ORIGINAL

Slingshots of the oceanic

2 minutes

Lasting marks

15 minutes

EXCLUSIVE

Spring chicken

10 minutes

Lake

5 minutes

Andy Clark: virtual immortality

13 minutes

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Why Ancient Pacific mariners were the NASA scientists of their day

Adapted from a post at BLDGBLOG, this short animation is an Aeon original made in collaboration with the filmmaker and animator Flora Lichtman.

There are many ways of moving through the Universe – of travelling from one point to another over great, even extraordinary distances. There is also a way of using the world for your own ends: taking advantage of slopes, winds, currents or gravitational fields, as fuel-efficient resources for your own acceleration.

Gravity-assisted space travel is one such example, when a spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of a nearby planet or other celestial body to ‘slingshot’ itself toward another, more distant goal. Crucially, the target or destination here is one that could not have been reached without this assistance, not only in terms of the ship’s velocity but even in terms of its original direction of travel. 

You head toward one place to get to another – or, channelling Hamlet, ‘by indirections find directions out’.

Remarkably, this metaphorically rich idea of heading in one direction to arrive somewhere else entirely connects gravitational slingshots with the oceangoing people who settled remote island chains in the South Pacific. These ancient mariners learned to use a combination of seasonal winds and celestial navigation to push ever farther east, reaching the most extreme outer edges of Polynesia. 

Early human settlement of the offshore Pacific revolved, in part, around enduring, large-scale meteorological phenomena that are still little understood. Most of these phenomena relied on what the maritime historian Brian Fagan called ‘an elaborate, usually slow-moving waltz involving two partners – the atmosphere and the ocean’. The local seasonal winds, combined with large but predictable long-term climatological events the size of continents, could be used to propel people from one archipelago to another. 

We can draw a rough analogy between this climatologically assisted exploration of the remote outer Pacific and the careful interplanetary techniques of gravity-assisted space travel. Imagine, for example, a well-organised group of extreme maritime navigators standing on the shores of an isolated Pacific island chain 1,000 years ago, looking much further out to sea, knowing that there are distant land masses there, ever more island worlds whose presence is implied by the behaviour of the winds, clouds and currents. 

More important, from generations’ worth of experience navigating the vast and inhospitable space of the Pacific, these same families know that only a particularly strong atmospheric cycle will be able to take them there – and that they must wait another season, another year, another decade, for these assistive winds to arrive. They are timing their launch. 

Like NASA scientists calculating the positions of Mars and Jupiter as they hope to slingshot themselves beyond the black horizon of the solar system, these navigators would have known that the regional winds also move in cycles, or perhaps even that an unpredictable 100-year superstorm will be required to bring them further out into the ocean. 

Awaiting these alignments, they temporarily become land-based, settling on a particular island and raising their children on the atmospheric folklore of a journey yet to come – telling themselves a science fiction not of interplanetary travel, but a kind of anthropological Star Trek of outer-sea exploration. Then, of course, the winds pick up – or ominous Antarctic clouds begin to appear on the southern horizon again for the first time in a generation – and everyone knows what these signs really mean. The skies are clicking back into place and, spurred on by this vast meteorological clock, they begin to build new canoes, their own wooden space probes for pushing the limits of a maritime universe. 

It’s simply a different kind of sling-shotting: not between planets using gravity, but from island chain to island chain, riding a long tail of Pacific winds you know won’t last, and that only appear once per generation. Future storms will take you to distant archipelagoes where your descendants will then have to wait another year—another decade, another century—memorising the climate and plotting their woven way through the ‘slow-moving waltz’ of the world’s rhythmic winds and currents.

– Geoff Manaugh

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Flora Lichtman, Ruth Lichtman, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Geoff Manaugh

Music: Martin Crane

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How British police put 16 men in the dock for consensual sadomasochism

In the late 1980s in the UK, Roland Jaggard was part of a loose-knit group of men who engaged in, and occasionally videotaped, consensual sadomasochistic same-sex acts. While Jaggard acknowledged that aspects of his sex life were ‘not to everyone’s taste’, he never imagined that it would cost him his job, unleash a tabloid-fuelled public outcry, and land him and 15 other men in prison. The UK filmmaker Charlie Lyne’s vertical video Lasting Marks delves into the history and complicated legacy of the UK-wide police investigation, codenamed ‘Operation Spanner’, that cost more than £2.5 million and saw around 100 men questioned over their sex lives. In court, the prosecution argued that consent wasn’t a defence for causing bodily harm, creating a precedent that still holds in UK law today. Composed exclusively of photocopied documents, Jaggard’s voice and a sparse score, the film skilfully explores the evolving and uncertain boundaries between public and private life, what’s socially acceptable and what’s taboo, and how the state tries to police sexual behaviours.

Director: Charlie Lyne

Producers: Catherine Bray, Anthony Ing

Website: Field of Vision, Loop

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The 94-year-old Holocaust survivor who makes every Purim costume contest count

‘It’s important to have something that makes you laugh a little bit.’

At 94 years old, Anny Junek has a streak going: she’s the three-time winner of the Purim costume contest at her retirement home in Rehovot in Israel. As the Jewish holiday approaches again, she’s angling for a fourth win. How will she capture the prize? Don’t ask, it’s a surprise! As a young woman, Junek survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but lost her parents to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. After the trials and tragedies of her early years, Junek’s perseverance and humour have carried her through a life that included raising a family in Mexico before retiring to Israel. Now her indomitable spirit and sense of what makes for a good show have her hatching a new plan for Purim in this charming film by the US-born, Israel-based director Tamir Elterman.

