On Sunday morning we listened to the next episode in the In Our time series on the Written Word. This one was all about books, from the earliest known ones through to the development of the printing press. And the secondary theme was how the various changes in writing technology revolutionised time and time again the availabilty of the knowledge that was written down.

Before the 1st century AD most writing was on papyrus & in scrolls, but each time you open a scroll the actual fabric that is written upon gets damaged. So once the idea of how to bind books was developed this took over as the standard format for preserving writing & knowledge. Bound books could also use parchment or vellum as their surface for writing (I think this is because if you have a long continuous roll then it's easier to make when using papyrus), and this is more durable in damp climates. And books are more easily put in one's pocket and carried about.

The next change that was mentioned was the putting of spaces between words - invented by Irish monks, apparently, to make it easier to learn to read a language than none of them were native speakers of (latin). And then we moved on to the development of paper, which was originally invented by the Chinese and came to Western Europe via Islamic Arabs. Paper is much cheaper and easier to make than parchment and vellum, and this made books more available to scholars. And once the material was cheaper mass production systems were set up to make more books more quickly - so one way this was done was to break a master copy of a book into sections and then give these to several different scribes, each would then write his part in a few days and the sections would then be bound together. Each copy was then made direct from a master copy so more accurate as well as much more quickly than one scribe copying out a whole work. One of the experts Bragg talked to pointed out that even though it's hard to tell from actual book prices what the effect was it's possible to tell by looking at the numbers of books people had. So in Chaucer there is a tale of a scholar who is very proud of having 10 books, but once these mass produced paper books were available even undergraduate students could have twice as many.

Then comes the printing press & the Gutenberg Bible. Printing again was an invention of the Chinese, several centuries earlier, and I'm not quite sure if the idea made its way to Western Europe or if this was an independent invention. But even if he got the idea from somewhere else the revolutionary thing was movable type, to allow you to do many different pages with the same equipment. And this then made books even more easily available (and cheaper again) than they had been. One of the experts refered to it as "the Internet of its day", meaning that it was as revolutionising to the society then as the Internet is to us in terms of ease of sharing of knowledge & scholarship.

It was a very Western centric episode, even though China and the Middle East were mentioned, it was only in relation to developments in Western Europe. So that seemed a shame, but there are still 3 episodes so they may redress the balance a bit.

More Doctor Who - fourth of five episodes, I'm really not that keen on this splitting up of the season that they are doing these days. It feels a bit like you barely get started and then it's finishing up again. I'm not sure I really have much to say about this episode, despite enjoying it. Spoilers in the rest of this post, hover mouse over text to read or read on the page for the post.

I thought the way it started as a flashback type thing with Amy's voiceover was going to turn out to be interesting. Bit of a shame it seemed to be mostly to let them make the lame pun of a title explicit.

This felt like quite an old school Who episode, what with UNIT and callbacks to the time the Doctor spent on Earth in his 3rd & 4th regenerations. K9 was mentioned, the Brigadier too. And still a more personal level of story, even if it was an invasion of the whole Earth - we're still a step back from the universe destroying stories of recent seasons.

I liked part of the way the Shakri designed their pest extermination tools, it really is the way that would work - the initial worry & panic about the cubes followed by them just becoming part of the way things are. And then they switch on & do their stuff once we've relaxed. Perfectly designed. But other than that - why did they do a count down in arabic numerals, but not an Earth time unit? I mean either it was designed to tell us or it wasn't.

I was also a little unclear why they were stealing people as well as doing their thing with the cubes analysing us. I mean, either the cubes did the scan/response tests/whatnot or they looked at the people they stole. Felt a bit like they stole people so that there was a way for the Doctor to go & stop them. Which felt resolved a bit too quickly to be honest, right up until the end I thought it was going to be a two-parter but then Doctor just waves his screwdriver & everything is sorted out. But there's still a ship, and the Shakri presumably aren't going to give up just like that. Maybe it's going to come back in the second half of the season? Maybe they're just going to become vaguely recurring enemies in future.

