Horizon

9:00pm Monday 9 April on BBC TWO

Horizon follows three patients undergoing some of the very latest ground-breaking treatments for cancer.

More than one in three of us will develop cancer at some point in our lives. With such high numbers, few are left untouched by the disease.

But cancer medicine is changing. Horizon spent three months with the Royal Marsden Hospital and their scientific partner, the Institute of Cancer Research, witnessing their latest ways of tackling the disease – from the arrival of a radiotherapy robot to the development of revolutionary drugs that target precise genetic faults.

Will it be enough for hospital patients Phil, Ray and Rosemary? And for all of us, what hope do we have of defeating cancer in the future?

It seems like I’ve got this thing called Dyscalculia. It means that numbers are a complete nonsense to me. Even writing a phone number down becomes a task that makes me want to stab myself in the throat with a pen.

So, as you can imagine, maths is not really something that I get a kick out of.

However, the BBC have shown some number heavy shows over the past few years and they’ve made me swoon in utter delight. Brian Cox’s theories on fourth dimensions and time blew my brain wide open. E from the band, The Eels, followed his mathematician dad’s work and showed, effectively, teleportation.

The numbers still make my shit hang sideways, but the theories are ace!

With that, Horizon have been sending Alan Davies to check out loads of bonkers pure maths and quantum physics ideas, last night, looking at something (as seemingly simple) as measurement, which left me flailing around on the floor and cackling into the night sky.

While these shows did nothing for the thinking that all maths and science professors are oddballs, they did show them in a light which made me admire them endlessly.

Last night, we were asked the old question of How Long Is A Piece Of String? From thirty-odd centimetres, we went into black holes, photons being in two places at once, alternate universes, dead cats, fractals and a whole lot more.

Davies played the normal guy lost in a world of brains (much like he does every week on QI), and as such, gave us a nice, accessible route into some of the weirdest ideas in human history… played out through some of the weirdest people in human history (I’m looking at you maths man with the ponytail and cackling murderer laugh).

To try and pull the show apart and relay it here would be a task so blindingly idiotic that I may as well try to kick wind. All I can advise is that, if you like mental ideas and thinking that reprogrammes the way you look at the world for at least an hour, then catch the show on iPlayer.

It was a great little show that could have been very boring indeed.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy (Charles Simonyi Chair in the Public Understanding of Science) and Sir David Attenborough are two of the leading science figures set to feature in the latest run of Horizon, BBC’s flagship science documentary strand.

This series explores topics as diverse as the search for black holes, stem cell tourism, string theory and the genetics of drinking; and will bring us some of the most interesting questions currently being explored by scientists around the world.

In The Secret You, Professor Marcus du Sautoy tackles the complex subject of consciousness, gathering insights from leading academics in science, religion and philosophy to piece together what we know and believe about the concept of self.

With the help of recent advances in neuroscience, Professor Marcus du Sautoy embarks on a journey through the private universe of his mind, a unique and personal place where even time travel is possible.

The results provide a fascinating insight into the science behind consciousness. At the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, Professor du Sautoy experiences an unnerving reality outside of his own body, one which raises both scientific and philosophical questions about our sense of self. And in the unlikely setting of Hollywood learns how individual neurons are dedicated to recognising individual people, such as Jennifer Aniston.

Professor Marcus du Sautoy says: “It’s great that Horizon is prepared to tackle some of the biggest problems of science. Understanding how the brain gives us a sense of ‘I’ has been one of the greatest challenges for scientists and philosophers for centuries.

“It was a real privilege to make this programme with Horizon and to journey round the world to see the cutting edge research that is being done to unlock the mysteries of what happens in our heads.”

In How Many People Can Live On Planet Earth? Sir David Attenborough will explore the thorny issue of population control. Timed to coincide with the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December, the programme will explore Sir David Attenborough’s personal views on a difficult subject with lasting environmental consequences.