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Come ice-fishing in the deep Canadian winter with an all-Indigenous, all-female crew

‘Indigenous labour is never just work. It’s cultural practice, our Indigenous knowledge. It’s how we are in the world,’ says the Cree filmmaker Alexandra Lazarowich, discussing her inspiration for her latest short documentary, Lake. Produced as part of the Five Feminist Minutes initiative of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), this observational short by an all-female, all-Indigenous crew follows Métis women on an ice-fishing outing at Lesser Slave Lake in central Alberta. The sweep of the landscape, the crunch of ice and snow, and the whipping wind evoke the sublime vastness and frigid temperatures of the deep Canadian winter. Within this frozen world, the women are masters of their craft, punching a hole in the ice, dropping their nets through, and eventually pulling their catch to the surface. A richly crafted testament to Indigenous expertise drawing on the style of verité documentaries of the 1960s and ’70s, the film is also an understated acknowledgement of the challenges that Canada’s Aboriginal peoples face in accessing fishing rights – rights that have long been subject to government encroachment.

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Your body is scanned, destroyed, then reproduced. Do ‘you’ live on the copy?

For centuries, philosophers – and more recently, science-fiction writers – have been concocting riffs and variations on a particular thought experiment: if every bit of your body could be perfectly scanned and replicated, in what ways would the replica still be ‘you’? In this interview from the PBS series Closer to Truth, Andy Clark, a professor of philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, dissects a version of this experiment posed by the US philosopher Daniel Dennett, in which a body is scanned, destroyed, and replicated in a distant place. While science hasn’t yet brought us close to putting Dennett’s conundrum to the test, we can still grapple with the intriguing and perhaps troubling metaphysical questions it raises, questions that might become even more material as we careen further into the information age, including: would ‘you’ be dead, or would your sense of self perpetuate in the copy? And, if you were recreated several times, where exactly might you expect to find your embodied sense of self?

Video by Closer to Truth

Aeon for Friends

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Why Ancient Pacific mariners were the NASA scientists of their day

Adapted from a post at BLDGBLOG, this short animation is an Aeon original made in collaboration with the filmmaker and animator Flora Lichtman.

There are many ways of moving through the Universe – of travelling from one point to another over great, even extraordinary distances. There is also a way of using the world for your own ends: taking advantage of slopes, winds, currents or gravitational fields, as fuel-efficient resources for your own acceleration.

Gravity-assisted space travel is one such example, when a spacecraft uses the gravitational pull of a nearby planet or other celestial body to ‘slingshot’ itself toward another, more distant goal. Crucially, the target or destination here is one that could not have been reached without this assistance, not only in terms of the ship’s velocity but even in terms of its original direction of travel. 

You head toward one place to get to another – or, channelling Hamlet, ‘by indirections find directions out’.

Remarkably, this metaphorically rich idea of heading in one direction to arrive somewhere else entirely connects gravitational slingshots with the oceangoing people who settled remote island chains in the South Pacific. These ancient mariners learned to use a combination of seasonal winds and celestial navigation to push ever farther east, reaching the most extreme outer edges of Polynesia. 

Early human settlement of the offshore Pacific revolved, in part, around enduring, large-scale meteorological phenomena that are still little understood. Most of these phenomena relied on what the maritime historian Brian Fagan called ‘an elaborate, usually slow-moving waltz involving two partners – the atmosphere and the ocean’. The local seasonal winds, combined with large but predictable long-term climatological events the size of continents, could be used to propel people from one archipelago to another. 

We can draw a rough analogy between this climatologically assisted exploration of the remote outer Pacific and the careful interplanetary techniques of gravity-assisted space travel. Imagine, for example, a well-organised group of extreme maritime navigators standing on the shores of an isolated Pacific island chain 1,000 years ago, looking much further out to sea, knowing that there are distant land masses there, ever more island worlds whose presence is implied by the behaviour of the winds, clouds and currents. 

More important, from generations’ worth of experience navigating the vast and inhospitable space of the Pacific, these same families know that only a particularly strong atmospheric cycle will be able to take them there – and that they must wait another season, another year, another decade, for these assistive winds to arrive. They are timing their launch. 

Like NASA scientists calculating the positions of Mars and Jupiter as they hope to slingshot themselves beyond the black horizon of the solar system, these navigators would have known that the regional winds also move in cycles, or perhaps even that an unpredictable 100-year superstorm will be required to bring them further out into the ocean. 

Awaiting these alignments, they temporarily become land-based, settling on a particular island and raising their children on the atmospheric folklore of a journey yet to come – telling themselves a science fiction not of interplanetary travel, but a kind of anthropological Star Trek of outer-sea exploration. Then, of course, the winds pick up – or ominous Antarctic clouds begin to appear on the southern horizon again for the first time in a generation – and everyone knows what these signs really mean. The skies are clicking back into place and, spurred on by this vast meteorological clock, they begin to build new canoes, their own wooden space probes for pushing the limits of a maritime universe. 

It’s simply a different kind of sling-shotting: not between planets using gravity, but from island chain to island chain, riding a long tail of Pacific winds you know won’t last, and that only appear once per generation. Future storms will take you to distant archipelagoes where your descendants will then have to wait another year—another decade, another century—memorising the climate and plotting their woven way through the ‘slow-moving waltz’ of the world’s rhythmic winds and currents.

– Geoff Manaugh

Director: Flora Lichtman

Producer: Flora Lichtman, Ruth Lichtman, Kellen Quinn

Narrator and writer: Geoff Manaugh

Music: Martin Crane

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Essay/
Human evolution
United by feelings

Universal emotions are the deep engine of human consciousness and the basis of our profound affinity with other animals

Stephen T Asma & Rami Gabriel

Essay/
History of science
No absolute time

Two centuries before Einstein, Hume recognised that universal time, independent of an observer’s viewpoint, doesn’t exist

Matias Slavov