Support Aeon

‘I support Aeon because I support the spreading of wisdom.’

Tanner F, USA, 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

The amazing underwater tape of the caddisfly

4 minutes

Do spoilers actually ruin stories?

4 minutes

Dan Tepfer’s player piano is his composing partner

5 minutes

Someone else’s war

29 minutes

Pas de deux

14 minutes

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

When life is but a stream, insects need something extra-sticky to survive

Caddisflies are popular on the fly-fishing scene, where anglers do their best to emulate the stream-scavenging creatures in their mature form. But like most aquatic insects, caddisflies actually spend the vast majority of their lives underwater in their larval stage, where they cling on for dear life against ceaseless stream currents. Mercifully for these minuscule creatures, they’re hatched into the world with something of a superpower for surviving the tough terrain: a versatile silk, dispensed from glands under their chin. Natural-born builders, the larvae deploy the sticky substance to fashion cases for themselves out of small pebbles that guard them against careening objects, and provide camouflage and protection against predators. This entry in the science-documentary series Deep Look takes a quick dive into the lives of these impressive improvisational engineers, including how their waterproof adhesive has inspired bioengineers hoping to create less-intrusive internal stitches for the human body. Read more about the video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer: Elliott Kennerson

Narrator and Writer: Amy Standen

Cinematographer: Josh Cassidy

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Spoiler alert: does knowing how it ends make fiction more fun?

‘It’s not the journey, it’s the destination’ might seem like trite advice, but when it comes to storytelling, the worn adage actually seems to hold up to scrutiny. Just ask Nicholas Christenfeld, professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego: in a 2013 study, he put our cultural obsession with so-called ‘spoilers’ to the test. After sneakily revealing the end of short stories when describing them to test subjects, he found that their enjoyment of the fictional narratives actually increased – a conclusion that perhaps isn’t so surprising if you think about how many times you’ve watched your favourite movie or read your favourite book. However, Christenfeld still found that there was a forceful knee-jerk aversion to the idea of having a story spoiled, so you might still want to restrain yourself before blurting out the latest Game of Thrones twist to friends and insisting it’s for their own good.

Video by Fig. 1

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Meet the jazz pianist who improvises in tandem with a piano that plays itself

‘How can I be free in this particular cage?’

From synthesizers replacing real instruments in the studio to the rise of musical compositions written entirely by AI, it’s not surprising that many professional musicians have been resistant to the ascendent role of technology in the music industry. However, the French-American jazz pianist and composer Dan Tepfer has developed a creative way of leveraging the rise of musical machines using what he calls ‘improvisational algorithms’.

On his digital player piano, his notes are sent through a computer, which then automatically plays back notes that correspond to commands he’s written. And although the idea of predetermined ‘rules’ might on its surface seem to cut against the spirit of musical improvisation, Tepfer finds that they actually fuel his playing, leading him down paths he wouldn’t otherwise find. This video from NPR’s Jazz Night in America series details how Tepfer mines new musical ideas from his improvisational algorithms, which culminated in his album Natural Machines (2019) and a series of performances with visuals generated from the compositions. Read more about Dan Tepfer at NPR’s website.

Producers: Alex Ariff, Colin Marshall

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

What motivated three young Britons to join the deadly fight against ISIS in Syria?

As of 2019, some 20 British nationals have left home to join the fight against ISIS in Syria. Eight have died in the process. What’s leading Britons – mostly young civilians – to abandon the relative comforts of home and fight on the frontlines alongside people with whom they had no prior affiliation? Someone Else’s War tracks the journey of three sets of bereaved parents as they travel to Iraq to meet the Kurdish soldiers who witnessed their children’s last months. A nuanced and frequently heartbreaking psychological portrait, the film finds the parents grasping for the meaning of their children’s choices. As the parents’ own views evolve through the process of digging deeper into the stories of their children’s deaths, the documentary explores not only the need for closure, but also the tendency to seek heroism in those who die fighting. 

Directors: George Cowie, Tom Huntingford, Martin Armstrong

Producer: Superfolk Films

Website: Guardian Documentaries

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Classical ballet transforms into a dance of the surreal in this duet from 1968

In classical ballet, a pas de deux (‘step of two’ in French) is a duet that showcases the skills of masterful dancers. This BAFTA-winning and Academy Award-nominated short from 1968 marries two distinct kinds of virtuosity – the innovative cinematography of the late Scottish-Canadian filmmaker Norman McLaren and the movements of the Canadian dancers Margaret Mercier and Vincent Warren – to dazzling effect. Accompanied by a shimmering arrangement of Romanian folk music, a woman dances alone until she is joined by a man. Impressions of their bodies splinter off or move alongside them before disappearing or resolving into a single form. McLaren created the aesthetic in an age before digital effects by superimposing the high-contrast footage over itself with a slight time disparity, up to 10 times. The result is something akin to a wonderfully surreal dream – and one that you hardly need to be a ballet lover to find utterly entrancing.

Director: Norman McLaren

Website: National Film Board of Canada

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

When life is but a stream, insects need something extra-sticky to survive

Caddisflies are popular on the fly-fishing scene, where anglers do their best to emulate the stream-scavenging creatures in their mature form. But like most aquatic insects, caddisflies actually spend the vast majority of their lives underwater in their larval stage, where they cling on for dear life against ceaseless stream currents. Mercifully for these minuscule creatures, they’re hatched into the world with something of a superpower for surviving the tough terrain: a versatile silk, dispensed from glands under their chin. Natural-born builders, the larvae deploy the sticky substance to fashion cases for themselves out of small pebbles that guard them against careening objects, and provide camouflage and protection against predators. This entry in the science-documentary series Deep Look takes a quick dive into the lives of these impressive improvisational engineers, including how their waterproof adhesive has inspired bioengineers hoping to create less-intrusive internal stitches for the human body. Read more about the video at KQED Science.

Video by KQED Science

Producer: Elliott Kennerson

Narrator and Writer: Amy Standen

Cinematographer: Josh Cassidy

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Earth science and climate
Flash!

It ignited life on Earth, propelled evolution, and now signals climate change. Yet what sparks lightning remains a mystery

Sidney Perkowitz

Essay/
History of science
Natural philosophy redux

The great split between science and philosophy must be repaired. Only then can we answer the urgent, fundamental problems

Nicholas Maxwell