ORIGINAL

Stranger aliens

5 minutes

Building beauty with biology

5 minutes

A brief history of melancholy

5 minutes

The Sutton Hoo helmet

19 minutes

Gut hack

12 minutes

Finding alien life demands real imagination – not recycled sci-fi tropes

Humans have long imagined beings in other worlds or on other planets whose emotions, motivations and physiologies closely mirror our own. Science fiction in its many forms tends toward a human-inflected conception of non-human life out in the Universe. This view of aliens as rather like us is fine for ancient myths and Hollywood blockbusters, but even modern scientists can’t seem to shake the notion that extraterrestrials’ decisions and behaviour would follow logic and patterns akin to our own. Many of the major scientific projects seeking life elsewhere in the cosmos still rely on assumptions that reflect, above all, ideas about how we would do something if we were aliens.

Narrated by the British science writer Philip Ball, this Aeon original video argues that, in order to stand a chance of succeeding, the modern scientific search for aliens needs to ditch science fiction’s frequently simplistic and solipsistic views in favour of a truly bold approach to imagining extraterrestrial life.

Read the Aeon Idea by Philip Ball from which this video was adapted.

Director: Adam D’Arpino

Producers: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Philip Ball

Composer: Chris Zabriskie

The uncanny art inspired by evolution and generated by ‘crossbreeding’ images

When viewing the work of the US artist and tool developer Joel Simon, you might find that his images are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before – which makes sense, as they weren’t quite born of nature or a human mind. Inspired by the biological properties of evolution and emergence, Simon uses simple programming rules, which, when applied over and over, give rise to uncanny images that augment the human imagination. His most recent work, explored in this video from Science Friday, applies a machine-learning framework known as a generative adversarial network (GAN) to two images. Guided by human users via Simon’s website Artbreeder, his programs ‘crossbreed’ pictures of everything from animals to artworks. Fascinating digital artefacts in their own right, the resulting, author-less images raise complex questions at the nexus of art, programming and design.

Video by Science Friday

Producer: Luke Groskin

From imbalanced humours to brain chemistry – on the evolution of melancholy

The Ancient Greeks blamed sadness on bodily humours called ‘melaina kole’ (black bile). Today, clinical depression is often understood as an imbalance of brain chemicals – although this is a paradigm that many experts believe is overdue for an update. This animation from TED-Ed offers a brief examination of the history of melancholy, scoping how philosophers, poets, writers and scientists have envisioned and altered our understanding of the experience across the ages.

Video by TED-Ed

Director: Sharon Colman

Writer: Courtney Stephens

The meanings and mysteries of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet brought vividly to life

The early Anglo-Saxon artefact known as the Sutton Hoo helmet has, since its origins in the 7th century, passed through many incarnations, including: exquisite armour, long-dormant burial object, astounding archeological discovery and high-stakes puzzle. Today, the Sutton Hoo helmet – so named for the site in the English county of Suffolk at which it was discovered in 1939 – lives on as one of the British Museum’s most famous pieces. In this video, Sue Brunning, curator of the museum’s European Early Medieval Insular Collection, examines the iconic object, revealing the multitude of meanings and mysteries it holds. Through her investigation, Brunning brilliantly captures how history is an ever-fluid work in progress, being made and remade as new discoveries are brought – often quite literally – to light.

Video by the British Museum

When medicine offers no relief, a biohacker begins a radical self-experiment

In 2015, the US scientist, artist and self-described ‘biohacker’ Josiah Zayner undertook a controversial project to help resolve his lifelong gastrointestinal issues. The plan was to replace the vast colonies of microbiota on and inside his body via transplants from a healthy donor – and then document the proceedings. Although an accomplished biologist with a PhD in biophysics and two years as a NASA researcher under his belt, Zayner’s endeavour was frowned upon by much of the scientific community, with critics condemning the project for operating outside the normal boundaries of bioethics. Especially controversial was Zayner’s plan to self-administer a faecal transplant – a risky procedure usually reserved for potentially fatal conditions. In their documentary Gut Hack, the filmmakers Mario Furloni and Kate McLean follow Zayner’s fascinating, radical and not-for-the-squeamish quest for relief. In so doing, they also confront deeper issues of ethics and autonomy at the core of contemporary science.

Directors: Mario Furloni, Kate McLean

Producer: Laura Heberton

Finding alien life demands real imagination – not recycled sci-fi tropes

Humans have long imagined beings in other worlds or on other planets whose emotions, motivations and physiologies closely mirror our own. Science fiction in its many forms tends toward a human-inflected conception of non-human life out in the Universe. This view of aliens as rather like us is fine for ancient myths and Hollywood blockbusters, but even modern scientists can’t seem to shake the notion that extraterrestrials’ decisions and behaviour would follow logic and patterns akin to our own. Many of the major scientific projects seeking life elsewhere in the cosmos still rely on assumptions that reflect, above all, ideas about how we would do something if we were aliens.

Narrated by the British science writer Philip Ball, this Aeon original video argues that, in order to stand a chance of succeeding, the modern scientific search for aliens needs to ditch science fiction’s frequently simplistic and solipsistic views in favour of a truly bold approach to imagining extraterrestrial life.

Read the Aeon Idea by Philip Ball from which this video was adapted.

Director: Adam D’Arpino

Producers: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Philip Ball

Composer: Chris Zabriskie

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An almost deserted village square at Hilibotodane on southern Nias c1906. Anonymous. Photo courtesy Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden, Netherlands

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