The myth of the missing half

2 minutes

ORIGINAL

Dance, dance evolution

4 minutes

Ins holz (In the woods)

13 minutes

H₂O

12 minutes

Live streamer

6 minutes

A lighthearted Ancient Greek myth explains why humans are doomed to yearn for partners

Emotional vulnerability and the risk of heartbreak aren’t enough to deter most people from seeking out companions. Indeed, romantic yearning is considered a central part of the human experience. So why were so many of us created to feel unfulfilled without ‘another half’? According to a myth by the comic playwright Aristophanes, recounted in Plato’s Symposium, humans were once two-bodied creatures until they challenged the gods. Zeus, angered by humans overstepping their bounds, sliced them all in two, leaving us destined to yearn for partnership.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Andrew Park

Dance seems to be the ultimate frivolity. How did it become a human necessity?

Every culture dances. Moving our bodies to music is ubiquitous throughout human history and across the globe. So why is this ostensibly frivolous act so fundamental to being human? The answer, it seems, is in our need for social cohesion – that vital glue that keeps societies from breaking apart despite interpersonal differences. The French sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) theorised that ‘collective effervescence’ – moments in which people come together in some form of unifying, excitement-inducing activity – is at the root of what holds groups together. More recently, Bronwyn Tarr, an evolutionary biologist and psychologist at the University of Oxford who is also a dancer, has researched the evolutionary and neurological underpinnings of our innate tendency to bust a move. Drawing on the work of both Durkheim and Tarr, this Aeon Original video explores that unifying feeling of group ‘electricity’ that lifts us up when we’re enthralled by our favourite sports teams, participating in religious rituals, entranced by music – and, yes, dancing the night away.

Directors and Animators: Rosanna Wan, Andrew Khosravani

Producer: Kellen Quinn

Writer: Sam Dresser

Associate producer: Adam D’Arpino

Sound designers: Eli Cohn, Ben Chesneau, Maya Peart

Narrator: Simon Mattacks

Surgeons with chainsaws – the breathtaking craft of logging on a Swiss mountainside

In most of the world, logging is now largely the work of massive machinery. But in the steeply sloped woods above Lake Ägeri in Switzerland, a combination of chainsaws, jacks, muscles and gravity is still the most effective means of bringing down trees for lumber. Once every four years, skilled loggers travel to the area to collect mature trees in a sustainable harvesting tradition that, in turn, allows saplings to take in sunlight and flourish. After felling the trees at careful angles, the workers send them careening through the woods with spectacular speed and force until they reach the water below with a satisfying splash. From there, the timber is floated downriver into town. The loggers’ confident expertise masks the immense dangers of the job, which could easily turn deadly in an instant. With stunning cinematography, Ins holz (In the woods) offers a rare look at this nearly extinct practice and the culture that surrounds it, making for a deeply visceral and visually stunning celebration of a hard day’s work.

Directors: Thomas Horat, Corina Schwingruber Ilic

Website: Mythenfilm

A meditative cinepoem from 1929 captures the reflective, ethereal wonders of water

The US photographer and filmmaker Ralph Steiner (1899-1986) is widely considered to be a pioneer of both media, celebrated for his century-spanning work in modernist photography and documentary and avant-garde film. H₂O (1929), his debut short and one of the earliest US art films, is a meditative, visual ode to water in its many forms, focused on the liquid’s various textures and shape-distorting reflective qualities. In a series of static yet dynamic shots, water-spewing pipes and fire hydrants, waterfalls, raindrops, slow-flowing streams, and the shimmering surfaces of near-stagnant bodies appear on screen, with the visuals gradually becoming more abstract as Steiner transitions to closeups of water surfaces. This version of the film features a new original piano score from the Illinois-based composer William Pearson, commissioned by Aeon. H₂O is frequently mentioned alongside another documentary touchstone of the same year: Regen, by the Dutch directors Joris Ivens and Mannus Franken, which celebrates Amsterdam in the rain.

Director: Ralph Steiner

Composer: William Pearson

When being watched is your work – life inside a Chinese live-streaming company

On China’s state-controlled internet, live-streaming fills a role similar to YouTube in the United States, allowing young people to keep up with, and even interact with, their favourite internet personalities. It’s also boomed into a multibillion dollar industry, driven by ‘gifts’ – small amounts of money sent from viewers to streamers – and brand partnerships. Live Streamer chronicles a day in the life of one Beijing-based web personality, Jing Zi, as she offers beauty tips, sings songs and, most popularly, eats for her young fanbase. The work is challenging, requiring her to entertain viewers for up to seven hours a day, but she also says it feels good to be cared for by so many fans. Live Streamer is part of the Shanghai-based US filmmaker Noah Sheldon’s Work-is documentary series, which ‘sets out to catalogue the labour force of China in a more intimate and granular way, using voices and personal histories to colour the notion of what it means to be working in modern China’.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

A lighthearted Ancient Greek myth explains why humans are doomed to yearn for partners

Emotional vulnerability and the risk of heartbreak aren’t enough to deter most people from seeking out companions. Indeed, romantic yearning is considered a central part of the human experience. So why were so many of us created to feel unfulfilled without ‘another half’? According to a myth by the comic playwright Aristophanes, recounted in Plato’s Symposium, humans were once two-bodied creatures until they challenged the gods. Zeus, angered by humans overstepping their bounds, sliced them all in two, leaving us destined to yearn for partnership.

Video by BBC Radio 4

Script: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Andrew Park

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