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Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything

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    Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen
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    It’s a very interesting, and unusual,
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    and weird experience for me
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    to be talking in my home town. Which is…
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    Now, amongst the books
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    that Constance mentioned
    when she was introducing me,
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    The Hitchhiker’s Guide,
    Dirk Gently and so on,
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    it was not my favourite book.
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    And my favourite book
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    is what I’m here to talk about tonight.
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    It's funny how, how often…
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    Virtually every author I know,
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    their own favourite book is the one
    that sold the least.
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    It’s somehow the runt of the litter,
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    it’s the one you’ve always
    just loved the most.
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    And I want to tell you about
    how this came about.
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    Sometime in about the mid 1980s,
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    the phone rang.
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    And the voice said,
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    “We want you to go to Madagascar.
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    We want you to look for
    a very rare form of lemur,
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    called the Aye-aye.
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    The plane leaves in two weeks,
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    we would like you to be on it.”
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    Now I—assuming they’ve got
    the wrong number—said “yes!”
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    before they could discover their mistake.
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    But in fact it turned out
    that they decided,
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    “Well, here is somebody who
    doesn’t know anything about lemurs,
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    anything about the Aye-aye,
    anything about Madagascar,
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    let’s send him.”
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    So I started to try
    and find out something about it,
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    and it turns out it’s very interesting.
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    Lemurs used to be
    the dominant primate in all the world.
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    And they were very,
    very gentle, pleasant creatures.
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    They were a little bit
    like sort of cat size,
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    and they used to hang around in the trees
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    having a nice time.
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    And then, Gondwanaland split up.
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    It always sounds like
    some sort of 70’s rock group
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    going their own way
    for reasons of musical differences.
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    But as you probably remember
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    Gondwanaland was that
    vast continental landmass
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    that consisted of what then became
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    South America, Africa, India
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    Southeast Asia, Australasia
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    —uh, no—Australia, Australia and not
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    —and this will turn out
    to be significant later—
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    not New Zealand
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    which turns out to be just a lot of gunk
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    that came out from under the ocean.
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    And as I say,
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    lemurs were the dominant primate
    around the world
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    and when all these landmasses split up,
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    and Madagascar was one of them,
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    Madagascar kind of sailed off
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    into the middle of what then
    suddenly became the Indian Ocean.
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    And took with it a representative sample
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    of the livestock of the period,
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    which included a lot of lemurs.
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    And they basically sort of sat there
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    for millions and millions of years
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    in glorious isolation.
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    While, in the rest of the world,
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    a new creature emerged.
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    A new creature arrived
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    that was much more intelligent
    than the lemurs
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    —according to it—
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    much more competitive,
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    much more aggressive,
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    and incredibly interested
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    in all of things you could do with twigs.
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    Twigs were absolutely wonderful.
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    So much you can do with twigs
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    you can dig in the ground
    for things with twigs,
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    you can burrow under
    the bark of trees for grubs,
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    you can hit each other with twigs.
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    If there had been copies of
    TwigUser Magazine around on those days,
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    these creatures would
    have been lining up for it.
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    And these creatures
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    —which, as you have probably guessed,
    are called the monkeys—
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    because they were more competitive
    and more aggressive,
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    and they lived in the
    same habitat as the lemurs,
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    they successfully supplanted the lemurs
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    everywhere in the world
    other than Madagascar.
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    Because Madagascar was right out
    in the middle of the Indian Ocean
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    and they couldn’t get there.
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    They couldn’t get there until
    about 1500 years ago,
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    when due to startling
    advances in twig technology
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    they were able to get there in boats,
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    and eventually planes.
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    And suddenly the lemurs,
    that have had this place for themselves
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    for millions and millions
    and millions of years,
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    were suddenly facing
    their old enemy: the monkey.
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    So, this is Madagascar,
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    and it turns out that
    the rarest of the lemurs
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    —and when I say the rarest of the lemurs,
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    at this particular point in the mid 80’s
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    they were thought to be
    the rarest of the lemurs;
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    we’ve now discovered and even rarer lemur
    called the Golden Bamboo Lemur,
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    which went straight to the number one
    of endangered lemurs—
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    but the Aye-aye is a very
    very peculiar animal.
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    It looks like an agglomeration
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    of all sorts of other different animals.
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    So, for instance,
    it has a sort of fox's ears,
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    and it has a little sort
    of bitty rabbit’s teeth,
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    and it has a kind of
    ostrich feather as a tail,
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    and it has very weird eyes,
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    actually it has Marty Feldman’s eyes.
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    The kind of sort of looking
    slightly beyond you
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    into a sort of other dimension
    just over your left shoulder.
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    But it also has one very very
    very peculiar characteristic,
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    which is its middle finger on both hands
    is skeletally thin and very very long.
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    And it turns out there is
    only one other animal
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    in the entire world that has this feature.
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    And this is called
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    —I love zoologists;
    they have such vivid imaginations—
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    it’s called the Long-Fingered Possum.
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    And this is a creature
    that lives in New Guinea,
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    and in fact it's its fourth finger
    that is skeletally thin and elongated.
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    And this is the thing that tells us
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    that there is no relationship
    between these animals,
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    it’s pure convergent evolution,
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    because the common factor
    between Madagascar and the Aye-aye,
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    and New Guinea and
    the Long-Fingered Possum
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    is that in both habitats
    there are no woodpeckers.
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    And you see, the thing is
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    —life is very very opportunistic,
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    and it will take advantage of any
    food source it finds around the place.
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    And if there are no woodpeckers looking
    under the bark of trees for grubs,
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    then, in this case, it will be the mammals
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    that grow the skeletally thin long finger
    to burrow under the bark of the tree,
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    and get to this source of food
    which is the grubs under the bark.
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    So, the Aye-aye is this
    very very very strange creature.
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    And at this time it was thought there
    were only about fifteen of them left.
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    And they lived actually
    not on Madagascar itself,
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    but on a tiny little rainforest island
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    just off the coast of Madagascar,
    called Nosy Mangabe,
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    and it’s just off
    the northwest tip of Madagascar.
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    And now to get there, what you have to do,
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    is you have to fly in a 747 to Madagascar.
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    And then in a terrible
    old jalopy of an airplane
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    from Madagascar up to the northwest port.
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    And from there you have to go
    in a kind of decreasingly excellent
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    series of carts and trucks and so on,
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    to a little port where
    there was going to be a boat
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    that was going to take us to Nosy Mangabe.
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    So we arrived there,
    and arrived at the port,
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    and we were looking around for the boat
    that was going to take us to Nosy Mangabe,
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    and we couldn’t see it.
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    And we kept on asking people
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    –you know–“where is this boat?”,
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    and they would say
    “It’s there! It’s there!”,
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    and we couldn’t see
    what they were pointing at
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    because there was this terrible
    rotting old hulk in the way.
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    Well as you guessed,
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    this is the terrible rotting old hulk
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    that we had to go to Nosy Mangabe in.
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    And it didn’t fulfill what to my mind
    was the sort of basic criteria of a boat,
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    in that it was basically full of ocean.
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    And it seemed to me
    that the whole point of a boat
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    was to keep the ocean on the outside.
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    Anyway, so we crossed to Nosy Mangabe.
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    And it’s this tiny little, very very
    beautiful little rainforest island.
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    And we hit a major problem
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    which of course is that
    this animal not only lives in trees
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    —nobody has seen it for
    years and years and years—
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    lives in trees but
    also it's a nocturnal animal.
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    And the quality of batteries
    in Madagascar was very very poor.
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    So, we spent night after night
    after night,
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    traipsing through the rainforest,
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    in what can only be described as:
    the rain.
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    Getting rather ratty,
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    and basically we’ve just spent
    night after night
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    sort of huddled under tarpaulins,
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    looking at us, saying “stop raining.”
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    And every now and then we would sort of,
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    “gah, I’ve been trying
    to find this damn animal.”
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    Actually, this is wonderful,
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    we found this hut that used
    to be this sort of game warden’s
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    —not game warden—a ranger’s hut.
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    And it’s a tiny little hut.
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    And it was actually full of wild life.
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    What happened, you see,
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    is you would open the door,
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    and you'd hear all this noise…
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    and you turn on the light
    and it would all stop.
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    And you would see these little
    giant spiders around the wall,
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    each with a sort of
    half-eaten bug in their mouth!
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    And say, “yes?”
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    And you turn the light out and…
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    So this is our shelter, you know,
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    we were having a great time.
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    And eventually…
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    But one night, one night,
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    we were all sort of—as I said—
    huddled under our tarpaulins,
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    and I sort of got out,
    and wandered around,
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    and suddenly, suddenly,
    I looked up and on a branch
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    at about that high above my head
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    this creature came out.
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    This creature came out along the branch,
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    looked down on me,
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    and I looked at it, and as it looked to me
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    —it obviously didn’t at all like
    to look at what it saw—
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    it turned around and went away again.
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    Whole encounter about ten seconds.
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    And that’s what we’d come for.
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    I had actually seen, and we saw
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    —we all just managed to get a quick
    photograph of it when it appeared—
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    but I suddenly realised
    we’d seen an Aye-aye.
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    Now, I was absolutely
    transfixed by that moment,
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    for reasons that I couldn’t entirely
    explain to myself immediately.
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    Because a month earlier
    I’d never even heard of this animal
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    and now here I was, staring at it,
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    thinking that something
    extraordinary happening here.
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    So I began to sort of
    think about it a little bit,
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    and the thought I put together was this.
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    In traveling here,
    in traveling on a 747 to Tananarive,
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    which is the capital of Madagascar,
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    and this terrible old jalopy
    of an airplane
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    that took us out to the northwest corner,
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    and then in the decreasingly excellent
    series of carts and trucks,
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    and then in the rotting old hulk
    that took us to the rainforest
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    where we basically walked through
    the rainforest night after night,
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    it was as if we were taking
    a kind of time journey
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    —a time travel journey—
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    back through the history
    of twig technology.
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    And what this encounter had been,
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    what this encounter had been was:
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    I was a monkey looking at a lemur.
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    And you suddenly think,
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    there is a huge amount of history
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    to this moment that we don’t think
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    —we don’t realise—we carry around with us.
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    Our roots in this planet go back
    an awfully awfully awfully long way,
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    and we don’t tend to
    think about that very much.
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    And it takes a confrontation like this
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    suddenly to realise how sort of
    broad and deep your family goes.
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    So I thought,
    well this is terribly interesting.
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    And I talked to the guy who had been
    kind of my guide out there,
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    who was a zoologist
    who had been sent along
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    to make sure I didn’t sort of
    fall out of the trees and so on.
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    And his name was Mark Carwardine,
    and I said to him,
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    “I would love it if we could …,
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    do you fancy the idea of
    sort of going around the world
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    and looking for other rare
    and endangered species of animals,
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    maybe doing a book about this?”
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    He said,
    “well, that’s what I do for a living!”
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    “So yeah, OK.”
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    And so we did.
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    Now, there was a pause at that moment
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    because I had a couple of novels
    I’d just contracted to write.
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    So I wrote Dirk Gently’s
    Holistic Detective Agency
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    and The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul,
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    and then it was time to go.
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    And the first place we went,
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    we went to look for a particular animal
    which is the Komodo Dragon Lizard.
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    Now you know what
    lizards are like, don’t you?
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    I mean they’re sort of…
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    The Komodo Dragon Lizard
    is a little bit bigger than that.
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    The biggest one we saw actually
    it was about 13 feet long,
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    and its head came out to about here
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    fucking huge
    I think is the technical term.
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    It’s thought they're the origin
    of the chinese dragon myth
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    —because they are well huge,
    giant giant lizards,
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    they’re scaly, they’re man eaters,
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    literally they are man eaters,
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    and they don’t actually breathe fire,
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    but they do have the worst breath
    of any creature known to man.
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    And they live on this island
    called Komodo.
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    Now, it’s not enough—it turns out—
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    that this island has fifteen hundred,
    fifteen hundred man-eating dragons on it.
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    It turns our that actually that
    the most endangered animal on the island
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    is anything other than the dragons.
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    In fact—as I said—they’re man eaters.
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    They don’t actually eat you
    sort of straight out,
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    they don’t sort of lunge at you
    and just gobble you up.
