Out of the blue

8 minutes

Susan Greenfield on neuronal assemblies

9 minutes

Plato’s allegory of the cave

9 minutes

Solos

5 minutes

The meaning of a monument

16 minutes

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

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

The American Museum of Natural History grapples with its most controversial piece

The ‘Equestrian Statue of Theodore Roosevelt’ was commissioned by the City of New York to stand in front of the American Museum of Natural History in 1925, and was finally unveiled to the public in 1940. A co-founder of the museum and avid outdoorsman, Roosevelt’s commitment to conservation was reflected in many of his policies as president, including the vast expansion of national parks, forests and monuments. But despite his contributions to the field of natural history, the statue – depicting a horseback Roosevelt flanked by a Native American figure and an African figure – has been controversial for decades, with detractors arguing that it’s a monument to white supremacy. Further complicating its symbolism are Roosevelt’s recorded views on race, which were in some ways progressive for a white man of his time, but would today be condemned as unequivocally racist.

Released by the American Museum of Natural History in 2019 – prior to the institution’s decision to remove the statue in the wake of the George Floyd protests in June 2020 – this short film was created to help contextualise the work for museum visitors. Leading scholars in the fields of art, history and African and Native American studies weigh in on the sculpture’s intended and perceived meanings – alongside museum visitors, many of whom are relaying their first impressions of the monument. The resulting short is captivating both as a history and as a reading of the wider cultural moment, in which institutions are being forced to grapple with their legacies, and governments are reassessing who and what should be celebrated in public spaces.

Jim Hall, 78, has a blue body – but his outlook on life is more unusual still

‘I decided it was OK to have fun with my body … I probably have more balls than anybody!’

Jim Hall worked in urban development for four decades before retiring as the principal city planner of Baltimore. Aged 78 and beginning to feel some of his faculties slip, he is planning a move to Texas to live out his final years. These unremarkable details of his biography might seem at odds with his unique look – most conspicuously, the blue tattoo covering almost every inch of his skin. But despite the unusual choices he’s made to modify his body – including some unusual, intimate augmentations hidden from view – Hall’s outlook on life is deeply practical, centred on playfulness and an enduring sense of gratitude for what he sees as the incredible gift of being a human. With a palette that complements Hall’s own chosen colours, this short documentary from the US directors Jonathan Bregel and Steve Hoover finds wonder and wisdom in a man who is as hard to define as he is plain-spoken and pragmatic.

Directors: Jonathan Bregel, Steve Hoover

Website: friendzone

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Pope Benedict XVI, despite rumours, did not wear Prada. ‘The pope, in summary, does not wear Prada, but Christ,’ said the official Vatican newspaper in 2008. Papal footwear has traditionally been red and is regarded as the colour of martyrdom. Photo by Giampiero Sposito/Reuters

Essay/
Design and fashion
What do shoes do?

Partly of the earth, partly of our body, the shoe sits on the edge of an ontological threshold. Where can it transport us?

Randy Laist

Detail from a manuscript painting from a set of annals written in Nahuatl called the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (1545-1565) from Mexico. Courtesy the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

Essay/
Global history
How Aztecs told history

For the warriors and wanderers who became the Aztec people, truth was not singular and history was braided from many voices

Camilla Townsend