Andrew Cohen, executive producer, said: “Horizon is back with a challenging set of programmes covering some of the biggest questions in science. From consciousness to stem cells and black holes, Horizon is continuing to bring some of the most complex and important subjects to our audience in an engaging and thought provoking way.”

Other episodes in the series include:

Fix Me

Three young people with currently untreatable conditions (paralysis, cardiomyopathy, leg amputation) examine the possibilities of stem cell therapies.

Who’s Afraid Of A Big Black Hole?

Horizon follows a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) astronomy team on a unique search to image a black hole for the first time.

Alan’s Quantum Leap
Alan Davies discovers string theory with mentors, Marcus Du Sautoy, high school physics teacher Becky Parker and MIT Professor, Seth Lloyd..

I think we all believe that we would cope in a disaster.  Come what may, the adrenalin would kick in and we’d survive.   And yet, I remember just how frightened I became when I was actually faced with a minor incident.  How would I really cope if my ferry sank, my plane crashed or my tube carriage blew up?

This Horizon programme made me realise that there was more to surviving a disaster than meets the eye. 

Undoubtedly the most memorable bits of this programme were the interviews with the individuals that survived.  This includes the man that survived the sinking of the Estonia by climbing out of the canteen on to the hull and jumping in an upturned lifeboat.  His determination and self-confidence helped him to get off the sinking ferry and to survive the long cold hours in the life raft waiting to be rescued.  A female survivor of a plane crash explains how she lost all sense of time – just a few seconds felt like minutes as her brain went into survival mode.  The survivor of the 11/7 London bombing had some medical training. This proved vital and kicked into action, enabling her to give herself life-saving first aid.

Having watched the programme I realise that there are very simple things I can do to help me cope with a disaster, such as paying attention to where exists are on a plane or knowing where the life boats are on a boat.  By taking a minute to plan a strategy in case the plane has a problem, the hotels catches fire or the boat sinks, I’ll be ahead of the game and better able to get out intact.

Whether I’ll remember this the next time I’m jetting off on my holidays remains to be seen, however.

 

While I wouldn’t describe myself as a prude, I found this programme made for some uncomfortable viewing.  It was an odd combination of examining theories on why and when humans became hairless and “quasi” research into our own discomfort at being nude – two very different subjects.

I found the explanation of the theories on why we as humans are hairless (or at least not as furry as say primates) quite fascinating.   The programme started with Darwin’s own theory that our hairlessness is due to women’s natural preference for less hirsute men.  This has lead to our evolution as “furless”.  Darwin’s theory has only recently been empirically tested and findings do indeed suggest that women prefer less hirsute men.

Then the programme moved on to consider when humans became hairless.  Odd enough research in this area examines our parasites – lice to be exact.  By comparing our lice with those of our nearest evolutionary neighbour – primates – researchers in California have projected that human became hairless very early on in our evolution.  It all turns out to be due to the size of our brain and temperature regulation.  In other words, we sweat to keep cool and we wouldn’t be able to do this if were covered in fur. 

The other aspect of this programme (why we are uncomfortable nude) was less informative.  It came across as little more than titillation for voyeurs.  It tried to examine why humans (whatever the culture) are naturally modest and embarrassed to be nude.  The programme took a group of volunteers and had them go through a variety of “experiments” to see if they were embarrassed to be nude and whether they could overcome their embarrassment.  This bit of the programme drew some very obvious conclusion – yes we are embarrassed to be nude and yes it is tied up with sexuality.  The programme theorised that we are naturally modest so that we remain monogamous.

I’m not sure why the programme makers felt the need to mix between these two topics as they have.  More importantly, I really don’t understand why they needed a group of volunteers to go nude to show us how embarrassing nudity can be.  Being a bit of a cynic I wonder if they felt they had to add in something a bit sensationalistic to liven up this slightly nerdy scientific programme.

Am I just being a prude or did anyone else feel this programme to be leaning toward titillation?

 

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