David Attenborough on Desert Island Discs

January 29, 2012 • 12:59 pm

Okay, okay, the badger could have been a joke.  Onward and upward:  If you listen to the BBC, you’ll be familiar with the show “Desert Island Discs,” in which public figures list the limited selection of music they’d take with them were they to be marooned on a desert island.  Today’s show, starring David Attenborough, is especially engrossing. Do have a listen; it’s 45 minutes long.

Though his choice of music is pretty conventional—Schubert, Bach, Strauss (but also some Indonesian stuff)—the interview is fascinating, with many insights into Attenborough’s life, work, and travel.  The guy is 85 years old and is still going strong. And I’m extremely jealous, for I’d love to have his job.

Attenborough and I do share one thing, though:

But despite his extraordinary travels, there is one part of the globe that’s eluded him. As a young man and a keen rock-climber, he yearned to conquer the highest peak in the world. “I won’t make it now – I won’t make it to base camp now – but as a teenager, I thought that the only thing a red-blooded Englishman really should do was to climb Everest.”

That, too, was my ambition, and I got so far as to walk to Everest base camp—twice.  The Khumbu Valley is, I think, the most beautiful place in the world, but, alas, I’m too old to go clambering about  on the mountains.

Professor Ceiling Cat deems this the most beautiful place in the world

(Photo by Tim Laman, courtesy of National Geographic; click to enlarge.)

83 thoughts on “David Attenborough on Desert Island Discs

    1. Not quite as lofty, but Norman Clyde was still climbing in the Sierra Nevada of California when he was 80. Of course, he’d been doing that his whole life — having made more first ascents than anyone.

      1. Apropos the two above, I believe Nepalese have an advantage in being already acclimatised to altitude.

        Not to take away anything from Norman Clyde, but I imagine altitude (i.e. lower oxygen) would not be a major factor in the Sierra Nevada (just all the other things that make climbing challenging).

        A fit 30-year-old from our office made the trek to Everest Base Camp late last year and told us how he felt the effects of altitude even at that level.

        I think it may be a little bit unfair (though I’m sure it is intended as encouragement) to keep pointing out to Dr Coyne, examples of outstanding physical achievements – how many of us on this list could manage that?

  1. He rather sweetly dismisses the claim of being adored and having an ‘unimpeachable quality’ by saying ‘I’m actually rather peachable if you know how to peach’. Having met him once, which made me rather weak-kneed with delight, all I can say is that considering he was tired from travelling and being filmed in the hot sun all day he was, he was wonderful, deeply interested in all around him, patient with and attentive to his admirers, sharp and funny. And full of great and funny stories.

  2. Agreed that Attenborough has done a lot of good stuff.

    But does he believe (as implied in one of his TV programs) that species ADVANCE through evolution over time? How many on this blog do?

    1. “But does he believe (as implied in one of his TV programs) that species ADVANCE through evolution over time? How many on this blog do?”

      I do, for one. How else do you think complex and efficient adaptations like eyes evolve from their simpler and cruder and less efficient beginnings? How else does subtle and delicate camouflage improve on the crude resemblance of the early stages in its evolution? The idea that evolution does not progress is one of the many misconceptions about evolution promoted by the lamentably influential S J Gould.

      Richard Dawkins

      1. But isn’t it also progress when cave-dwelling species lose their eyes (and the risks thereto and costs thereof)?

        Isn’t the point that evolution enables progress (the more complicated things that humans like) and also regression to simpler, less subtle, less delicate adaptations when those are favoured by the environment? For example, the deep sea angler fish where the male has evolved into a mere testis, parasitic on the female.

        From the point of view of the organisms that survive as a result, that is also progress.

        1. Yes, evolution can progress in any of several directions. Successive generations of cave dwellers become progressively better adapted to cave conditions as the surface genotypes are selected out.

        2. “What humans like” is irrelevant to the question I asked. I would be most interested in any argument to the contrary, and in further explanation of just how “what humans like” pertains to the answer(s).

          1. “What humans like” is very relevant because it is we humans who are the observers of the process making the commentary, and need to compensate for our bias.

            It is we humans and what we like that has a lot to do with the definition of “progress” and “advancement”.

            Our understanding of the whole story of evolution has been contaminated since before Darwin by the “Great Chain of Being” – which continues in the much-copied and much-parodied procession of anthropoids – and the idea that evolution has humans as its goal.

            1. Thanks, Shag. I thought that’s what I meant by human perspective being irrelevant. Evolution is the phenomenon–it is what it is. How we see it is irrelevant to what it is. But if you mean that it is important that humans see it as it is and not how believe it to be, that is the reason for my initial question.

        3. I mean progress in the sense of progression in terms of improvement OVER TIME, irrespective of the influences of context changes. I’m concerned that the right idea is conveyed (to scientists, not to mention “laypersons”) rather than a misleading concept (e.g., “March of Progress”).

          Perhaps the confusion does arise from semantics, but if so, there may be more to understand than to merely learn.