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    They sort of sneak around
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    and they come
    and give you a bit of a bite.
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    Because their saliva is so virulent
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    that your wound would not heal
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    and after a while you will die.
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    And so one of the dragons
    will get to eat you
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    —it doesn’t matter if it’s
    the same one that bit you—
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    they just have a strategy
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    of having as many dead and dying
    creatures lying around the island
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    as they can manage
    and that kind of keeps them going.
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    But it turns out it’s not enough
    that the island
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    has fifteen hundred
    man-eating dragons on it.
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    Just to make it a little bit
    more interesting,
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    it also has more poisonous snakes on it
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    —per square meter of land—
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    than any equivalent
    area of land anywhere on earth.
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    So, we approached Komodo
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    —I have to say—slightly nervously,
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    and in a slightly roundabout way.
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    In fact we approached
    in such a roundabout way
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    that we went by Melbourne in Australia.
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    And the reason we went by Melbourne
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    was somebody who
    we wanted to go and see there,
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    a man called Dr. Struan Sutherland.
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    Actually I want to read you
    a little bit about him,
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    he was a great expert in snake venom.
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    I should apologise
    before I read this, actually,
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    for the fact that
    my australian accent isn’t very good.
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    But then, what the hell,
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    you’re all americans
    you won’t know the difference anyway.
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    There is in Melbourne a man
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    who probably knows more
    about poisonous snakes
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    than anyone else on earth.
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    His name is Dr. Struan Sutherland,
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    and he has devoted his entire life
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    to a study of venom.
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    “And I’m bored at talking about it”,
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    he said when we went along
    to see him the next morning
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    laden with tape recorders and notebooks.
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    “Can’t stand all these
    poisonous creatures,
  • 18:55 - 18:57
    all these snakes and
    insects and fish and things.
  • 18:57 - 18:58
    Wretched things, biting everybody.
  • 18:58 - 19:01
    And then people expect me
    to tell them what to do about it.
  • 19:01 - 19:04
    I’ll tell them what to do.
    Don’t get bitten in the first place.
  • 19:04 - 19:05
    That’s the answer.
  • 19:05 - 19:07
    I’ve had enough of
    telling people all the time.
  • 19:07 - 19:09
    Hydroponics, now that’s interesting.
  • 19:10 - 19:12
    Talk to you all you like
    about hydroponics.
  • 19:12 - 19:13
    Fascinating stuff,
  • 19:13 - 19:15
    growing plants artificially in water,
  • 19:15 - 19:16
    very interesting technique.
  • 19:17 - 19:20
    We’ll need to know all about it
    if we’re going to go to Mars and places.
  • 19:20 - 19:22
    Where did you say you were going?”
  • 19:22 - 19:22
    “Komodo.”
  • 19:23 - 19:25
    “Well don’t get bitten,
    that’s all I can say.
  • 19:29 - 19:32
    And don’t come running to me if you do
    because you won’t get here in time,
  • 19:33 - 19:36
    and anyway I’ve got enough on my plate.
  • 19:36 - 19:39
    Look at this office, full of
    poisonous animals all over the place.
  • 19:39 - 19:43
    See this tank, it’s full of fire ants.
    Venomous little creatures.
  • 19:43 - 19:44
    What are we going to do about them?
  • 19:44 - 19:47
    Anyway, I got some little fairy cakes
    in case you were hungry.
  • 19:47 - 19:49
    Would you like some little cakes?
  • 19:49 - 19:51
    I can’t remember where I put them.
  • 19:51 - 19:53
    There’s some tea but it’s not very good.
  • 19:53 - 19:54
    Anyway, sit down for heaven’s sake.
  • 19:55 - 19:57
    So, you’re going to Komodo.
  • 19:57 - 19:59
    Well, I don’t know why you want to do that
  • 19:59 - 20:00
    but I suppose you have your reasons.
  • 20:01 - 20:04
    There are fifteen different
    types of snake on Komodo,
  • 20:04 - 20:05
    and half of them are poisonous.
  • 20:06 - 20:08
    The only potentially deadly ones
  • 20:08 - 20:09
    are the Russell’s Viper,
  • 20:09 - 20:12
    the Bamboo Viper and the Indian Cobra.
  • 20:13 - 20:17
    The Indian cobra is the fifteenth
    deadliest snake in the world,
  • 20:17 - 20:20
    and all the other fourteen
    are here in Australia.
  • 20:22 - 20:24
    That’s why it’s so hard
    for me to find time
  • 20:24 - 20:28
    to get on with my hydroponics,
    with all these snakes all over the place.
  • 20:28 - 20:32
    And spiders. The most poisonous spider
    is the Sydney funnel-web,
  • 20:32 - 20:36
    we get about five hundred people
    a year bitten by spiders.
  • 20:36 - 20:37
    A lot of them used to die,
  • 20:37 - 20:41
    so I had to develop an antidote to stop
    people bothering me with it all the time.
  • 20:42 - 20:46
    Took us years. Then we developed
    this snake bite detector kit.
  • 20:48 - 20:51
    Not that you need a kit to tell you
    when you’ve been bitten by a snake,
  • 20:51 - 20:54
    you usually know, but the kit is
    something that will detect
  • 20:54 - 20:57
    what type you’ve been bitten by
    so you can treat it properly.
  • 20:57 - 21:00
    Would you like to see a kit? I’ve got a
    couple here in the venom fridge.
  • 21:00 - 21:03
    Let’s have a look. Ah look,
    the cakes are in here too.
  • 21:03 - 21:06
    Quick, have one while they’re still fresh.
  • 21:06 - 21:08
    Fairy cakes, I baked ’em myself”
  • 21:09 - 21:12
    He handed round the snake venom
    detection kits
  • 21:12 - 21:16
    and these home baked fairy cakes
    and retreated back to his desk,
  • 21:16 - 21:18
    where he beamed at us cheerfully
  • 21:18 - 21:20
    from behind his curly beard and bow tie.
  • 21:21 - 21:23
    We admired the kits
    which were small efficient boxes
  • 21:23 - 21:26
    neatly packed with tiny bottles,
    a pipette, a syringe,
  • 21:26 - 21:28
    and a complicated set of instructions
  • 21:28 - 21:32
    that I wouldn’t want to have
    to read for the first time in a panic.
  • 21:33 - 21:37
    And then we asked him how many of
    the snakes he had been bitten by himself.
  • 21:38 - 21:39
    “None of ’em,” he said.
  • 21:39 - 21:42
    “Another area of expertise I’ve developed
  • 21:42 - 21:45
    is that of getting other people
    to handle the dangerous animals.
  • 21:48 - 21:51
    Won’t do it myself.
    Don’t want to get bitten, do I?
  • 21:51 - 21:53
    You know what it says on my book jackets?
  • 21:53 - 21:55
    ‘Hobbies: gardening, with gloves;
  • 21:56 - 21:58
    fishing, with boots;
  • 21:58 - 21:59
    travelling, with care.’
  • 22:00 - 22:01
    That’s the answer. What else?
  • 22:01 - 22:04
    Well in addition to the boots
    wear thick baggy trousers.
  • 22:05 - 22:08
    And preferably have half a dozen people
    trampling along in front of you
  • 22:08 - 22:10
    making as much noise as possible.
  • 22:11 - 22:14
    The snakes pick up the vibrations
    and get out of your way.
  • 22:14 - 22:16
    Unless it’s a Death Adder,
  • 22:17 - 22:18
    otherwise known as the Deaf Adder,
  • 22:20 - 22:22
    which just lies there.
  • 22:23 - 22:26
    People can walk right past it
    and over it and nothing happens.
  • 22:26 - 22:29
    I’ve heard of twelve people in a line
    walking over a Death Adder
  • 22:29 - 22:32
    and the twelfth person
    accidentally trod on it and got bitten.
  • 22:32 - 22:35
    Normally it’s quite safe
    to get twelfth in line.
  • 22:35 - 22:36
    You’re not eating your cakes.
  • 22:36 - 22:38
    Come on, get them down you,
  • 22:38 - 22:40
    there’s plenty more in the venom fridge.”
  • 22:43 - 22:45
    We asked, tentatively, if we could perhaps
  • 22:45 - 22:48
    take a snake bite detector kit
    with us to Komodo.
  • 22:48 - 22:50
    “Course you can, course you can.
  • 22:50 - 22:51
    Take as many as you like.
  • 22:51 - 22:55
    Won’t do you a blind bit of good because
    they’re only for Australian snakes.”
  • 23:03 - 23:08
    “So what do we do if we get bitten by
    something deadly, then?” I asked.
  • 23:09 - 23:11
    He blinked at me as if I were stupid.
  • 23:13 - 23:15
    "Well what do you think you do?” he said.
  • 23:15 - 23:17
    “You die of course.
    That’s what deadly means.”
  • 23:25 - 23:29
    “But what about cutting open the wound
    and sucking out the poison?” I asked.
  • 23:31 - 23:33
    “Rather you than me,” he said.
  • 23:33 - 23:35
    “I wouldn’t want a mouthful of poison.
  • 23:35 - 23:36
    Shouldn’t do you any harm, though,
  • 23:36 - 23:38
    snake toxins are of high molecular weight
  • 23:38 - 23:41
    so they wont penetrate
    the blood vessels in the mouth
  • 23:41 - 23:43
    the way that alcohol or some drugs do.
  • 23:43 - 23:46
    And then the poison gets destroyed
    by the acids in your stomach.
  • 23:46 - 23:49
    But it’s not necessarily going
    to do much good either.
  • 23:49 - 23:52
    I mean, you’re not likely to be able
    to get much of the poison out,
  • 23:52 - 23:55
    but you’re probably going to make
    the wound a lot worse trying.
  • 23:55 - 23:59
    And in a place like Komodo it means you’d
    quickly have a seriously infected wound
  • 23:59 - 24:01
    to contend with as well as
    a leg full of poison.
  • 24:01 - 24:04
    Septicaemia, gangrene,
    you name it, it’ll kill you.”
  • 24:05 - 24:07
    “What about a tourniquet?” I asked.
  • 24:07 - 24:11
    “Well, fine if you don’t mind having
    your leg cut off afterwards.
  • 24:11 - 24:13
    You’d have to because if you cut off
  • 24:13 - 24:15
    the blood supply to it completely
    it will just die.
  • 24:16 - 24:18
    And if you can find anyone
    in that part of Indonesia
  • 24:18 - 24:20
    who you’d trust to take your leg off
  • 24:20 - 24:22
    then you’re a braver man than me.
  • 24:23 - 24:25
    No, I’ll tell you,
    the only thing you can do
  • 24:25 - 24:28
    is apply a pressure bandage
    direct to the wound
  • 24:28 - 24:30
    and wrap the whole leg up tightly,
    but not too tightly.
  • 24:31 - 24:34
    Slow the blood flow but don’t cut it off
    or you’ll lose the leg.
  • 24:35 - 24:38
    Hold your leg,
    or whatever bit you’ve been bitten in,
  • 24:38 - 24:40
    lower than your heart and your head.
  • 24:40 - 24:49
    Keep very, very still, breathe slowly
    and get to a doctor immediately.
  • 24:51 - 24:53
    If you’re on Komodo
    that means a couple of days,
  • 24:53 - 24:55
    by which time you’ll be well dead.
  • 24:57 - 24:59
    Now, the only answer,
    and I mean this quite seriously,
  • 24:59 - 25:01
    is don’t get bitten.
  • 25:03 - 25:04
    There’s no reason why you should.
  • 25:04 - 25:07
    Any of the snakes there
    will get out of your way
  • 25:07 - 25:08
    well before you even see them.
  • 25:08 - 25:12
    You don’t really need to worry
    about the snakes if you’re careful.
  • 25:12 - 25:15
    No, the things you really need to
    worry about are the marine creatures.”
  • 25:15 - 25:16
    “What?”
  • 25:18 - 25:21
    “Scorpion fish, stonefish, sea snakes.
  • 25:21 - 25:23
    Much more poisonous than anything on land.
  • 25:23 - 25:26
    Get stung by a stonefish
    and the pain alone will kill you.
  • 25:27 - 25:29
    People drown themselves
    just to stop the pain.”
