/ Brian Cox's Wonders of Life
The usual David-Attenborough-style programs are visually great and well worth watching, but they take the attitude that science is far too hard for the public so let's avoid it and just show pretty pictures. A program driven by scientific ideas, and not shunted off to an obscure slot on BBC4, is such a refreshing change.
(Oh yeah, I also enjoyed the dissing of dualism and vitalism and the clear statement that life is the playing out of the laws of physics, rather than being anything mystical.)
Damn! I missed it.
Glad to hear it was good.
isn't that what iplayer is for?
I recorded it last night and will look forward to seeing it this evening.
Any show which ends with the galaxy song gets my vote. Only saw the last half so I'll have to watch it on iplayer.
Not sure if I heard it correctly but did he say that living things take on energy then release it ALL, just like he explained sand? I thought we retained some to maintain life...
I suppose so, but I'd rather sit on the settee watching TV by the fire with a wee dram than hunched up in the study by my PC
Please could you try and post in the correct forum, it makes life easier for both users and moderators.
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> it ALL, just like he explained sand? I thought we retained some to maintain life...
Yes, the total energy we take on exactly equals the total energy we release (conservation of energy, 1st law of thermodynamics).
What does happen is that that energy is degraded in the process, from more-concentrated, more-ordered forms of energy to less-concentrated, less-ordered forms of energy (2nd law of thermodynamics), and it is that change that drives life.
Sheesh moderators, I *did* post it in the correct forum! "Culture bunker" is about the arts, music, films etc. This post is about science and science education and society which is entirely appropriate for "Off Belay", which says "Discuss politics, society, sport, whatever you feel like ...". Well I "feel like" discussing science and science education on Off Belay! I don't see how that is the wrong forum.
Well anyhow, I don't have "culture bunker" in my "favourites" so won't see this thread any more ... so won't post again on this thread.
You could always add it!
Come on, no-one has taken the bait at the bottom of your OP yet!
Can I suggest the Brian Cox drinking game - you have to take a sip every time he says "million" and a proper swig/measure every time he says "billion"
> Can I suggest the Brian Cox drinking game - you have to take a sip every time he says "million" and a proper swig/measure every time he says "billion"
the biggest wonder is how he got to study university physics with a D in A-level maths!
yeah, that's your "special me" time, not "i player" time isn't it Trangia? ;-)
Repeated tomorrow at 11.20pm if that's not too late.
I seem to remember I had a D in A-Level Maths and they let me in to study University Physics too. Maybe universities look at more than just A-Level results?
> Repeated tomorrow at 11.20pm if that's not too late.
Thanks. I'll try and stay awake! :)
Yes, The BBC has really upped its game with science programmes recently, both on TV and on Radio 4, with the likes of Brian Cox and even Dara O'Brain. Entertaining with a mass appeal without sacrificing intelligence. Excellent value for the licence fee. The recent Stargazing was brilliant too.
People really are interested in science. They just need it presented to them on a plate without searching for obscure TV channels!
<Waves sadly at the poor orphan thread, unfairly consigned to an obscure corner of UKC>
Welcome to my world.
Thanks for the astronomy tips.
where's the evidence?
Ta for the heads up, I'll record the inevitable repeat and watch it later. :O)
I thought of you, funnily enough, when I caught a bit of a tv film (miniseries type thing) called "Impact" at the weekend. It's a disaster movie type thing, where the Moon gets broken by an asteroid impact and the end of the world is imminent.
*Unbelievably* stupid, even by the standards of the genre. It makes "Armageddon" (the Bruce Willis film) look like a worthy documentary.
During the snippet I watched the chief scientist bod in charge of efforts to save the world was explaining to the President (or some politician anyway) what was going on. "The basic law of gravity", he said, "fifth grade stuff, is that little things are attracted to big things."