      2. First I want to profoundly thank Professor-Doctor Dawkins for specifically citing the questions I asked, rather than ricocheting off into the intellectual weeds. Lamentably, this kind of discipline in intellectual discourse is almost extinct, leaving the participants in a smoke-screen of vague and veiled allusions quite off the point, and to the vagaries of fervent beliefs to be defended by any fallacy feasible. PLEASE NOTE: The questions were asked in a neutral, not a biased manner. Perhaps believers in evolution as a process by which organisms improve over time were offended by the temerity of the question being asked at all.

        I will more properly answer Dawkins’ question later, but I first would like straightforward answers to my questions to the Forum at large. I do not personally profess to be “on the right hand of God,” as it were, on this question; I merely want to know how many believers and unbelievers lie out there–especially in the realm of evolutionary biology and ecology.

        Does Dawkins believe, for example, that pre-literate humans (say, Cro-Magnons or Neanderthals) were inferior to the “advanced” form of humans present today?

        As to the late Steven Jay Gould, I will refrain from perpetuating the unfortunate personal nature of that old debate and stick to the issue. Perhaps Gould was belaboring under misconception, perhaps not, but I see no value in characterizing the debate as being “owned” alone by Gould and/or Dawkins. Do I presume correctly that all Forum participants agree that arguing from authority (e.g., either Gould or Dawkins) is widely accepted as fallacious?

          1. Again, I am not interested in personalities, only the issues.

            Are humans “better” than slime mold?

            Were it not for slime molds, would humans exist?

      3. I think the stressing of “ADVANCE”, is deliberate suggesting forward planning and direction in what is a blind selective process. While populations change over time and in many ways are better than their predecessors there isn’t a plan to end up in a particular form rather that the result is the one that works in that environment as such appears optimised due to selection rather than design. Certain words can be used to make a semantic argument for design by quote mining people.

        1. To the best of my memory, Attenborough used the word “advance.” However, I believe that one could substitute the word “progress” without changing the semantic implication in the context in which “advance” was used.

          I want to understand, as accurately and completely as possible, what Attenborough and the learned professor of trilobites actually meant and believe to be true rather than waste time and good minds upon technicalities that are not relevant to the issue. That is, did Attenborough err in his terminology or did he actually mean that he believes that evolution is the mechanism by which organisms “improve,” that is “become progressively better” over time; that is, that time is an important or the most important, factor.

          What does the term “better” actually mean with respect to evolution?

        2. Way back when this discussion took place, I don’t think I gave Kieran a very good response. Or at least not good enough. I will try again to be more responsive to his points, recognizing that I may not fully understand them. I hope he will correct me if that is the case.

          I agree that evolution is “a blind selective process” and that “populations change over time.” Therein, however lies the crux of my original question. I do not believe that time really has anything to do with evolution except in an incidental way. I do believe that the major force in evolution is environment acting upon genetics. I do not believe that “better” is related to any kind of linear force; “better-adapted” to changed environments being the operative case.

          Since Dawkins chose not to respond further, I have presumed that he considers the question closed, but I stand ready to be corrected by him or anyone else. In the interest of brevity, I have not elaborated, but I presume that my “drift” is clear.

          As to “design,” it is simply humbuggery at its worst.

          I hope that Kieran will respond in any case.

      4. Richard,

        I see there is an increase in complexity, and sometimes (maybe for long periods) and improvement in adaptedness. But advancement?

        Surely this is an issue of anthropomorphizing, even though in a subtle way. You already acknowledge this problem in response to how your book’s title, The Selfish Gene, was misunderstood.

        Evolution didn’t decide an eye was necessary, and then a better eye, as if there is some forward marching progress or advancement. It is an unguided consequence of how evolution played out.

        A mutation has no specific intent, so its causal effect is purely accidental.

        Even natural selection doesn’t actually ‘select’ in an active sense. It’s more a mutually causal coincidence.

        Moving ball A collides with static ball B: we say A hits B, or A causes B to move as if A is the cause of B moving. But really it’s just mutual interaction: A causes change of momentum in B and B causes change of momentum in A. If anything the concept of cause and effect relates to subsequence events on a time-line: event X (relative motions of A and B as time t1) causes event Y (relative motions of A and B at t2).

        In this sense natural selection is a mutual outcome of entity A (organism) and entity B (it’s environment). It seems obvious now how mutual this is in that we are very clearly changing our environment at a faster rate than it is changing us.

        So, my earlier point about adaptedness is mutual too. If we change (mutate) we may not survive in a fairly static environment, or if the environment changes we may not survive because we are no longer suited to it. This is usually how it is framed: as the survival of the organism, so the ‘mutual’ bit is a little one sided (as in Earth and Sun orbit each other). But humans are changing this one-sidedness.

        But really, the use of the term ‘advanced’ is an anthropomorphic perception of the complexity of adaptedness.

        1. Ron, thanks for a most succinct and coherent response. Do I take it that I can put you at the top of the list of unbelievers (with respect to advancement)?

          I will be most interested in whether or not Dawkins considers the Murphy explanation to be “. . . among the many misconceptions about evolution . . ..”

          Wayne Tyson

          PS: I have been reading a small volume (out of print?) by Dorothy Lee, “Valuing the Self,” which discusses some possible reasons why some people are more “outer-directed” than “inner directed.”