No fakeouts with "the Doctor" not being him this week - but then he spent years working for UNIT so of course they meant him. Nice touch having Kate Stewart do the scan, show us two hearts to remind us why the heart stopping device wouldn't work on the Doctor for people who don't just automatically know he's got two.

The fakeout that did happen was when it looked like Rory & Amy were choosing to settle down. That was also one thing the voiceover thing did well, telling us how they were choosing between the two lives and showing what the choice was. They might even have done that too well, because the reversal at the end where Rory's Dad persuades them to go off and adventure again seemed to come a bit quickly.

More anvilicious hammering home of the "sometimes companions die" thought. Which I suspect means it won't quite work out like that, but it's going to look like it's going to. Or maybe I'm wrong, and one or both of Amy & Rory will die.

Interesting the "imprinting" of the Eleventh Doctor on Amy, I did wonder why these people were supposed to be different to any of his previous companions although that explanation does leave one wondering why it didn't seem to work that way before. But I think that's something we're just supposed to handwave past ;) (And it does work for Ten I suppose, as the Rose/Ten dynamic was also clingy).

Hmm, seems like I did have stuff to say :) Overall I did enjoy the episode, but it feels like the weakest of the 4 we've had so far this season.

The first TV night for a while, since we've been away or J's been out or we've both been out on a Wednesday for several weeks. We started off with the last in the Britain's Secret Treasures series that was broadcast on ITV a while ago. A technical niggle first - I don't know if it's our PVR or if it's the channel itself, but the sound and images on ITV HD always seem just slightly out of sync. I noticed it during the World Cup and now with this series, it's not a problem most of the time but with close-ups of people talking it's a little disorienting.

The series was looking at the top 50 objects that have been found in recentish years by members of the public, chosen and ordered by Bettany Hughes and a panel of fellow experts. The programmes were presented primarily by Bettany Hughes & Michael Buerk ... and I'm not entirely clear why Michael Buerk. He didn't seem to've been involved in the choice or anything, effectively he was there to be a "pretty face" (or alternatively to provide an authoritative male figure for those who'd think Hughes too female to count?). Perhaps I'm over cynical here. Each object then had a short segment of film where some tenuously linked celebrity (like Michael Portillo looked at a Roman coin because it had an emperor on it and Portillo used to be the Defense Secretary so that's all the same sort of thing - seriously, that's what they said!) or an expert in the subject went off to the site it was found, and/or somewhere relevant, and told us about the object and why it was significant, and maybe interviewed some experts on the subject.

The best thing about the series was the chance to see all these lovely things, and to hear the stories about the lucky finds. And in general I thought the objects were well chosen - I don't know if they'd be my top 50, not only am I not an expert but I don't know what the choice was from, but I thought they were a good top 50 if that makes sense. And I don't regret watching the programmes.

But - and you could tell there was a "but" coming, couldn't you? But I think there were some odd choices in the presentation of the series. By necessity it was a shallow look at the objects, but some choices of what to dwell on and what to gloss over were odd. The one that sticks particularly in my mind is the programme where we had a 5 minute segment of Hughes scuba diving in a river looking for coins (the objects this was related to had been covered earlier for 5 minutes already), and there was at least one object in that programme that got about 2 sentences & moved away from. Personally I'd've skipped the diving and looked at the actual objects more. There were also some odd choices of experts - particularly this last programme where both J and I were spluttering over the choice of a priest to talk about a 4000 year old gold cup. Yes, it was found in what was probably a temple, but I don't think a spiritual leader of Christianity has any special insight into possible religious practices of people who lived in Britain around 2000BC, and leaping from how the rituals around the chalice in Christianity are about both communion with God and communion with the community to how this cup must've also been part of a communion ritual seemed like a very good example of bringing one's own cultural blinkers along. (I'm not saying it's not true, I don't actually know anything about the subject, but I am saying I thought it was a poor argument.)

