Maynard's memorable moments

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
In tonight's Seven Wonders (8pm BBC2) John Maynard Smith, the Sussex University biologist, mentions in passing a problem that afflicts those of us who studied physics at university. Everybody wants us to explain quantum physics but without going into the maths. It's like asking somebody to teach Russian without covering the Cyrillic alphabet. But, as he points, out it really is extra ordinary that much of the world can be described by something as abstract as maths.

Tonight's instalment is the last in what has been a variable series. One problem has been the deliberate absence of an interviewer, giving each week's scientist the onerous task of carrying half an hour of television on the strength of their personality alone.

Maynard Smith, whose wonders include the replication of DNA and the flight of the albatross, has been one of the series's better personalities. Not only does he have a knack for pitching his ideas at an accessible level (his explanation of how a sidewinding snake moves across the desert is a gem) but he is just enough of an eccentric boffin to be entertaining.

Two things have emerged most strongly from the series. First that good scientists are obsessed, rather than frightened, about things they don't understand and that they have a knack for bringing fresh insights to everyday phenomena, perhaps altogether the most rewarding aspect of the series.