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Know thyself

2 minutes

Primitive technology: round hut

11 minutes

Baby brother

14 minutes

Inferno observatory

5 minutes

A cure for fear: nighttime in Kabul

14 minutes

Socrates believed self-knowledge was essential. Today, we wonder if there’s even a self to know

The words ‘know thyself’ (or ‘gnothi seauton’ in Ancient Greek) were famously inscribed above the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. In Plato’s telling, Socrates believed that the value of self-knowledge consisted in one’s ability to recognise the limits of what they know, which, Socrates ultimately thought, was nothing. In the centuries since, thinkers who have tried to discern the nature of the self have come to radically different conclusions. Thomas Hobbes advocated introspection – attention to one’s own thoughts, feelings and desires – as a means to understanding others. Sigmund Freud developed his theory of the unconscious, introducing the notion that much of what makes up the self is hidden and unknowable. And in the contemporary era, the experimental psychologist Bruce Hood has turned to brain research to fundamentally question whether there is any self to know.

Learn to build your own rainproof hut – or, at least, marvel at the man who knows how

The popular Primitive Technology YouTube channel features an anonymous man in Far North Queensland in Australia fashioning tools and structures using only naturally occurring, found materials. In this installment, following the deterioration of his A-frame hut, he builds what he hopes will be a more durable round hut from the ground up. Starting with wood posts tied together with cane, the man makes the structure water-resistant by adding a palm roof, a drainage trench, and walls built from a combination of mud and cane. In the process, he also almost manages to make his remarkable ingenuity look easy. To learn more about the step-by-step process while watching, turn on closed captions in the video player. 

‘I thought I was gonna be a teenager forever’: moving back in with the parents at 23

In his short documentary Baby Brother, the US filmmaker Kamau Bilal offers a bit of vérité filmmaking at its most refreshing, transforming the mundanity of his younger brother’s return to their parents’ Missouri home into a funny and poignant exploration of the weirdness of young adulthood. Ismaeel is 23 and affable, if somewhat hapless, but the intimacy of his brother’s filmmaking – and presumably his affection for Ismaeel – makes the treatment of the young man’s charms, flaws and idiosyncrasies gently revelatory. His stifled ambitions and uneasiness about the trappings and responsibilities of adulthood echo a distinctly millennial malaise, at the same time as being deeply rooted in his personal experience. This heartfelt and charming short was a favourite on the 2018 film festival circuit, screening at the Sundance Film Festival, True/False and Sheffield Doc/Fest, among many others. 

Director: Kamau Bilal

Scientists haven’t tamed volcanoes but it’s wild and fun to watch them try

During a fellowship at the Mineral Sciences Laboratory at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC, the UK filmmakers Ruth Jarman and Joe Gerhardt stumbled upon a collection of 16mm films shot by volcanologists in the field. Originally presented as an installation at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) in Liverpool in 2011, this three-channel video combines the found footage with a churning, propulsive soundtrack to explore the human fascination with Earth-rupturing natural phenomena. Across the three channels, erupting volcanoes are at once powerful forces of nature as well as fodder for quantifiable scientific data – and high jinks.

Directors: Ruth Jarman, Joe Gerhardt

Website: Semiconductor Films

A veteran returns to war through virtual reality, hoping to be rid of his PTSD

Almost 40 years after post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was officially recognised as a distinct mental condition, treating its frequently debilitating symptoms has proven extremely challenging to sufferers and clinicians. The human brain is hard-wired to defend against threats, making little distinction between real and perceived danger. However, Merel Kindt, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Amsterdam, believes that she has discovered a breakthrough treatment for overactive fear responses. By first exposing patients to their greatest fears and then administering a beta-blocker called propranolol, Kindt says that fear memories can be overwritten and made benign. 

This is the second instalment of the US director Lana Wilson’s four-part documentary series A Cure for Fear, which follows patients undergoing this potentially revolutionary treatment. It features Kindt attempting to alleviate the PTSD symptoms of a Canadian veteran of the war in Afghanistan: to trigger the fear memory, he must relive his most traumatic battle experience in harrowing detail via an immersive VR recreation. Watch the first instalment of the series here.

Director: Lana Wilson

Producer: Shrihari Sathe

Website: Topic

Socrates believed self-knowledge was essential. Today, we wonder if there’s even a self to know

The words ‘know thyself’ (or ‘gnothi seauton’ in Ancient Greek) were famously inscribed above the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. In Plato’s telling, Socrates believed that the value of self-knowledge consisted in one’s ability to recognise the limits of what they know, which, Socrates ultimately thought, was nothing. In the centuries since, thinkers who have tried to discern the nature of the self have come to radically different conclusions. Thomas Hobbes advocated introspection – attention to one’s own thoughts, feelings and desires – as a means to understanding others. Sigmund Freud developed his theory of the unconscious, introducing the notion that much of what makes up the self is hidden and unknowable. And in the contemporary era, the experimental psychologist Bruce Hood has turned to brain research to fundamentally question whether there is any self to know.

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Essay/
Beauty & Aesthetics
Whys of seeing

Experimental psychology is providing concrete answers to some of the great philosophical debates about art and its meaning

Ellen Winner

Essay/
History of Ideas
Wittgenstein and religion

In the case atheists vs religious belief, Ludwig Wittgenstein is called to the stand. Whose side does his testimony serve?

Stephen Law