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BBC Richard Dimbleby Lecture 1996 - Richard Dawkins - Comments

ridelo's Avatar Comment 1 by ridelo

Does there exist a transcript of this talk? Can it be subtitled?

Mon, 30 May 2011 00:40:51 UTC | #632212

green and dying's Avatar Comment 2 by green and dying

Comment 1 by ridelo :

Does there exist a transcript of this talk? Can it be subtitled?

I think this is it.

Mon, 30 May 2011 00:53:26 UTC | #632213

danconquer's Avatar Comment 3 by danconquer

Great lecture. I'd also like to express my appreciation for the sober professionalism of the BBC production itself. That was only 15 years ago, but it makes for a fascinating (and depressing) comparison with the likes of this unwatchable Brian Cox lecture, which features the modern signature music video style of frenetic editing... cut, cut, cut, cut, every 2 seconds, all for no good reason whatsoever, as if a chimpanzee is in charge of pressing the buttons in the editing suite.

Not sure whether I agree with Richard's apparently strong antipathy for fictional portrayals of the paranormal though. For sure, the deliberate marketing of supernaturalist bunkum as 'reality TV' is a definite cultural cancer, and one that infuriatingly seems to breeze past the normal regulatory obligation for 'balance' which factual programming is supposedly subject to. However, I don't see that overtly fantastical works of fiction are a problem... So many of my favourite films are outrageously preposterous denials of the basic laws of science (zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc). Surely there is plenty of room in our culture for allowing the human imagination to truly run riot, unconstrained by any laws or conventions, scientific or otherwise.

Mon, 30 May 2011 01:32:21 UTC | #632221

Marc Country's Avatar Comment 4 by Marc Country

I think Richard was very wise to change his name from Dimbleby to Dawkins... that sounds so much more scientific, like a nice blend of Darwin and Hawking, rather than the other, much more Hogwartian handle.

Mon, 30 May 2011 02:01:02 UTC | #632225

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 5 by Steve Zara

Of course, it's a magnificent lecture. Of course, it's given wonderfully by Richard.

But listening to the start of the lecture made me sad. The majority of us could not give a lecture to Aristotle, does not know of the relationship between Aristotle and a squid, could not give the number, even roughly, of the elements. If a typical person could lecture Aristotle then the world would without doubt be a far better place, and faith would have a much looser hold on us.

Even so, it is an utter delight to hear again. One of my favourite parts is the description of the pulsar discovery - the story of the "meaningless squiggle" that in truth told us so much.

Mon, 30 May 2011 02:09:51 UTC | #632227

El Bastardo's Avatar Comment 6 by El Bastardo

Fascinating. A lot of ideas and arguments that have appeared in print and yet still a joy to watch. I don't think I could ever tire of listening to the good Professor.

Mon, 30 May 2011 02:40:55 UTC | #632231

yesnomaybe's Avatar Comment 7 by yesnomaybe

Excellent. I remember seeing this at the time; and the opening remarks on Aristotle and modernity hit the mark. Of course, Aristotle was an elitist, and it wouldn't have surprised him in the slightest that most people neither know or care about knowledge and the importance of method in its acquisition. Science for most people means technology, that, and the painful demolition of edifying errors; so they tend to take refuge in ignorance, sophistry, and distraction.

Hence the rarity of seeing such a talk (on such a subject) on television. I guess Lord Reith is a long time dead . . .

Mon, 30 May 2011 03:19:17 UTC | #632236

Dantarin's Avatar Comment 8 by Dantarin

Comment 3 by danconquer :

Great lecture. I'd also like to express my appreciation for the sober professionalism of the BBC production itself. That was only 15 years ago, but it makes for a fascinating (and depressing) comparison with the likes of this unwatchable Brian Cox lecture, which features the modern signature music video style of frenetic editing... cut, cut, cut, cut, every 2 seconds, all for no good reason whatsoever, as if a chimpanzee is in charge of pressing the buttons in the editing suite.

Not sure whether I agree with Richard's apparently strong antipathy for fictional portrayals of the paranormal though. For sure, the deliberate marketing of supernaturalist bunkum as 'reality TV' is a definite cultural cancer, and one that infuriatingly seems to breeze past the normal regulatory obligation for 'balance' which factual programming is supposedly subject to. However, I don't see that overtly fantastical works of fiction are a problem... So many of my favourite films are outrageously preposterous denials of the basic laws of science (zombies, vampires, ghosts, etc). Surely there is plenty of room in our culture for allowing the human imagination to truly run riot, unconstrained by any laws or conventions, scientific or otherwise.

