ORIGINAL

The restrained brain

5 minutes

Multiverse

3 minutes

The mechanics of bird flight

3 minutes

Shepherd’s delight

8 minutes

We are built to be kind

5 minutes

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Why preparation, not willpower, is the key to mastering self-restraint

Temperance was one of the four virtues identified by Plato’s Republic as essential to an ideal state – a framework that was later adapted by Catholicism and Thomas Aquinas. Meanwhile, one of the five articles of faith of the Sikh religion is the kacchera – a drawstring undergarment meant to guard its wearer against lust. Indeed, almost every major religious or philosophical tradition heavily emphasises the value of self-restraint as a pathway to a virtuous and satisfying life. It makes sense that impulse-control has been held in such high regard historically: the ability to curb destructive urges and prudently delay gratification makes life easier in the long run. So what does modern brain science tell us about the best ways to approach willpower? This Aeon Video original mines the work of the US neuroscientist David Eagleman and the US psychologist Walter Mischel (known for his controversial ‘marshmallow test’) to explore what modern psychology and brain science say about the best strategies for resisting those feel-good things – big and small – that we know are bad for us.

Director and Writer: Adam D’Arpino

Producers: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Research Assistant: Tamur Qutab

Narrator: Ashley Klanac

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Time dilates and people flow in and out of each other in a hallucinatory urban commute

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

A commute is often judged good or bad by how long it takes, but sometimes getting from one place to another can yield wrinkles in our experience of time. The Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo explores this phenomenon in his often breathtaking video Multiverse, layering time on itself to create a hallucinatory vision of countless scooterists flowing through Taiwan’s capital Taipei. The result is a vision of a city and its people that takes an ordered freneticism and manipulates it to create a sense of time speeding up and standing still. People are momentarily discernible as individuals before morphing into strange amalgams of humanity. As the piece progresses, the pace becomes increasingly dizzying, until finally the crowd melds into an amorphous blur of light and motion. For another surreal take on the urban world from Kondo, watch his video Eye Know (2014).

Director: Hiroshi Kondo

Music and Sound design: Himuro Yoshiteru

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Flight manifest: from take-off to landing, a bird’s eye introduction to flying

It seems to be a deeply human experience to catch sight of a bird on the wing and stand there entranced, whether by a hummingbird’s frenetic zipping lines, a hawk’s graceful curves or any of the countless other forms of avian flight. Created by the US animator Stephen Cunnane as a tool to demonstrate realistic bird movements to other animators, this breezy short renders winged flights using silhouettes, detailing the key manoeuvres of avian aerodynamics. If only this how-to manual allowed us to take to the air ourselves… For more from Cunnane, watch his companion animation Animal Gaits.

Video by Stephen Cunnane

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

A horse walks into a pub: on the excruciating trauma of being told a joke

You’re at a party, perhaps finding your next drink, when someone you hardly know comes up and asks: ‘Hey, want to hear a good one?’ The real answer is almost always: ‘No, thank you,’ but as a polite guest, what choice do you really have? This excerpt from the film Shepherd’s Delight (1984) drops the viewer directly into this awkward scenario, with a quip about two racehorses talking shop in a bar. As the joke-teller eagerly addresses his audience, a wry running commentary breaks down the psychological minutiae of joke-telling, including the many emotions – from discomfort to sweet relief – experienced by the audience. Infused with a peculiar, subversive sense of humour, the UK filmmaker John Smith’s short is a mad meta-comedy – clever, a bit mean and discomfitingly relatable.

Director: John Smith

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Don’t misread Darwin: for humans, ‘survival of the fittest’ means being sympathetic

One of the shockwaves from Charles Darwin’s idea that humans evolved from other animals was moral panic. If our ethics are not guided by an omnipotent and all-knowing god and, instead, life is driven by ‘survival of the fittest’ via natural selection, how could we possibly expect humans to behave with anything other than brash self-interest? Yet Darwin’s use of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ was hardly meant to suggest that existence was a knockdown, drag-out fight – he was very clear that generosity, sympathy and all those other traits that give us warm feelings are central to human survival. In this short video, the psychologist Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley puts kindness in evolutionary context, connecting his own recent neural-imaging work on compassion with Darwin’s view that sympathy is a cornerstone of human flourishing.

Video by Fig. 1

Aeon for Friends

Find out more

Why preparation, not willpower, is the key to mastering self-restraint

Temperance was one of the four virtues identified by Plato’s Republic as essential to an ideal state – a framework that was later adapted by Catholicism and Thomas Aquinas. Meanwhile, one of the five articles of faith of the Sikh religion is the kacchera – a drawstring undergarment meant to guard its wearer against lust. Indeed, almost every major religious or philosophical tradition heavily emphasises the value of self-restraint as a pathway to a virtuous and satisfying life. It makes sense that impulse-control has been held in such high regard historically: the ability to curb destructive urges and prudently delay gratification makes life easier in the long run. So what does modern brain science tell us about the best ways to approach willpower? This Aeon Video original mines the work of the US neuroscientist David Eagleman and the US psychologist Walter Mischel (known for his controversial ‘marshmallow test’) to explore what modern psychology and brain science say about the best strategies for resisting those feel-good things – big and small – that we know are bad for us.

Director and Writer: Adam D’Arpino

Producers: Adam D’Arpino, Kellen Quinn

Research Assistant: Tamur Qutab

Narrator: Ashley Klanac

Get Aeon straight
to your inbox
Join our newsletter
Aeon is not-for-profit
and free for everyone
Make a donation
Essay/
Neuroscience
The interoceptive turn

The science of how we sense ourselves from within, including our bodily states, is creating a radical picture of selfhood

Noga Arikha

Essay/
Thinkers and theories
The spirit of history

Hegel’s search for the universal patterns of history revealed a paradox: freedom is coming into being, but is never guaranteed

Terry Pinkard