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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’s 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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    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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    There is 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 the agglomeration
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    of all sorts of other different animals.
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    So, for instance,
    it has a sort of foxy 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 feathers 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 is 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 in turn 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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    in which we have to go to Nosy Mangabe.
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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
    it’s also a nocturnal animal.
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    And the quality of batteries
    in Madagascar is 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 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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    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 at 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’ve come for.
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    I had actually seen, we all saw
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    —just managed to get a quick
    photograph of it when it appeared—
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    but I suddenly realized
    we’ve 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’ve 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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    to suddenly 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’ve just been 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 to be 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’re 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 approach 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,
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    all these snakes and
    insects and fish and things.
  • 18:56 - 18:58
    Wretched things, biting everybody.
  • 18:58 - 19:00
    And then people expect me
    to tell them what to do about it.
  • 19:01 - 19:01
    I’ll tell them what to do.
  • 19:02 - 19:03
    Don’t get bitten in the first place.
  • 19:05 - 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.
  • 19:09 - 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 - 19:19
    We’ll need to know all about it
    if we’re going to go to Mars and places.
  • 19:19 - 19:21
    Where did you say you were going?”
  • 19:21 - 19:22
    “Komodo.”
  • 19:22 - 19:25
    “Well don’t get bitten,
    that’s all I can say.
  • 19:27 - 19:31
    And don’t come running to me if you do
    because you won’t get here in time,
  • 19:32 - 19:36
    and anyway I’ve got enough on my plate.
  • 19:37 - 19:39
    Look at this office, full of
    poisonous animals all over the place.
  • 19:39 - 19:42
    See this tank, it’s full of fire ants.
    Venomous little creatures.
  • 19:42 - 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.
  • 19:48 - 19:49
    Would you like some little cakes?
  • 19:49 - 19:50
    I can’t remember where I put them.
  • 19:50 - 19:52
    There’s some tea but it’s not very good.
  • 19:52 - 19:54
    Anyway, sit down for heaven’s sake.
  • 19:55 - 19:57
    So, you’re going to Komodo.
  • 19:57 - 19:58
    Well, I don’t know why you want to do that
  • 19:58 - 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 - 20:11
    the Bamboo Viper and the Indian Cobra.
  • 20:13 - 20:16
    The Indian cobra is the fifteenth
    deadliest snake in the world,
  • 20:16 - 20:20
    and all the other fourteen
    are here in Australia.
  • 20:23 - 20:24
    That’s why it’s so hard
    for me to find time
  • 20:24 - 20:27
    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 - 20:40
    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 - 20:50
    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 - 20:56
    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 - 21:07
    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,
  • 21:27 - 21:28
    and a complicated set of instructions
  • 21:28 - 21:31
    that I wouldn’t want to have
    to read for the first time in a panic.
  • 21:32 - 21:37
    And then we asked him how many of
    the snakes he had been bitten by himself.
  • 21:37 - 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;
  • 21:55 - 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 - 22:25
    People can walk right past it
    and over it and nothing happens.
  • 22:26 - 22:28
    I’ve heard of twelve people in a line
    walking over a Death Adder
  • 22:29 - 22:31
    and the twelfth person
    accidentally trod on it and got bitten.
  • 22:32 - 22:34
    Normally it’s quite safe
    to get twelve in line.
  • 22:35 - 22:37
    You’re not eating your cakes.
  • 22:37 - 22:38
    Come on, get them down you,
  • 22:38 - 22:39
    there’s plenty more in the venom fridge.”
  • 22:41 - 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 - 22:49
    “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 - 23:07
    “So what do we do if we get bitten by
    something deadly, then?” I asked.
  • 23:08 - 23:11
    He blinked at me as if I were stupid.
  • 23:13 - 23:14
    "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.
  • 23:34 - 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 - 23:51
    I mean, you’re not likely to be able
    to get much of the poison out,
  • 23:51 - 23:54
    but you’re probably going to make
    the wound a lot worse trying.
  • 23:55 - 23:58
    And in a place like Komodo it means you’d
    quickly have a seriously infected wound
  • 23:58 - 24:00
    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 - 24:21
    then you’re a braver man than me.
  • 24:24 - 24:25
    No, I’ll tell you,
    the only thing you can do
  • 24:25 - 24:27
    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,
  • 24:54 - 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.
  • 25:05 - 25:06
    Any of the snakes there
    will get out of your way
  • 25:06 - 25:08
    well before you even see them.
  • 25:08 - 25:11
    You don’t really need to worry
    about the snakes if you’re careful.
  • 25:11 - 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 - 25:42
    I wouldn’t go near it if I were you.
  • 25:42 - 25:44
    Full of poisonous animals. Hate them.”
