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
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot