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Let these chipper YouTube science vids fill you with existential terror

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

Did you know that one half of you doesn't always know what the other half is doing? Or that your cells might be more independent than you are? Two new examinations of the creepily autonomous parts that comprise the human body may leave you questioning what you know about your personality, your identity, and, well, you.

CGP Grey and Kurzgesagt are popular YouTube education channels, with more than 2 million subscribers each. Grey is a former London physics teacher making simple videos about everything from human genetics to basic geography. Kurzgesagt is a professional video production studio whose members do YouTube videos on the side, focusing primarily on explaining science and giant concepts like war and conspiracies using gorgeous graphics.

This week, the two channels teamed up to produce a really startling pair of videos designed to remind us that perhaps humanity's biggest mystery is inside every one of us.

The first video, "You Are Two," is Grey's exploration of the fascinating disconnect between the right brain and the left brain. In some early-20th-century treatments for epilepsy, the right and left brain were severed from one another completely, leaving the two halves more or less functioning independently, while still controlling totally different roles within the body — a phenomenon appropriately called "split-brain." That led to some really creepy, fascinating consequences:

In the second video, Kurzgesagt takes us on a tour of the millions of independently functioning cells inside the body. It's a colorfully illustrated horror story of cells on a rampage to stay alive at all costs and cells outliving the body by decades. We also see how an enormous culture of cells is produced for medical research, and how cells constantly mutate and change over time, challenging the nature of reality as we know it.

It's nice that developments in science can accelerate our existential dread. These days we can explore incredibly complex questions about the nature of life, death, reality, and identity — all without ever leaving the internet.