Lee Smolin: space and time

9 minutes

Organism

19 minutes

Out of mind

14 minutes

The Mozart effect

5 minutes

Thai country living

15 minutes

Time is fundamental, space is emergent – why physicists are rethinking reality

From Isaac Newton’s ‘absolute space’ and ‘absolute time’, which envisioned the two phenomena as fundamental and separate, to Albert Einstein’s ‘spacetime’, which condensed them into a single concept, the relationship between space and time has been the mystery driving fundamental physics for more than four centuries. And over the past several decades, some physicists, including Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have come to believe that the fabric of reality is perhaps due to be torn into yet again. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the series Closer to Truth, Smolin discusses how developments in quantum mechanics have left physicists with questions that special relativity can’t seem to accommodate, and why the solution might be a conception of reality in which time is fundamental, and space emergent.

Video by Closer to Truth

The city as an emergent life form, with architecture as the skeleton and roads as veins

While comparing cities to living things perhaps isn’t as novel in 2021 as it was when Organism was first released in 1975, the analogy has never been as dizzyingly inventive or convincingly rendered as in this experimental short by the US filmmaker Hilary Harris. Working primarily from time-lapse footage of New York City, Harris intersperses biological microscopy and voiceovers describing the structures and functions of the human body to meticulously assemble the metaphor – roads, bridges, tunnels and trains form a grand circulatory system; shipping, distribution and waste management networks mirror the digestive process. With the frantic yet orderly action set to a hypnotic score, the viewing experience is at once experiential and thought-provoking, hinting at broader reflections on emergence and the self.

Director: Hilary Harris

Website: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

What it’s like to have aphantasia, the inability to visualise images in the mind’s eye

After his mother’s death, Alex Wheeler felt guilty about how quickly he was able to move on from the initial shock, especially when compared with his siblings. His perspective on his emotions would come into clearer view when, by chance, he learned of a newly coined neurological phenomenon known as aphantasia, in which individuals are unable to generate images in their mind’s eye. In the short documentary Out of Mind, Wheeler retells his story and connects with the UK neurologist Adam Zeman, whose pioneering research on aphantasia gave it a name and brought it into public view, and the UK artist Amy Right, who also has aphantasia. Through Wheeler’s story, the UK filmmaker Simon Mulvaney explores the fascinating connections between images and emotions at the brain level.

Director: Simon Mulvaney

Producer: Anna O’Donohue

No, Mozart isn’t a brain hack for babies – here’s how music really affects intelligence

In 1991, a small study conducted at the University of California, Irvine found that young adults received a modest brain boost from listening to Mozart before performing small mental tasks. From this, an exaggerated mythology surrounding what became known as ‘the Mozart effect’ emerged, linking exposure to classical music with heightened intelligence – especially in babies. In this animation, the UK broadcaster and psychologist Claudia Hammond dissects how a mania for this Mozart effect took hold, and what the research on music and intelligence actually says. In doing so, the short video also provides a telling look at how academic studies are often distorted and overstated in the media and in the public imagination.

Video by BBC Reel

The rhythms of rural Thailand, where both food and music are sourced from the ground

Thai Country Living is a film with a title that doesn’t leave you wondering. This charming short documentary by the UK filmmakers Ben and Dan Tubby (also known as the Tubby Brothers) takes viewers on a brief journey to the Isaan region, in Thailand’s northeast. The host for the trip, Suman Tapkham, provides the home cooking, with ingredients fresh from his small farm; the music comes via a bamboo instrument known as a khaen, which Tapkham crafts by hand; and the warm conversation is largely made of reflections on his life spent in the country, and his worries that the unique culture there might soon be lost. Through their portrait, the Tubby Brothers capture a slice of Thailand far from the bustle of Bangkok most commonly associated with the country, and, for many viewers, a more than welcome portion of armchair travel.

Directors: Ben Tubby, Dan Tubby

Producer: Somboon Vichaisre

Website: Tubby Brother Films

Time is fundamental, space is emergent – why physicists are rethinking reality

From Isaac Newton’s ‘absolute space’ and ‘absolute time’, which envisioned the two phenomena as fundamental and separate, to Albert Einstein’s ‘spacetime’, which condensed them into a single concept, the relationship between space and time has been the mystery driving fundamental physics for more than four centuries. And over the past several decades, some physicists, including Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Canada, have come to believe that the fabric of reality is perhaps due to be torn into yet again. In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the series Closer to Truth, Smolin discusses how developments in quantum mechanics have left physicists with questions that special relativity can’t seem to accommodate, and why the solution might be a conception of reality in which time is fundamental, and space emergent.

Video by Closer to Truth

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Artists impression of ʻOumuamua courtesy M Kornmesser/ESO

Essay/
Astronomy
Contact

An alien-made artefact or just interstellar debris? What ʻOumuamua says about how science works when data is scarce

Matthew Bothwell