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Fieldwork: comb jellies

7 minutes

The big city

6 minutes

Spacesavers

4 minutes

Can food nourish your soul?

2 minutes

Birth control your own adventure

5 minutes

Take a shimmering, surreal swim with what might be the Earth’s oldest animals

Until recently, mainstream thinking in biology had long held that sponges were the first animal to emerge on the evolutionary tree. But over the past decade, a new wave of research argues that ctenophores, a phylum of sea invertebrates found in saltwater around the world, might be our oldest and most distant relatives. Featuring entrancing camerawork of ctenophores recorded by the US artist Charles Lindsay at Hope Island in British Columbia, Canada, Fieldwork: Comb Jellies offers a close-up look at the translucent creatures that have prompted the tree of life to be redrawn. As the jellies move across the frame, the quick movements of the fused cilia (or ‘comb rows’) they use to propel themselves diffracts the light into a rainbow, giving them an ethereal glow. Combining audio recorded at source with processed sounds from a variety of underwater microphones, Lindsay’s glitchy and immersive sound design gives the impression of a deep-sea swim on an otherworldly planet.

For more on ctenophores, read the Aeon essay Aliens in Our Midst.

Video by Charles Lindsay

Meet your single-celled neighbours – a microbial tour of a metropolis

From an anthropocentric point of view, big cities are one of humanity’s most majestic achievements: massive, self-contained ecosystems built by, catering to, and inhabited by huge numbers of people. But you could forgive microorganisms for claiming that cities are actually theirs. After all, they outnumber humans in urban environments by the trillions. They also affect cityscapes in a far more tangible way: city planners and epidemiologists shape urban environments with pathogenic threats in mind. 

For his experimental short film The Big City, the Canadian filmmaker Evan Luchkow put the hidden lifeforms of downtown Vancouver’s main roads under the literal microscope, documenting the various microbes he found to reveal, in his words, ‘the blurry boundary between human society and the natural world’. The result is an extraordinary and enlightening glimpse of the vast biodiversity with which we share our cities. 

Director: Evan Luchkow

The peculiar Boston tradition that (mostly) keeps the winter parking peace

After snowstorms in Boston, street parking tensions tend to rise, especially when car owners clear out spaces near their residences only to later find another driver has swiped their hard-earned spot. But walk the city’s streets in the wake of a blizzard, and you’ll notice a uniquely Bostonian visual language that aims to keep the parking peace – even if it isn’t always successful. In a decades-old winter tradition codified by a former mayor, residents in most Boston neighbourhoods are allowed to hold their spaces for up to 48 hours using everyday objects. The formerly Boston-based director Sarah Ginsburg explores the peculiar practice in her film Spacesavers. Shot during the winter of 2015 – a record-breaking season for snowfall – the wry observational short offers a distinctive vision of Boston’s winter streets where everything from lawn chairs to walkers and golf bags become ‘keep out’ signs.

Director: Sarah Ginsburg

Producer: Will Lennon

Liberation of the soul through diet – how a Jain ascetic lives

‘Soul requires spirituality. Soul does not require food.’

Nonviolence towards all forms of life is a cornerstone of Jainism, a nontheistic Indian religion that dates back to the 6th century BCE, and today has around 7 million followers. To Jainism’s strictest adherents, even a walk through the grass or drinking tea with honey can be a morally perilous proposition, given the soul-possessing living things, from plants to insects to microbes, that can be harmed in the process. Part of a video series on the intersection of food and spirituality by the Italian-born, London-based filmmaker Matan Rochlitz, this short features a Jain ascetic discussing how a restricted diet (mostly water and dry grains) guides his spiritually.

Director: Matan Rochlitz

Period drama: one woman’s journey through birth control

The multitude of female birth-control products on the market hardly means there’s a perfect option for everyone. From the combined oral contraceptive (commonly known as the Pill), to the IUD (intrauterine device, aka the coil) to the NuvaRing, the availability of choice can mask one major downside: for some, the side-effects of birth control are a problem in their own right. In her short film Birth Control Your Own Adventure, the Pakistani-American filmmaker Sindha Agha presents her personal journey through all the options, starting at age 11, when she was prescribed the Pill for the pain of endometriosis. Agha relates her struggle to find the least-worst option with witty visuals and a vivid design. In its intimate detail, the short is especially enlightening for those who don’t menstruate, prompting the question: what about male birth-control products?

Director: Sindha Agha

Take a shimmering, surreal swim with what might be the Earth’s oldest animals

Until recently, mainstream thinking in biology had long held that sponges were the first animal to emerge on the evolutionary tree. But over the past decade, a new wave of research argues that ctenophores, a phylum of sea invertebrates found in saltwater around the world, might be our oldest and most distant relatives. Featuring entrancing camerawork of ctenophores recorded by the US artist Charles Lindsay at Hope Island in British Columbia, Canada, Fieldwork: Comb Jellies offers a close-up look at the translucent creatures that have prompted the tree of life to be redrawn. As the jellies move across the frame, the quick movements of the fused cilia (or ‘comb rows’) they use to propel themselves diffracts the light into a rainbow, giving them an ethereal glow. Combining audio recorded at source with processed sounds from a variety of underwater microphones, Lindsay’s glitchy and immersive sound design gives the impression of a deep-sea swim on an otherworldly planet.

For more on ctenophores, read the Aeon essay Aliens in Our Midst.

Video by Charles Lindsay

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Essay/
Space Exploration
Rules in space

If we don’t invent a legal framework for space colonisation the consequences could be catastrophic: the time to act is now

Marko Kovic

Essay/
Biology
Bee-brained

Are insects ‘philosophical zombies’ with no inner life? Close attention to their behaviours and moods suggests otherwise

Lars Chittka & Catherine Wilson