The man in the photo, science historian and broadcaster James Burke, is a revolutionary. So pay attention. This is important.
I don’t mean “revolutionary” in the lame-arsed sense used by every pissant little company with a new kind of double-whacko widget that’ll “revolutionise” the double-whacko widget industry. Because it’s now available in three different colours.
No, I mean the real kind of revolutionary: someone who advocates a revolution — yes, as in a complete overthrow of the established political system.
I’ve just finished watching Burke’s ten-part TV series from 1985, The Day The Universe Changed. It’s available on DVD, but you can also do what I did and watch the whole thing on YouTube. At least until some copyright-addled arsehole decides that you can’t.
As Wikipedia says:
The series’ primary focus is on the effect of advances in science and technology on western philosophy. The title comes from the philosophical idea that the universe essentially only exists as you perceive it through what you know; therefore, if you change your perception of the universe with new knowledge, you have essentially changed the universe itself.
To illustrate this concept, James Burke tells the various stories of important scientific discoveries and technological advances and how they fundamentally altered how western civilization perceives the world.
Apart from anything else, TDTUC is an excellent history of western scientific thought. But, after taking you on this journey, Burke’s final episode is a revolutionary call to action.
Continue reading “The really real revolutionary revolution of the Internet”
It was my very great pleasure today to discover that James Burke‘s groundbreaking TV series Connections and The Day the Universe Changed are all on YouTube.
Connections is more than 30 years old now — it was first broadcast in 1978 — and yet the way it weaves its threads through the history of science is still relevant to a contemporary audience. One thing I did notice, though, is how bleak his worries are, obviously an element of the Cold War mentality of the time.
Burke’s witty writing is a key part of the enjoyment, as this snippet from episode 2 shows:
I suppose Shakeaspeare and the travel agents have done more than anybody else to give us our Technicolor view of Elizabethan England, starring the Queen herself as a kind of swashbuckler in pearls. The fact is, about all she had time for was bookkeeping. When she took the place over in 1558, it was National Disaster Week. The money was worthless. There was no money! There was plague. The cities were packed and stinking.
Elizabeth appealed to the decent English middle class, with their healthy desire for prestige, power, fun and games, and cash. Soon, anybody who wanted to be anybody was on the make. And none more than that famous bunch of privateering seadogs led by Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins, who sailed the Atlantic looking for new American trade opportunities for England, setting up colonies, knocking off Spanish galleons — and doing it all with a kind of gutsy disregard for convention that we describe today as “criminal”.
I’ve often wanted to make programs like Burke’s. He gives hope to someone who, like him, has “a good face for radio”. I know that re-watching these old favourites will be important in many ways.