Just watched the Brian Cox lecture agree that the editing does get very annoying. Made me laugh when he said

"It's always tempting to gaze backwards to an imagined golden age, probably the television you watched when you were ten or twelve years old, and bemoan the inevetible evolution in presentation and editiorial style..."

Mon, 30 May 2011 03:32:47 UTC | #632238

Michael Austin's Avatar Comment 9 by Michael Austin

I really enjoy these summed-up book lectures, especially if I have read the book. :-) It's a nice, quick refresher.

Mon, 30 May 2011 05:12:57 UTC | #632249

robotaholic's Avatar Comment 10 by robotaholic

I wish there was an endless supply of Richard Dawkins lectures. My favorite.

Thank you RD.

Mon, 30 May 2011 05:43:55 UTC | #632252

rjohn19's Avatar Comment 11 by rjohn19

Wow. That was great and full of tidbits I hadn't heard before. I hope Richard has an archivist hired on full-time to unearth more of these older gems.

Fifteen years ago, I was a boyish 49 and if I had to break down my typical week back then on the computer in terms of an hour, I'd say I probably spent five minutes looking at women in various states of undress, 12 minutes playing adventure games like Leisure Suit Larry or Monkey Island and 43 minutes reloading the maddeningly tempermental Windows 95.

I had no idea this kind of material was floating around in those days.- not that any of my cobbled-together machines would have played such a thing without a nine-months pregnant pause after every seventh word.

It might be too late for my children but I can still save my grandson who will watch this tomorrow if he expects to get any time on his precious X-Box 360. I am hoping he finds this as inspiring as Richard's daughter seemed to as they seem to be of a similar age. Anyone know if she pursued science as a career?

Mon, 30 May 2011 06:23:51 UTC | #632260

Quine's Avatar Comment 12 by Quine

Just wonderful!

Mon, 30 May 2011 06:51:10 UTC | #632265

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 13 by Anaximander

The majority of us could not give a lecture to Aristotle.

Aristotle?

Mon, 30 May 2011 06:52:39 UTC | #632267

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons

Comment #632221 by danconquer

I don't see that overtly fantastical works of fiction are a problem... So many of my favourite films are outrageously preposterous denials of the basic laws of science

I don't think the argument Dawkins gave is applicable to films. A film is a 1-off event or, including sequels, prequels and interquels, at any rate a few-off event. It therefore lacks any incessant effect analogous to that which The X Files presents. To be sure, the consequences of certain wrong messages occurring in film after film after film from almost equally numerous sources may be as cumulatively detrimental to people's unprejudiced assessments as if they were all part of a single, one-author $ narrative. But to my mind Dawkins offered an argument for the moral condemnation of a work for being responsible for such persistence in its own right. So from that perspective films are not comparable to a TV series due to their largely standalone nature.

$ Or one author-team. US shows typically have these; I imagine The X Files followed suit.

Mon, 30 May 2011 07:52:04 UTC | #632279

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 15 by Richard Dawkins

I really enjoy these summed-up book lectures, especially if I have read the book. :-) It's a nice, quick refresher.

Yes, as you've spotted, this lecture was expanded two years later to make Unweaving the Rainbow, whose subtitle is, indeed, the title of the lecture. For non-British readers, Richard Dimbleby was a much respected broadcaster, who began in radio as a BBC war correspondent and migrated to television where he became a sort of British equivalent of Walter Cronkite. When he died, the BBC instituted an annual lecture in his memory. Over the years, the 35 Dimbleby Lecturers have included Roy Jenkins, Lord Denning, Garret Fitzgerald, Sir George Porter, Prince Philip, Helmut Schmidt, Bill Clinton, Rowan Williams, James Dyson, Craig Venter, Prince Charles, Terry Pratchett and (this year's lecturer) Michael Morpurgo.

I never gave an official Inaugural Lecture at Oxford as Simonyi Professor. I regarded this Dimbleby Lecture as my equivalent of an inaugural lecture, and I didn't think it worth repeating in Oxford because it had been televised. I rounded off my tenure with a valedictory lecture in the Oxford Playhouse, the final one in the series of Charles Simonyi lectures that I organised.

Richard

Mon, 30 May 2011 08:05:05 UTC | #632280

Donna M's Avatar Comment 16 by Donna M

But listening to the start of the lecture made me sad. The majority of us could not give a lecture to Aristotle, does not know of the relationship between Aristotle and a squid, could not give the number, even roughly, of the elements. If a typical person could lecture Aristotle then the world would without doubt be a far better place, and faith would have a much looser hold on us.

