The Week in Radio: Blown away by the science masters' brush with death

 

When it comes to science it doesn't take a lot to blow my mind. I'm still reeling from what happens when you chuck a load of Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke (if you haven't done it, you have yet to witness one of life's miracles). So I've got a lot of time for the long-running Radio 4 show The Infinite Monkey Cage, a programme that manages to simultaneously expand your brain power while lulling you into thinking you're chuckling away at a panel show for simpletons.

If you're not familiar, it features Dr Brian Cox, the comic Robin Ince and assorted guests engaging in gleeful live discussions on subjects such as science fiction, cosmology and Schrödinger's cat, all the while mocking each other's smartarsery. A new series began this week asking "What is death?" to which the answer apparently isn't as straightforward as, "When you're being lowered into a hole in the ground in your best clobber while Robbie Williams' "Angels" booms out of the vestry."

As ever, the conversation ventured bravely into the realms of the mysterious and unknown. Sample questions included: "Is death necessary for life?", "Why is it not possible for a single-celled organism to be immortal?", "When is a strawberry dead?" and "Are giant pandas characters in a Beckett play?" All this on a muggy Monday afternoon when much of the population has hit a sugar low and has already started daydreaming about the post-work hiss of tonic hitting gin.

But The Infinite Monkey Cage's fearless pursuit of out-there topics isn't the only reason I find it engaging. It's also that I can finally witness Cox being smart and funny without being told how incredibly hot he is. The BBC is forever instructing its female viewers to drool over Cox, which for me has the opposite effect. His happy stoner vibe always reminds me of the beads and tie-dye-wearing guy at raves who would hug people for way longer than was comfortable.

But here you won't find footage of him standing on mountain tops in billowing shirts while running his fingers through his Britpop hair, or gazing at faraway galaxies with a camera trained intently on his teeth. Here he is in his element, able to be clever without distraction.

Anyway, thanks to The Infinite Monkey Cage, I now know that death is crucial for humankind's ability to carry on living, and the machinery of self-destruction is present in each and every cell. Without death there is no evolution, and without evolution we're all pretty much screwed.

Death is meant to be is one of the last great taboos, an event to be feared more than anything, but here it was discussed with the same wonderment as shooting stars and solar eclipses. "Death is a wonderful thing," remarked the forensic anthropologist Sue Black. "It's the last great adventure. No one knows what's coming. Fantastic. Bring it on."

If I ruled radio, I would prescribe a dose of The Infinite Monkey Cage, plus a sharp slap around the chops, to the terminally disgruntled listeners of Feedback who this week were carping about the axing of the science programme The Material World.

Not only has The Material World been running roughly since early man discovered the wheel, but few seemed to have noticed that a new show, Inside Science, has been lined up to replace it. There is also more science on the radio now than there has ever been.

It was up to presenter Roger Bolton to placate the moaners by consulting the editor of the BBC Science Unit who patiently explained how, like the subject they trade in, science shows must evolve. Perhaps now Radio 4's listeners can do the same.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate