ORIGINAL

Stranger aliens

5 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Ping pong Sufi

11 minutes

Is Eric Cantona an existentialist?

3 minutes

No ball games

14 minutes

The trauma tracer

9 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

‘I’m just measuring myself with myself’ – ping pong as a route to Sufi spiritual practice

A practitioner of the inward-looking form of Islam known as Sufism, Noah Nazir pursues self-improvement as a means of connecting with God. This is especially true at the ping pong table at his local Sufi centre in Sheffield, where Nazir is ever in search of new and creative ways to up his game. And, as he relays in Ping Pong Sufi, his striving has yielded some impressive results. Despite his age and a recent stroke, he’s one of the centre’s best players – even though, he stresses, he views his only competition as from within, commenting: ‘I’m just measuring myself with myself.’ The UK filmmakers Rachel Genn and Connor Matheson cultivate an appropriately meditative mood in their short documentary, made in 2019, capturing Nazir as he seeks transcendence through ping pong and prayer. The result is an illuminating and novel window into Sufi spiritual practice, which is given a musical lift by the multitalented Nazir, who also composed the song that plays over the closing credits.

Directors: Rachel Genn, Connor Matheson

What would Sartre make of the footballer who stood by his decision to kick a fan?

The most infamous kick of the French footballer Eric Cantona’s accomplished career wasn’t a game-winning goal, but rather an airborne attack on a fan who was shouting abuse at him during a match in 1995. When asked to reflect on the incident some two decades later, Cantona stated: ‘I love it and I don’t regret it … I am not a role model … I am just a human being with emotion.’ This short animation from the Illustrated Philosopher series – written by Nigel Warburton, consultant senior editor at Aeon – ponders whether Cantona proved himself an unlikely existentialist by refusing to succumb to the pressure to express contrition.

Writer and Narrator: Nigel Warburton

Animation: Cognitive Media

Immerse yourself in the games kids play when the streets are their playground

The London-based filmmaker Charlotte Regan’s charming documentary No Ball Games tracks the nuances of play between young friends in three working-class neighbourhoods across the UK. Capturing the joy of an aimless summer’s day spent finding fun, the film celebrates the instinctual ability of children to cook up their own entertainment from scratch – including, in this case, wresting directing duties from the filmmakers from time to time. With an immersive style, Regan’s film transports viewers into a world of resourcefulness, invention and fun that’s rarely accessed – and perhaps even forgotten – by those burdened by the quotidian concerns of adulthood.

Director: Charlotte Regan

Producer: Theo Barrowclough

Website: Guardian Documentaries

If trauma can be passed down, could new therapies blunt the transgenerational impact?

Growing up in a household where her biological parents provided foster care to kids in need, Bianca Jones Marlin was greatly affected by the stories of trauma that her siblings would share. Those childhood experiences, combined with a passion for science, inspires her work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Zuckerman Institute at Columbia University in New York. Through experiments with mice, Jones Marlin studies how trauma affects transgenerational epigenetic inheritance – or, more plainly, how the stress of traumatic experiences and environments can be passed down by parents to their future offspring, even when the stressors occur before pregnancy. And while making scientific leaps from mice to humans is always perilous, Jones Marlin’s research has proved promising, showing that stressors associated with certain odours in parents seem to make their pups more sensitive to those same smells. Ultimately, Jones Marlin hopes that her work can be used to help create therapies to improve outcomes for children who might be affected by transgenerational trauma.

Video by Science Friday

Director: Chelsea Fiske

Producer: Luke Groskin

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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A drunkard is challenged to walk in a straight line. Detail from Walking the Chalk (1838) by Charles Deas. Courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

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