That's ridiculous. Few people could give him a full on scientific lecture, but most people could explain about the Earth orbiting the sun, that everything is made of atoms and that life evolved. Even if that's all someone could say, it would still be a darn sight more than he knew and would be fascinating to him. The point isn't that we're all scientific geniuses but that the knowledge we take for granted was simply not available to anyone living 2000+ years ago, no matter how clever they were.

Mon, 30 May 2011 11:29:49 UTC | #632330

Sara12's Avatar Comment 17 by Sara12

Fabulous. Unweaving the Rainbow is my favorite of Richard's books, and this was obviously a wonderful precursor.

Comment 14 by Jos Gibbons :

Comment #632221 by danconquer

I don't see that overtly fantastical works of fiction are a problem... So many of my favourite films are outrageously preposterous denials of the basic laws of science

I don't think the argument Dawkins gave is applicable to films. A film is a 1-off event or, including sequels, prequels and interquels, at any rate a few-off event. It therefore lacks any incessant effect analogous to that which The X Files presents. To be sure, the consequences of certain wrong messages occurring in film after film after film from almost equally numerous sources may be as cumulatively detrimental to people's unprejudiced assessments as if they were all part of a single, one-author $ narrative. But to my mind Dawkins offered an argument for the moral condemnation of a work for being responsible for such persistence in its own right. So from that perspective films are not comparable to a TV series due to their largely standalone nature.

$ Or one author-team. US shows typically have these; I imagine The X Files followed suit.

I love science fiction, it is one of my favorite genres. I always prefer shows like Star Trek or Doctor Who where the naturalist explanations for things always win out, even if the script is technically technobabble or pseudo-science. In the context of that world it is the naturalist explanation. The primary characters all have this wonder and excitement at the inner workings of life and the universe, and that is much of what drives them, particularly in Star Trek where part of the mission is, in fact, to scientifically explore the universe. I might even go so far as to say that my interest in science stems in part from having watched those types of shows when I was younger and wondering what the universe really was like.

Mon, 30 May 2011 12:19:39 UTC | #632345

dubjim's Avatar Comment 18 by dubjim

The BBC should repeat this. Might open a few minds.

Mon, 30 May 2011 12:39:47 UTC | #632350

Jos Gibbons's Avatar Comment 19 by Jos Gibbons

Sara12, not only do I share your preference, but I can't see how any supernaturalism-preferring shows could even be called sci-fi. Then again, I'm not sure whether any are.

Mon, 30 May 2011 12:46:37 UTC | #632355

C.Wood's Avatar Comment 20 by C.Wood

Wonderful lecture. Read the transcript, and loved every bit of it.

Thank you for yet another wonderful moment of inspiration, Richard.

Mon, 30 May 2011 13:39:29 UTC | #632366

dandelion fluff's Avatar Comment 21 by dandelion fluff

I don't think I grasped the difference between the irreversible recipe and the reversible blueprint. Is it because you can't unscramble the egg, but you can pretty much dismantle the building? And how does it apply to DNA?

This lecture reminded me of how it felt to watch science and nature documentaries on public television as a child. Time to get back to that, I think.

Mon, 30 May 2011 13:57:31 UTC | #632371

thatgingerscouser's Avatar Comment 22 by thatgingerscouser

Comment 11 by rjohn19 :

Fifteen years ago, I was a boyish 49 and if I had to break down my typical week back then on the computer in terms of an hour, I'd say I probably spent five minutes looking at women in various states of undress, 12 minutes playing adventure games like Leisure Suit Larry or Monkey Island and 43 minutes reloading the maddeningly tempermental Windows 95.

How appropriate. You fight like a cow.

Mon, 30 May 2011 14:34:04 UTC | #632376

Sara12's Avatar Comment 23 by Sara12

Comment 21 by dandelion fluff :

I don't think I grasped the difference between the irreversible recipe and the reversible blueprint. Is it because you can't unscramble the egg, but you can pretty much dismantle the building? And how does it apply to DNA?

This lecture reminded me of how it felt to watch science and nature documentaries on public television as a child. Time to get back to that, I think.

