Manuel Abramovich

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Our biological past and our technological future play out on a single human face

In this animated self-portrait, the UK artist Emma Allen uses her face as a canvas for a remarkable, millennia-spanning stop-motion. With her features always visible but transformed by the images painted across them, Allen takes us through evolution, from primordial creatures, through large mammals, to humans, before offering a vision of what’s to come – a future in which we transcend the limits of (or perhaps lose touch with) biology. For more from Allen, watch her short video Adam on the experience and neuroscience of depression.

Video by Emma Allen

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Do the Volgelkop bop: how a newly discovered bird-of-paradise dazzles his mate

Beginning in 2004, the evolutionary biologist Ed Scholes of Cornell University in New York and the US nature photographer Tim Laman embarked on an ambitious project to find and film the 39 then-known members of the birds-of-paradise family that live in remote regions of New Guinea, Australia and nearby islands. Living in largely predator-free habitats have allowed male birds-of-paradise to develop some of the world’s most colourful plumage and elaborate mating displays, making them the favourites of many a David Attenborough nature documentary.

During a 2016 trek to west New Guinea, Laman and Scholes did one better than simply capturing new images of these birds – they discovered a new species. Now known as the Vogelkop superb bird-of-paradise (Lophorina niedda), it was previously considered a subspecies of the Greater superb bird-of-paradise. However, Laman and Scholes’s documentation of the male’s mating dance revealed enough difference in its song, movement and feather display for the Vogelkop superb to be recognised as a distinct species. With its first documented observation dating back to 1930, this video marks the first known time that the male Vogelkop superb has been caught on camera in all its shimmying, brilliant black-and-blue glory.

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Before Chomsky, there was Lippmann: the First World War and ‘manufactured consent’

While the ‘manufacture of consent’ is an idea now mostly associated with Noam Chomsky, the phrase was actually coined by the US journalist and writer Walter Lippman in his influential book Public Opinion (1922) – a fact that Chomsky and Edward S Herman, his co-author of Manufacturing Consent (1988), readily acknowledge. Lippman contended that, because the world is too complex for any individual to comprehend, a strong society needs people and institutions specialised in collecting data and creating the most accurate interpretations of reality possible. When used properly, this information should allow decisionmakers to ‘manufacture consent’ in the public interest. However, in one of the most damning critiques of democracy, Lippman identifies how public opinion is instead largely forged by political elites with self-serving interests – powerful people manipulating narratives to their own ends. This video essay from the YouTube channel Then & Now dives into Lippman’s legacy, starting with his study of the rise of the importance of public opinion during the First World War, and extending through an examination of why, a century after Public Opinion, democracy still has a major mass-media problem.

Director: Lewis Waller

Video by Then & Now

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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.

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Interviewer: Nigel Warburton

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

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