ORIGINAL

Stranger aliens

5 minutes

A small antelope horn

2 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Conor and Kobe

6 minutes

How Big Tech betrayed us

4 minutes

What Gordon Parks saw

7 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

Sitting by the fire with a nomadic tribe, a physicist ponders the many shapes of wisdom

The Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli is a pioneer in the field of quantum gravity, and often thought of as one of the world’s foremost scientific thinkers. In this brief animation by James Siewert, which features narration from the Swazi-English actor Richard E Grant, Rovelli recalls communing with members of the Hadza tribe of northern Tanzania – one of the last hunter-gatherer societies on Earth. Sitting by the fire, thoughts of the peculiar trajectory of Homo sapiens and the many shapes of human wisdom flicker in his head, as he ponders the gaps, large and small, between his world and theirs.

Video by rubberband.

Animator: James Siewert

Website: Alexander

Grieving Kobe Bryant, Conor wonders: why do untimely celebrity deaths hit so hard?

‘It’s weird, like – I’m tearing up for someone I didn’t even know…’

Kobe Bryant’s death on 26 January 2020 in a helicopter crash, alongside his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, was met with public displays of mourning in the hours, weeks and months that followed. One of the most beloved basketball stars from a league with a global fanbase, the tragedy prompted innumerable tributes to the NBA legend, scrawled everywhere from the sidewalks of Los Angeles to the Chinese social media platform Weibo – alongside plenty of discussions and think-pieces about his complicated legacy, on and off the court.

This short documentary from the US filmmaker Derek Knowles is constructed from phone conversations between Knowles, his brother Conor and the siblings’ parents in the wake of Bryant’s death. Conor, the family’s biggest Bryant fan, meets the news with a distinct combination of shock, sadness and confusion over how the death of someone he never truly knew could affect him so powerfully. The result is a poignant and intricate reflection on celebrity, mourning and death, crafted from just a few intimate words between family members.

Director: Derek Knowles

Tech companies shroud their algorithms in secrecy. It’s time to pry open the black box

The so-called father of capitalism, Adam Smith, would frown upon the ‘free markets’ of the 21st century, argues the US economics writer Rana Foroohar. For Smith, a functioning market required transparency, a mutual understanding of exchanges and a shared moral framework. And, as Foroohar puts it in this brief animation for the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), surveillance capitalism – pioneered by Google, and now, to varying degrees, ubiquitous worldwide – comes up short on all three fronts. Featuring excerpts from a presentation given by Foroohar at the RSA House in London in 2019, this brief animation lays out the many ways in which surveillance capitalism continues to encroach unchecked, and one potential plan for course correction.

Video by the RSA

Director and Animator: Thomas Kilburn

Producer: Phoebe Williams

Gordon Parks found a ‘weapon’ against poverty and racism in a secondhand camera

‘I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera.’
– Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Gordon Parks was 25 when he arrived in Seattle, Washington with only a few dollars in his pocket. There, drawn to photography’s power to expose inequality and injustice, he headed to a pawn shop and bought a secondhand camera and some rolls of film. In the years that followed, he would receive countless honours for his work documenting American life – in addition to a multitude of pioneering accomplishments in writing, publishing, painting, composing and film directing.

This video from Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) focuses on a 1948 photoessay by Parks published in Life magazine that captured the life of a young, Black gang leader in Harlem. Showcasing and contextualising the images, Puschak explores how Parks’s intimate and confronting style forces many Americans to acknowledge the struggle, poverty and dignity that, for the powerful, often existed out of sight and out of mind.

Video by The Nerdwriter

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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Kirsten Thompson, the lead scientist on the Arctic Sunrise, takes water samples for eDNA sampling near Paulet Island at the entrance to the Weddell Sea. Photo by A Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace/Panos

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The abuses of Popper

A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for

Charlotte Sleigh