Sort of like that yes. Richard usually uses the analogy of baking a cake. Once it's baked, you can't point to a piece of the cake and then point to a corresponding word in the recipe. You can't unbake the cake back into its constituent parts of flour, sugar, egg, milk, etc. In a blue print, you can point to a floor board in a house and then point to the corresponding floor board in the blue print. You can dismantle the house back into its constituent parts of wall boards, floor boards, tiles, carpet, and so forth. In DNA, you can't point to a body part, say, a toe nail, and then point to its corresponding DNA letter code, because lots of different letter codes make the proteins that make the molecules that make the toe nails (and finger nails). You can't "undevelop" a person back into an egg and a sperm.

Mon, 30 May 2011 14:44:13 UTC | #632378

dandelion fluff's Avatar Comment 24 by dandelion fluff

Thanks, Sara12, that's very clear. :)

Mon, 30 May 2011 14:54:18 UTC | #632383

Michael Austin's Avatar Comment 25 by Michael Austin

He means that you can create a house from a blueprint, and a blueprint from a house. You can not, however, recreate a recipe(more specifically with the writer's exact words) from a cake. That is how DNA is. DNA encodes proteins and creates organisms in a predictable way. At this point, we cannot just look at an organism and construct a genetic code for it; but we can, at some level look at the genetic code and tell what effect it has on constructing an organism.

Comment 21 by dandelion fluff :

I don't think I grasped the difference between the irreversible recipe and the reversible blueprint. Is it because you can't unscramble the egg, but you can pretty much dismantle the building? And how does it apply to DNA?

This lecture reminded me of how it felt to watch science and nature documentaries on public television as a child. Time to get back to that, I think.

Mon, 30 May 2011 15:04:23 UTC | #632385

Richard Dawkins's Avatar Comment 26 by Richard Dawkins

Yes, the replies given by Sara12 (Comment 23) and Michael Austin (Comment 25) are exactly right.

Richard

Mon, 30 May 2011 16:17:36 UTC | #632396

skiles1's Avatar Comment 27 by skiles1

That was truly a great lecture! Not being British, not prior being familiar with Richard Dimbleby, I might not've otherwise had the opportunity to experience it. Thank you for posting this video!

I didn't feel a bit uncomfortable when Professor Dawkins voiced disapproval over the supernatural being part of the action in television series which supposedly dramatize reality. The God Delusion is dedicated to Douglas Adams! Science-fiction can be therapeutic, it is escapism most proper, and so I love it. I would much rather read a story by H. P. Lovecraft than watch some stuffy "reality" show. When it comes to television, if you're not watching something to escape or to learn, then I think what you do by watching is commit voyeurism. If a television series sells itself as a voyeur's sort of entertainment, then it could be harmful to some viewers to add supernatural events into the action of such stories. In that way, there are several paranormal investigation shows which qualify as potentially damaging. But Science-fiction stories which are billed as science-fiction stories, are not a problem.

Mon, 30 May 2011 16:25:18 UTC | #632397

mgjinich's Avatar Comment 28 by mgjinich

What a privilege to watch this lecture!

Mon, 30 May 2011 16:26:29 UTC | #632398

Nunbeliever's Avatar Comment 29 by Nunbeliever

To danconquer:

Yes, I find that particular program with Brian Cox to be cut in a very weird way. Although I don't agree with you that it necessarily is for the reasons you mentioned. That editor is just bad. Period. I don't necessarily think fast editing is bad, nor good by default. A good editor have to be able to feel the "pulse" of a particular program and edit it accordingly. Yes, the pace has generally gone up. That is obvious when you watch old programs as the this one with Richard Dawkins. Still, I don't find it disturbing or a bad thing by default. Programs are generally shorter and more compact than before. In part due to increased competition. In part because of commercial reasons. As a former journalist I know how frustrating it is to have a constant feeling there is too much to say but too little time or space. On the other hand this is not necessarily a bad thing. It forces publishers to constantly reevaluate their material and focus on the most essential parts. This process is in my opinion a good thing. I often realized that the shorter version of an article was in the end actually the better one. Still, of course there are risks. Especially when you are dealing with complex and nuanced subjects. I guess we need both. I have to admit it's really refreshing to watch a full-length debate recorded with a single camera every now and then :D On the other hand I often find it frustrating to watch old movies. Especially old action movies. You literally want them to cut to the chase.

Mon, 30 May 2011 17:09:18 UTC | #632407

Anaximander's Avatar Comment 30 by Anaximander

Donna M:That's ridiculous. Few people could give him a full on scientific lecture, but most people could explain about the Earth orbiting the sun, that everything is made of atoms and that life evolved.

But then Aristotle would ask "What do you mean by atoms and evolution?" (Or would that be Socrates?)

Mon, 30 May 2011 17:28:46 UTC | #632411