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Chaos of Delight Episode 1


Charles Darwin wrote wonderful sentences, beautiful books and fabulous phrases and one of my favourite is when he describes his mind being a ‘Chaos of Delight’ after seeing many of the splendid lifeforms in a Brazilian forest.  And we have asked everyone who’s been involved in this App when they experience that ‘Chaos of Delight.’ – Robin Ince

It was this amazing mixture of you’re sort of meeting a person and not meeting them at the same time. 


Meeting a human brain.  So, ah, I think it was four or five months ago now (April 2013) we’d filmed a piece for Science Club, it was on brain science and we met a scientist in his lab and he had a box, a sort of stationery box and we said, ‘Well can you move that, it’s in the way,’ and he said, ‘Oh, well that’s where the brain is.’  So he lifted this brain out, spinal cord trailed behind it, um, and it went ‘squelch when he poked it, it wasn’t very nice.  And he held it up so I was looking at what had been a person, spinal cord drifting down there, and it was really, it was this amazing mixture of you’re sort of meeting a person and not meeting them at the same time.  You’re meeting their wiring.  

And afterwards I went swimming, we were in the States in the town I used to live in, and I went swimming and for an hour I couldn’t get my brain, my brain, my own brain was kind of in this weird state where the whole of the pool was black and white almost, like it was it was greyed out, and instead of people there was just brains with spinal cords walking around and swimming.  And it really brought home to me, and it was like that for an hour, my brain couldn’t shift it, and it was a real sort of moment of condensing what I logically knew about brain science into ‘this is what we are.’

That was followed the next day, so it was a two day thing, we interviewed somebody different the next day, and he was a brain surgeon and he was looking at signals in the brain that did various things, distinguish vowel sounds, and he had these electrodes, ah, some patients, they need to take the back of their skull off and put electrodes on there.  So you can put other electrodes on there and sort of listen in on what the brain’s doing.  And he was listening to how vowel sounds are differentiated.  How when we think a vowel sound, what it is that’s happening in the brain.  And I said to him, ‘What exactly is it that you’re detecting,’ he’s got this little needle stuck in there, ‘What exactly is it seeing?’  And he showed me.

And it was a shape like this, a sort of wavy line that died away, and that’s really common.  To a scientist it’s called a decaying sinusoid, it’s the most basic physical sort of thing that happens.  Things oscillate like this and then they die away.  And the way that our brain distinguishes vowel sounds is these decaying sinusoids, with different sort of wave lengths and dying away more or less quickly.  And a signal like that, I can make a circuit, with three components, that does that.  And I could never explain to the director of the programme it well enough to get this into the programme, but this moment of seeing this thing that a computer circuit generates come out of a human brain was astonishing.  And then you can look at the complexity and sort of fuzziness of the brain and all the complicated things and then just sometimes it shows that really it’s a computer.  That was amazing.