If ever you want to do a sponsored something or other for charity, I'd sponsor you by the minute to watch it until either you can't take any more or your head explodes. ;o)
Hah. If a thread of yours gets ignored it isn't a poor little orphan, it's more like a tadpole: too bad it didn't survive, but you planned for that by having a gazillion offspring in the first place.
If you ever dip your toes back into the murky waters of the Culture Bunker I hope you don't mind me recommending Secrets of Our Living Planet which was on the BBC a couple of months ago and will no doubt get repeated at some point (or reappear on iplayer). A proper science-driven 'nature' show relying less on the (admitted) beautifulness of Attenborough programmes like Africa and more on exploring the complexities of ecosystems. Presented by Chris Packham, uber geek and science lover. I hope we see more stuff like this in the future!
Nowadays there is a movement away from talking about ordered and disordered energy. Entropy is really molecular degrees of freedom and therefore possible states. It is possible for the entropy of a system to increase with an increase in order of part of the system, if the increase in molecular freedom of the remainder of the system is greater.
Not sure that I expressed myself too well there.
> It is possible for the entropy of a system to increase with an increase in order of part of the system, if the increase in molecular freedom of the remainder of the system is greater.
Is that not just saying that the entropy of a closed system always increases.
you can add the word amazing to that... but only if your feeling brave
> I suppose so, but I'd rather sit on the settee watching TV by the fire with a wee dram than hunched up in the study by my PC
So would I , but currently avoiding wife and daughters who have 'Daddy Do' tasks for me , that I have been puting off, so likewise I will have to settle for the iplayer by wifib on the iPad, and watch it again on the big screen when the coast is clear.
Technology is great, it is 'labour saving '
Really wanted to watch this but I can't stand Brian Cox
seconded, a great idea for a theme
It reminded me somewhat of the series on geology that Aubrey Manning (a biologist) did a few years ago. The best presenters of science docs are often scientists from another discipline. They can approach the subject as an interested layman whilst avoiding the sort of daft questions a no-nothing journo with a humanities degree might ask.
OK prog but...far too many physicists have an imperialistic take on biology - inevitably, they always seem too interested in the basic stuff, the origin of life etc. This prog didn't even mention mutation plus natural selection as a force for order and complexity (unless I missed it while brewing up). The biochemistry was missing bits too - we got sugars and mitochondria at different points in the program without joining the two up. The second law of thermodymnamics explains feck all in biology.
> OK prog but...far too many physicists have an imperialistic take on biology - inevitably, they always seem too interested in the basic stuff, the origin of life etc.
But I thought that was the point of the programme - to look at life with more of a fundamental physics slant than might normally be the case. This seems reasonable (after all, everythging is physics). By taking this specific slant on life, the programme was prevenred from becoming too wide ranging and dilute.
> The best presenters of science docs are often scientists from another discipline. They can approach the subject as an interested layman.
I see your point, but, assuming they have all the other qualities desirable in a presenter, there is nothing to beat the deep incisiveness of an expert.
Everything is NOT physics. That's exactly the sort scientific imperialism I'm getting at. Culture is not physics. Your immune system can't sensibly be reduced to physics. The information in DNA is physics, but it's only part of what makes an organism, the rest is based around accidents of embryology, development and evolutionary descent.
We have one instance of known life in the known universe. So there's not much a physicist can say about the generality of any rules of life to add to that said by a biologist. Except maybe a couple of examples I can think of: if you introduce a bit of evolutionary theory , i.e. complex life forms developing because of mutation and natural selection, a general law of biology might (I suppose) become some sort of domain of physical laws. The opportunity to discuss whether this might be a general mechanism of life was missed. Also, it would have been interesting to hear some speculation about other possible organic molecules apart from DNA that might be able to encode mutable digital data, and therefore generate life forms elsewhere in the universe that would be fundamentally unlike our own. Total silence on this too. So what's the 'physics' actually adding?