So in summary, good to have seen but at times eye-rolling to listen to.

Our second programme of the evening was the first episode of Neil Oliver's new series, Vikings. This is actually only timeshifted by a little over a week, quite prompt for us!

I'll start with the negative, and get it out of the way - I don't like the stylistic choices of the director and/or cameraperson for this and the other recent Neil Oliver serieses (the one about the Bronze Age and before & the one about the Iron Age, I can't remember what they were called). Basically they make me notice the camera too much, my preference for a documentary is for it not to try too hard to be "arty". They do stuff like when they're showing you an object they have a narrow depth of field and shift the focal plane around - and I just want to see the whole thing, damnit. Also shaky cam while he's walking along talking to the camera, which I think is supposed to make it feel intimate but just reminds me there's a cameraperson there. Having said that - both of those were toned down from the previous serieses. They'd added a new trick though, shots that made everything look minature - street shots where it looked like little mobile dolls walking between dolls houses. Which I found deeply deeply creepy in a visceral fashion.

However, that's enough bitching about the filming. The programme itself was interesting, and it promises to be an enjoyable series. The premise is to look at the Vikings from the Viking point of view & this first programme was setting the scene. First we had a brief section reminding us of the things "we all know" about Vikings, just to get us all on the same page at the start. So he spent a little bit of time in York with a few wee toy models of Vikings and some kids dressed up with helmets & swords playfighting, pointing out that most of this is later myth. And then we were off to Scandinavia to look at both the land the Vikings came from, and their history before the first raids on Europe.

The land obviously shapes the society that lives in it - and particularly in the far north of Scandinavia, like Norway, there isn't much arable land. Clearly over time this leads to population pressure, so a culture of young men going out adventuring would ease this both by killing some of them off and by having them bring back wealth from other more fertile regions. This and the amount of coast also makes seafaring important - during the sort of time period that Stonehenge was built, the people on Gotland were building stone ship shapes. An integral part of their culture even in the Bronze Age.

He also made the point that Scandinavia was never part of the Roman Empire, and this shaped the people & culture by not shaping them. The Scandinavians kept their old gods, rather than being integrated into Roman religion and then later into Christianity. And their gods and religion emphasised that while you will inevitably die your reputation will live forever. I wish I could remember the exact words - there was a segment of the programme where he talked to a scholar who was an expert on the old religion & she read out some of what I think was an Old Norse book about it, and translated it into English for us. It was much more poetic than how I phrased it. And what mattered to a Viking about his reputation was that he wasn't a coward - honour and glory were what would keep your memory alive.

As well as keeping their own religion they also weren't urbanised by the Romans - so while the south of Scandinavia (Denmark) had wealthy individuals and even regional kings, they weren't organised in towns. I think the point here was that this is a contrast to the way that the ex-Roman Empire parts of Europe thought that a society was automatically organised. As part of this section he also showed us objects that demonstrated that the southern Vikings at least did have trade connections to quite far afield. Some very impressive silver cups which I think were from the Mediterranean and were decorated in a Roman style with scenes from the Iliad. Also the bones of two women from a ship burial just before the time of the first Viking raids on Britain - and one of these women DNA analysis has shown that she may've had some connection to Middle Eastern peoples. (I was unclear if he meant that she herself was from the Middle East or if she had ancestors from the Middle East, perhaps because that's not actually known.)

So that was a fairly brisk sweep through a vast swathe of history & geography to give us a flavour of where the Vikings came from both culturally & physically. Next I guess we're on to what the Vikings actually did :)

Marillion did a (fairly short) UK tour just after the new album came out and we went to the show in London on 16th Sept. We did a bit of museuming beforehand (which I'll write up another time), then met Ady & Pete at Kentish Town to find dinner before the show. Paul was supposed to join us too, but his trains were all screwed up so he had to give it a miss :( Ended up eating in Nandos, which I haven't done in probably a decade ... and it would've been that Nandos last time too, before a Marillion gig!

