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Styrofoam

4 minutes

20 Hz

5 minutes

What do your dreams look like?

2 minutes

Disorientation

4 minutes

Erica: man made

14 minutes

Aeon for Friends

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A migrant worker’s daily circus-like balancing act is a surreal reflection of China’s economy

As China shifted from a small-farm economy to an industrial powerhouse over the past generation, there’s been an enormous demographic shift, with some 282 million migrant labourers splitting their time between cities and their rural homes. For Wo Guo Jie, who makes her living in Shanghai collecting styrofoam boxes from markets and reselling them to a seafood wholesale market, this transformation has meant spending as many as three years at a time away from her family farm, where her children sometimes barely recognise her when she returns. Part of a video series on work in modern China by the Shanghai-based photographer and filmmaker Noah Sheldon, Styrofoam follows Guo over the course of a day’s collecting. Working under the cover of night to limit police attention, she’s still a highly conspicuous sight on the city streets, biking with as many boxes stacked around her as possible so that she has to make only one trip a day.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

Composer: Nick Zinner

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Magnetic and majestic: visualising the powerful storms hidden from human view

Violent plasma explosions from the Sun’s surface – known as coronal mass ejections – reverberate to the farthest reaches of our solar system. However, due to the Earth’s protective magnetosphere, most people don’t take note of these events unless a particularly powerful solar flare disrupts radio signals or produces colourful aurorae near the poles. Created as part of an art installation, this inventive, visceral short uses data collected from the University of Alberta’s CARISMA radio array to sonically and visually interpret a geomagnetic storm high in Earth’s atmosphere. Manifesting the data as a dynamic sculpture, the digital rendering captures the volatility of these usually unseen and unheard phenomena, hinting at their potentially destructive powers.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

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Chocolate, monsters and mothers – surreal glimpses of our most common dreams

While your dreams might feel strange or random, and unique to you (if you even remember them at all), an ongoing project by the US psychologist Kelly Bulkeley offers some insight into our most common dream experiences. Since 2009, Bulkeley has encouraged people around the world to submit the contents of their dreams to his searchable online Sleep and Dream Database, which has thus far collected accounts of some 30,000 dreams. This appropriately surreal short video imagines a composite dream as it divulges some of the fascinating insights from the database, including the food you’re most likely to encounter while sleeping (chocolate), and the person you’re most likely to come across (mother, of course).

Video by Kolja Haaf

Website: BBC Reel

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‘I want you to live forward, but see backward’: a theoretical astrophysicist’s manifesto

The theoretical astrophysicist Katie Mack at North Carolina State University is known for her work on dark matter, as well as her science-outreach efforts. In this short video essay, Mack weaves together cosmology and poetry as she details her personal mission to make her work enhance and challenge our understanding of the Universe, and by extension, ourselves. She writes: ‘I want to make you wonder what is out there; what dreams may come in waves of radiation across the breadth of an endless expanse; what we may know given time; and what splendors might never, ever reach us.’

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Uncanny! Is this humanoid robot a curiosity, or a preview of a post-human world?

The Japanese engineer Hiroshi Ishiguro has spent much of his life building robots to simulate human behaviours as closely as possible. And with Erica, a female humanoid that Ishiguro created with scientists from the universities of Kyoto University and Osaka, and the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute (ATR), he believes he’s built the ‘most human-like, autonomous android in this world’. In Erica: Man Made, the Romanian director Ilinca Calugareanu profiles Ishiguro and his prized creation, which has been built and programmed to simulate a ‘beautiful’ 23-year-old woman from Kyoto – and one that, as Erica mentions, is still patiently awaiting the ability to move its arms and legs. Surreal and thought-provoking, Calugareanu’s film raises many challenging questions about our potentially post-human future: are robot servants really on the near horizon? Is any attempt to simulate humanity bound to hit an uncanny valley? And to what extent will the human attitudes, intentions and desires of engineers shape the AI landscape?

Director: Ilinca Calugareanu

Producer: Mara Adina

Website: Guardian Documentaries

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A migrant worker’s daily circus-like balancing act is a surreal reflection of China’s economy

As China shifted from a small-farm economy to an industrial powerhouse over the past generation, there’s been an enormous demographic shift, with some 282 million migrant labourers splitting their time between cities and their rural homes. For Wo Guo Jie, who makes her living in Shanghai collecting styrofoam boxes from markets and reselling them to a seafood wholesale market, this transformation has meant spending as many as three years at a time away from her family farm, where her children sometimes barely recognise her when she returns. Part of a video series on work in modern China by the Shanghai-based photographer and filmmaker Noah Sheldon, Styrofoam follows Guo over the course of a day’s collecting. Working under the cover of night to limit police attention, she’s still a highly conspicuous sight on the city streets, biking with as many boxes stacked around her as possible so that she has to make only one trip a day.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

Composer: Nick Zinner

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Essay/
Education
Engines of democracy

Society will be much improved by loosening the stranglehold of top universities on the education of elites. But how?

Jennifer M Morton

Essay/
Religion
The first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?

James K Hoffmeier