ORIGINAL

Slingshots of the oceanic

2 minutes

Neurosymphony

2 minutes

Hunting for Hockney

3 minutes

Hurricane Katrina, frame by frame

6 minutes

A woman like me

9 minutes

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

Aeon for Friends

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See and hear the human brain as you’ve never experienced it before

The Laboratory for NeuroImaging of Coma and Consciousness (NICC) at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston studies the process of recovering consciousness after traumatic brain injuries. Using more than 100 hours of MRI scans of a human brain unaffected by neurological disease or traumatic brain injuries, a team at the NICC compiled the highest-resolution rendering of a full human brain on record, detecting objects smaller than 0.1 millimetres. Neurosymphony, exclusive to Aeon, explores three distinct perspectives on the brain, using videos of the scans made freely available by the NICC. The video pairs the imagery with an excerpt from the album Chapel by the US electronic musician and music-cognition researcher Grace Leslie, in which she converts her brainwaves into music. Beyond providing an unprecedented glimpse into the intricacies of the human brain, the NICC team hopes that these images will assist other researchers in identifying abnormalities associated with complex brain conditions such as coma and depression.

Via Kottke

Editor: Adam D’Arpino

Composer: Grace Leslie

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A dreamy animated tale of grief, friendship and a road trip to David Hockney’s house

‘You were too young to lose your mum. And we were too young to be organising a funeral.’

When her friend’s mother died, the UK filmmaker Alice Dunseath and her friend set out on an unplanned road trip through Yorkshire, mostly because they didn’t know what else to do. The only destination they gave themselves was the house of the artist David Hockney, supposedly somewhere in the town of Bridlington. Dunseath’s brief animation echoes some of Hockney’s signature stylistic flourishes, including dreamlike landscapes and saturated colours, but her narration offers an arresting counterpoint to the images – a simple, aching account of how grief can both heighten and numb the senses, render words meaningful and meaningless, and make goals simultaneously important and absurd.

Video by Alice Dunseath

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Who is ‘looting’ and who is ‘finding food’? How image gatekeepers shape the news

In August 2005, Alysia Burton Steele was just two months into her job as a photo editor on The Dallas Morning News when she decided to dispatch the photographer Irwin Thompson to New Orleans to document the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Her newspaper’s bold journalistic work went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2006. In this short interview, Burton Steele describes how her team approached their coverage of the storm and its aftermath, and discusses the telling disparity between how news outlets presented African Americans and white people affected by the tragedy. This video is part of Topic’s Frame by Frame series, in which ‘celebrated photojournalists explore images of the people and events that helped shape the American experience, and discuss how working with photographs impacts them personally’.

Director: Yvonne Michelle Shirley

Producer: Jennie Bedusa

Website: Topic

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When a deafblind woman from Denmark met a woman like her in Nepal

‘I dreamt I was the deafblind woman we visited … And there was no information, nothing, just isolation.’

Sensory experience, cultural differences and degrees of privilege collide in a meeting between two deafblind women: Dorte Eriksen from Denmark and Budhi Maya Gurung from Nepal. Commissioned by the Danish Deafblind Association to document a trip to help deafblind people in Nepal, the Mexican-Danish filmmaker Isabel Morales Bondy found herself filming the two women’s remarkable encounter. A Woman Like Me is assembled entirely without spoken words. Instead, viewers get to see as if through Eriksen’s eyes and hear only what the director does as witness to the women’s language of touch. Acknowledging the opacity of this experience, Morales Bondy chose not to subtitle the women’s meeting, prompting profound questions about language, communication and human connection. 

Director: Isabel Morales Bondy

Producer: Lars Feldballe Petersen

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

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/
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Cosmopolitan Ottomans

European colonisation put an abrupt end to political experiments towards a more equal, diverse and ecumenical Arab world

Ussama Makdisi

Essay/
Nature and landscape
Rooted

What if, rather than mere props in the background of our lives, trees embody the history of all life on Earth?

Dalia Nassar & Margaret M Barbour