Reading a dog’s mind

7 minutes

Gardening with Nietzsche

8 minutes

Steve is undocumented

10 minutes

You and the thing that you love

12 minutes

Should computers run the world?

36 minutes

What is your dog really thinking? MRI brain scans might soon provide the answer

Psychologists and philosophers – not to mention pet owners – have long wondered whether we can ever get past the constraints of the human mind to truly know what it’s like to be another animal. The US neuroscientist Gregory Berns, however, believes that the problem of animal consciousness has been overstated, and that emerging brain science and MRI technology could go a long way towards getting us inside the minds of other creatures. In his lab at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Berns and a volunteer team of dog owners train their canine companions to become comfortable inside MRI machines so that they can be scanned safely in a relaxed, conscious state. By reading their brain activity and using our understanding of the human brain for reference, Berns believes that he can glean a wide range of insights about the experience of dogs, including the range of their emotions, the diversity of their personalities, and even whether they can differentiate between two- and three-dimensional images.

Producers: Chelsea Fiske, Brandon Swanson

Website: Science Friday

Amid the chaos of being, Nietzsche believed that plants offer us inspiration for living

Aristotle thought that plants possess what he called a ‘vegetative soul’. Centred on growing and reproducing, this primordial, unthinking state of being was encompassed and far surpassed by the ‘rational soul’ of humans. Friedrich Nietzsche, however, believed that, in the overwhelming confusion of considering how we might live, there was much we could learn from plants – deeply rooted in the ground and yet limitlessly expressive as they are. Borrowing from some of Nietzsche’s lesser-known writings, this short video essay might just inspire you to look at a plant growing through a crack in the ‘inhospitable ground’ – and perhaps even Nietzsche himself – in a new light.

Video by The DOX Channel

Writer: Zoe Almon Job

Animator: Theo Garcia

Meet the British bouncer in LA on an expired visa who has no time for immigrants

Steve is a former weightlifter who still keeps up with quite a few hobbies: fitness, heavy metal music, clay sculpture, bikes, motorcycles, and lots and lots of weapons. He works as a bouncer outside a Los Angeles nightclub, making small talk with the (often over-served) young patrons, and throwing out troublemakers. And, as he’ll tell anyone who’ll listen, he hates what immigration is doing to the country – despite being a Brit who’s overstayed his own US visa by 25 years. Steve Is Undocumented captures him at a moment of transition, preparing for a move back to England with his wife, who is pregnant with twins. With their stylish and often wry profile, the directors Michael Barth and Kauai Moliterno build a complex portrait in just 10 minutes, capturing the many intricacies and blaring hypocrisies of Steve’s life and worldview.

Directors: Michael Barth, Kauai Moliterno

Producer: Nathan Truesdell

After losing his sight, a skateboarder takes an unexpected path to realising his dreams

Nick Mullins fell in love with skateboarding as a teenager and, rather quickly, became quite skilled. As one of the best young skateboarders in the Detroit area, he was putting together a video to catch the attention of sponsors, when, after taking a rough but mostly innocuous fall, he scraped the side of his body and contracted a staph infection. He would barely escape with his life, and after waking up from a medically induced coma, realised he had gone blind. Believing he had no prospects – in skating or in life – he fell into a deep depression. The short documentary You and the Thing That You Love retells how Mullins would eventually realise his dreams, albeit by taking a very much unanticipated path. Capturing Mullins’s story with kinetic style, the US filmmaker Nicholas Maher avoids cliché to create a standout portrait of perseverance and love of craft – and one that can be savoured even if you don’t know your ‘blunts’ from your ‘fakies’.

Director: Nicholas Maher

Algorithms are sensitive. People are specific. We should exploit their respective strengths

The capabilities of algorithms and human brainpower overlap, intersect and contrast in a multitude of ways, argues Hannah Fry, an associate professor in the mathematics of cities at University College London, in this lecture at the Royal Institution from 2018. And, says Fry, planning for an efficient, ethical future demands that we carefully consider the respective strengths of each without stereotyping either as inherently good or bad, while always keeping their real-world consequences in mind. Borrowing from her book Hello World: Being Human in the Age of Algorithms (2018), Fry’s presentation synthesises fascinating studies, entertaining anecdotes and her own personal experiences to build a compelling argument for how we ought to think about algorithms if we’d like them to amplify – and not erode – our humanity.

What is your dog really thinking? MRI brain scans might soon provide the answer

Psychologists and philosophers – not to mention pet owners – have long wondered whether we can ever get past the constraints of the human mind to truly know what it’s like to be another animal. The US neuroscientist Gregory Berns, however, believes that the problem of animal consciousness has been overstated, and that emerging brain science and MRI technology could go a long way towards getting us inside the minds of other creatures. In his lab at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Berns and a volunteer team of dog owners train their canine companions to become comfortable inside MRI machines so that they can be scanned safely in a relaxed, conscious state. By reading their brain activity and using our understanding of the human brain for reference, Berns believes that he can glean a wide range of insights about the experience of dogs, including the range of their emotions, the diversity of their personalities, and even whether they can differentiate between two- and three-dimensional images.

Producers: Chelsea Fiske, Brandon Swanson

Website: Science Friday

Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter

Photo by Elliott Landy / Magnum Photos

Essay/
Beauty and aesthetics
A philosophy of sound

From the Big Bang to a heartbeat in utero, sounds are a scaffold for thought when logic and imagery elude us

Christina Rawls

Photo by Paolo Pellegrin/Magnum

Essay/
Sleep and dreams
Nightmares becalmed

I’m a dream engineer. Through touch, scent and sound, we help people rescript the dramas of their sleeping lives

Michelle Carr