  • 25:36 - 25:39
    “Where are all these things?”
  • 25:39 - 25:41
    “Oh, just in the sea. Tons of them.
  • 25:41 - 25:43
    I wouldn’t go near it if I were you.
  • 25:43 - 25:44
    Full of poisonous animals. Hate them.”
  • 25:46 - 25:47
    “Is there anything you do like?”
  • 25:47 - 25:49
    “Yeah", he said, "Hydroponics.”
  • 25:54 - 25:58
    “No”, I said, “I mean are there any
    poisonous creatures
  • 25:58 - 25:59
    you’re particularly fond of?”
  • 26:00 - 26:01
    He looked out of the window for a moment.
  • 26:02 - 26:03
    “There was,” he said, “but she left me.”
  • 26:21 - 26:25
    Anyway, in fact my favourite
    of all the animals we went to see,
  • 26:25 - 26:28
    my favourite, was an animal
    called the Kakapo.
  • 26:30 - 26:32
    And the Kakapo is a kind of parrot.
  • 26:34 - 26:35
    It lives in New Zealand.
  • 26:36 - 26:41
    It’s a flightless parrot,
    it's forgotten how to fly.
  • 26:44 - 26:49
    Sadly, it has also forgotten
    that it has forgotten how to fly.
  • 26:56 - 27:05
    So a seriously worried Kakapo has been
    known to run up a tree and jump out of it.
  • 27:10 - 27:13
    Opinion divides as to what next happens:
  • 27:14 - 27:18
    some people said it has developed
    a kind of rudimentary parachuting ability,
  • 27:20 - 27:22
    other people say
    it flies a bit like a brick.
  • 27:25 - 27:26
    But the thing is
  • 27:26 - 27:28
    —I might talk about a
    seriously worried Kakapo—
  • 27:29 - 27:32
    the fact is you’re not likely to find
    a seriously worried Kakapo
  • 27:32 - 27:35
    because Kakapos have not learned to worry.
  • 27:37 - 27:39
    It seems an extraordinary thing to say
  • 27:39 - 27:42
    because worrying is something
    we’re all so terribly good at,
  • 27:43 - 27:45
    and which comes so
    absolutely naturally to us,
  • 27:45 - 27:48
    we think it must be
    as natural as breathing.
  • 27:48 - 27:50
    But it turns out that worrying
  • 27:51 - 27:54
    is simply an acquired
    habit like anything else.
  • 27:57 - 28:01
    It’s something you’re genetically
    disposed to do or not to do.
  • 28:02 - 28:06
    And the thing is that the Kakapo
    grew up in New Zealand
  • 28:07 - 28:14
    which was, until man arrived,
    a country which had no predators.
  • 28:15 - 28:17
    And it’s predators that,
    over a series of generations,
  • 28:17 - 28:20
    will teach you to worry.
  • 28:21 - 28:26
    And if you don’t have predators then the
    need to worry will never occur to you.
  • 28:28 - 28:31
    Now I said earlier, that New Zealand
    turns out to be
  • 28:31 - 28:34
    just a load of gunk that
    came out from under the ocean.
  • 28:35 - 28:36
    And this is why, when it emerged,
  • 28:36 - 28:39
    it didn’t have any life on it at all
    —maybe a few dead fish.
  • 28:45 - 28:49
    So the only animals that
    inhabited New Zealand
  • 28:49 - 28:52
    were the animals
    that could fly there, i.e. birds.
  • 28:52 - 28:54
    There were also
    a couple of species of bats
  • 28:54 - 28:56
    which are mammals, but you get the point.
  • 28:56 - 28:59
    So it was only birds
    that lived on New Zealand.
  • 29:00 - 29:02
    And, in an absence of predators,
  • 29:03 - 29:06
    there was nothing
    for them to worry about.
  • 29:07 - 29:09
    Now it’s very very peculiar for us
    to try and understand this
  • 29:10 - 29:17
    because we have never ever encountered
    an environment with no predators in it.
  • 29:17 - 29:19
    Why not?
  • 29:19 - 29:20
    Because we are predators and because,
  • 29:20 - 29:24
    therefore, if we are in that environment
    it is a predated environment.
  • 29:27 - 29:31
    For the europeans who
    originally arrived in New Zealand,
  • 29:35 - 29:38
    … sorry, that was
    an extraordinary thing to say.
  • 29:39 - 29:42
    Of course there were
    the Māoris before them
  • 29:42 - 29:48
    and before them the Morioris,
    the Māoris ate the Morioris
  • 29:50 - 29:53
    and then the europeans came along.
  • 29:54 - 29:58
    But before all of that happened—as I said—
  • 29:58 - 30:05
    the island had no predators, and the
    birds basically led a worry-free life.
  • 30:05 - 30:09
    Now you can actually see another example
    of this if you go to the Galápagos,
  • 30:09 - 30:12
    there is a type of animal,
    there is a bird on the Galápagos Islands
  • 30:13 - 30:14
    called the Blue-footed Booby.
  • 30:15 - 30:18
    And the Blue-footed Booby is so called
    —I believe—for two reasons:
  • 30:19 - 30:22
    one of which has to do
    with the colour of its feet,
  • 30:23 - 30:26
    and the other has to do with this
    piece of behaviour I’m about to describe.
  • 30:26 - 30:29
    Because, apparently you can
    walk up to a Blue-footed Booby
  • 30:29 - 30:32
    —it will be sitting there on
    the beach or on a branch—
  • 30:32 - 30:36
    and you can walk up and
    you can sort of pick him up.
  • 30:37 - 30:39
    And what the Booby will be thinking
  • 30:40 - 30:42
    is that once you finish with him
    you’ll put him back.
  • 30:54 - 30:55
    And if you haven’t lived
  • 30:55 - 30:58
    through generation after generation
    of people trying to eat you,
  • 30:58 - 31:00
    it’s very easy to come to that conclusion.
  • 31:02 - 31:05
    So the Kakapo, as I say,
  • 31:05 - 31:09
    had grown up in an environment
    without predators.
  • 31:09 - 31:11
    And because they were all birds,
  • 31:11 - 31:17
    and because nature has a way—as I say—
    very opportunistic
  • 31:17 - 31:21
    and life will flow into any niche
    where it’s possible to make a living,
  • 31:22 - 31:25
    so—if I can be very naughty and
    anthropomorphise for a moment—
  • 31:25 - 31:27
    it’s as if some of the birds figured out,
  • 31:27 - 31:32
    “Well, this flying stuff
    is very very expensive.
  • 31:32 - 31:33
    It takes a lot of energy,
  • 31:33 - 31:35
    you have to eat a bit, fly a bit,
  • 31:35 - 31:36
    eat a bit, fly a bit,
  • 31:36 - 31:38
    because every time you
    eat something—you know—
  • 31:38 - 31:40
    you weight down and it’s heavier to fly,
  • 31:40 - 31:41
    so eat a bit, fly a bit—I mean—
  • 31:41 - 31:43
    there are other ways of life available.”
  • 31:43 - 31:45
    And so it’s as if some of the birds said,
  • 31:45 - 31:49
    “Well, actually what we could do is we
    could settle in for a rather larger meal,
  • 31:49 - 31:51
    and go for a waddle afterwards!”
  • 31:56 - 31:59
    And so gradually over many
    many generations
  • 31:59 - 32:02
    a lot of the birds lost
    the ability to fly,
  • 32:02 - 32:03
    they took up life on the ground.
  • 32:04 - 32:07
    The Kiwi, the most famous bird
    —I guess—of New Zealand,
  • 32:07 - 32:13
    and the Weka, and the old night parrot
    —as it was called—the Kakapo.
  • 32:14 - 32:20
    Which is this sort of big, fat,
    soft, fluffy, lugubrious bird.
  • 32:21 - 32:25
    And because it has never learned to worry,
  • 32:26 - 32:28
    when man arrived and brought with him
  • 32:28 - 32:33
    his deadly menagerie of
    dogs, and cats, and stoats,
  • 32:33 - 32:37
    and that most destructive of all animals
  • 32:37 - 32:41
    –other than man—which is
    Rattus rattus, the ship’s rat.
  • 32:42 - 32:47
    Suddenly, suddenly these birds
    were waddling for their lives.
  • 32:49 - 32:51
    Except in fact they
    didn’t know how to do that
  • 32:51 - 32:54
    because they were confronted
    with an animal which was a predator,
  • 32:54 - 32:55
    they didn’t know what to do,
  • 32:55 - 32:57
    they didn’t know what the social form was,
  • 32:57 - 33:00
    they just waited for the other
    animal to make the next move,
  • 33:00 - 33:03
    and of course—as usually—
    a fairly swift and deadly one.
  • 33:05 - 33:10
    So, suddenly from there
    being a population of
  • 33:11 - 33:13
    —we don’t know exactly of how many—
  • 33:13 - 33:15
    probably not as many as a million,
  • 33:15 - 33:17
    but hundreds of thousands of these birds,
  • 33:17 - 33:22
    their population plunged at an incredible
    rate down into the low forties.
  • 33:22 - 33:27
    Which is roughly where it is
    at the moment.
  • 33:28 - 33:34
    And, so there are groups of people
    who dedicated their entire lives
  • 33:35 - 33:38
    to try to save these animals,
    trying to conserve them.
  • 33:39 - 33:42
    And one of the problems
    they’ve come across
  • 33:42 - 33:45
    is that it’s all very well
    just to protect them
  • 33:45 - 33:49
    —from predators—which is
    very very very hard to do.
  • 33:49 - 33:52
    But the next problem they come across
  • 33:52 - 33:56
    is the mating habits of the Kakapo.
  • 33:56 - 33:59
    Because it turns out that
    the mating habits of the Kakapo
  • 33:59 - 34:01
    are incredibly long drawn-out,
  • 34:01 - 34:02
    fantastically complicated,
  • 34:03 - 34:05
    and almost entirely ineffective.
  • 34:09 - 34:12
    Some people would tell you
    that the mating call of the male Kakapo
  • 34:12 - 34:15
    actively repels the female Kakapo,
  • 34:15 - 34:17
    which is the sort of behaviour
  • 34:17 - 34:19
    you would otherwise only find
    really in discotheques.
  • 34:26 - 34:30
    The people who’ve heard the
    mating call of the male Kakapo
  • 34:31 - 34:36
    will tell you, you can hardly
    even hear it,
  • 34:36 - 34:41
    it’s like a sort of …
    I’ll tell you what they do.
  • 34:42 - 34:47
    This animal every—for about a hundred
    nights of the year—
  • 34:48 - 34:50
    it goes through its mating ritual.
  • 34:50 - 34:54
    And what it does is it finds
    some great rocky outcrop
  • 34:56 - 35:00
    looking out over the great
    rolling valleys of New Zealand,
  • 35:00 - 35:03
    because acoustics are very important
    for what's about to happen.
  • 35:07 - 35:11
    It carves out this kind
    of bowl that it sits in.
  • 35:12 - 35:13
    And it sits there,
  • 35:14 - 35:19
    and it puffs out this great sort
    of air-sacks around its chest.
  • 35:20 - 35:21
    And it sits there
  • 35:22 - 35:26
    —and these are reverberation chambers,
    this is a kind of reverberation chamber—
  • 35:26 - 35:30
    and it sits there and for
    night after night after night
  • 35:30 - 35:31
    for a hundred nights of the year,
  • 35:31 - 35:33
    for eight hours of the night,
  • 35:33 - 35:37
    it performs the opening bars
    of Dark Side of the Moon.
  • 35:45 - 35:51
    Now, I see some grey hairs here
    so you’ll know the album I’m referring to.
  • 35:53 - 35:56
    Which as you remember starts with
  • 35:56 - 35:59
    this great sort of boom, boom, boom,
  • 36:00 - 36:02
    it’s a heartbeat sound.
  • 36:02 - 36:05
    And this is the noise,
    that the Kakapo makes.
  • 36:06 - 36:08
    But it’s so, it’s so deep,
  • 36:08 - 36:11
    that you more kind of feel it like a
    wobble in the pit of your stomach.
  • 36:11 - 36:15
    You can only just sort of
    tune your hearing in to it.
