Animated life: living fossil fish

7 minutes

Zea

5 minutes

Susan Greenfield on neuronal assemblies

9 minutes

Plato’s allegory of the cave

9 minutes

Solos

5 minutes

In 1938, a fish thought extinct for 65 million years resurfaced, nearly unchanged

In 1938, the South African museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer set out on a quest to preserve an unusual fish given to her by a local fisherman. Soon after, the South African ichthyologist J L B Smith confirmed that Courtenay-Latimer had stumbled upon one of the most stunning zoological discoveries of the 20th century. The blue, fleshy, unusually shaped fish was a coelacanth – a creature previously thought to have become extinct with the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Part of Sweet Fern Productions’ Animated Life series, this short animation traces the coelacanth’s incredible journey through several distinct geological periods until its recent resurfacing when it was found to be nearly unchanged from its ancient fossils.

Directors: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

Dramatic close-ups capture something percolating and exploding – but what is it?

Winner of the Jury Prize in the 1981 Cannes Film Festival’s Short Films competition, Zea is an impressive and exhilarating piece of macro filmmaking. In a montage, close-ups capture a mysterious yellow subject as it heats and bubbles. But what is it? Canadian filmmakers André Leduc and Jean-Jacques Leduc keep viewers in suspense with a sequence that gradually builds in effervescence, ultimately erupting in a conclusion befitting its dramatic orchestral accompaniment, Tallis Fantasia (1910) by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Directors: André Leduc, Jean-Jacques Leduc

Website: National Film Board of Canada

Why don’t we feel pain in dreams? The answer might lie in a new frontier of neuroscience

The UK research scientist Susan Greenfield believes that neuronal assemblies – coalitions of millions of brain cells that activate and disband over a scale of millimetres and milliseconds – could be a Rosetta Stone for explaining shifts and differences in states of consciousness. Although research about these cellular systems is still in its early stages, Greenfield thinks that further study could help neuroscientists bridge the chasm between the local neural networks and large brain regions that currently characterise our framework for perception. And, as she proposes in this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth (2000-), bridging this gap might be key to unlocking some of the foremost puzzles of consciousness – from sleep, dreams and wakefulness to mental illness.

Video by Closer to Truth

Orson Welles’s psychedelic 1973 adaptation of Plato’s timeless ‘allegory of the cave’

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

‘It is the task of the enlightened not only to ascend to learning and to see the good but to be willing to descend again to those prisoners and to share their troubles and their honours, whether they are worth having or not. And this they must do, even with the prospect of death.’ – Plato’s Republic, Book 7

Plato’s ‘allegory of the cave’ thought experiment ponders the experience of prisoners shackled in a cave from birth, only able to see the shadows of objects projected onto a wall. The text then traces the journey of a prisoner who is set free from the cave, given the opportunity to experience reality in the glow of the sun, and, upon returning to the cave, is met with laughter by the other prisoners, who think him a fool for struggling to readjust to his old existence. A simple story yielding complex commentaries on the nature of reality and wisdom, Plato’s timeless allegory is built into the foundations of modern philosophy, and, more than two centuries later, still stirs debate. Carried by a rich narration from Orson Welles, this rarely seen 1973 animated adaptation of Plato’s words populates the tale with haunting human figures, bringing retro-surreal life to the parable.

Via Open Culture

Director: Sam Weiss

Narrator: Orson Welles

Animator: Dick Oden

Sketches from a Barcelona square offer an elegant celebration of people-watching

Barcelona’s squares (plaças in Catalan, plazas in Spanish) are the beating heart of the Catalonian capital – beloved to residents and tourists alike. Breaking the monotony of the city’s gridded streets, these open outdoor areas percolate with the comings and goings of al fresco diners, makeshift football matches and all iterations of art and commerce. Formed from sketches made while the London-based filmmaker Gabriella Marsh was living in Barcelona, the brief animation Solos captures daily life in a small square in the historic Gràcia neighbourhood. Streets are swept, families squabble and friendly greetings are exchanged. And yet these mostly mundane scenes transform into something quite remarkable via Marsh’s stylish hand-drawn images and composer Joe Bush’s gentle piano score. What emerges is an elegant meditation on the intersections of streets, stories and social forces that give shape to a city block.

Director: Gabriella Marsh

Composer: Joe Bush

In 1938, a fish thought extinct for 65 million years resurfaced, nearly unchanged

In 1938, the South African museum curator Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer set out on a quest to preserve an unusual fish given to her by a local fisherman. Soon after, the South African ichthyologist J L B Smith confirmed that Courtenay-Latimer had stumbled upon one of the most stunning zoological discoveries of the 20th century. The blue, fleshy, unusually shaped fish was a coelacanth – a creature previously thought to have become extinct with the dinosaurs some 65 million years ago. Part of Sweet Fern Productions’ Animated Life series, this short animation traces the coelacanth’s incredible journey through several distinct geological periods until its recent resurfacing when it was found to be nearly unchanged from its ancient fossils.

Directors: Flora Lichtman, Sharon Shattuck

Website: BioInteractive

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Illustration by Richard Wilkinson

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