Unusually I had a camera with me, a few years ago most concerts tried to stop you taking photos but things have moved on a bit. Didn't take the big camera, obviously, if nothing else it's awfully hard to take photos at arms length above my head with that one. And despite taking quite a lot of photos (coz only a few would come out) I didn't watch the whole show through the viewfinder either ;) All the pics are on flickr, so click through for a larger version.

The support band for the evening were DeeExpus - Mark Kelly (keyboards in Marillion) plays on the album, but didn't come out and play on stage with them. We do actually have the album, but I haven't listened to it much so I didn't know the songs. They sounded good at the time, but haven't really stuck in my head at all.


And then on to the main act! They started with a little fake-out of the intro to Splintering Heart, followed by explosions and then into Gaza - the opening track off the new album (which is called "Sounds That Can't Be Made"). A bit of a politically charged song, as it's about the humanitarian side of the situation in Gaza, and it made for a powerful start to the show.

Logo for the New AlbumSteve HogarthSteve Hogarth

I think I've said before I'm bad at remembering setlists. As well as four songs off the new album, this one had some old classics like This Town and Great Escape, some of the newer classics like Neverland and You're Gone. Oh and a rendition of A Few Words for the Dead where h waved a gun around, with a flower in it for the bit where the lyrics kick in with "or you could love".

Steve HogarthSteve HogarthSteve Hogarth

The (last) encore was Sugar Mice which is a favourite of mine (starting with a slightly ropey crowd sing-along), and in a nice touch the final song - Estonia - was dedicated to Neil Armstrong. The show was recorded, and they'd organised it so that you could buy the CD after the show, which was kinda neat :)

Pete TrewavasSteve RotheryMark KellyIan MosleyMarillionMark KellySteve HogarthSteve RotheryPete TrewavasMarillionSteve HogarthSteve HogarthPete TrewavasSteve RotheryMarillionMark KellySteve RotherySteve RotheryMarillionMarillion

We've been to find a few caches in Ipswich since coming back from Northumberland, but with a lower success rate. The first trip in Ipswich was a complete failure - we were only looking for one cache, which is in the park near our house. Unfortunately when we got to the rough area of the site we discovered it's completely overgrown with nettles, and despite J's best efforts at looking we had no luck at all. J got very stung by the nettles, tho :( (I had a skirt on & bare legs, so didn't venture into the nettles at all!)

However our next trip was better.

Day 5

map for geocaching day 5

We met up with some of J's work colleagues (Kerry, Peter, Anna & Adam), near the College, and headed off to find some caches. All three we were looking for were puzzle ones - you have to solve the puzzle on the website to get the actual co-ordinates of the cache (it does give you wrong-but-close co-ordinates to get you to the vague vicinity). I'd not actually done any of the solving myself (to be honest with the geocaching stuff I'm pretty much just along for the ride, it's a good excuse for a walk and to be sociable). The first one we were looking for was "Ipswich Haven Marina" and we failed with that one :( Peter had been a couple of times before & failed to find it, too. The cache owner got in touch with J and with Kerry after they logged DNFs, so we now know that we do have the right co-ords and that the cache is still there (he checked for us). So another trip another day! (Peter has already gone back and found it, so it's definitely definitely there ;) )

The next two were successful! One near the New Wolsey Theatre ("What a Performance") and one a little way up Bramford Road ("A Cachers Melody"). Both found without much trouble, despite it being dark by the time we got to them.

And after that we headed back into town to get some food, ending up at the Kwan Thai partly by virtue of it still being open at 9:30pm. And partly because it's a nice resturant :)

Day 6

map for geocaching day 6

J and I went back out on Saturday afternoon, and promptly discovered the "Ipswich Haven Marina" cache - not quite sure how we all missed it before, to be honest.

