Mary’s room

5 minutes

Organism

19 minutes

Out of mind

14 minutes

The Mozart effect

5 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

Can you know everything about colour if you see in black and white? A thought experiment

Can we ever know everything about something we can’t experience? The Australian philosopher Frank Jackson pondered this question in a thought experiment in 1982, which imagined a neuroscientist named Mary who understood everything there was to understand about colour vision, without ever having experienced it herself. If, in an instant, her black-and-white experience of sight shifted into colour, would she glean any new insight?

Detailed with stylish, shapeshifting animation in this short from TED-Ed, Jackson’s thought experiment ponders felt subjective experience (or ‘qualia’, for all the past and current philosophy students) and its relationship to knowledge. The questions raised by ‘Mary’s Room’ – including whether anything about experience transcends physical facts – remain some of the most perennial and unsettled in philosophy, even if Jackson himself actually reversed his position, concluding that the experience of colour vision does indeed correspond to a brain state, albeit one we don’t yet fully understand.

Video by TED-Ed

Writer: Eleanor Nelsen

Animator: Maxime Dupuy

The city as an emergent life form, with architecture as the skeleton and roads as veins

While comparing cities to living things perhaps isn’t as novel in 2021 as it was when Organism was first released in 1975, the analogy has never been as dizzyingly inventive or convincingly rendered as in this experimental short by the US filmmaker Hilary Harris. Working primarily from time-lapse footage of New York City, Harris intersperses biological microscopy and voiceovers describing the structures and functions of the human body to meticulously assemble the metaphor – roads, bridges, tunnels and trains form a grand circulatory system; shipping, distribution and waste management networks mirror the digestive process. With the frantic yet orderly action set to a hypnotic score, the viewing experience is at once experiential and thought-provoking, hinting at broader reflections on emergence and the self.

Director: Hilary Harris

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What it’s like to have aphantasia, the inability to visualise images in the mind’s eye

After his mother’s death, Alex Wheeler felt guilty about how quickly he was able to move on from the initial shock, especially when compared with his siblings. His perspective on his emotions would come into clearer view when, by chance, he learned of a newly coined neurological phenomenon known as aphantasia, in which individuals are unable to generate images in their mind’s eye. In the short documentary Out of Mind, Wheeler retells his story and connects with the UK neurologist Adam Zeman, whose pioneering research on aphantasia gave it a name and brought it into public view, and the UK artist Amy Right, who also has aphantasia. Through Wheeler’s story, the UK filmmaker Simon Mulvaney explores the fascinating connections between images and emotions at the brain level.

Director: Simon Mulvaney

Producer: Anna O’Donohue

No, Mozart isn’t a brain hack for babies – here’s how music really affects intelligence

In 1991, a small study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that young adults received a modest brain boost from listening to Mozart before performing small mental tasks. From this, an exaggerated mythology surrounding what became known as ‘the Mozart effect’ emerged, linking exposure to classical music with heightened intelligence – especially in babies. In this animation, the UK broadcaster and psychologist Claudia Hammond dissects how a mania for this Mozart effect took hold, and what the research on music and intelligence actually says. In doing so, the short video also provides a telling look at how academic studies are often distorted and overstated in the media and in the public imagination.

Video by BBC Reel

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

Can you know everything about colour if you see in black and white? A thought experiment

Can we ever know everything about something we can’t experience? The Australian philosopher Frank Jackson pondered this question in a thought experiment in 1982, which imagined a neuroscientist named Mary who understood everything there was to understand about colour vision, without ever having experienced it herself. If, in an instant, her black-and-white experience of sight shifted into colour, would she glean any new insight?

Detailed with stylish, shapeshifting animation in this short from TED-Ed, Jackson’s thought experiment ponders felt subjective experience (or ‘qualia’, for all the past and current philosophy students) and its relationship to knowledge. The questions raised by ‘Mary’s Room’ – including whether anything about experience transcends physical facts – remain some of the most perennial and unsettled in philosophy, even if Jackson himself actually reversed his position, concluding that the experience of colour vision does indeed correspond to a brain state, albeit one we don’t yet fully understand.

Video by TED-Ed

Writer: Eleanor Nelsen

Animator: Maxime Dupuy

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Limestone frieze (c146 BCE) with inscription in Numidian; half of a bilingual inscription, the other half being Punic from the mausoleum of Ateban at Dougga, Tunisia. Courtesy the Trustees of the British Museum, London

Essay/
Language and linguistics
Africa writes back

European ideas of African illiteracy are persistent, prejudiced and, as the story of Libyc script shows, entirely wrong

D Vance Smith