  • 36:15 - 36:17
    Now I never managed to get to hear it,
  • 36:17 - 36:23
    but those who do, say they feel
    it’s a very eerie sound
  • 36:23 - 36:27
    because you don’t really hear it,
    you more kind of feel it.
  • 36:27 - 36:32
    And, it’s bass sound.
  • 36:33 - 36:35
    It’s very very deep bass sound,
  • 36:35 - 36:37
    just below our level of our hearing.
  • 36:37 - 36:40
    Now it turns out that bass sound
    has two important characteristics to it.
  • 36:41 - 36:47
    One of which is that
    these great long waves,
  • 36:47 - 36:50
    these great long sound waves
    travel great distances,
  • 36:50 - 36:54
    and they fill these great valleys
    of the south island of New Zealand.
  • 36:54 - 36:57
    And that’s good. That’s good.
  • 36:58 - 37:03
    But there is another characteristic
    of bass sounds,
  • 37:03 - 37:05
    which you may be familiar with,
  • 37:05 - 37:08
    if you’ve got this kind of—you know—
    the kind of stereo speakers you can get.
  • 37:09 - 37:12
    Where you have two tiny little ones
    that give you your treble sound,
  • 37:12 - 37:16
    and you have to put them
    very carefully in the room,
  • 37:16 - 37:18
    because they’re going to
    define the stereo image.
  • 37:19 - 37:21
    And then you have
    what’s known as a subwoofer
  • 37:21 - 37:25
    which is the bass box,
    and that’s going to produce
  • 37:25 - 37:29
    just the bass sound and you can
    put that anywhere in the room you like.
  • 37:30 - 37:32
    You can put it behind the sofa
    if you like,
  • 37:32 - 37:34
    because the other
    characteristic of bass sound
  • 37:34 - 37:37
    —and remember we’re talking about
    the mating call of the male Kakapo—
  • 37:37 - 37:40
    is that you can’t tell
    where it’s coming from!
  • 37:54 - 37:55
    So just imagine if you will,
  • 37:57 - 38:00
    this male Kakapo sitting up here,
  • 38:01 - 38:06
    making all this booming noise which,
  • 38:06 - 38:12
    if there’s a female out there
    —which there probably isn’t—
  • 38:12 - 38:16
    and if she likes the sound of this booming
    —which she probably doesn’t—
  • 38:18 - 38:21
    then she can’t find the
    person who’s making it!
  • 38:24 - 38:25
    But supposing she does,
  • 38:25 - 38:28
    supposing she’s out there
    —but she probably isn’t—
  • 38:28 - 38:30
    she likes the sound of this booming
    —she probably doesn’t—
  • 38:30 - 38:33
    supposing that she can find him
    —which she probably can’t—
  • 38:34 - 38:39
    she will then only consent to mate
    if the Podocarp tree is in fruit!
  • 38:47 - 38:49
    Now we’ve all had
    relationships like that …
  • 39:01 - 39:06
    But supposing they get through
    all those obstacles,
  • 39:06 - 39:08
    supposing she manages to find him,
  • 39:09 - 39:13
    she will then lay one egg
    every two or three years
  • 39:14 - 39:16
    which will promptly get eaten
    by a stoat or rat.
  • 39:18 - 39:19
    And you think, well so far
  • 39:19 - 39:22
    —before trying to sort of
    save them and conserve them—
  • 39:22 - 39:25
    how on earth has it managed
    to survive for this long!
  • 39:27 - 39:33
    And the answer is terribly interesting,
    which is this:
  • 39:34 - 39:37
    it seems like absurd behaviour to us,
  • 39:39 - 39:43
    but it’s only because its environment has
    changed in one particular and dramatic way
  • 39:45 - 39:47
    that is completely invisible to us.
  • 39:48 - 39:54
    And its behaviour is perfectly attuned
    to the environment it developed in,
  • 39:54 - 39:58
    and completely out of tune with
    the environment it now finds itself in.
  • 39:59 - 40:04
    Because in an environment
    when nothing is trying to predate you,
  • 40:05 - 40:07
    you don’t want to reproduce too fast.
  • 40:10 - 40:13
    And it turns out you can actually
    sort of graph this on a computer.
  • 40:14 - 40:18
    That if you take a given
    reproduction rate,
  • 40:19 - 40:24
    and you take the ability of
    any given environment
  • 40:24 - 40:26
    to sustain any particular
    level of population.
  • 40:28 - 40:31
    And you start say with
    a fairly low reproduction rate,
  • 40:31 - 40:33
    and you just plot it
    over several generations
  • 40:33 - 40:36
    and you find that the population
    goes up and up and up
  • 40:36 - 40:39
    and then sort of steadies out
    and achieves a nice plateau.
  • 40:39 - 40:41
    Tweak the reproduction rate up a bit,
  • 40:41 - 40:43
    and it goes up a little bit higher,
  • 40:43 - 40:46
    and then maybe settles down,
    and levels out.
  • 40:47 - 40:49
    Tweak the reproduction rate
    a little bit higher yet,
  • 40:49 - 40:52
    and it goes up, and it goes too high,
  • 40:52 - 40:54
    and it drops down, it goes too low,
  • 40:54 - 40:57
    goes up, too high, and settles
    into an oscillating sine wave.
  • 40:58 - 41:02
    Tweak it a bit more, and it starts to
    oscillate between four different values.
  • 41:02 - 41:04
    Tweak it more and more and more
  • 41:04 - 41:07
    and you suddenly hit this terribly
    fashionable condition called chaos.
  • 41:08 - 41:16
    Where the population of the animal just
    swings wildly from one year to another,
  • 41:18 - 41:19
    and will just hit zero at one point
  • 41:19 - 41:22
    just out of the sheer mathematics
    of the situation.
  • 41:22 - 41:25
    And once you’ve hit zero,
    there is kind of no coming back.
  • 41:27 - 41:30
    And so, because nature
    tends to be very parsimonious
  • 41:31 - 41:35
    and is not going to expend
    energy and resources
  • 41:35 - 41:37
    on something for which there is no return.
  • 41:37 - 41:46
    So the reproduction rate of an animal
    in an environment with no predators
  • 41:46 - 41:51
    will tune itself to an
    appropriate level of reproduction.
  • 41:51 - 41:54
    Now, if there is nothing trying
    to eat you—particularly—
  • 41:54 - 41:56
    then that reproduction rate
    will be very low.
  • 41:57 - 42:00
    And that is the rate at which
    the Kakapo used to reproduce,
  • 42:01 - 42:04
    and continues to reproduce
    despite the fact that it’s being predated,
  • 42:04 - 42:06
    because it doesn’t know any better.
  • 42:06 - 42:10
    Because nothing has managed to teach it
    anything different along the way,
  • 42:10 - 42:13
    because the change that occurred
    happened so suddenly,
  • 42:13 - 42:15
    that there is no kind of slope,
  • 42:15 - 42:19
    there is no slope of gradual
    evolutionary pressure,
  • 42:20 - 42:22
    which is the thing that tends
    to bring about change.
  • 42:22 - 42:24
    If you have a sudden dramatic change
  • 42:24 - 42:28
    then there is no direction to go
    and you just have disaster.
  • 42:28 - 42:32
    So, again if I can anthropomorphize
    for a moment,
  • 42:32 - 42:39
    what seems to have happened
    is that the animal
  • 42:40 - 42:42
    suddenly reaching a crisis
    in his population thinks,
  • 42:42 - 42:44
    “Whoa, whoa! I better just do, do,
  • 42:44 - 42:47
    what I do fantastically well,
    do what is my main thing,
  • 42:47 - 42:49
    which is I reproduce
    really really slowly!”
  • 42:50 - 42:51
    And its population goes down.
  • 42:51 - 42:53
    “Well, I’d better really do what I do,
  • 42:53 - 42:56
    and reproduce really really really
    really slowly!”
  • 42:56 - 43:03
    And it seems absurd to us because
    we can see a larger picture than they can.
  • 43:04 - 43:11
    But if that is the type of behaviour that
    you’ve evolved successfully to produce,
  • 43:11 - 43:14
    then to do anything else would be
    against kakapo-nature,
  • 43:14 - 43:17
    would be an inkakapo thing to do.
  • 43:19 - 43:26
    And it has nothing to teach it any other
    than to just do what it’s always done,
  • 43:26 - 43:28
    to follow its successful strategy,
  • 43:28 - 43:30
    and because times have changed around it,
  • 43:30 - 43:34
    it’s no longer a successful strategy,
    and the animal is in terrible trouble.
  • 43:38 - 43:40
    There is another animal we went to find,
  • 43:40 - 43:43
    it is in even worse trouble now.
  • 43:44 - 43:50
    And this is the Baiji,
    the Yangtze River Dolphin,
  • 43:51 - 43:55
    which is an almost blind river dolphin.
  • 43:56 - 43:58
    The reason it’s almost blind,
  • 43:58 - 44:01
    is that there is nothing to see
    in the Yangtze River.
  • 44:04 - 44:07
    Thousands and thousands
    of years of agriculture
  • 44:08 - 44:09
    along the banks of the Yangtze River
  • 44:09 - 44:13
    have washed so much mud
    and silt and so on into it,
  • 44:14 - 44:16
    that the river has become
    completely turbid.
  • 44:17 - 44:19
    Which is a word I didn’t even
    know the meaning of
  • 44:19 - 44:21
    until I saw the Yangtze River,
  • 44:21 - 44:23
    and basically
    you can’t see anything in it.
  • 44:25 - 44:29
    So these animals, dolphins as I said,
  • 44:29 - 44:34
    gradually they abandoned the use of sight.
  • 44:34 - 44:42
    Now—as we all know—marine mammals also
    have this other faculty available to them,
  • 44:42 - 44:45
    which they can develop,
    which is that of sound.
  • 44:45 - 44:51
    And so what the Yangtze River Dolphins did
    was over thousands of years,
  • 44:51 - 44:54
    as their eye sight deteriorated,
  • 44:54 - 45:01
    so their sonar abilities became
    more and more and more sophisticated,
  • 45:01 - 45:03
    and more powerful and more complex.
  • 45:03 - 45:07
    And it’s very interesting, you can
    actually watch—if you feel like it—
  • 45:08 - 45:11
    the development of a Baiji foetus,
  • 45:13 - 45:17
    and you’ll see that right at
    —as you may or may not know—
  • 45:17 - 45:20
    there is a certain amount
    of truth in the idea
  • 45:21 - 45:26
    that the development of the foetus
    recapitulates stages
  • 45:26 - 45:28
    in the evolutionary development
    of an animal.
  • 45:28 - 45:31
    And you see, right at the beginning of
    the development of the foetus,
  • 45:31 - 45:33
    its eyes are in the normal
    dolphin position,
  • 45:33 - 45:37
    which are kind of relatively far down
    on the side of the head.
  • 45:37 - 45:40
    And gradually,
    as the generations have gone by,
  • 45:40 - 45:43
    its eyes have kind of migrated
    up the side of the head,
  • 45:43 - 45:45
    and you see this happening
    as the foetus develops.
  • 45:45 - 45:49
    Because gradually, over the generations,
  • 45:49 - 45:52
    its only light is coming
    directly from up above
  • 45:52 - 45:54
    and there is no ambient light and then,
  • 45:54 - 45:58
    as that too dies out, so
    the eyes gradually atrophied.
  • 45:58 - 46:05
    And, instead, the sonar abilities
    take over.
  • 46:05 - 46:08
    And these animals developed
    incredibly sensitive,
  • 46:08 - 46:12
    and incredibly precise abilities
    to navigate themselves around
  • 46:12 - 46:14
    in the water just using sonar.
  • 46:15 - 46:16
    And all is well and good.
  • 46:18 - 46:21
    Until the twentieth century
    when man invents the diesel engine.
  • 46:23 - 46:27
    And suddenly all hell breaks loose
    beneath the surface of the Yangtze,
  • 46:28 - 46:30
    because it’s suddenly full of noise.
  • 46:31 - 46:37
    And so, suddenly these animals find
    themselves trapped by something that they
  • 46:38 - 46:40
    —that nobody had any means of foreseeing—
  • 46:40 - 46:42
    that the thing they now rely on
  • 46:42 - 46:43
    has been completely overwhelmed
  • 46:43 - 46:47
    by the noise pollution
    that we put in the oceans.