We then (via a coffee in Cafe Nero) headed off to look for "A hard one ..." which J and Anna had solved the puzzle for the day before. We searched for quite a while, but in the end had to admit defeat on that one :( We did check the co-ordinates with the cache owner once we got home & apparently we're right so perhaps it's vanished or perhaps we just need to look harder!

Back in January there was a five part series on the Written Word as part of the In Our Time series, which is what we've chosen to listen to next. This is a slightly different format in that instead of 3 guests in the studio Bragg is going to museums etc & talking to the curators & experts there.

This programme covered the initial development both of writing itself, and of the alphabetic system we use today. He went and looked at (and described to us) examples of early cuneiform writing, Egyptian hieroglyphs and Chinese oracle bones, which are three of the four independent inventions of writing. It's interesting that something so fundamental to modern civilisation was invented so few times - as well as the three I listed there's also an independent development on the American continent, but all other writing systems were developed from other systems or directly inspired by other systems.

(It's actually a little controversial to say that Egyptian writing was developed independently like I did in the preceding paragraph - it may've been inspired by cuneiform, however the earliest known Egyptian writing is getting to be early enough that it's more likely to be independent. Also J's been reading a book about the development of writing, and it also makes the point that the Egyptian and Mesopotamian writing systems developed for different reasons - Mesopotamian writing was proto-book keeping, Egyptian writing had religious significance. So probably independent origin.)

I actually found the Chinese stuff the most interesting as it was completely new to me - in ancient China (in the Shang Dynasty) the rulers read oracles in the pattern of cracks that you get by using a hot poker on ox shoulder bones. These oracles were then recorded on the bones by scribes in the earliest known forms of modern Chinese characters, which makes the Chinese system the longest consecutively used modern writing system.

The programme also name checked Linear A (undeciphered) and Linear B (a syllabic system that was an early way to write Greek), and then moved on to the development of our more familiar alphabet. It made the point that the Greek alphabet was the first to write down vowels - previous alphabetic systems were for Semitic languages and due to the way those languages are structured the consonant sequences are less ambiguous (as I understand it). So to a native speaker it's a lot more obvious in context what a word is than it would be in English (or presumably Greek).

We were out all day yesterday, so I'm a day late writing this up - probably going to end up rather more disjointed than I might wish ;) Spoilers galore in the rest of the post, hover mouse over text to read or read on full entry page.

Where to start? Another good episode :) I liked it right from the start with the voice over cluing us into the tone of the episode - a Western. Tho for all I know everyone across the US is wincing at how the accent was all wrong, but it worked for the Brit audience anyway ;)

Note the fakeout in the intro voiceover, too - the man who doesn't die, who falls from the sky. And it's not the Doctor. Also, another fakeout early on - it's the "alien Doctor" that the cyborg is looking for to kill, and again it's not the Doctor. Which resonates with three fakeouts I can think of from last episode: a) Solomon wants the Doctor brought to him when he overhears Rory calling him Doctor, but it's because he wants medical attention, not because he wants "The Doctor"; b) the scanner that tells the value of everything doesn't flag up the Doctor as interesting or even known; c) Solomon finds something "more valuable than the dinosaurs" and it's neither the Tardis nor the Doctor, it's Nefertiti. I'm not sure if this is season arc stuff or if this is more about aggressively re-educating our expectations - I'm sure I read somewhere that Moffat thought the stakes for Doctor Who stories had got too high, and that he wanted to pull back the scope of the stories to more personal ones rather than universe destroying ones. Certainly these last two episodes have fit that mould, and the fakeouts remind us that the whole universe does not, in fact, revolve around the Doctor.

