On my right, former hair band keyboardist, turned particle physicist at CERN, professor of physics at U of Manchester, and popular science television presenter, it’s Professor Brian Cox. On my left, literature and science junkie, a man Brian Cox says is made of puddles, mud, a dead starling, a cardigan, and a crumpled copy of the New Statesman, it’s my favorite standup comic, Robin Ince. Together, they host BBC Radio 4’s comedy-science radio program, The Infinite Monkey Cage. An extended version of each episode is later released as podcast episodes on iTunes. You can also stream on BBC’s website.
The Infinite Monkey Cage is recorded in front of a live audience and includes a panel of experts from various walks of science and of life. It’s currently in its ninth season, exploring topics like extinction, infinity, and perception. Last season, they distinguished between science, pseudoscience, and what might just be humanities with a graph; space exploration via Brian Blessed whose “head came off” in the flight simulator; and the science of death. (By the way, when is a strawberry dead?) This season, the audience votes on their favorite ugly monkeys, and “Another One Bites the Dust” is played backward to reveal what sounds like “It’s fun to smoke marijuana” to illustrate the brain’s need for pattern-making.
Highlights from this season
Graeme Garden says that The Goodies would never be made today because the risk assessment form would be longer than the scripts. He remembers re-creating the Buster Keaton gag where a house falls on him and he fits through the window. The production team explained to him that the wood had to be very heavy otherwise it wouldn’t fall straight.
After a shambles of an introduction (Robin stealing Brian’s joke and misinformation about Dave Martill being an expert in dinosaur sexuality), Ross Noble says, “Is this a real show? I’ve seen you [Robin] do standup, and him [Brian] on volcanoes and that, but this doesn’t seem legitimate enough.”
Brontosaurus has been removed because someone discovered that it’s the same as Apatosaurus, which was named first. “The artist formerly known as Brontosaurus.”
Through the Doors of Perception
Alan Moore reckons that artistic people do drugs in order to find a unique perception so that their art is original.
People and animals cock their head in order to shift their perception and gain more information from the new view.
The perceived speed of time: Time seems to slow down when you’re frightened because high emotion creates stronger memories, so the more afraid you are, the more memories you’re making, and so it seems like a lot is happening, so a few minutes can seem like an hour.
To Infinity and Beyond
This episode hurts your brain, starting when they try to explain the Hilbert’s Hotel model, comparing potential infinity and complete infinity, asking if you can add to infinity and if there is a more nothing than nothing, and finally your brain explodes when they tackle “the smallest type of infinity.”
Should we Pander to Pandas
The complicated task of naming species: all creatures and animals are on their way from being one thing to becoming something else, in particular the wild cousins of tomatoes.
Stop worrying about conservation, and concentrate on maintaining a dynamic earth.
And finally, after looking at a photo of a proboscis monkey and noting how it was called a Dutch monkey because of its long nose and pot belly like the Dutch, they recall Owen Wilson saying that women find him attractive because his nose looks like a penis. Well done, Radio 4, yet another show promoting nasal erection.