  • 46:47 - 46:51
    So suddenly these animals
  • 46:51 - 46:53
    that used to be so sophisticated
  • 46:53 - 46:55
    in their ability to find
    their way around,
  • 46:55 - 46:58
    are sort of bumping into things,
    bumping into boats,
  • 46:58 - 46:59
    bumping into ships’ propellers,
  • 46:59 - 47:03
    finding themselves ensnared
    in fishermen’s nets and so on,
  • 47:03 - 47:06
    because we basically screwed up
    the next of their faculties.
  • 47:08 - 47:10
    And it’s a very curious feeling,
  • 47:11 - 47:18
    I remember sort of sitting on a boat
    on the Yangtze River and looking,
  • 47:19 - 47:20
    well trying to look into
  • 47:20 - 47:24
    —you couldn’t look into cause it’s turbid
    and you remember what turbid means—
  • 47:24 - 47:30
    and realising that all this noise
    down there means that …
  • 47:31 - 47:34
    It’s very curious to think that
  • 47:34 - 47:37
    there may have been a
    dolphin somewhere near me
  • 47:37 - 47:40
    —I didn’t know, I mean by this stage,
    this was ten years ago,
  • 47:40 - 47:42
    there were only two hundred left
  • 47:42 - 47:45
    in a structure of water of about
    two hundred miles long,
  • 47:45 - 47:47
    so you had no idea if
    there was one anywhere near you—
  • 47:47 - 47:51
    but it’s curious because you
    think if you and another person,
  • 47:51 - 47:55
    another creature,
    are kind of in the same world,
  • 47:55 - 47:57
    then you must be feeling roughly similar.
  • 47:59 - 48:01
    But one of the things you begin to
    realise when you look at different animals
  • 48:01 - 48:06
    is that because of their
    evolutionary history,
  • 48:06 - 48:09
    and because of the forms
    they have developed into,
  • 48:10 - 48:13
    and the ways they have developed
    of perceiving the world,
  • 48:13 - 48:16
    they may be inhabiting the same world
  • 48:16 - 48:18
    but actually a completely
    different universe.
  • 48:19 - 48:22
    But actually a completely different
    universe because you create
  • 48:22 - 48:28
    your only own universe from what you do
    with the sensory data coming in.
  • 48:28 - 48:34
    So, you realise that you’re here,
    and there is a dolphin there,
  • 48:34 - 48:38
    and you’re comfortable, and the dolphin
    may be actually in a species of hell.
  • 48:39 - 48:41
    But has no means of communicating that
    with you
  • 48:41 - 48:45
    because we’ve kind of taken charge,
  • 48:45 - 48:48
    and there is no way of kind of
    communicating with the management,
  • 48:48 - 48:50
    that there’s a problem.
  • 48:54 - 49:00
    So, I suddenly became very interested in
    what it must actually sound like
  • 49:00 - 49:02
    in the Yangtze River.
  • 49:03 - 49:08
    Now, we’ve gone to record some
    BBC Radio programmes while we were there,
  • 49:08 - 49:11
    so as well as Mark Carwardine
    the zoologist,
  • 49:11 - 49:13
    we also had a sound recordist
    from the BBC.
  • 49:14 - 49:15
    So I said to him,
  • 49:16 - 49:19
    “Could we actually drop
    a microphone into the Yangtze
  • 49:19 - 49:22
    so that we can see what
    it actually sounds like in the river?”
  • 49:23 - 49:24
    And he said,
  • 49:25 - 49:28
    “Well I wish you'd said that
    before we left London.”
  • 49:28 - 49:29
    And I said, “Why?”
  • 49:29 - 49:32
    And he said, “Well, cause I just could
    have checked out
  • 49:32 - 49:34
    a waterproof microphone but, you know,
  • 49:34 - 49:37
    you didn’t mention anything
    about recording under water.”
  • 49:38 - 49:41
    And I said, “No, I didn’t.
    Is there anything we could do about it?”
  • 49:41 - 49:45
    And he said, “Well there is, there is
    actually one technique
  • 49:45 - 49:49
    they teach us at the BBC for recording
    under water in an emergency.
  • 49:57 - 49:59
    Do either of you have condoms with you?”
  • 50:02 - 50:05
    And we didn’t. Wasn’t that kind of trip.
  • 50:09 - 50:11
    But we decided we’d better
    go and buy some.
  • 50:12 - 50:16
    And so we went into the streets of
    Shanghai trying to buy some condoms,
  • 50:16 - 50:19
    and I just want to read you
    a little passage about this.
  • 50:27 - 50:30
    The Friendship Store seemed like
    a promising place to buy condoms,
  • 50:31 - 50:35
    but we had a certain amount of
    difficulty in getting the idea across.
  • 50:36 - 50:40
    We passed from one counter to another
    in the large open-plan department store,
  • 50:40 - 50:43
    which consists of many
    different individual booths,
  • 50:43 - 50:45
    stalls and counters,
    but no one was able to help us.
  • 50:46 - 50:50
    We first started at the stalls which
    looked as if they sold medical supplies,
  • 50:50 - 50:51
    but had no luck.
  • 50:51 - 50:53
    By the time we had got to the stalls
  • 50:53 - 50:55
    which sold bookends and chopsticks
  • 50:55 - 50:56
    we knew we were on to a loser,
  • 50:56 - 50:59
    but at least we found a young
    shop assistant who spoke English.
  • 51:00 - 51:03
    We tried to explain to her
    what it was we wanted,
  • 51:04 - 51:07
    but seemed to reach the limit
    of her vocabulary pretty quickly.
  • 51:09 - 51:12
    So, I got out my notebook
    and drew a condom very carefully,
  • 51:13 - 51:15
    including the little
    extra balloon on the end.
  • 51:16 - 51:19
    She frowned at it,
    but still didn’t get the idea.
  • 51:19 - 51:21
    She brought us a wooden spoon,
  • 51:23 - 51:27
    a candle, a sort of paper knife and,
    surprisingly enough,
  • 51:27 - 51:30
    a small porcelain model
    of the Eiffel Tower
  • 51:37 - 51:40
    and then at last lapsed
    into a posture of defeat.
  • 51:41 - 51:44
    Some other girls from the stall
    gathered round to help,
  • 51:44 - 51:46
    but they were also defeated
    by our picture.
  • 51:47 - 51:50
    At last I plucked up the bravado
    to perform a delicate little mime,
  • 52:03 - 52:05
    and at last the penny dropped.
  • 52:08 - 52:12
    “Ah!” the first girl said, suddenly
    wreathed in smiles. “Ah yes!”
  • 52:13 - 52:15
    They all beamed delightedly
    at us as they got the idea.
  • 52:16 - 52:18
    -“You do understand?” l asked.
  • 52:18 - 52:19
    -“Yes! Yes, I understand.”
  • 52:20 - 52:21
    -“Do you have any?”
  • 52:21 - 52:23
    -“No,” she said. “Not have.”
  • 52:23 - 52:24
    -“Oh.”
  • 52:24 - 52:25
    -“But, but, but …”
  • 52:25 - 52:25
    -“Yes?”
  • 52:27 - 52:29
    -“I say you where you go, OK?”
  • 52:30 - 52:31
    -“Thank you, thank you very much. Yes.”
  • 52:32 - 52:36
    -“You go 616 Nanjing Road. OK.
    They have there.
  • 52:36 - 52:38
    You ask ‘rubberover’. OK?”
  • 52:38 - 52:40
    -“Rubberover?”
  • 52:40 - 52:43
    -“Rubberover. You ask.
    They have. OK. Have nice day.”
  • 52:48 - 52:51
    She giggled happily about this
    with her hand over her mouth.
  • 52:53 - 52:56
    We thanked them again, profusely,
    and left with much waving and smiling.
  • 52:56 - 52:59
    The news seemed to have spread
    very quickly around the store,
  • 52:59 - 53:01
    and everybody waved at us.
  • 53:03 - 53:05
    They seemed terribly pleased
    to have been asked.
  • 53:08 - 53:12
    When we reached 616 Nanjing Road,
    which turned out to be another,
  • 53:12 - 53:14
    smaller department store, and not a
    knocking shop
  • 53:14 - 53:16
    as we had been half-suspecting,
  • 53:16 - 53:19
    our pronunciation of ‘rubberover’
    seemed to let us down
  • 53:19 - 53:21
    and produce another wave
    of baffled incomprehension.
  • 53:22 - 53:26
    This time I went straight for the mime
    that had served us so well before,
  • 53:31 - 53:33
    and it seemed to do the trick at once.
  • 53:34 - 53:38
    The shop assistant, a slightly more
    middle-aged lady with severe hair,
  • 53:39 - 53:41
    marched straight to a cabinet of drawers,
  • 53:41 - 53:43
    brought us back a packet and placed it
  • 53:43 - 53:45
    triumphantly on the counter
    in front of us.
  • 53:46 - 53:48
    Success, we thought, opened the packet
  • 53:49 - 53:51
    and found it to contain
    a bubble sheet of pills.
  • 53:54 - 53:57
    “Right idea,” said Mark,
    with a sigh. “Wrong method.”
  • 54:07 - 54:08
    We were quickly floundering again
  • 54:08 - 54:11
    as we tried to explain to
    the now slightly affronted lady
  • 54:11 - 54:13
    that it wasn’t precisely
    what we were after.
  • 54:13 - 54:17
    By this time a crowd of about fifteen
    onlookers had gathered round us,
  • 54:18 - 54:19
    some of whom, I was convinced,
  • 54:20 - 54:22
    had followed us all the way
    from the Friendship Store.
  • 54:23 - 54:25
    One of the things that
    you quickly discover in China,
  • 54:25 - 54:27
    is that we are all at the zoo.
  • 54:28 - 54:30
    If you stand still for a moment,
  • 54:30 - 54:32
    people will gather round and stare at you.
  • 54:33 - 54:37
    The unnerving thing is that they
    don’t stare intently or inquisitively,
  • 54:37 - 54:39
    they just stand there,
    often right in front of you,
  • 54:40 - 54:43
    and watch you as blankly
    as if you were a dog food commercial.
  • 54:49 - 54:52
    At last one young and
    pasty-faced man with glasses
  • 54:52 - 54:56
    pushed through the crowd and said he
    spoke a little English and could he help?
  • 54:56 - 54:59
    We thanked him and said, yes,
    we wanted to buy some condoms,
  • 55:00 - 55:04
    some rubberovers, and we would be very
    grateful if he could explain that for us.
  • 55:05 - 55:06
    He looked puzzled,
  • 55:08 - 55:11
    picked up the rejected packet
    lying on the counter
  • 55:11 - 55:13
    in front of the affronted
    shop assistant and said,
  • 55:13 - 55:15
    “Not want rubberover. This better.”
  • 55:19 - 55:20
    “No,” Mark said.
  • 55:20 - 55:23
    “We definitely want rubberover,
    not pills.”
  • 55:24 - 55:26
    “Why want rubberover? Pill better.”
  • 55:29 - 55:31
    “You tell him,” said Mark.
  • 55:35 - 55:37
    “It’s to record dolphins,” I said.
  • 55:45 - 55:47
    “Or not the actual dolphins in fact.
  • 55:47 - 55:50
    What we want to record is
    the noise in the Yangtze that …
  • 55:50 - 55:52
    it’s to go over the microphone,
    you see, and …”
  • 55:53 - 55:56
    “Oh, just tell him you want
    to fuck someone,”
  • 55:56 - 55:57
    said the sound recordist.
  • 55:57 - 55:59
    “And you can’t wait.”
  • 56:07 - 56:10
    But by now the young man was edging
    nervously away from us,
  • 56:10 - 56:12
    suddenly realising that
    we were dangerously insane,
  • 56:13 - 56:15
    and should simply be humoured
    and escaped from.
  • 56:16 - 56:19
    He said something hurriedly
    to the shop assistant
  • 56:19 - 56:21
    and backed away into the crowd.
  • 56:22 - 56:24
    The shop assistant shrugged,
    scooped up the pills,
  • 56:24 - 56:27
    opened another drawer
    and pulled out a packet of condoms.