> Everything is NOT physics. That's exactly the sort scientific imperialism I'm getting at. Culture is not physics. Your immune system can't sensibly be reduced to physics. The information in DNA is physics, but it's only part of what makes an organism, the rest is based around accidents of embryology, development and evolutionary descent.
All of which can, in principle, be traced back to fundamental physics (even if in practice it is easier and more useful to study them at a higher level of emergent phenomena and so on). If you care to argue otherwise, I hope you have some pretty compelling evidence.
Hopefully Coel will come back and argue the case better than I can!
Exactly! But, if you're going to be reductionist you'd better add something to the general understanding by explaining in principle more than you actually observe in practice (in this case, terrestrial biology). That's the whole point of reductionism!
Acquired immunity is pretty weird and amazing. A form of learned behaviour by cells and molecules independent of nervous tissue. Maybe physics can first enlighten us about parasites and infections?
Yes. The only point I was making was about the (potentially confusing) use of the words order and disorder, when talking about entropy (even though these were the terms that Boltzmann himself used - in German of course).
>... what do you think it is if it isn't a physical response?
Who can deny it's physical? However, best understood as a biological response, the understanding of which is in no way helped by knowledge of physics, unless maybe you can explain what you're talking about.
Yeap spot on John, increasing entropy doesn't necessarily imply increasing disorder. Linking entropy to disorder is one of the most common misconceptions amongst physicists.
License fee worth every penny folks, long live the BBC.
> Exactly! But, if you're going to be reductionist you'd better add something to the general understanding by explaining in principle more than you actually observe in practice (in this case, terrestrial biology). That's the whole point of reductionism!
No, I don't think it is. I can be reductionist without believing the the most useful way of studying immunoloigy let alone a Shakespeare play is from the principles of quantum mechanics (even though I believe that evrything about both can, in principle, be reduced to fundamental physics).
Absolutely fantastic! The best science communication I have ever seen - not dumbed down, which is fine even if much of it isn't instantly comprehensible to those without an education in science. You don't have to understand everything immediately, since we now have the internet the curious can just go on wikipedia and get a pretty good idea of what is meant by something abstract like a proton gradient, with a bit of effort. Or if you just want to absorb it and be content that some of it sounded like nonsense, it's still beautifully put together and tells a story.
Some fantastic quotes from the show included "the chicken is radiating disorder into the universe". The poetry of entropy.
And spitting into/around a test tube and seeing a close-up of the mixture of spit, fairy liquid and salt with just-visible gloops of Coxy's nucleic acids precipitating out of it was not only visually stunning but intellectually and philosophically enriching...
Just one thing to the thread though: no badmouthing of David Attenborough please, it will not stand. Yes, the narration on Africa is silly, anthropomorphic and uninformative. I may be wrong but I don't think Attenborough had much to do with that show. The footage is wonderful, but it's not a science show. The thing he did on the origins of life from a paleontology perspective recently was incredibly good, and again pitched high, not dumbed down in the slightest. David A is every bit as inspiring as Coxy, he is another fantastic science communicator and his contribution is immeasurable.
> Everything is NOT physics...
But Brian Cox is a physicist, and he's got the job of making science TV, so you're getting the physicist's view on life. Without wanting to antagonise, you sound a bit miffed that the big show in town is from the physics perspective, not yours.
Sorry if I'm quoting out of context, but physics in the programme is providing the whole context in which biology operates. Explanations of biochemistry (and to be fair, there was a lot of talk of proton gradients and mitochondria, OK it wasn't elaborated the same way the stuff on the second law was) or deeper evolutionary theory, while absolutely fascinating were not what the show was getting at. It was aiming at the fundamental layers, "the dissing of vitalism" as Coel puts it, which is what you need physics for.
I think BB is saying that understanding the immune system in a helpful way isn't going to be achieved by thinking of it in terms of atoms, subatomic particles or even its energetic properties. Of course its comprised of these bits of physics and operates within the laws of physics, but the scale at which investigation becomes illuminating is traditionally within the realm of biological science, not physical science.