  • 25:46 - 25:47
    “Is there anything you do like?”
  • 25:47 - 25:48
    “Yes. Hydroponics.”
  • 25:53 - 25:57
    “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.”
  • 26:18 - 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 has forgotten how to fly.
  • 26:44 - 26:49
    Sadly, it has also forgotten
    that it has forgotten how to fly.
  • 26:50 - 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 - 27:47
    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.
  • 27:54 - 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 - 28:33
    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 are 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 - 29:13
    because we have never ever encountered
    an environment with no predators in it.
  • 29:18 - 29:18
    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.
  • 29:26 - 29:31
    For the europeans who
    originally arrived in New Zealand,
  • 29:31 - 29:38
    … sorry, that was
    an extraordinary thing to say.
  • 29:39 - 29:42
    Of course the Māoris before them
  • 29:42 - 29:48
    and before then the Morioris,
    the Māoris ate the Morioris
  • 29:50 - 29:53
    and then the europeans came along.
  • 29:53 - 29:58
    But before all of that happened—as I said—
  • 29:58 - 30:05
    the island had no predators, and the
    birds basically lived a worry-free life.
  • 30:05 - 30:08
    Now you can actually see another example
    of this if you go to Galápagos,
  • 30:08 - 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 - 30:21
    one of which has to do
    with the colour of his 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 - 30:31
    —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.
  • 30:38 - 30:39
    And what the Booby will be thinking is
  • 30:39 - 30:42
    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.
  • 31:00 - 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 - 31:26
    so—if I can be very naughty and
    anthropomorphise for a moment—
  • 31:26 - 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 - 31:35
    eat a bit, fly a bit,
  • 31:36 - 31:37
    because every time you
    eat something—you know—
  • 31:38 - 31:39
    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.”
  • 31:44 - 31:45
    And so it’s as if some of the birds said,
  • 31:45 - 31:48
    “Well, actually what we could do is we
    could settle in for a rather larger meal,
  • 31:48 - 31:50
    and go for a waddle afterwards!”
  • 31:57 - 31:58
    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 - 32:12
    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 the 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 - 32:50
    Except in fact they
    didn’t know how to do that
  • 32:51 - 32:53
    because they were confronted
    with an animal which was a predator,
  • 32:54 - 32:55
    they didn’t know what to do,
  • 32:56 - 32:57
    they didn’t know what the social form was,
  • 32:57 - 32:59
    they just waited for the other
    animal to make the next move,
  • 32:59 - 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 - 33:14
    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.
  • 33:57 - 33:58
    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 - 34:18
    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
  • 34:54 - 35:00
    looking out over the great
    rolling valleys of New Zealand,
  • 35:00 - 35:02
    because acoustics are very important
    for what's about to happen.
  • 35:05 - 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 his chest.
  • 35:20 - 35:21
    And it sits there
  • 35:22 - 35:25
    —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 The Dark Side of the Moon.
  • 35:38 - 35:51
    Now, I see some grey hairs here
    so you’ll know the album I’m referring to.
  • 35:52 - 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 - 36:36
    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,
  • 37:04 - 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
  • 37:26 - 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—
  • 38:17 - 38:21
    then she can’t find the person who’s making it!
  • 38:24 - 38:25
    But supposing she does,
  • 38:25 - 38:27
    supposing she’s out there
    —but she probably isn’t—
  • 38:28 - 38:29
    she likes the sound of this booming
    —she probably doesn’t—
  • 38:29 - 38:32
    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 - 39:21
    —before trying to sort of
    save them and conserve them—
  • 39:21 - 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.
  • 40:08 - 40:13
    And it turns out you can actually
    sort of graph this in 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
  • 40:37 - 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 - 41:21
    just out of the sheer mathematics
    of the situation.
  • 41:22 - 41:23
    And once you’ve hit zero,
    there is kind of no coming back.
  • 41:27 - 41:30
    And so, because 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 - 42:05
    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 - 42:46
    what I do fantastically well,
    do what is my main thing,
  • 42:47 - 42:48
    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 - 42:55
    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.
  • 43:39 - 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.
  • 43:57 - 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 - 44:20
    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 - 45:02
    and more powerful and more complex.
  • 45:03 - 45:07
    And it’s very interesting, you can
    actually watch—if you feel like it—
  • 45:07 - 45:11
    the development of a Baiji foetus,
  • 45:11 - 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 - 46:07
    And these animals developed
    incredibly sensitive,
  • 46:08 - 46:12
    and incredibly precise abilities
    to navigate themselves around
  • 46:12 - 46:13
    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 - 46:57
    are sort of bumping into things,
    bumping into boats,
  • 46:57 - 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 - 47:23
    —you couldn’t look into cause it’s turbid
    and you remember what turbid means—
  • 47:23 - 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 - 47:36
    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 - 47:41
    there were only two hundred left
  • 47:42 - 47:44
    in a structure of water of about
    two hundred miles long,
  • 47:45 - 47:46
    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 - 47:54
    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
    realize 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.
