TED Talks: Elaine Morgan says we evolved from aquatic apes

An occasional post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). The internet is made for this – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettos and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

Elaine Morgan is the most well-known proponent of the aquatic ape hypothesis, which says that our ape ancestors didn’t come down from the trees and suffer in the hot, dry savannah. Sensible beasts that they were, they headed for the beach to take advantage of the plentiful food supplies available in an aquatic environment. Hence us, hairless, intelligent, bipedal apes who have sex face to face. Most of the time, anyway. There’s a lot more to the hypothesis, obviously, and Morgan lays it out in this entertaining talk.

Thanks to the Guardian for reminding me. It has an article prompted by a major London conference next week, and the support of David Attenborough. If you’re interested in the subject, here’s Elaine Morgan giving a lecture at UCL: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.

And here is a BBC documentary on the subject. Not great picture quality, but worth watching.

Beautiful Minds: Richard Dawkins

Rooting about in the great YouTube basement of forgotten television programmes, I came across this BBC documentary in the Beautiful Minds series. I saw all the second series, broadcast last year.  This episode was interesting to me because I knew practically nothing about Dawkins’ scientific credentials – it was primarily as a polemicist for atheism that I came to know him, and of his many books I’ve only read The God Delusion. I’m probably similar in that respect to his detractors, who may not even have read that one book.

What comes across is his absolute respect for the scientific method, combined with an almost child-like wonder at the world it reveals:

Science is magical in the best sense of being spell-binding, spine-crawling, exciting, magical in that sense.

I  can understand his impatience with religion, which seeks to reduce all this incredible complexity to an authority-driven dogma.

TED Talks: David Christian on Big History

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

David Christian is an historian of big history, the overarching narrative of the universe. He takes us on an 18 minute canter from the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, to the present. It’s all about defying entropy by building complexity, in which Goldilocks Zones can appear that support life. Then more complexity in which that life is complicit. This is an accessible potted history, bringing all the strands together to make us feel ridiculously knowledgable without actually knowing much at all. A very good blurb on the jacket of an extremely complex book.

TED Talks: Jon Ronson on strange answers to the psychopath test

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

A fascinating and entertaining talk about psychopathy by journalist Jon Ronson. It begins with Ronson unwisely looking at a manual of psychiatric disorders, continues through an encounter with a Scientologist, who introduces him to a mental patient who faked his illness, and includes an interview with a CEO who showcases all the psychopathic symptoms. There seems to be a Catch-22 situation in the diagnosis of mental disorders in general, and psychopathology in particular, that interprets signs of “normality” as symptoms of a disorder. Highly recommended. You never know where Ronson is going next, and it’s always challenging and stimulating.

TED Talks: Ben Goldacre on what doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

Ben Goldacre is a doctor and a science writer who campaigns against bad science. In fact, Bad Science is the name of his column in the Guardian. In this talk, he reveals the alarming extent of confirmation bias in clinical trials, where journals are far more likely to publish positive studies, and negative studies don’t see the light of day. So even conscientious doctors like Goldacre sometimes find themselves prescribing dangerous drugs.

TED Talks: Stephen Hawking asking big questions about the universe

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

The biggest. Stephen Hawking whizzes through the questions of where we came from, how the universe come into being, what created it, are we alone, is there alien life, and what is the future of humanity. In less than 10 minutes. He thinks we already have a lot of answers, and are on track to discover a Theory of Everything. Bracing.