Does that help?
Spot on Jon.
I'd add that the acquired immune system in say, an adult mammal, is a learned information code roughly on a par with modern genomes, learning in brains, and culture/language (and their constituent memes). None of which can be usefully understood at the level of physics.
Sir Chasm: if this seems a little territorial, that's fine by me. Too much territorial invasion from physics seems to me, in practice, to overemphasize the wrong things (though it doesn't have to - note my suggestions above that could have been covered - to which I'd add the slow cooling of the Earth due to radioactive decay in its core rather than heat from the sun). There's more to come from the series, so lets' see what happens.
However, a quote from yesterday's Telegraph seems to confirm the kind of halfway-house impression I got: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/9803162/Brian-Cox-interview-stars-in-his-eyes.html
'I wanted it to be a real physicist’s take on life. But actually, as we went through filming, I got so interested in general biology that the series shifted a bit.’
Well we need to be when influential people appear to dismiss biological science as a rather weak branch of physics, like Brian Cox has in the past (admittedly, he does acknowledge it as a science now, gee thanks Brian).
biggest wonder. Why did anyone buy that d-ream shite?
Ta, I'll have a listen to that when I get the chance. I have a few Oswald recommendations to get through too
Whats up with his face? It's all a bit Botoxy.
I think this is a bit harsh. This sort of thing has it's place. There is nothing wrong with gazing with wonder at the end- (or rather current intermediate-)products of evolution. Isn't raw wonder what inspires scientific investigation? Similarly, gazing awestruck at the milky way presumably inspires astronomy. I wonder how many biological or zoological careers have been sparked off by Attenborough's programmes.
> Well we need to be when influential people appear to dismiss biological science as a rather weak branch of physics, like Brian Cox has in the past (admittedly, he does acknowledge it as a science now, gee thanks Brian).
I think that was always tongue in cheek though. There was a great moment on the Infinite Monkey Cage when they were discussing neuroscience. Cox was doing his usual wind-up that it's all just physics (which it is, though that's not a helpful way of understanding it). The neuroscientist said 'well, it's not rocket science - it's way more complicated than that'. The audience cheered and Cox clearly got the point.
I don't think it's any more than the usual humourous taking the piss out of your mates' disciplines. You should hear what immunologists say about epidemiologists!
I do. They review my papers.... :-(
I saw the first episode yesterday afternoon. And while a lot o the chemistry went over my head I found the episode informative, and I learnt stuff.
Today I am going to try and replicate the experiment to get strands of my own DNA by using Fairy Liquid and vodka.
And this evening I shall watch the second episode.
Sorry, I missed this exchange at the time it was posted a week or so ago.
I'm someone with a background in physics who would really, really struggle to understand what entropy means if it's not ultimately linked to disorder. My recollection is that Boltzmann introduced his definition of entropy when he developed statistical mechanics. Crudely speaking ordered states are much less likely than disordered states, so when you calculate the ratio of the number of ordered states to total possible states (of some system) it's a small number: take the log of this and you get a negative number that is large in magnitude. The ratio of disordered states to total possible states is just a bit less than unity; take the log of this and you get a negative number but which is still close to zero.
This is the original definition (I think), but alternative definitions of entropy in terms of macro quantities (pressure, temp, etc.) can be derived that are more useful in practice to people like chemists, engineers and astrophysicists who don't want to do statistical mechanical calculations all the time. But these all are ultimately related to the original definition of entropy in terms of statistical states.
If I'm wrong, it would be good of you to quote an example a a change to a system where entropy increases (as it must) but disorder does not.
By the way, did anyone see this Sunday's programme where Brian Cox tried to get Jonathan Ross to do arithmetic on a blackboard? Painful.
I've never really understood why a universe where all the energy is evenly spread is more misordered. Surely having the energy in big spikes and lumps with big cold volumes between is terribly untidy?
