Radio & Music

In love with radio 4…

“The history of mankind in the last three hundred years has been punctuated by major upheavals in human thought that we call scientific revolutions – upheavals that have profoundly affected the way in which we view ourselves and our place in the cosmos. First there was the Copernican revolution – the notion that far from being the centre of the universe, our planet is a mere speck of dust revolving around the sun. Then there was the Darwinian revolution culminating in the view that we are not angels but merely hairless apes, as Huxley once pointed out in this very room. And third there was Freud’s discovery of the “unconscious” – the idea that even though we claim to be in charge of our destinies, most of our behaviour is governed by a cauldron of motives and emotions which we are barely conscious of. Your conscious life, in short, is nothing but an elaborate post-hoc rationalisation of things you really do for other reasons.”

So starts the BBC’s Reith lecture series for 2003 – broadcast a couple of months ago on BBC Radio 4. The topic of the lectures was “The Emerging Mind”, and they were delivered by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran. They make for fascinating listening and are very much recommended.

But perhaps more impressive than the lectures themselves is that every single one of them is still available for download on Radio 4’s site. And they’re of eminently listenable quality, even if they’re in RealAudio format. And it’s not only the Reith Lectures that are online – in fact, almost every radio programme played on the station in recent months remains available. And there are a hell of a lot of those programmes covering all the major subject areas – all ready to be listened to on demand. Here’s some to be going along with: News, Drama, Comedy, Science, Religion and History

If I sound over-excited, it’s because – bluntly – I am. I’ve never been a devoted acolyte of the station, but now I can easily cherry-pick precisely what interests me it’s becoming easier to see the appeal. For example – what other station would have a weekly programme dedicated to the history of ideas? And would that programme routinely have in such figures as Steven Pinker or Adam Philips and Malcolm Bowie for round-table debates. What other station would manage to have two separate series about interesting numbers: 5 numbers and Another 5 numbers – as presented by Simon Singh.

I know I’m coming into this late. I know that everyone else in the UK is going to look at me funny and point out that I should have been paying more attention several months ago. But dammit! I’m as impressed by this as when Pathe News put all its archives online.

P.S. If anyone can remember which writer it was that first described Galileo, Darwin and Freud as thinkers who decentred man from his view first of cosmology, biology and finally from his view of his own mind, then can you let me know. It’s driving me mad…