  • 56:28 - 56:30
    We bought nine, just to be safe.
  • 56:42 - 56:43
    So a couple of days later
  • 56:43 - 56:45
    we were standing
    on the banks of the Yangtze,
  • 56:46 - 56:49
    on a very desperate drizzly grey day.
  • 56:50 - 56:53
    And we put the microphone
    in this little sort of pink thing,
  • 56:56 - 56:58
    and dropped it into the water.
  • 56:59 - 57:03
    And, I don’t usually do impressions
  • 57:03 - 57:06
    but I’m going to do for you an impression
  • 57:06 - 57:11
    of what it sounds like
    under the surface of the Yangtze River.
  • 57:11 - 57:13
    And it’s something like this
  • 57:16 - 57:18
    The Yangtze River ladies and gentleman.
  • 57:23 - 57:28
    And, I suddenly realised
    what an appalling thing
  • 57:28 - 57:31
    we’ve inflicted on these poor animals,
  • 57:31 - 57:37
    that live in a world of super
    sensitive sound and hearing.
  • 57:38 - 57:43
    And this was why these animals
    were now desperately endangered
  • 57:44 - 57:48
    because having removed
    one way of life from them
  • 57:48 - 57:50
    we were now removing a second.
  • 57:52 - 57:55
    The problem is
    we’re about to remove a third,
  • 57:55 - 57:59
    I said that when I was
    there it was ten years ago,
  • 57:59 - 58:01
    there were two hundreds of these left,
  • 58:01 - 58:02
    today there are twenty.
  • 58:04 - 58:11
    And because the Chinese
    are building these giant dams
  • 58:11 - 58:14
    to dam the Yangtze at one
  • 58:15 - 58:18
    of the most beautiful and most
    spectacular sites in all world,
  • 58:18 - 58:22
    the Three Gorges,
    and they’re damming it there
  • 58:22 - 58:28
    which means that the Yangtze Dolphin
    will at that point definitely go extinct.
  • 58:30 - 58:32
    And it’s terribly sad.
  • 58:33 - 58:35
    The peculiar thing about dams
  • 58:37 - 58:39
    is that we keep on building them
  • 58:39 - 58:41
    and none of them ever do any good.
  • 58:41 - 58:42
    It’s not quite true,
  • 58:43 - 58:44
    because unfortunately there are
  • 58:44 - 58:46
    —in the history of dam-making—
  • 58:46 - 58:48
    two that did work, one is the Hoover
  • 58:48 - 58:55
    and the other is the one up in the
    pacific northwest, the Coulee Dam.
  • 58:55 - 58:58
    And every other one doesn’t work.
  • 59:00 - 59:04
    And for some reason we never
    manage to be able to quite stop us …
  • 59:04 - 59:06
    we always think we just build one more.
  • 59:06 - 59:09
    I think must have some sort
    of beaver genes deep in our …
  • 59:11 - 59:15
    But the sad thing as I say is that
    the Yangtze River dolphin
  • 59:15 - 59:19
    is definitely and without doubt
    bound for extinction.
  • 59:21 - 59:26
    And, it’s very peculiar to me
  • 59:28 - 59:32
    that we are living at the moment
    in an extraordinary age,
  • 59:33 - 59:34
    an extraordinary renaissance,
  • 59:38 - 59:43
    because we’ve got to the point
  • 59:43 - 59:46
    when we suddenly understand
    the value of information,
  • 59:46 - 59:47
    as we never have before.
  • 59:47 - 59:50
    We call the age we live in
    that of information.
  • 59:50 - 59:52
    And we’ve discovered that information is
  • 59:52 - 59:56
    the most valuable resource we have.
  • 59:59 - 60:03
    And as you’d know
    we’ve just spent billions of dollars
  • 60:04 - 60:07
    —quite rightly—in trying to
    understand the human genome,
  • 60:11 - 60:15
    and that’s just one species,
    that’s just us.
  • 60:15 - 60:17
    And we’ve come to understand and
  • 60:17 - 60:19
    realise how incredibly valuable
    this information is.
  • 60:22 - 60:25
    And we’ve never understood kind of
  • 60:25 - 60:26
    how it all worked together before,
  • 60:27 - 60:30
    because before we had …
  • 60:30 - 60:31
    let me put it this way.
  • 60:32 - 60:34
    In the past we’ve done science
  • 60:35 - 60:36
    by taking things apart
  • 60:37 - 60:38
    to see how they work.
  • 60:39 - 60:42
    And it’s led to extraordinary discoveries,
  • 60:42 - 60:44
    extraordinary degrees of understanding,
  • 60:45 - 60:48
    but the problem with taking things apart
    to see how they work
  • 60:49 - 60:52
    is even though it gets you
    down to the sort of fundamental particles,
  • 60:53 - 60:56
    the fundamental principles,
    the fundamental forces at work,
  • 60:57 - 61:00
    we still don’t really understand
    how they work
  • 61:00 - 61:02
    until we see them in motion.
  • 61:03 - 61:04
    One of the things that came about
  • 61:05 - 61:08
    as a result of understanding
    these fundamental principles,
  • 61:08 - 61:11
    is that we came to invent
    this thing called the computer.
  • 61:11 - 61:13
    And the great thing
    about the computer is that,
  • 61:13 - 61:17
    unlike every previous analytical tool
  • 61:18 - 61:19
    —and there are a bit …
  • 61:19 - 61:21
    it’s funny how many of these
    have to do with glass,
  • 61:22 - 61:28
    when we first came across glass,
    which is a form of sand,
  • 61:29 - 61:33
    and we invented lenses,
    and we looked up into the sky,
  • 61:33 - 61:37
    And we discovered, from that,
    the fundamental…
  • 61:37 - 61:38
    by studying the sky
  • 61:38 - 61:41
    we began to discover fundamental
    things about gravity,
  • 61:44 - 61:48
    and we also discovered that
    the universe seems to consist
  • 61:48 - 61:51
    —terrifyingly enough—
    almost entirely of nothing.
  • 61:53 - 61:57
    The next thing we did with glass
    was we put them in microscopes,
  • 61:58 - 62:04
    and we looked down into this very
    very very solid world around us,
  • 62:05 - 62:09
    and we see the fundamental
    particles there, the atoms
  • 62:09 - 62:15
    —made up of protons and neutrons
    with electrons spinning around them—
  • 62:15 - 62:17
    and we also discover that
    they seem to consist
  • 62:17 - 62:20
    frighteningly almost entirely of nothing.
  • 62:21 - 62:23
    And that even when you do find something
  • 62:23 - 62:25
    it turns out that it isn’t actually there,
  • 62:25 - 62:26
    it isn’t actually a thing there,
  • 62:26 - 62:30
    merely the possibility that
    there may be something there.
  • 62:33 - 62:35
    It kind of doesn’t feel as real as this
  • 62:38 - 62:42
    So the next thing
    we do with sand was silicon,
  • 62:42 - 62:44
    as we create the computer.
  • 62:45 - 62:49
    And this finally enables us
    to start putting things together
  • 62:49 - 62:50
    to see how they work.
  • 62:51 - 62:55
    And it allows us to see
    actual process at work,
  • 62:55 - 62:59
    and we begin to see how very
    very simple things lead inexorably
  • 63:00 - 63:01
    —by iteration after iteration—
  • 63:02 - 63:07
    to enormously complex processes
    emerging and blossoming.
  • 63:07 - 63:12
    And to my mind one of the
    most extraordinary things of our age
  • 63:12 - 63:15
    —I mean those of us who
    were around will remember,
  • 63:15 - 63:18
    you know, seeing man walking
    on the moon for the first time—
  • 63:18 - 63:23
    but I think the most dramatic
    and extraordinary thing
  • 63:23 - 63:25
    that we have seen in our time
  • 63:25 - 63:27
    is being able to see, on computer screens,
  • 63:27 - 63:34
    the process by which enormously
    simple primitive things,
  • 63:34 - 63:38
    processes, instructions,
    repeated many many times over,
  • 63:39 - 63:43
    very very fast, and iterated over
    generations of instructions,
  • 63:43 - 63:46
    produce enormously complex results.
  • 63:47 - 63:51
    So that we can suddenly start to create,
  • 63:51 - 63:55
    just out of fundamentally
    simple primitive instructions,
  • 63:56 - 64:03
    we can create the way in
    which wind behaves in a wind tunnel,
  • 64:03 - 64:04
    a turbulence of wind,
  • 64:05 - 64:10
    we can see how light might dance
    in an imaginary dinosaur’s eye.
  • 64:11 - 64:15
    And we do it all out of
    fundamentally simple instructions.
  • 64:16 - 64:18
    And as a result of that
    we have finally come
  • 64:18 - 64:25
    to an understanding of the way
    in which life has actually emerged.
  • 64:25 - 64:28
    Now, there are an awful lot of things
    we don’t know about life.
  • 64:29 - 64:31
    But any life scientist will tell you that,
  • 64:33 - 64:35
    although there is an awful lot
    we don’t know,
  • 64:37 - 64:40
    there is no longer a deep mystery.
  • 64:40 - 64:42
    There is no longer a deep mystery
  • 64:42 - 64:45
    because we have actually seen
    with our own eyes
  • 64:45 - 64:49
    the way in which simplicity
    gives rise to complexity.
  • 64:50 - 64:52
    When I say there is no mystery
  • 64:52 - 64:53
    it is rather as if you imagine
  • 64:57 - 65:00
    taking a detective from the 19th century,
  • 65:00 - 65:04
    teaming him up with a detective
    from the late 20th century,
  • 65:05 - 65:07
    and giving them this problem to work on:
  • 65:07 - 65:10
    that a suspect in a crime
  • 65:10 - 65:14
    was seen one day to be
    walking down the street
  • 65:15 - 65:16
    in the middle of London,
  • 65:16 - 65:17
    and the next day
  • 65:17 - 65:18
    was seen somewhere out in the desert
  • 65:18 - 65:20
    in the middle of New Mexico.
  • 65:20 - 65:22
    Now the 19th century detective will say,
  • 65:22 - 65:24
    “Well, I haven’t the faintest idea.
  • 65:25 - 65:27
    I mean it must be some species
    of magic has happened.”
  • 65:28 - 65:30
    And he would have no idea
  • 65:30 - 65:32
    about how to begin to solve
  • 65:32 - 65:34
    what has happened here.
  • 65:34 - 65:36
    For the 20th century detective,
  • 65:36 - 65:39
    now he may never know whether the guy
  • 65:39 - 65:42
    went on British Airways
    or United or American
  • 65:42 - 65:45
    or where he hired his car from,
    or all that kind of stuff,
  • 65:45 - 65:47
    he may never find those details,
  • 65:48 - 65:51
    but there wont be any fundamental mystery
    about what has happened.
  • 65:53 - 65:58
    So for us there is no longer
    a fundamental mystery about life.
  • 65:59 - 66:04
    It is all the process of extraordinary
    eruptions of information.
  • 66:06 - 66:07
    And it's information that gives us
  • 66:07 - 66:12
    this fantastically rich
    complex world in which we live.
  • 66:12 - 66:15
    But at the same time
    that we’ve discovered that,
  • 66:15 - 66:18
    we are destroying it at a rate
  • 66:18 - 66:20
    that has no precedent in history,
  • 66:20 - 66:24
    unless you go back to the point
    that we’re hit by an asteroid.
  • 66:26 - 66:30
    So there is a kind of terrible irony
  • 66:30 - 66:34
    that at the point that
    we are best able to understand,
  • 66:34 - 66:39
    and appreciate, and value
    the richness of life around us,
  • 66:40 - 66:44
    we are destroying it at a higher rate
    that it has even been destroyed before.
  • 66:44 - 66:50
    And we are losing species
    after species after species,
  • 66:50 - 66:52
    day after day, just because
  • 66:52 - 66:54
    we’re burning the stuff down for firewood.
  • 66:55 - 66:59
    And this is a kind of terrible
    indictment of our understanding.
  • 66:59 - 67:02
    But, you see, we make another mistake,
  • 67:02 - 67:03
    because we think somehow,
  • 67:04 - 67:07
    this is all right in some
    fundamental kind of way,
  • 67:08 - 67:12
    because we think that this is all
    sort of “meant to happen.”
