Monday, December 26, 2011

Science of the human condition

As 2011 draws to a close, here are two extremely broad BBC documentaries (and companion books) about what makes us fundamentally human.

The stunning Dr. Alice Robert's The Incredible Human Journey takes us through the migration of Homo Sapiens Sapiens from West Africa to every continent in the world between 70,000-10,000 years ago. It is a 5 part series (5 hours of screen time), with each episode focusing on one continent. A very broad and fascinating discussion including speciation, the hominini, various archeological sites, genetic evidence, climate models for sea levels, competing theories of our lineage, creation myths of indigenous peoples, and much more. Some thoroughly fascinating questions include: How many waves of migration from Africa eventually survived? One or several? Did we interbreed with the Neanderthals? Did East Asians evolve from the Homo Erectus? Guaranteed to stimulate. I'm currently reading Bryan Sykes's The Seven Daughters of Eve to get a richer understanding of the archeological and genetic methods involved in this richly interdisciplinary, politically charged, and data-starved field that attempts to provide a scientific alternative to epics and creation myths. Eager watchers, catch it on youtube before it gets taken down.

Stephen Fry's Planet Word takes us through the evolution, modern day use, and dysfunction of language and symbolic communication. The breadth of this 5 part series (yet again) is impeccable with a coverage of everything from Chimpanzee communication, the FOXP2 gene, Tourette's and swearing, an introduction to Ulysses, the creation of modern Chinese and much else. Unfortunately taken down from youtube.

"Exact science is not an exact science" ~Nicola Tesla according to Christopher Nolan, in The Prestige.

Here's to another year of awe and wonder!