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science
SELF-MADE THINGS
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Self-Made Things
Wednesdays 27 July to 24 August 2005 9.00-9.30pm
Wed 27 July 2005
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In this five-part series, Jonathan Miller returns to his roots in medicine and tells the story of how we came to understand reproduction & heredity. Disposing with the idea of an external, perhaps even supernatural, vitalising force, he describes how we have arrived at the picture of ourselves and all organisms as Self-Made Things.
Programme 1

Darwinism in the second half of the 19th century gave us a theoretical framework that captured in one stroke the seemingly limitless variety that zoologists, botanists and paleontologists were finding in every dimension in nature.

On a macroscopic scale, it seemed that everything from extinctions and new species in the fossil record to the mating displays of birds of paradise and the pattern of a butterfly's wing was within reach of scientific explanation. If the new feature were good for survival and propagation, it stayed. If not, it fell from this new tree of life.

And yet, at a finer level, explanations of how these variations came about, and where they entered the process, were still wanting. Indeed it became clear that we couldn't even describe satisfactorily how species bred true to type, without variation, let alone how eye colours and claws change over time. Why does a duck give birth to a duck rather than a platypus?

In the first part of this series, Jonathan Miller looks at organisms that make things other than themselves. Nests, webs and dams are all part of what Richard Dawkins described as the "extended phenotype" of a species. A termite mound is as much a part of the identity of a termite as it's white thorax and strong mandibles. Does looking at the way things make things give us clues as to how they make themselves?

More Information:

Michael Tomasello
Richard Dawkins
Richard Byrne
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