I liked the way that the characters generally weren't one-note this time. I say "generally" partly because I'm not sure whether to count the preacher as a "proper" character or not, he has a speaking part but he doesn't really do much (and in not doing much doesn't get characterisation beyond stereotypical "man of the cloth in frontier town who prays a bit"). Obviously Jex & the Gunslinger are set up to play with our expectations & sympathies, and set up to mirror & cast lights on the Doctor & his demons. But also Isaac - I felt clearly he did things in the war he wasn't proud of and he was in some ways atoning for this by his protection of Jex. And "the kid" who ringleads the push to fling out first the Doctor then Jex to the Gunslinger - leading a lynch mob isn't exactly a plus point, but he's doing the best he can think of to look after his family and his town.

Jex in particular was well done, I thought. He was a manipulative little bastard (the "bonding" moment with Amy as a parent, the way he pushes the Doctor's buttons, the way he clearly got Isaac onside), although he doesn't always get quite the reaction he wants - not as clever as he'd like to hope he is. You could see how he managed to rationalise his participation in atrocities and how he justified himself to others. You could also see he was consumed by guilt, he knew he'd done wrong, but you could see the self-interest in his repentance - redemption for him wasn't about atoning for the wrongs he'd done to others, it was about avoiding or ameliorating an afterlife that would be unpleasant for him.

Some nice callbacks to previous continuity like Amy having to do the "and this is why you need company" speech. I felt the Time War was the elephant in the room for a lot of the Doctor/Jex scenes but as well as that there's more recent & on-screen moments like "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Waters of Mars" are clearly referenced in the "what holds you back is your morality" conversation where Jex is both manipulating and wrong - the Doctor has rules, and people who expect better from him, the Doctor left to his own devices in the past has acted like a vengeful & capricious god not like a moral person.

On a lighter note there's also the "I speak horse" thing, like how he speaks baby in the cyberman one with the rom-com star (I can't remember the episode name, or the famous actor in it, hopefully you can figure out what I mean!). And the horse being Susan and wanting his life choices respected gave me a good giggle, from the combination of the deadpan delivery from the Doctor and the preacher's face.

Amy & Rory didn't really have a lot to do here - Amy's "you need us" moment aside. In fact Rory could've been elsewhere entirely & I don't think it'd be noticeable. The end is noteworthy though for Amy also being keen to get home, things have changed again since last episode. The Doctor may or may not've been intentionally weaning Rory & Amy off him, but he's certainly succeeding. Note also that he's 1200 years old now, and at the end of last season he was 1100 years old - I presume that's to show us how he's stretching out his visits to Amy & Rory even more from his perspective. I had another thought about the "you'll be here till the end of me" conversation from last episode too, is the Doctor trying in some ways to spread out his visits so that he doesn't out live this set of companions?

Oh, and I've seen a few comments elsewhere on the web about how the Doctor wouldn't point a gun at anyone coz he's anti-violence ... I think he's actually a hypocrite and was so even in old school Who ;) I ran across a link to this montage & it seems appropriate here:

Note that it's got swear words in the music it's set to, so perhaps headphones if you're looking at it at work.

J got interested in geocaching, coz some of his work colleagues are into it. So while we were up north for the bank holiday weekend we went to find some caches.

Day 1

map for geocaching day 1

We picked up two caches on our first trip out - "Stonehinge" & "Snow White", both of which are in Shildon Woods to the north of Blanchland.

Noah is Not Entirely ConvincedI Think It's This Way?Found It!

After lunch we then headed out for another two, "Baybridge Beans" & "Faerie Glen", which are to the southwest of Blanchland. It was threatening rain, so I didn't take my camera - just well, because it started to rain when we were about a quarter of the way round the walk and we ended up completely and utterly soaked! Well, all of us except for Noah who had his own little roof (on the carry thingy).

Day 2

map for geocaching day 2

The weather the next day was also pretty miserable, so we drove to 4 round the edges of Derwent Reservoir - "Sheep Rabbits & Water", "Tree-mendous", "Cache Hill Stream" and "Sheila's Tree Cache" (the latter two being in the same rough area). Obviously we drove round, rather than through, the reservoir despite what Google Latitude seems to think we did.

