12 minutes

Never judge a book by its cover. But what about people and their faces?

Who is the man on the left? Depends whom you ask. Either: ‘He looks not quite honest or something, I don’t know … There’s some sort of cunningness in him.’ Or: ‘East European, quite genuine person, probably quite likes to go out for a few pints.’

These are just a couple of the comments made when 29 strangers from London’s diverse East End gathered to watch videos of each other and make judgments based on appearance alone. What can be gleaned from a face? As everyone takes a turn as judge, what do their analyses say about their own preconceptions and worldview? An absorbing and frequently surprising social experiment, Conversation was originally presented as a two-screen art installation before screening at film festivals, including the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and the 2007 Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter Sign up
Follow us on

‘Every morning I look forward to seeing what’s in your email and there isn’t a day that goes by without reading or watching something you guys have published.

It’s like an oasis of sanity in a world gone mad.’

Jack D, USA, Friend of Aeon

‘Aeon’s combination of intelligence, integrity and flair is vanishingly rare – and I am very grateful for it. It is becoming an indispensable presence in the digital world for those who believe that ideas matter.’

Tom Chatfield, writer and commentator on digital culture

‘Aeon is one of the most consistently great publications on the internet.

My life would be poorer without it.’

Assistant Professor Lee Vinsel, Virginia Tech

‘Aeon is one of the liveliest, most wide-ranging and imaginative sources of good content on the web.

A fabulous resource for the intelligent and curious.’

Professor Barry C. Smith, University of London

‘Aeon is hands down my favourite publication to write for. Deadlines long enough to do the work justice, the best editorial input I’ve encountered and compensation which is respectful of writers’ time.’

Antonia Malchik, essayist and editor

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.
But we can’t do it without you.

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview.
But we can’t do it without you.

Mental Health
The usefulness of dread

My anxiety has been lifelong but I would not wish it away. It has made me the philosopher – and person – that I am today

Samir Chopra

Why we love tyrants

Psychoanalysis explains how authoritarians energise hatred, self-pity and delusion while promising heaven on Earth

David Livingstone Smith