Consciousness and creation: the neuroscience of perception

5 minutes

A brief history of melancholy

5 minutes

The Sutton Hoo helmet

19 minutes

Gut hack

12 minutes

Sabine Hossenfelder: searching for beauty in mathematics

9 minutes

On the ‘beholder’s share’ – how past experience influences our perception of art

The Austrian art historian Alois Riegl first discussed how past experience shapes our enjoyment of – contempt for, or boredom with – a work of art. In 1900, he introduced the idea, later called the ‘beholder’s share’, that a viewer brings personal meanings to a work, and this interplay makes all art a collaboration between artist and audience. Today, neuroscience shows how our experiences actually shape our perceptions, as the brain uses the past to make sense of the outside world. In this animation, produced for the Future of Storytelling summit in 2018, the UK cognitive and computational neuroscientist Anil Seth discusses how this ‘predictive perception’ is central to our experience of art, and why art that intrigues and engages us tugs at the fringes of past experience.

Production: Lazy Chief

Animators: Steve West, Thomas Kilburn

From imbalanced humours to brain chemistry – on the evolution of melancholy

The Ancient Greeks blamed sadness on bodily humours called ‘melaina kole’ (black bile). Today, clinical depression is often understood as an imbalance of brain chemicals – although this is a paradigm that many experts believe is overdue for an update. This animation from TED-Ed offers a brief examination of the history of melancholy, scoping how philosophers, poets, writers and scientists have envisioned and altered our understanding of the experience across the ages.

Video by TED-Ed

Director: Sharon Colman

Writer: Courtney Stephens

The meanings and mysteries of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet brought vividly to life

The early Anglo-Saxon artefact known as the Sutton Hoo helmet has, since its origins in the 7th century, passed through many incarnations, including: exquisite armour, long-dormant burial object, astounding archeological discovery and high-stakes puzzle. Today, the Sutton Hoo helmet – so named for the site in the English county of Suffolk at which it was discovered in 1939 – lives on as one of the British Museum’s most famous pieces. In this video, Sue Brunning, curator of the museum’s European Early Medieval Insular Collection, examines the iconic object, revealing the multitude of meanings and mysteries it holds. Through her investigation, Brunning brilliantly captures how history is an ever-fluid work in progress, being made and remade as new discoveries are brought – often quite literally – to light.

Video by the British Museum

When medicine offers no relief, a biohacker begins a radical self-experiment

In 2015, the US scientist, artist and self-described ‘biohacker’ Josiah Zayner undertook a controversial project to help resolve his lifelong gastrointestinal issues. The plan was to replace the vast colonies of microbiota on and inside his body via transplants from a healthy donor – and then document the proceedings. Although an accomplished biologist with a PhD in biophysics and two years as a NASA researcher under his belt, Zayner’s endeavour was frowned upon by much of the scientific community, with critics condemning the project for operating outside the normal boundaries of bioethics. Especially controversial was Zayner’s plan to self-administer a faecal transplant – a risky procedure usually reserved for potentially fatal conditions. In their documentary Gut Hack, the filmmakers Mario Furloni and Kate McLean follow Zayner’s fascinating, radical and not-for-the-squeamish quest for relief. In so doing, they also confront deeper issues of ethics and autonomy at the core of contemporary science.

Directors: Mario Furloni, Kate McLean

Producer: Laura Heberton

Against ‘beauty’ in science – how striving for elegance stifles progress

That there is an inherent ‘beauty’ and ‘elegance’ to the laws of nature is a view that permeates the field of physics. But, according to the German theoretical physicist Sabine Hossenfelder, the notion that the further you peer into reality, the easier the equation gets, has no basis in reality. Indeed, since the mid-20th-century, the maths of physics has become increasingly knotty, even as many physicists have continued to search for a path back to simplicity. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, Hossenfelder makes the case that this fixation on beauty isn’t just misguided – it’s stifling scientific progress.

Video by Closer to Truth

On the ‘beholder’s share’ – how past experience influences our perception of art

The Austrian art historian Alois Riegl first discussed how past experience shapes our enjoyment of – contempt for, or boredom with – a work of art. In 1900, he introduced the idea, later called the ‘beholder’s share’, that a viewer brings personal meanings to a work, and this interplay makes all art a collaboration between artist and audience. Today, neuroscience shows how our experiences actually shape our perceptions, as the brain uses the past to make sense of the outside world. In this animation, produced for the Future of Storytelling summit in 2018, the UK cognitive and computational neuroscientist Anil Seth discusses how this ‘predictive perception’ is central to our experience of art, and why art that intrigues and engages us tugs at the fringes of past experience.

Production: Lazy Chief

Animators: Steve West, Thomas Kilburn

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At the Maison Blanche psychiatric hospital in Paris, 1954. Photo by Jean-Philippe Charbonnier/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

Essay/
History of science
Shocked

It damages memory and cognition, and brings no lasting relief. Why is ‘electroshock’ therapy still a mainstay of psychiatry?

John Read

Hexensabbat in Trier (‘witches’ sabbath’, 1593), by Pastor H H Lauen, Germany. Courtesy the Witchcraft Collection, Cornell University.

Essay/
History
Rich witches

How a flawed logic of economic scarcity and social climbing spurred witch hunts in early modern Germany

Johannes Dillinger