Day 3

map for geocaching day 3

Jo, Chris & Noah went home the next day, but J and I did another batch of caches once they'd gone. First we headed to Hexham, picking up "The Hollybush - Jacobite Rising" on the way.

map for geocaching day 3, in Hexham

And in Hexham itself we found "The Sele" and "Hexham House of Correction". The latter was in the remnants of a Victorian House of Correction - there's just one bit of the building left, rather incongrously tucked into a housing estate next to a bus garage.

After we'd got back to Blanchland and had some lunch we headed off on a couple more walks:

map for geocaching day 3, in the hills

The theme for the afternoon appeared to be derelict buildings, first we went up on the moors to Belmount Farm for "Murder Most Foul".

On Top of the WorldDramatic SkyRock HeapBelmount FarmOn Top of the WorldPonyOnly the Occasional Cow

And then we walked down a steep valley from Hunstanworth and back up the other side to Gibraltar for "Gibraltar (Co. Durham)". We'll have to go back there sometime, as we discovered subsequently that J's Dad has a copy of a photo from when that cottage was inhabited, and that would be a nice thing to leave in the cache for people to see.

On the Way to GibraltarGibraltar CottageGibraltar Cottage

A 100% success rate for our first few trips, not bad :)

The cycling race the Tour of Britain started its first leg in Ipswich down at the Waterfront area on Sunday, so we got up early and headed down there to have a look and to take a few photos. We should probably have gone down quite a lot earlier than we did, as by the time we got there half an hour before the start it was really very busy. Eventually we managed to find a spot where we could see and I could kinda almost get some pictures!

To be honest, I'm not 100% happy with any of the photos. But some have come out well enough to share & I've put them up on flickr, here, and below are a few taster images.

Just before the race started they had some people cycle round that bit of the route - advertising cycling clubs I think. And the actual racers were also riding up & down a bit to warm-up.


Then it was time for the race!


Tour of Britain

Tour of Britain

Afterwards we headed into town to get some breakfast, and noticed that there was a "fun ride" type thing going on round the town centre:

Fun Bike Ride

We've developed a tradition of listening to a podcast of a recent In Our Time episode while we eat our breakfast on Sundays. This week we moved it to Saturday morning as we were off to see the Tour of Britain start on Sunday (of which more another time), and the programme we listened to was about Scepticism.

A brief note on the format, in case you haven't listened to any of the In Our Time programmes - it's a BBC Radio 4 series where each week Melvyn Bragg invites 3 experts on a particular subject to come on the programme and they discuss that subject live on air for 45 minutes. The subjects cover all sorts of things - philosophy, history, the sciences, art etc. It's generally presented at a level where you don't need to know anything about the subject in advance, but it still feels like it gets into the details. Some programmes are very narrowly focused (someone's life & works, or a particular event in history, or a particular concept), some are more broad - like this one about the philosophical idea of Scepticism.

The experts this week were Peter Millican (Professor of Philosophy at Hertford College, Oxford), Melissa Lane (Professor of Politics at Princeton University) and Jill Kraye (Professor of the History of Renaissance Philosophy and Librarian at the Warburg Institute, University of London). They started the programme by discussing what the philosophical concept of Scepticism actually is - the idea that it isn't possible to be certain about anything, including whether or not the external world is real. They then moved on to discuss the origins of the philosophy in ancient Greece, and how it is opposed to more dogmatic movements that insist that some things can be assumed to be truth. The second half of the programme followed the rediscovery of this philosophy in medieval Europe & the impact that this had on the Renaissance & Enlightment eras (and on our own world). For instance Descartes philosophy (the man who decided "I think, therefore I am") came from an examination of Sceptic ideas. And modern science is heavily influenced by Scepticism - instead of dogmatically insisting one "knows" something, to come up with hypotheses that fit what's been observed & then keep asking questions, being sceptical.


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