The Reith Lectures, Radio 4<br/>Tag Me Amadeus, Radio 4

To see a world in a grain of sand...soundtracked by Wagner
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The Independent Culture

Now, I'm not the Astronomer Royal or the outgoing president of the Royal Society – you'd probably worked that out for yourself – but if you'd asked me for a list of topics about the directions scientific research might take, I'd have probably mumbled something like "better robots, better computers, better nanotechnology, better brain scanning ..." before tailing off.

But in his third of four Reith Lectures – entitled "What We'll Never Know" – Martin Rees, who is both those things, didn't really come up with much more than did this raddled old hack. It was all fascinating stuff, but lacked any "Wow!" moments, or even very many "Hmm, fancy that"s.

Almost more interesting was his preamble, in which he talked about the three frontiers of science: at one end of the spectrum, there's the science of the very large and at the other the very small. But in between there's the very complex. As Rees put it: "An insect, with its layer upon layer of intricate structure, is far more complex than either an atom or a star." To see a world in a grain of sand ....

Depressingly, the level of debate in the post-match forum on the BBC's Reith Lectures website was low, degenerating into a set-to about what it would be like to know everything. One respondent, displaying a stunning capacity for misinterpreting the lecture and ensuing discussion, wrote: "It is good to think that some learned professor is beginning to realise that only God knows all the answers – Allelujah!" To which came the reply: "Ha! You've been caught in the act of creating yet another religious false dichotomy! Touched by the noodly appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!" I think we may have found next year's Reith Lecturer.

If Richard Wagner had been able to look into the future, I'd have liked to see his reaction to discovering that, according to Sue Perkins, he's the godfather of the jingle. A direct line, you might say, runs between the leitmotifs in the Ring cycle, identifying characters, plotlines and objects, and that annoying trumpety thing that advertises a certain car insurer. I was astonished to discover in Tag Me Amadeus that there are whole companies devoted to "sonic branding", which is surely just a fancy term for jingle-writing.

As part of a fascinating investigation into this dark art (the German term for these barbed darts of sound translates as "earworms"), Perkins went to an agency where they constructed her personal jingle – sorry, "tag". They'd been given a list of her qualities – fast, gobby, childish, lost, skittish – and produced something that was more subtle and complex than, say, the "For Mash Get Smash" tune, or the Intel Bongs, as they're known, but seemed to sum her up very well.

She spoke to the man who wrote the Intel Bongs, the most-played piece of music in history, we were told. The amiable Walter Werzowa is understandably happy with life, except for one thing: "I'm very jealous that Beethoven's Fifth still seems to be more recognisable." I should stress that he was chuckling as he said it.

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