I can't help chuckling about how this programme will go down in the USA, and what a forum discussing it over there would look like!
> I've never really understood why a universe where all the energy is evenly spread is more misordered. Surely having the energy in big spikes and lumps with big cold volumes between is terribly untidy?
That's why the 'disorder' and 'order' explanations of entropy are unhelpful. An evenly spread universe is disordered in a thermodynamic sense, but if you go by the everyday understandings of order and disorder then an evenly spread universe is ordered.
My advice is to not think about entropy in terms of order and disorder. Instead think about the possibility of doing something useful (lifting a weight is a commonly given example of something useful). You can't use the energy in an evenly spread (i.e. high entropy) universe to lift a weight.
In a universe with energy spikes and cold volumes (i.e. low entropy), you could use the energy to lift a weight. For example, take some water from a cold area of the universe and use a hot energy spike to heat it and turn it into steam. Put the steam through a turbine and you can lift a weight.
Of course you are right that (the total) disorder (of the universe) must always increase but that depends on you defining disorder carefully and precisely in terms of the total number of ways of arranging a system, and this doesn't always accord with one's intuitive notion of what is and isn't disordered.
An example is if you have a suspension of hard spheres in a liquid (assume they neither repel nor attract each other so their only interaction is that they can't occupy the same space). At low concentration the spheres are disordered, but as you put more spheres in at some point they'll arrange themselves in an ordered crystalline packing. This apparently ordered state has a higher entropy than the apparently disordered state; what's going on is that, because an ordered packing of spheres fills space more efficiently than a disordered one the spheres in the crystalline arrangement have more space to wiggle around in, and the extra entropy they get from this more than offsets the loss of entropy from being arranged on an ordered lattice.
Since cells are rather densely packed with stuff, this kind of counterintuitive entropy-driven ordering is probably quite important in biology, though those systems are much more complicated.
A better effort in the second episode I thought. All still a bit anthropocentric though. Can I mention some interesting stuff about senses?
Top marks for giving octopi a central slot as smart alien creatures with good eyes. Eyes have evolved independently (i.e. physiologically independent designs) at least 13 times, though the genetic basis of these designs can be seen as reducing the number downwards. So, not just vertebrates, insects and octopi can see.
Also, a major finding of genome sequencing in the last 10 years is that humans have only about 1,000 genes for smell, compared with about 4,000 in rodents (who live in a very smelly universe). We have lost about 3,000 smell genes since we diverged from rodents. Just thought I'd mention it.
Or they've gained them? Surely without any additional data, the most likely possibility is that our common ancestor with the rodents had 2000 genes for smell.
The evidence comes from pseudogenes: mutated remnants of ancestral genes that have homology to working genes in mice. They persist in our modern genome but have lost their function. The thinking is that the common ancestral small mammals in the dinosaur era lived close to the ground and had a large number of smell genes.
I have a pair of smell jeans. They're not far off walking upright either.
> Really wanted to watch this but I can't stand Brian Cox
I have found the exact opposite to be honest as i now seek out his shows due to his manner of presenting as well as the content.To be a bit shallow he is rather easy on the eye,but it's his enthusiasm and expressiveness as well as the accessability that does it for me.He conveys his wonder at the natural world in a way that the master- David Attenbourgh doesn't IMHO.Although David will always be No1 and Africa for me was a work of art and much more emotional,I cryed at least three times while watching the last show.
Though i must admit to being fascinated and compelled to watch the bizarre Andy Warhole/Deputy dog character that is Johnathan Meades.So perhaps my opinion is obviously twisted.
That's a great description of JM. I agree that he's compelling, it almost doesn't matter what he's talking about.
And as you'll know I should have said Andy Warhol/Droopy dog character,i always got these two mixed up.
This weeks episode was top notch - although it's a bit of a puzzle why it was contrived around the carbon cycle, and why it didn't come first in the series. Maybe Brian is all right. He could make a decent biologist after all...
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