  • 67:13 - 67:18
    Now let me explain how
    we get into that kind of mindset,
  • 67:19 - 67:21
    because it’s exactly
    the same kind of mindset
  • 67:21 - 67:23
    that the Kakapo gets trapped in.
  • 67:23 - 67:26
    Because, what has been
  • 67:26 - 67:29
    a very successful strategy for the Kakapo
  • 67:29 - 67:31
    over generation after generation
  • 67:31 - 67:33
    for thousands and thousands of years,
  • 67:33 - 67:34
    suddenly is the wrong strategy,
  • 67:35 - 67:36
    and he has no means of knowing
  • 67:36 - 67:39
    because he is just doing what
    has been successful up till then.
  • 67:40 - 67:43
    And we have always been,
    because we’re toolmakers,
  • 67:44 - 67:46
    because we take from our environment
  • 67:46 - 67:48
    the stuff that we need to do
    what we want to do
  • 67:48 - 67:51
    and it’s always been
    very successful for us …
  • 67:51 - 67:53
    I’ll tell you what’s happened.
  • 67:53 - 67:54
    It’s as if we’ve actually
  • 67:55 - 67:56
    kind of put the sort of “pause” button
  • 67:56 - 67:59
    on our own process of evolution,
  • 67:59 - 68:03
    because we have put a buffer around us,
  • 68:03 - 68:08
    which consists of—you know—
    medicine and education and buildings,
  • 68:09 - 68:11
    and all these kinds of things
    that protect us
  • 68:11 - 68:13
    from the normal environmental pressures.
  • 68:14 - 68:19
    And, it’s our ability to make tools
    that enables us to do this.
  • 68:19 - 68:22
    Now, generally speaking,
    what drives speciation,
  • 68:22 - 68:23
    is that a small group of animals
  • 68:24 - 68:27
    gets separated out from the main body
  • 68:27 - 68:31
    by population pressure, some geographical
    upheaval or whatever.
  • 68:31 - 68:36
    So imagine, a small bunch
    suddenly finds itself stranded
  • 68:36 - 68:38
    in a slightly colder environment.
  • 68:38 - 68:40
    Then you know, over a
    small number of generations
  • 68:40 - 68:43
    that those genes
    that favour a thicker coat
  • 68:43 - 68:44
    will come to the fore
  • 68:44 - 68:46
    and you come back a few generations later,
  • 68:46 - 68:48
    and the animal’s got a thicker coat.
  • 68:48 - 68:52
    Man, because we are able to make tools,
  • 68:52 - 68:55
    we arrive in a new environment
    where it’s much colder,
  • 68:55 - 68:57
    and we don’t have
    to wait for that process.
  • 68:58 - 68:59
    Because we see an animal
  • 68:59 - 69:00
    that’s already got a thicker coat
  • 69:00 - 69:02
    and we say we’ll have it off him.
  • 69:06 - 69:08
    And so we’ve kind of taken
    control of our environment,
  • 69:08 - 69:11
    and that’s all very well,
  • 69:11 - 69:17
    but we need to be able to
    sort of rise above that process.
  • 69:19 - 69:22
    We have to rise above that vision
    and see a higher vision
  • 69:22 - 69:26
    —and understand the effect
    we’re actually having.
  • 69:27 - 69:32
    Now imagine—if you will—an early man,
  • 69:33 - 69:37
    and let’s just sort of see
    how this mindset comes about.
  • 69:37 - 69:41
    He’s standing, surveying his world
    at the end of the day.
  • 69:43 - 69:44
    And he looks at it and thinks,
  • 69:44 - 69:47
    “This is a very wonderful world
    that I find myself in.
  • 69:47 - 69:48
    This is pretty good.
  • 69:49 - 69:52
    I mean, look, here I am,
    behind me is the mountains,
  • 69:53 - 69:54
    and the mountains are great
  • 69:54 - 69:56
    because there are caves in the mountains
  • 69:56 - 69:57
    where I can shelter,
  • 69:57 - 70:00
    either from the weather or from bears
  • 70:01 - 70:03
    that occasionally come
    and try to attack me.
  • 70:03 - 70:05
    And I can shelter there, so that’s great.
  • 70:05 - 70:07
    And in front of me there is the forest,
  • 70:07 - 70:09
    and the forest is full of nuts
    and berries and trees,
  • 70:09 - 70:11
    and they feed me, and they’re delicious
  • 70:11 - 70:13
    and they sort of keep me going.
  • 70:13 - 70:15
    And here’s a stream going through
  • 70:15 - 70:17
    which has got fish running through it,
  • 70:17 - 70:19
    and the water is delicious,
    and I drink the water,
  • 70:19 - 70:21
    and everything’s fantastic.
  • 70:21 - 70:22
    And there’s my cousin Ug.
  • 70:23 - 70:26
    And Ug has caught a mammoth! Yay!!
  • 70:26 - 70:27
    Ug has caught a mammoth!
  • 70:27 - 70:29
    Mammoths are terrific!
  • 70:29 - 70:31
    There’s nothing greater than a mammoth,
  • 70:32 - 70:33
    because a mammoth,
  • 70:33 - 70:36
    basically you can wrap yourself
    in the fur from the mammoth,
  • 70:36 - 70:39
    you can eat the meat of the mammoth,
  • 70:39 - 70:42
    and you can use the bones of the mammoth,
    to catch other mammoths!
  • 70:45 - 70:48
    Now this world is a fantastically
    good world for me.”
  • 70:50 - 70:55
    And, part of how we come to
    take command of our world,
  • 70:55 - 70:57
    to take command of our environment,
  • 70:57 - 71:00
    to make these tools that are
    actually able to do this,
  • 71:00 - 71:03
    is we ask ourselves questions
    about it the whole time.
  • 71:03 - 71:05
    So this man starts to
    ask himself questions.
  • 71:05 - 71:12
    “This world,” he says,
    “well, who … so, so who made it?”
  • 71:14 - 71:17
    Now, of course he thinks that,
    because he makes things himself,
  • 71:18 - 71:21
    so he’s looking for someone
    who will have made this world.
  • 71:23 - 71:26
    He says, “So, who would
    have made this world?
  • 71:26 - 71:28
    Well, it must be something
    a little bit like me.
  • 71:29 - 71:32
    Obviously much much bigger,
  • 71:33 - 71:37
    and necessarily invisible,
  • 71:40 - 71:45
    but he would have made it.
    Now, why did he make it?”
  • 71:47 - 71:50
    Now, we always ask ourselves “why”
  • 71:50 - 71:52
    because we look for intention around us,
  • 71:53 - 71:56
    because we always do
    something with intention.
  • 71:57 - 72:01
    You know, we boil an egg
    in order to eat it.
  • 72:02 - 72:06
    So, we look at the rocks
    and we look at the trees,
  • 72:06 - 72:08
    and we wonder what intention is here,
  • 72:09 - 72:10
    even though it doesn’t have intention.
  • 72:12 - 72:18
    So we think, what did this person
    who made this world intend it for.
  • 72:18 - 72:20
    And this is the point where you think,
  • 72:20 - 72:22
    “Well, it fits me very well.
  • 72:25 - 72:26
    You know, the caves and the forests,
  • 72:26 - 72:29
    and the stream, and the mammoths.
  • 72:30 - 72:32
    He must have made it for me!
  • 72:33 - 72:36
    I mean, there’s no other conclusion
    you can come to.”
  • 72:36 - 72:41
    And it’s rather like a puddle
    waking up one morning
  • 72:41 - 72:43
    —I know they don’t normally do this,
  • 72:43 - 72:45
    but allow me, I’m a
    science fiction writer.
  • 72:48 - 72:51
    A puddle wakes up one morning and thinks,
  • 72:51 - 72:55
    “This is a very interesting
    world I find myself in.
  • 72:56 - 72:57
    It fits me very neatly.
  • 72:59 - 73:02
    In fact, it fits me so neatly,
  • 73:02 - 73:04
    I mean, really precise, isn’t it?
  • 73:11 - 73:14
    It must have been made to have me in it!”
  • 73:15 - 73:18
    And the sun rises, and
    he’s continuing to narrate
  • 73:19 - 73:22
    the story about this hole being
    made to have him in it.
  • 73:22 - 73:24
    And the sun rises, and
    gradually the puddle
  • 73:25 - 73:27
    is shrinking and shrinking and shrinking,
  • 73:27 - 73:29
    and by the time the puddle
    ceases to exist,
  • 73:29 - 73:32
    it’s still thinking,
    it’s still trapped in this idea,
  • 73:32 - 73:34
    that the hole was there for it.
  • 73:36 - 73:38
    And if we think that
    the world is here for us,
  • 73:38 - 73:41
    we will continue to destroy it
  • 73:41 - 73:43
    in the way that we’ve been destroying it,
  • 73:43 - 73:45
    because we think we can do no harm.
  • 73:47 - 73:51
    There’s an awful lot of speculation
  • 73:51 - 73:52
    one way or another at the moment,
  • 73:53 - 73:55
    about whether there’s life
    on other planets or not.
  • 73:56 - 73:58
    Carl Sagan, as you know,
  • 73:59 - 74:01
    was very keen on the idea
    that there must be.
  • 74:02 - 74:03
    The sheer numbers dictate,
  • 74:03 - 74:06
    because there are billions
    and billions and billions
  • 74:06 - 74:08
    —as he famously did not say, in fact—
  • 74:08 - 74:11
    of worlds out there,
  • 74:11 - 74:12
    so the chance must be
  • 74:12 - 74:16
    that there’s other
    intelligent life out there.
  • 74:16 - 74:19
    There are other voices at
    the moment you’ll hear saying,
  • 74:19 - 74:21
    well actually if you look at
  • 74:21 - 74:25
    the set of circumstances here on Earth,
  • 74:26 - 74:29
    they are so extraordinarily specific
  • 74:29 - 74:32
    that the chances of there being
    something like this out there,
  • 74:32 - 74:34
    are actually pretty remote.
  • 74:35 - 74:36
    Now, in a way it doesn’t matter.
  • 74:36 - 74:39
    Because think of this
  • 74:39 - 74:41
    —I mean Carl Sagan, I think,
    himself, said this.
  • 74:41 - 74:45
    There are two possibilities:
    either there is life
  • 74:46 - 74:47
    out there on other planets,
  • 74:48 - 74:51
    or there is no life out
    there on other planets.
  • 74:52 - 74:54
    They are both utterly extraordinary ideas!
  • 74:59 - 75:06
    But, there is a strong possibility
  • 75:06 - 75:08
    that there isn’t anything
    out there remotely like us.
  • 75:11 - 75:15
    And we are behaving as if this planet,
  • 75:15 - 75:19
    this extraordinary, utterly, utterly
    extraordinary little ball of life,
  • 75:21 - 75:24
    is something we can just screw
    about with any way we like.
  • 75:25 - 75:28
    And maybe we can’t.
  • 75:31 - 75:34
    Maybe we should be looking after it
    just a little bit better.
  • 75:34 - 75:37
    Not for the world’s sake
  • 75:38 - 75:40
    —we talk rather grandly about
    “saving the world.”
  • 75:40 - 75:43
    We don’t have to save the world
    –the world’s fine!
  • 75:43 - 75:47
    The world has been through
    five periods of mass extinction.
  • 75:47 - 75:52
    Sixty-five million years ago when,
    as it seems, a comet hit the Earth
  • 75:52 - 75:56
    at the same time that there
    were vast volcanic eruptions in India,
  • 75:57 - 75:58
    which saw off the dinosaurs,
  • 75:59 - 76:02
    and something like 90%
    of the life on the planet at the time.
  • 76:02 - 76:05
    Go back another, I think is 150 million
    years earlier than that,
  • 76:05 - 76:08
    to the Permian-Triassic
    boundary, another giant,
  • 76:09 - 76:11
    giant, giant extinction.
  • 76:11 - 76:13
    The world has been through it
    many many times before.
  • 76:14 - 76:16
    And what tends to happen,
  • 76:16 - 76:19
    what happens invariably
    after each mass extinction,
  • 76:19 - 76:24
    is that there’s a huge
    amount of space available,
  • 76:24 - 76:27
    or new forms of life suddenly
    to emerge and flourish into.