  • 48:20 - 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 - 48:43
    because we’ve kind of taken charge,
  • 48:44 - 48:48
    and there is no way of kind of
    communicating with the management,
  • 48:48 - 48:50
    there’s a problem.
  • 48:50 - 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 are 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,
  • 49:15 - 49:18
    “Could we actually drop
    a microphone into the Yangtze
  • 49:19 - 49:21
    so that we can see what
    it actually sounds like in the river?”
  • 49:23 - 49:23
    And he said,
  • 49:24 - 49:27
    “Well you should have said that
    before we left London.”
  • 49:29 - 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 - 49:44
    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.
  • 49:53 - 49:59
    Do either of you have condoms with you?”
  • 50:02 - 50:05
    And we didn’t. Wasn’t that kind of trip.
  • 50:06 - 50:10
    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.
  • 50:24 - 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.
  • 50:35 - 50:40
    We passed from one counter to another
    in the large open-plan department store,
  • 50:40 - 50:42
    which consists of many
    different individual booths,
  • 50:42 - 50:45
    stalls and counters,
    but no one was able to help us.
  • 50:46 - 50:49
    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,
  • 51:03 - 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.
  • 51:15 - 51:19
    She frowned at it,
    but still didn’t get the idea.
  • 51:19 - 51:21
    She brought us a wooden spoon,
  • 51:21 - 51:27
    a candle, a sort of paper knife and,
    surprisingly enough,
  • 51:27 - 51:29
    a small porcelain model
    of the Eiffel Tower
  • 51:30 - 51:40
    and then at last lapsed
    into a posture of defeat.
  • 51:40 - 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,
  • 52:02 - 52:05
    and at last the penny dropped.
  • 52:08 - 52:12
    “Ah!” the first girl said, suddenly
    wreathed in smiles. “Ah yes!”
  • 52:12 - 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 - 52:22
    “No,” she said. “Not have.”
  • 52:23 - 52:23
    “Oh.”
  • 52:24 - 52:25
    “But, but, but …”
  • 52:25 - 52:25
    “Yes?”
  • 52:25 - 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.”
  • 52:46 - 52:51
    She giggled happily about this
    with her hand over her mouth.
  • 52:52 - 52:57
    We thanked them again, profusely,
    and left with much waving and smiling.
  • 52:57 - 52:59
    The news seemed to have spread
    very quickly around the store,
  • 52:59 - 53:01
    and everybody waved at us.
  • 53:02 - 53:05
    They seemed terribly pleased
    to have been asked.
  • 53:05 - 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 - 53:34
    and it seemed to do the trick at once.
  • 53:35 - 53:38
    The shop assistant, a slightly more
    middle-aged lady with severe hair,
  • 53:39 - 53:40
    marched straight to a cabinet of drawers,
  • 53:41 - 53:42
    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.
  • 54:34 - 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.
  • 54:47 - 54:51
    At last one young and
    pasty-faced man with glasses
  • 54:51 - 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 - 55:03
    some rubberovers, and we would be very
    grateful if he could explain that for us.
  • 55:05 - 55:06
    He looked puzzled,
  • 55:06 - 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.”
  • 55:28 - 55:31
    “You tell him,” said Mark.
  • 55:34 - 55:37
    “It’s to record dolphins,” I said.
  • 55:45 - 55:47
    “Or not the actual dolphins in fact.
  • 55:48 - 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 - 55:55
    “Oh, just tell him you want
    to fuck someone,”
  • 55:56 - 55:57
    said the sound recordist.
  • 55:57 - 55:58
    “And you can’t wait.”
  • 56:07 - 56:09
    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 - 56:18
    He said something hurriedly
    to the shop assistant
  • 56:18 - 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,
  • 56:45 - 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 - 57:12
    And it’s something like this
  • 57:16 - 57:18
    The Yangtze River ladies and gentleman.
  • 57:23 - 57:28
    And, I suddenly realized
    what an appalling thing
  • 57:28 - 57:29
    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 - 57:54
    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,
  • 58:00 - 58:01
    there were two hundred 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
  • 58:35 - 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
  • 58:45 - 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
  • 59:26 - 59:32
    that we are living at the moment
    in an extraordinary age,
  • 59:33 - 59:34
    an extraordinary renaissance,
  • 59:35 - 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 - 59:49
    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,
  • 60:09 - 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
    realize how incredibly valuable
    this information is.
