An American Infinate Monkey Cage

Brian Cox and Robin Ince, co-hosts of "The Infinite Monkey Cage" on BBC4. 

Brian Cox and Robin Ince, co-hosts of "The Infinite Monkey Cage" on BBC4. 

It's great to see Robin Ince and Brian Cox touring America with their popular BBC4 Infinite Monkey Cage program. The Infinite Monkey Cage is one of my favorite podcasts - I can't get enough of it. Humor and science really do go together, and some of the funniest subsets of our human family are science enthusiasts and scientists. The wonders of nature are truly hilarious. 

I'm often beside myself with frustration when I confront people who are hanging on to ideological positions that inhibit their ability to learn and grow. Safety in numbers often equals narrow minds. We are amazing animals able to explore and understand nature better than any species we know of. Isn't that something to be proud of. I know our arrogance knows no bounds, but this rather nascent confidence of ours to create amazing things from our ability to do pure scientific exploration is nothing short of an infinite treasure. We need to treasure this ability and be humble and wise moving forward. 

For those of you who are concerned about their position in the world I'd like to ask a few rhetorical questions. 

What's wrong with improving people through education? Can we give equal access to education to everyone alive today? That would be nice. Think of the value an investment like that would create? Think of education's impact on our cultural values. Why waste the intellectual and creative power of three-quarters of the human race when it wouldn't be that hard to educate everyone. Not so long ago most people in the world were illiterate. It's hard for us to imagine that today. Well fed and well-loved people are learning machines with no equal. (But, however scary, it might be nice to know that there are wiser and smarter creatures than us out there in the Universe. At least we'd have something to shoot for that would transcend our petty, earthly differences.)

Why not get rid of nuclear weapons and invest more in ongoing generations of nuclear power that would be safer, cleaner and provide very efficient energy to a growing world while we are transitioning to renewable solutions? Does it really have to be that hard for us to ween ourselves off of fossil fuels in the light of the impending catastrophic consequences of climate change? How stubborn are we when it comes to holding on to what we think is ours - power, possessions, land, money? Will we really hang on to our bad habits until it kills us? Many of the things that kill us are avoidable. We need merely to make different choices and thrive. We know we can do it if we only had the social and political will to make some important changes to the way we live and how we carry on about out business.

What's wrong with homosexual people enjoying the institution of marriage? Loving families are good and contribute to social health. Do we really have to pathologize love? What would be more dangerous than turning love into a bad thing, a sinful thing that needs to be crushed? What contributes to successful families more than an environment that is, healthy, safe, secure and allows people the equal chance to do what they truly love and to share their love of life with their family? 

Is it possible for us to become better critical thinkers so we aren't so easily swayed by propaganda and marketing? If we are going to be truly effective, socially responsible consumers and bend corporate will to our better nature we'll have to be able to sort through the mixed messages and discern the difference between what is good for us and for society, and what is merely good for shareholder value. Again, we're talking about the difference between the value of commodities traded on markets and human values that animate and color every aspect of our experience. 

Can we learn how to better understand each other and cooperate with one another so as to avoid costly conflicts and wars? We are a species defined in many ways by our ability to cooperate and collaborate. What's holding us back? What aspects of our nature are preventing us from creating peace in this world?

I could go on and on like this. I know we can do better. Of this, I have faith. I want us to do better. I can imagine a better world. This is not to say our world, or the world I find myself living in is not pretty great. I am a very fortunate man. 

And now something completely inspiring:

The Infinite Monkeys return for a new series, the first of which will see them head to the USA for their first live tour. This week Brian Cox and Robin Ince can be found on stage in New York asking the question, Is Science a Force for Good Or Evil? They are joined on stage by Bill Nye the Science Guy, cosmologist Janna Levin, actor Tim Daly and comedian Lisa Lampanelli.

Listen to the podcast. PART ONE OF SIX - The Infinite Monkey Cage, American Tour.

One of my first philosophical musings was on infinity. I imagined that I was part-and-parcel of an evolving God that was Nature in a quest to figure itself out and that "I" was merely a reflection of this process. (Sounds like Carl Sagan.) I was lost in this exploratory narrative for years from about 10 to 15. Later, while traveling in India in the late '70s with a gentleman I nicknamed, Rasta Punjab, I was goaded into pondering the question of Time. Rasta Punjab would ask me every day, over and over again, "Steven, what is time?" And I began again to torture myself with another unanswerable question. Some of us thrive on things we can't understand. When we at last parted I asked Rasta Punjab why he kept asking me about time and he laughed and said, "Because your answers were very entertaining." 

And why not strive to understand where we come from and whether we are alone in the Universe? We are explorers. If we survive thousands of years more our wilderness will be the galaxy, our manifest destiny out among the stars. This is a good thing, and in a way, a very natural ambition. We need to keep going. 

It's never good to outsource our thinking completely. We need to enjoy doing the heavy lifting of deep thought and get on with sharing our thoughts and ideas. Our passions can be beautiful, sublime things. 

If you haven't heard it already. The podcast really inspired me. I hope it will inspire you too. 


Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.