Entertainment Radio

Monday 21 October 2019

The marvels of nature hit home with a loud bang


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Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Naturebang (Radio 4, Wed 1.45pm) is one of those shows which makes BBC truly live up to its reputation as the world's nonpareil broadcaster.

Forget your Great British Bake Offs and Line of Dutys. What makes BBC great is that they so often produce such fascinating radio as this: "science with a philosophical twist" exploring "the astonishing mystery and complexity of the natural world".

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Hosts Becky Ripley and Emily Knight delve into wonderfully brain-teasing questions and contentions: from whether the sea-sponge can be said to have a sense of self, and what that means for us as people, to whether our behaviours and thoughts are really controlled by us - or the microbes using our bodies as home.

Last week they examined what it is to be an individual entity, by looking at the Portuguese man-of-war. It's notoriously one of the most dangerous jellyfish, but the amazing thing is that each man-of-war isn't a single animal at all.

Rather, they're colonies of tiny creatures, which move, hunt and reproduce in tandem; something like the slime mould, I guess, another of nature's incomprehensible marvels.

It's all mindboggling in the best possible way. If nothing else, Naturebang gives us some perspective outside of the anthropocentric worldview, some respect for the natural world. But never mind the right-on politics, just feel the wonder. You'll smile in delight, possibly with a frown of bewilderment on the side.

Another British cultural institution is/was George Orwell, especially his two most famous works, Animal Farm and 1984. The second of those was published 70 years ago this month, and Arena (Radio 1, Mon-Fri 7pm) spoke to academic Darryl Jones about the novel's genesis and subsequent influence on literature and culture. Concepts such as doublethink, Big Brother and erasure of the past have become woven into the fabric of life and thought ever since, and in some cases, may well be coming to pass as a strange and disturbing reality.

Interestingly, Jones reminded us, Orwell was part of the British upper class, yet hated them with a genuine passion. How's that for doublethink?

On Moncrieff's (Newstalk, Mon-Fri 2pm) ever-entertaining Tell Me Why slot, guest expert Graham Finlay and stand-in host Tom Dunne asked: why do people have different pain thresholds?

It seems that threshold and tolerance, previously interchangeable to me, mean different things: the former is the level at which pain registers with your mind, the latter how much of it you can endure.

The irony, of course, is that we need pain, horrible as it is. As Finlay pointed out: "Not feeling pain at all is not good - otherwise, you don't take your hand off the hot stove."

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