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ORIGINAL

Pleasure and the good life

7 minutes

Primitive technology: round hut

11 minutes

Baby brother

14 minutes

Inferno observatory

5 minutes

A cure for fear: nighttime in Kabul

14 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 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


Learn to build your own rainproof hut – or, at least, marvel at the man who knows how

The popular Primitive Technology YouTube channel features an anonymous man in Far North Queensland in Australia fashioning tools and structures using only naturally occurring, found materials. In this installment, following the deterioration of his A-frame hut, he builds what he hopes will be a more durable round hut from the ground up. Starting with wood posts tied together with cane, the man makes the structure water-resistant by adding a palm roof, a drainage trench, and walls built from a combination of mud and cane. In the process, he also almost manages to make his remarkable ingenuity look easy. To learn more about the step-by-step process while watching, turn on closed captions in the video player. 

‘I thought I was gonna be a teenager forever’: moving back in with the parents at 23

In his short documentary Baby Brother, the US filmmaker Kamau Bilal offers a bit of vérité filmmaking at its most refreshing, transforming the mundanity of his younger brother’s return to their parents’ Missouri home into a funny and poignant exploration of the weirdness of young adulthood. Ismaeel is 23 and affable, if somewhat hapless, but the intimacy of his brother’s filmmaking – and presumably his affection for Ismaeel – makes the treatment of the young man’s charms, flaws and idiosyncrasies gently revelatory. His stifled ambitions and uneasiness about the trappings and responsibilities of adulthood echo a distinctly millennial malaise, at the same time as being deeply rooted in his personal experience. This heartfelt and charming short was a favourite on the 2018 film festival circuit, screening at the Sundance Film Festival, True/False and Sheffield Doc/Fest, among many others. 

Director: Kamau Bilal

Scientists haven’t tamed volcanoes but it’s wild and fun to watch them try

During a fellowship at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the UK filmmakers Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt stumbled upon a collection of 16mm films shot by volcanologists in the field. Originally presented as an installation at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool in 2011, this three-channel video combines the found footage with a churning, propulsive soundtrack to explore the human fascination with Earth-rupturing natural phenomena. Across the three channels, erupting volcanoes are at once powerful forces of nature as well as fodder for quantifiable scientific data – and high jinks.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

A veteran returns to war through virtual reality, hoping to be rid of his PTSD

Almost 40 years after post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was officially recognised as a distinct mental condition, treating its frequently debilitating symptoms has proven extremely challenging to sufferers and clinicians. The human brain is hard-wired to defend against threats, making little distinction between real and perceived danger. However, Merel Kindt, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Amsterdam, believes that she has discovered a breakthrough treatment for overactive fear responses. By first exposing patients to their greatest fears and then administering a beta-blocker called propranolol, Kindt says that fear memories can be overwritten and made benign. 

This is the second instalment of the US director Lana Wilson’s four-part documentary series A Cure for Fear, which follows patients undergoing this potentially revolutionary treatment. It features Kindt attempting to alleviate the PTSD symptoms of a Canadian veteran of the war in Afghanistan: to trigger the fear memory, he must relive his most traumatic battle experience in harrowing detail via an immersive VR recreation. Watch the first instalment of the series here.

Director: Lana Wilson

Producer: Shrihari Sathe

Website: Topic

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 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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Essay/
Cognition & Intelligence
The broad, ragged cut

Aptitude and IQ tests are used to distinguish those young people who deserve a chance from those who do not. Do they work?

Elizabeth Svoboda

Essay/
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A pair of cognitive scientists, married for half a century, explain why two argumentative heads can be better than one

Uta Frith & Chris Frith