The week in radio: Welcome wake-up call from Baddiel's brainy bunch on Radio 4's Four Thought

 

There are times, with Radio 4, when the only way to listen is while lying horizontal in a darkened room with a cold compress on your head. I find this to be requirement while spending half an hour in the company of Melvyn Bragg as he pontificates over the concepts behind Dutch humanism or prophecy in the Abrahamic religions at 9 o'clock in the morning straight after the three-hour hard-news assault that is the Today programme.

This, traditionally, is a time of day when, with breakfast barely digested and the house divested of children, my traumatised brain tries to pull down the shutters and hang up a sign that reads "Back later. Gone for a nap".

The point is that Radio 4 rarely swerves the cerebral stuff. It takes pleasure in grappling with the conundrums that have plagued scientists and philosophers for centuries. Television only rarely takes such a high-minded route, preferring to sink its copious resources into Cowell-sponsored glitter-fests involving pre-teen stand-ups, dance troupes making funny silhouettes and dancing dogs.

So if, like me, you are in the market for something cerebrally challenging, but not so much so that your brain starts to seep out of your ear, Radio 4's Four Thought is a great way to spend 20 minutes.

Introduced by David Baddiel, it features a series of short speeches about seemingly innocuous subjects that generally turn out not to be innocuous at all but actually meaningful and sometimes life-changing.

In recent weeks, we've heard from the science writer Emma Byrne who put forward a persuasive case that swearing is not only natural, it is good for us – "a proxy for physical violence", she said – which will be a handy defence next time something appalling falls from my lips when I open a pack of Pringles to find them broken into a million tiny pieces.

We have also heard from the academic Anna Woodhouse on the subject of glass and its effect on our ways of seeing. She talked with great melancholy about the views from various windows in her life: in the house in Bridlington where she grew up, in an inner-city tower block in Leeds; in the concrete and glass office block where she worked at the front line in a call centre in a fog of misery.

This week, the author Steven Poole took on the concept of free thinking and the "nudge". A "nudge" is what, according to those who dispense them, helps us make good decisions. Far-fetched as it sounds, the British government apparently has its own "nudge unit" and those that work there are called "choice architects".

These are the people who decide that it might be useful to send us text messages to remind us about overdue fines, or that the organ-donor system would work better if it was opt-in rather than opt-out.

All very sensible, you might think, but, as Poole pointed out, the inference is that we are unable to make the right decision for ourselves. This notion that we're bad at thinking, and should perhaps let others do it for us, is apparent in psychology, internet theory and politics.

Poole subsequently wrangled with the ideas of cognitive bias, rationalism vs irrationalism and whether or not we are being reduced to the level of zombies who don't have to think about anything except biting people. It was with palpable passion that he called for resistance to the idea that we are passive victims of our poorly wired brains and, quoting Plato, exhorted us to "Dare to know". Yes, I cried, I will do that, but only after I've had a lie-down.

twitter.com/FionaSturges

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform