Support Aeon

‘Content that goes beyond the two-hour news cycle. Thinking that grounds.’

Adam Ward, Canada, Friend of Aeon

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

Donate now

Aeon is a registered charity committed to the spread of knowledge and a cosmopolitan worldview. Our mission is to create a sanctuary online for serious thinking.

No ads, no paywall, no clickbait – just thought-provoking ideas from the world’s leading thinkers, free to all. But we can’t do it without you.

Donate now

Know thyself

2 minutes

How ISPs violate the laws of mathematics

6 minutes

How hairworms highjack a cricket

5 minutes

Outside in Beijing

16 minutes

Rediscovering Ancient Greek music

16 minutes

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

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.

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

If simple logic isn’t working with your internet company, try Zermelo-Fraenkel set theory

This tongue-in-cheek animation from the US YouTuber Henry Reich – the mind behind MinutePhysics – is a creative exercise in how not to lose your cool when faced with the abyss of illogic. Recalling the mundane, mindnumbing tribulations of trying to get a straight answer on billing from his internet service provider (ISP), Reich concludes that the company isn’t just guilty of subpar customer service – their policies also break nearly every fundamental law of modern mathematics. Reich’s clever excoriation of telecommunication companies was created for The Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAHFest), an annual ‘celebration of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect scientific theories’.

Video by MinutePhysics

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Mind control and zombification do exist. Just look at these crickets

Warning: this video is not for the squeamish.

Mayflies make a quick and nutritious snack for crickets. But, rather unfortunately for the cricket population of California, some mayflies are home to hairworms (nematomorphs) – parasitic creatures that will stop at nothing to make their way back to water. Once consumed, hairworms feed off crickets from the inside, absorbing all of their lipids, and eventually putting the cricket in a state of developmental and reproductive limbo. Worse still, once these fast-growing parasites reach their adult length of one to two feet, they zombify their hosts, unleashing brain chemicals that make the infected crickets wander aimlessly until they hit water, where the worms make their final escape and start the whole cycle anew. By studying this process, scientists hope to learn more about how brain parasites might affect human behaviour. The ordeal is captured in microscopic detail in this episode of the often creepy, always fascinating science documentary series Deep Look. Read more about the video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer and Writer: Gabriela Quirós

Narrator and Writer: Lauren Sommer

Cinematographer: Josh Cassidy

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Human capital: art, exercise and industry in the streets of Beijing

As preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympics were transforming swathes of Beijing, the Portuguese filmmaker Sérgio Cruz was exploring the city’s streets and public spaces with his camera. Taking an observational approach, Cruz found a metropolis undergoing rapid development, while in pockets its distinctive traditions and pastimes continued unabated. Amid cacophonous construction and air pollution heavy on the skyline, there’s a rich and unceasing pulse of communal life – what Cruz calls ‘a 24-hour live show full of music, dance and sports’. A choir gathers to sing in an underground tunnel; a group practises synchronised tai chi under a basketball hoop in a park; couples dance in a public square at dusk. While deliberately paced, Cruz’s short film is not unlike the curious tourist who breaks away from the planned itinerary to seek out excitement and small surprises around every new corner.

Director: Sérgio Cruz

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Music was ubiquitous in Ancient Greece. Now we can hear how it actually sounded

Much of what we think of as Ancient Greek poetry, including Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was composed to be sung, frequently with the accompaniment of musical instruments. And while the Greeks left modern classicists many indications that music was omnipresent in society – from vases decorated with lyres, to melodic notation preserved on stone – the precise character and contours of the music has long been considered irreproducible. However, the UK classicist and classical musician Armand D’Angour has spent years endeavouring to stitch the mysterious sounds of Ancient Greek music back together from large and small hints left behind. In 2017, his work culminated in a unique performance at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, intended to recreate the sounds of Greek music dating as far back as Homer’s era – roughly 700 BCE. This short documentary details the extraordinary research and musical expertise that made the concert possible, revealing remarkable sounds once thought lost to time. To learn more about what music sounded like in Ancient Greece, read D’Angour’s Aeon idea.

Via Open Culture

Director: Mike Tomlinson

Producer: Hannah Veale, James Tomalin

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

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.

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Political philosophy
Rorty’s political turn

When he shifted his attention from philosophy to politics, Richard Rorty revived liberalism’s potential for social reform

Alan Malachowski

Essay/
History of ideas
Nietzsche and the Cynics

How Friedrich Nietzsche used ideas from the Ancient Cynics to explore the death of God and the nature of morality

Helen Small