Infinite Monkey Cage 9: Fury of the Professor

This was written on the rackety train back from Braintree, please expect errors and feel satisfied when you find them. 

The working day began with a feisty argument with Brian Cox. As our Infinite Monkey Cage was to be about human perception and the possible limitations of the human mind, I was expecting a scuffle. It is a pity that many TV viewers only see the smiling version, the belligerent and apoplectic one should be caught on film swearing at fjords and glacial valleys more often. It is good to get to the edge of fisticuffs and slammed doors when feuding over the limits of the human mind rather than just “did you spill my pint or sing the song of the wrong football team?” I am not drinking pints at the moment and have no football team or geographically specific celebratory or abusive song, so it’s harder to generate that fury, fortunately a shortcut for those who still wish to punch me is a tone of voice that can rile and one of those bespectacled faces that is fist bait. 

Rami, our current producer while our usual one nurtures her new baby, mentioned that one of our guests stated, “you cannot be an outside of observer of nature”, and with that, off we went. 

(The next bits of dialogue are embroidered or frayed recollections of the gist of what happened).

“What tommy rot!”, the professor declared. “of course you can. physics measurement physics muons gluons quarks and probabilities are what I say to that”. 

I attempted to explain what I thought it meant, dangerous, because once the Professor smells what he thinks is metaphysics, post modernism, or cultural relativism, the slightest defence or explanation will see you cast as someone who spends most of their spare time fashioning butter into Deepak Chopra statues that you worship until a sunny day brutally robs you of them. 

“I presume what might be meant is that we are nature viewing nature, we are part of the set of natural things of the universe, but that doesn’t mean that science is ‘just another myth’ or that there is as much us in a poo sieve as there is in a collider”

“Gellerite! Chopra fetishist! Acorahista! Al-Khalili and I shall haul you across the Thames in our speed racing barge that is powered by our own mighty thoughts! If only the thought gathering electrodes did not get tangled in my hair, oh how lucky smooth Jim is”.

Then, I mentioned some of Robert Anton Wilson’s writings from Quantum Psychology, that did not improve matters.

“The dunderhead has misconstrued quantum mechanics for his own metaphorical gain, is today’s show to be nothing more than druidery and dream catchers?”

We talked of Martin Rees’s view that there may be things beyond our comprehension and imagination, just as quantum mechanics is beyond the realm of a chimpanzee’s mind, are there things of the universe we will never know of because our brain’s lack the circuitry to imagine or perceive them.  We returned to measurement, to the possibility of a message being created that is so universal, any creature from any galaxy with an intelligence the same as, or beyond, our own could comprehend it. 

By the time we made it to the Green Room, hands heavy with tea and sandwiches were gesticulating. Our guest Beau Lotto, a neuroscientist and artist, arrived and declared he would rather be in bed after a week of traveling. I presumed this feeling was greatly enhanced once The Professor started his pre-show inquisition. Claudia Hammond, All in the Mind presenter and author of the recently award winning book Time Warped, about human perception of the passing of time looked as if she was ready to be told that time was an illusion, a trick of the brain, but fortunately Brian was happy to confirm that he definitely believed it was an existing dimension. Then Alan Moore, ever the Santa Wizard, arrived with gifts of Nemo and Fashion Beast, and I knew that, if not Timothy Leary and his reality tunnels, he might mildly play with our minds by talking of The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. 

In the end we recorded about three times the length required for a show, but still didn’t get to talking about John C Lilly giving both a swimmer and a dolphin LSD in the hope that they would be able to understand each other better, and we barely even touched on the Corpus Callosum and the man with Christian right hemisphere and an atheist left hemisphere. Then I interviewed Alan about Nemo for Cosmic Genome. As usual, this required only one question before we had all the footage required. 

Tuesday was a good day. 

Monkey Cage is back in two weeks.

Brian Cox and I are curating another couple of nights at Hammersmith Apollo on 12th and 14th December, all profits to MSF, Sophie Lancaster Foundation and a Manchester University Scholarship fund. Details HERE

The Incomplete map of the Cosmic Genome App can be found HERE

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13 Responses to Infinite Monkey Cage 9: Fury of the Professor

  1. Ursula says:

    You guys need to bring this show to New York City!!!

  2. Too funny! I’m dying for TIMC to start up again. Love the show.

  3. dave2718 says:

    And Melbourne – although the BBC podcasts do a good (virtual) job

  4. If ever a show needed, needed I say, a “XL” version, it’s TIMC. To know that there are maybe 90 recorded minutes, of which I’m only going to hear 20-odd, is heartbreaking. On the plus side, at least I’ll get to hear some edited highlights in a couple of weeks.

  5. jayc456 says:

    looking forward to new IMC pod casts – have listened to all the other series about 127 times – still good!

  6. Jeff Griffith says:

    And Toronto too

  7. Del says:

    Was at the recording of Tuesdays show. Thought the debate was very informative and entertaining, time flew by (in my reality at least) so will be interesting how you edit that down to 28 mins or so. Favourite bit was Brian momentarily lost for words following a challenge on measurement from Alan Moore.

  8. Faye Ramsey says:

    You guys need to put out un-edited versions on DVD…there is so much the listeners miss.

  9. lambcourt says:

    ‘Fury of the Professor’ – excellent tale, but aren’t things getting a bit Fundamentalist there, raging at people whose views or beliefs differ? Robin, you ought to check that CERN isn’t concealing some kind of scientific Inquisition – ideal place, deep below the earth ‘where no-one can hear you scream’…there could be dungeons! Maybe they send the ‘heretics’ for a spin around the collider for daring to consider that physics and metaphysics can coexist peacefully…..

  10. Jackie says:

    Your description of meetings with the Prof always make me laugh.

  11. Gideon says:

    Bob Wilson would have been a big fan of Brian Cox’s work and was well aware of how he was misappropriating the term Quantum in the title of the book. IIRC he said so himself, IN the book.

    It’s nice to know that Brian has as short a trigger off camera as i thought he would though 😉

    Keep up the good work, guys

  12. lanceleuven says:

    “This was written on the rackety train back from Braintree”

    And yet your rendering of Prof Cox was pitch-perfect. I could hear his Oldham tones drifting through every syllable. It was almost as if he was in the room.

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