  • 76:28 - 76:34
    Just as the extinction of
    the dinosaurs made way for us.
  • 76:35 - 76:37
    Without that extinction,
    we would not be here.
  • 76:38 - 76:39
    So, the world is fine.
  • 76:39 - 76:41
    We don’t have to save the world
  • 76:41 - 76:43
    —the world is big enough
    to look after itself.
  • 76:44 - 76:46
    What we have to be concerned about,
  • 76:46 - 76:49
    is whether or not the world we live in,
  • 76:50 - 76:54
    will be capable of sustaining us in it.
  • 76:55 - 76:56
    That’s what we need to think about.
  • 76:57 - 76:59
    Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
  • 77:30 - 77:31
    And now if anybody has any questions,
  • 77:31 - 77:33
    I’m very happy to take questions,
  • 77:33 - 77:37
    and there are microphones down here
    at the front so I suggest you use them.
  • 77:38 - 77:39
    Yeah, hi.
  • 77:40 - 77:41
    Thank you. Wonderful talk.
  • 77:42 - 77:47
    You say we should take care
    to not destroy the planet.
  • 77:47 - 77:50
    There is one suggestion
    that has been made is that,
  • 77:50 - 77:52
    the reason why we destroy the planet
  • 77:52 - 77:55
    is that we don’t pay
    the true cost of things
  • 77:55 - 77:56
    when we consume them.
  • 77:57 - 77:59
    The price of gasoline has been falling
  • 77:59 - 78:03
    in real dollars and the vehicles
    get bigger and bigger,
  • 78:03 - 78:05
    we have the Selfish Useless Vehicles
  • 78:05 - 78:06
    —I think they’re called—the SUV’s.
  • 78:12 - 78:15
    You know, I have to say as a brit,
  • 78:16 - 78:17
    you know we sit and think,
  • 78:17 - 78:20
    “the americans are complaining again
    because their gas prices
  • 78:20 - 78:22
    have reached now nearly
    a quarter of what we pay.”
  • 78:25 - 78:28
    So, I just wonder whether you think
  • 78:29 - 78:34
    that a good solution is that if
    we would pay the true cost of things,
  • 78:34 - 78:36
    if we would pay the ten dollars a gallon
  • 78:36 - 78:40
    or whatever it really costs in terms
    of the impact on the environment,
  • 78:40 - 78:42
    that that might make a difference?
  • 78:43 - 78:49
    Umm. It may be …, I …, it …
  • 78:52 - 78:56
    There is a problem I’m very
    very conscious of here.
  • 78:57 - 79:04
    Which is that, even though I’m talking
    from a conservationist point of view,
  • 79:05 - 79:08
    very very strongly, you’d look back
    over the history
  • 79:09 - 79:12
    of what we and the conservation
    movement have said
  • 79:12 - 79:14
    in the last ten years,
    and the previous ten years,
  • 79:14 - 79:16
    and previous ten years of that.
  • 79:16 - 79:20
    And most of what we’ve said
    we have to do about it,
  • 79:20 - 79:24
    or the way to have gone about it,
    have actually turned out to be wrong.
  • 79:24 - 79:30
    So, it’s very hard for me to pretend
  • 79:31 - 79:33
    I can stand up and say we have to do this,
  • 79:33 - 79:34
    and we have to do that.
  • 79:35 - 79:37
    Because they may not be
    the right solution.
  • 79:37 - 79:41
    I’m terribly aware of this as far as,
  • 79:41 - 79:43
    I mean just going back again,
  • 79:44 - 79:49
    I mean thinking about sort of protection
    of animals in Africa, for instance.
  • 79:50 - 79:53
    That time after time, we’ve gone
    about it the wrong way.
  • 79:53 - 79:57
    And, yeah, the conservation efforts
  • 79:57 - 80:01
    of once every ten years
    will be as much as anything else,
  • 80:01 - 80:04
    undoing the problems caused
    by the last ten years.
  • 80:04 - 80:09
    So it is a question of constant
    sort of self-education,
  • 80:09 - 80:11
    trying to assimilate the information,
  • 80:11 - 80:15
    trying to see what the consequence
    of what we’ve done so far has been,
  • 80:16 - 80:17
    what we can learn from that.
  • 80:17 - 80:25
    Now it may well be that if we say
    we’re going to multiply the cost of gas
  • 80:25 - 80:31
    by ten times or whatever, that may have
    effects that we would put into …
  • 80:31 - 80:36
    they would be the lure of unintended
    consequences, which comes into play.
  • 80:37 - 80:42
    I think the best thing we can do is
    continually inform ourselves,
  • 80:42 - 80:46
    be as aware as possible of what
    is actually happening,
  • 80:46 - 80:51
    how if that kind of feedback loop
    saying now we’re going to make
  • 80:51 - 80:56
    the true cost of the damage we’re causing
    be part of what you have to pay,
  • 80:56 - 81:00
    then that may be very well
    be a very good answer;
  • 81:00 - 81:02
    but I’m also worried that
    it may not be the answer.
  • 81:02 - 81:06
    Which is a complicated way of saying
    “I don’t know.”
  • 81:14 - 81:17
    Two questions. First.
    Do you know where your towel is?
  • 81:18 - 81:20
    No.
  • 81:21 - 81:22
    OK.
  • 81:22 - 81:24
    That was always my problem.
  • 81:25 - 81:27
    It’s very funny the thing
    about the towel because, …
  • 81:28 - 81:30
    I’ll tell you where it came from.
  • 81:31 - 81:33
    I was on a holiday with a bunch of people,
  • 81:33 - 81:35
    and we were on a Villa in Corfu.
  • 81:36 - 81:38
    And every day we would
    set out to the beach,
  • 81:38 - 81:41
    and just as we were
    setting out for the beach
  • 81:41 - 81:42
    there would a problem,
  • 81:43 - 81:47
    and the problem would be
    that Douglas could not find his towel!
  • 81:50 - 81:53
    Where was my towel? Was it under the bed?
  • 81:53 - 81:55
    Was it on the end of bed?
    Was it in the bed?
  • 81:55 - 81:58
    Was it the bathroom?
    Was it hanging on the line outside?
  • 81:58 - 82:00
    Was it in the washing …? Was it …?
  • 82:00 - 82:03
    I had no idea, day after day,
    where the fuck my towel was.
  • 82:04 - 82:06
    And after a while I just began to think
  • 82:06 - 82:08
    this must be symptomatic of somebody
  • 82:08 - 82:11
    who is so sort of deeply chaotic.
  • 82:12 - 82:14
    But I then …
  • 82:15 - 82:18
    I don’t even know whether
    I even came up with it first,
  • 82:18 - 82:20
    or somebody on the hold of it
  • 82:20 - 82:22
    came with the idea that somebody
  • 82:22 - 82:24
    who was rather more together than I,
  • 82:24 - 82:27
    would be someone who would
    really know where their towel was.
  • 82:27 - 82:35
    And so then, when I was writing
    the Hitchhiker, I sort of put …
  • 82:36 - 82:39
    You very often put things in because
    you know what they mean.
  • 82:39 - 82:43
    And it’s really kind of a flag to yourself
  • 82:43 - 82:47
    that in the next draft through
    you would put something in
  • 82:47 - 82:50
    that means to everybody else
    what this thing means to you.
  • 82:51 - 82:53
    You know. And then it kind of stays there,
  • 82:53 - 82:57
    and it turns out that it does mean
    something to everybody else as well.
  • 82:58 - 83:00
    Does that answer your question?
  • 83:00 - 83:05
    OK. And also, do we behave like people
    descended from stick-using monkeys
  • 83:05 - 83:08
    or people descended
    from telephone cleaners.
  • 83:11 - 83:14
    I think we have both lots there
    in our genes, I’m afraid.
  • 83:22 - 83:26
    I’m absolutely going to kill myself
    if I get out of here without asking this.
  • 83:26 - 83:28
    This question occurred to me
    when my friend
  • 83:28 - 83:30
    bodily forced me to pick up the first book
  • 83:30 - 83:33
    n The Hitchhiker’s Guide and I read the
    very first sentences
  • 83:33 - 83:35
    on the very first paragraph,
  • 83:35 - 83:38
    “What on God’s green earth does
    this man have against digital watches!?”
  • 83:46 - 83:48
    Well I have to admit
    they’ve improved since
  • 83:48 - 83:52
    I actually wrote that bit.
  • 83:53 - 83:56
    But if you think about it,
  • 83:56 - 83:59
    I mean the first digital
    watches which were …,
  • 84:01 - 84:06
    you look at a regular watch with hands
    and you got a pie chart.
  • 84:07 - 84:10
    Remember the time when
    we used to get very excited
  • 84:10 - 84:13
    about pie charts being the
    thing that computer did for us?
  • 84:13 - 84:15
    “Uhhh! Pie charts!”
  • 84:19 - 84:23
    But at the same time when we were
    getting terribly excited about pie charts
  • 84:23 - 84:25
    and what they could do for
    our understanding of the world,
  • 84:25 - 84:28
    we were saying,
    “We don’t want pie charts on our wrists.
  • 84:29 - 84:30
    That’s old fashioned technology.
  • 84:31 - 84:34
    No what we want is not something you
    just glance at and see what the time is.
  • 84:34 - 84:36
    We want something that you’ve got to go
  • 84:36 - 84:39
    into a dark corner and
    put down your suitcase
  • 84:39 - 84:41
    and press a button in order to read,
  • 84:41 - 84:44
    ‘Oh it’s 11:43, now what is …? uhm …?
  • 84:44 - 84:46
    How long is that before twelve o’clock?’ ”
  • 84:47 - 84:49
    And this was progress.
  • 84:51 - 84:54
    But you see, I mean the great
    thing about human beings,
  • 84:55 - 84:57
    I mean—while we make fun of it—
  • 84:57 - 85:01
    is not only that we invent
    stuff that’s new,
  • 85:02 - 85:05
    and better, and does things better.
  • 85:05 - 85:09
    But even stuff that works perfectly well
    we can’t leave well enough alone,
  • 85:10 - 85:14
    and it’s really the most sort of charming
    and delightful aspect of human beings,
  • 85:14 - 85:18
    that we keep on inventing things
    that we’ve already got right once.
  • 85:18 - 85:23
    I mean like bathroom faucets,
    I mean it’s very very simple,
  • 85:23 - 85:26
    you turn it on the water comes out,
    you turn it off the water stops.
  • 85:26 - 85:28
    And we kind of got the hang of that.
  • 85:28 - 85:30
    That works. But it’s amazing you go into,
  • 85:31 - 85:34
    you know, a hotel lobby or an airport,
  • 85:34 - 85:36
    and you approach the basin
  • 85:36 - 85:39
    with a certain amount of
    sort of anxiety, you know.
  • 85:45 - 85:47
    “What do I do? Do I turn something?
  • 85:47 - 85:49
    Do I push something? Do I pull something?
  • 85:49 - 85:50
    Do I knee it!?
  • 85:53 - 85:55
    Do I just have to sort of be in near it?”
  • 85:59 - 86:01
    And once the water started to flow
  • 86:01 - 86:04
    because it has picked up some sort
  • 86:04 - 86:06
    of brainwave energy from me or whatever.
  • 86:07 - 86:10
    “So, now how do I stop it?
    Is it my job to stop it?
  • 86:11 - 86:13
    Would it stop itself?”
  • 86:14 - 86:20
    I mean, I think we’ve got
    the faucet down OK.
  • 86:21 - 86:25
    But, I just think it’s wonderful
    we just sort of
  • 86:25 - 86:27
    keep on inventing it even though it works,
  • 86:28 - 86:32
    because it’s the way of getting ourselves
    off local maximums isn’t it?
  • 86:38 - 86:41
    I think that’s all I have
    to say there. Thanks.
Title:
Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything
Description:

Douglas Adams was the best-selling British author and satirist who created The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In this talk at UCSB recorded shortly before his death, Adams shares hilarious accounts of some of the apparently absurd lifestyles of the world's creatures, and gleans from them extraordinary perceptions about the future of humanity. Series: Voices [5/2001] [Humanities] [Show ID: 5779]

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
01:27:37

English subtitles

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