  • 60:20 - 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 - 60:37
    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,
  • 60:56 - 61:00
    we still don’t really understand
    how they work
  • 61:00 - 61:01
    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 our understanding
    of these fundamental principles,
  • 61:08 - 61:10
    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 - 61:32
    and we invented lenses,
    and we looked up into the sky,
  • 61:33 - 61:38
    and by studying the sky
  • 61:38 - 61:41
    we began to discover fundamental
    things about gravity,
  • 61:42 - 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 - 62:24
    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 processes 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 - 63:17
    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 - 64:17
    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.
  • 64:26 - 64:28
    Now, there are an awful lot of things
    we don’t know about life.
  • 64:28 - 64:31
    But any life scientist will tell you that,
  • 64:32 - 64:35
    although there is an awful lot
    we don’t know,
  • 64:36 - 64:40
    there is no longer a deep mystery.
  • 64:40 - 64:41
    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
  • 64:54 - 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
  • 65:40 - 65:42
    went on British Airways or United or American
  • 65:43 - 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.
  • 65:58 - 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.
  • 66:13 - 66:14
    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.
  • 66:56 - 66:58
    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 - 67:32
    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 - 67:50
    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
  • 68:45 - 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 - 69:01
    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.
  • 69:17 - 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 - 69:46
    “This is a very wonderful world
    that I find myself in.
  • 69:46 - 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 - 70:02
    that occasionally come
    and try to attack me.
  • 70:03 - 70:04
    And I can shelter there, so that’s great.
  • 70:04 - 70:07
    And in front of me there is the forest,
  • 70:07 - 70:10
    and the forest is full of nuts
    and berries and trees,
  • 70:10 - 70:11
    and they feed me, and they’re delicious
  • 70:12 - 70:13
    and they sort of keep me going.
  • 70:13 - 70:15
    And here’s a stream going through
  • 70:15 - 70:16
    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 - 70:47
    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 - 71:02
    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 - 72:09
    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! I mean,
  • 72:33 - 72:35
    there’s no other conclusion
    you can come to.”
  • 72:36 - 72:41
    And it’s rather like a puddle
    waking up one morning
  • 72:42 - 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
    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 - 73:26
    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 - 74:05
    because there are billions
    and billions and billions
  • 74:05 - 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.
  • 74:17 - 74:19
    There are other voices at
    the moment you’ll hear saying,
  • 74:19 - 74:20
    well actually if you look at
  • 74:20 - 74:25
    the set of circumstances here on Earth,
  • 74:26 - 74:29
    they are so extraordinarily specific
  • 74:29 - 74:31
    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 - 74:50
    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 this.
  • 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 - 75:23
    is something we can just screw
    about with any way we like.
  • 75:25 - 75:28
    And maybe we can’t.
  • 75:31 - 75:33
    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 - 75:42
    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 - 76:01
    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 - 76:58
    Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen.
  • 77:30 - 77:31
    And now if anybody has any questions,
  • 77:31 - 77:32
    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 - 77:54
    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 - 78:07
    —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 - 78:19
    “the americans are complaining again
    because their gas prices
  • 78:19 - 78:22
    have reached now nearly
    a quarter of what we pay.”
  • 78:25 - 78:27
    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 - 78:39
    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 - 79:15
    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 - 79:21
    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 - 79:32
    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 - 80:14
    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?
  • 81:17 - 81:19
    No.
  • 81:20 - 81:21
    OK.
  • 81:23 - 81:23
    That was always my problem.
  • 81:24 - 81:27
    It’s very funny the thing
    about the towel because, …
  • 81:27 - 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 - 81:59
    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 - 82:26
    would be someone who would
    really know where their towel was.
  • 82:27 - 82:33
    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 - 82:56
    and it turns out that it does mean
    something to everybody else as well.
  • 82:58 - 82:59
    Does that answer your question?
  • 83:00 - 83:05
    OK. And also, do we behave like people
    descended from stick-using monkeys
  • 83:05 - 83:07
    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 - 83:25
    I’m absolutely going to kill myself
    if I get out of here without asking this.
  • 83:26 - 83:27
    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!?”
  • 83:43 - 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.
  • 84:08 - 84:09
    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 - 84:22
    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 - 84:27
    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?’ ”
  • 84:46 - 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,
  • 85:15 - 85:17
    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.
  • 85:39 - 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?”
  • 85:55 - 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 - 86:40
    I think that’s all I have
    to say there. Thanks.
Title:
Douglas Adams: Parrots the Universe and Everything
Description:

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Video Language:
English
Duration:
01:27:37

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