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Play now 45 mins


45 minutes
First broadcast:
Saturday 22 September 2012

Prisons and schools use exclusion as the ultimate punishment for those who break the rules. On the other hand, composers, writers and even scientist seek out solitude in order to be creative. So where is the borderline between positive separation and harmful alienation? Emily Kasriel is joined by Australian writer M L Stedman whose novel explores how our morality can change when we are cut off from others; German conductor Alexander Liebreich who has collaborated with some of the world’s most isolated musicians, in North Korea; and Professor Chuck Fisher, an expert on life around underwater volcanoes who tells us about some of the remotest deep -sea creatures.

Illustration by Emily Kasriel: creativity, spurred by intense isolation in the depths of the ocean.


4 items
  • Chuck Fisher

    Chuck Fisher

    Professor Chuck Fisher is one of the world’s experts on life that flourishes around hydrothermal vents in the sea and deep on the ocean floor. He tells us about unique communities that are so far under the surface that they don’t get any sunlight and yet are able to feed off minerals that would be toxic to most other animals. He also explains what impact deep-sea mining might have on these environments.

  • Alexander Liebriech

    Alexander Liebriech

    Leading German conductor Alexander Liebreich describes what it was like working with music students in North Korea who had been so isolated from the rest of the musical world that, in the early 21st century, they were performing 19th and early 20th century masterpieces, such as Mahler Symphonies, for the first time in their lives. But he also suggests that all musicians need some solitude in order to really understand the works they are studying or creating.

    Photo Credit: © Thomas Rabsch

  • ML Stedman

    ML Stedman

    ML Stedman’s debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, is set in the 1920s on a remote island off Western Australia, inhabited only by a lighthouse keeper and his young wife. The key event in the novel is the decision they make when a baby, and a dead man, wash up ashore in a boat. Isolation is a pervasive feature of the story: the lighthouse is such an isolated place that after a while it could easily start distorting people’s thinking and values.


    Chuck Fisher says we should develop the ability to convert sunlight directly into food inside our bodies, as sea corals do for instance. Photosynthetic symbiosis is the way to go: if we implanted tiny photosynthetic algae under human skin, we could then simply hang out in the sun to get much of the food we need. The hassle of cooking would vanish, and it might even help solve the problem of world hunger!


    What’s the way forward in education? In the second of a series of special programmes about the big challenges of our age, presented by leading thinkers, renowned astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees asks education experts Alexandra Draxler, Alison Wolf, Conrad Wolfram and an audience at the University of Cambridge.


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