Alone (Egyedül) is a beautifully grim short film by Hungarian animator Mendrei Miklos, telling the story of a man for whom time stands suffocatingly still as days and months blend into each other in the abyss of his loneliness — not the bored-on-a-Friday-night kind, but the kind of soul-crushing existential emptiness that drains life of joy and meaning.
Part Kafka, part Saul Bass, the film captures the outer limits of something all of us have felt, perhaps on a tamer scale, and a fear that haunts us as we move, often mindlessly, through our daily routines.
Before you let your heart shrink with the painful narrative, hurry up and ingest this powerful antidote from a few months ago: How To Be Alone, a soul-warming homage to life’s most important skill.
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Why the cultural conditioning of your eye has nothing on the evolutionary biology of it.
What, exactly, is beauty? This question has been occupying the minds of philosophers, anthropologists, neuroscientists, art critics and ordinary people alike for centuries of human history. And while many may subscribe to the “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” theory, this, it turns out, may not be the case. Earlier this year, we had the fortune of seeing Arts & Letters Daily editor and philosopher Denis Dutton give one of the most fascinating TED talks we’ve ever seen, presenting a provocative Darwinian theory of beauty. This week, Duttons’ talk was released online and animated by one of our favorite illustrators, Andrew Park of The RSA — it’s the smartest thing you’ll watch this week, likely this month, and possibly this year.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the experience of beauty, with its emotional intensity and pleasure, belongs to our evolved human psychology. The experience of beauty is one component in a whole series of Darwinian adaptations. Beauty is an adaptive effect, which we extend and intensify in the creation and enjoyment of works of art and entertainment.” ~ Denis Dutton
Dutton debunks the commonly accepted academic explanation of beauty as something in the “culturally conditioned” eye of the beholder by demonstrating that beauty, or aesthetic appreciation, in fact travels across cultures rather easily, hinting at some deeper, universal underpinning of what we find beautiful. To explain this, Dutton reverse-engineers our present aesthetic taste by constructing a fascinating Darwinian evolutionary history of our artistic expression and aesthetic taste
For us moderns, virtuoso technique is used to create imaginary worlds in fiction and in movies, to express intense emotions with music, painting and dance. But still, one fundamental trait of the ancestral personality persists in our aesthetic cravings: The beauty we find in skilled performances. From Lascaux to the Louvre to Carnegie Hall, human beings have a permanent innate taste for virtuoso displays in the arts. We find beauty in something done well.” ~ Denis Dutton
So is beauty in the eye of the beholder? No! It’s deep in our minds, it’s a gift handed down from the intelligent skills and rich emotional lives of our most ancient ancestors. Our powerful reaction to images, to the expression of emotion in art, to the beauty of music, to the night sky, will be with us and our descendants for as long as the human race exists.” ~ Denis Dutton
For a deeper dive into Dutton’s work and insights, be sure to grab his brilliant 2008 book, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution. The New Yorker, in reviewing the book, said that Dutton has done for art what Steven Pinker has for language, philosophy and religion in offering a compelling Darwinian explanation — we wouldn’t disagree. Sample it with this hour-long but very much worthwhile talk by Dutton, part of the Authors @ Google series.
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We recently featured The School of Life — the brainchild of an eclectic group of London artists, writers and philosophers, who attempt to address the needs of the modern self in the familiar college class format. Every Sunday, the School invites prominent cultural figures to “preach” about contemporary values and vices, in an attempt to bring back the Sunday Sermon within a modern secular context.
The School’s latest speaker was acclaimed game designer Jane McGonigal, who delivered one of our favorite TED talks this year — a provocative perspective on gaming and how it could change the world. In her sermon, On Productivity, Jane McGonigal uses her personal experience with games to challenge our definition of productivity. She urges us to examine the real value in our “productive” activities and whether they produce something that truly matters in the great scheme of humanity. She also shares the findings of a brand new, still unpublished, psychological study on happiness shedding light on the things we need in order to flourish.
We have this warped, moralistic view of productivity thanks largely to the faithful intertwining of these two things: the protestant work ethic, which is the idea that God wants us to be busy all the time, lest we have enough spare time to find ourselves sinning, intertwining it with the rise of modern capitalism where every person’s duty is to spend the precious days and hours of their lives, contributing to the gross domestic product, instead of enjoying them.” ~ Jane McGonigal
The talk is engaging, fun yet thought-provoking and well worth the full 45 minutes — think of it as a productive investment in your personal productivity.
Teddy Zareva is a young filmmaker and photographer currently located in Sofia, Bulgaria. She is prone to excessive dancing and impulsive traveling. Her favorite activities are eating chocolate, hunting for music, and shooting humans.
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