      5. ‘”does he believe (as implied in one of his TV programs) that species ADVANCE through evolution over time? How many on this blog do?”

        ‘I do, for one. How else do you think complex and efficient adaptations like eyes evolve from their simpler and cruder and less efficient beginnings? How else does subtle and delicate camouflage improve on the crude resemblance of the early stages in its evolution? The idea that evolution does not progress is one of the many misconceptions about evolution promoted by the lamentably influential S J Gould.’

        –Richard Dawkins

        Again thanking Richard for his direct attention to my question, and now noting that the “thread” has frayed with only a few hints at answers, I shall now attempt to be as directly responsive to Dawkins’ questions as he was to mine.

        I have informally suggested that it is axiomatic that: “Organisms do what they can, when they can, where they can.” With respect to eyes and camouflage, I believe that all organisms became different (and eventually more complex) due to mutations and selection acting upon the resulting random variations, resulting in differences that were either adaptive or maladaptive, depending upon the environmental context(s) affecting them. But those differences which did not result in extinction of a subset of organisms left those with eyes, for example, because eyes worked better in changed environments that no eyes or lesser eyes, aye?

        I will leave my response there for the moment in anticipation of your response.

        Until then I remain,
        Yr. Ob’t. Sv’t.
        Wayne Tyson

      1. Was Wayne Tyson perceiving an implication of telos in evolution from something David Attenborough said in one of his TV programs? That’s quite different, and I doubt it. Can you give us a citation? What did he actually say?

          1. I happened to “catch” part of a BBC/Attenborough show in which he was discussing “advancing” with respect to trilobites, with a noted expert. Being unable to contact Attenborough, I contacted the expert. He kindly replied that he thought trilobites had advanced over time, but when I then asked him the same follow-up question I asked Dawkins, he did not respond.

            As to the honourable Dr. Dawkins, I respect him, as I do Sir Richard and every organism on this earth (and beyond?). I do not fear people whom I respect. I only fear fools.

            Unfortunately, the term “fool” seems only to apply, amongst all the living organisms, to a considerable subset of (that most advanced species?) Homo sapiens(?).

            1. I hastily admit I was completely wrong about you being intimidated.

              (I have another adjective or two in mind, now, but prudence tells me to keep them to myself. 🙂 )

              1. I think he’s trolling. Thinly veiled insults to previous repliers and a verbose ‘smoke-screen of vague and veiled allusions quite off the point’ to quote Wayne himself.

              2. Since I am quite new to this group and this format, I don’t know how to respond properly to

                “Thinly veiled insults to previous repliers and a verbose ‘smoke-screen of vague and veiled allusions quite off the point’ to quote Wayne himself.”

                I did not intend to insult previous repliers on this blog, but, under the influence of fatigue, went and hoisted m’self on me own petard. The digression into the weeds, in violation of my own desires to avoid so doing, was part of my thanks to Dawkins for keeping on an even keel. I gave into the temptation to rant about the tendency, all over the Internet, not merely here, for discussions to degenerate into playpens of the vanities more than places for honest exchange. That is or was my intention, however ill-advised was to puncture-ate all inequalibriumed ego-balloons, not “previous repliers.” It was a kind of shot across the bow, I suppose, in the hopes of discouraging said degenerencies under the presumption that only those offended would be offenders.

                In the final analysis, it was this new kid’s wan attempt to insert a bit of frivolity-cloaked humor in the relaxed manner which permeates some of the discussion. Oh, Lord (scratch that), I have FAILED, I have failed; I beg thy forgiveness. I wuz only trying to join in the fun.

              3. I know it’s nearly the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, but I didn’t expect Mr. Micawber to start posting. My word, Wayne, whence the multitude of mixed metaphors, this plethora of Pecksniffian personations, this Byzantine and baroque braggadocio?

                Sorry, Wayne, couldn’t resist.

              4. Re: “(I have another adjective or two in mind, now, but prudence tells me to keep them to myself.)”

                Ah, lassie, dinna be pruudent. After all ’tis frriction’s brisk rub ‘at pr’vides the vital spark!

                Just a hint of them there adjectives?

                Or the noun at least?

            2. Correction! (Oh, will this never end?)

              I mixed up the Attenboroughs. I said “Sir Richard” when I meant to say “Sir David.”

              Please advise me of other errers.

              PS: I remain unsure of the ratio of believers to unbelievers with respect to “advancement” or “progress” in evolution.

              Could it be that both “camps” are correct in some way? A re-reading of Murphy’s post seems to leave some open light between the two . . .

              I presume that Dawkins is probably too busy to respond. Unless he considers the matter closed.

            1. I further shot myself in the foot by violating my own belief that brevity is the soul of wit, failing to KISS (keep it simple, stupid!). Or, as I believe Einstein once said, “Keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler.” I regret the many errors.

              All I really wanted to know was how many evolutionary biologists subscribe to the notion of “advancement,” “progress,” “improvement,” and the like, and how many did not believe that organisms, especially the genus Homo, improved with time.

              I am open to suggestions as to how best to determine that.

              Yours in sackcloth and ashes,
              Wayne Tyson

              1. Wayne, I may have misjudged you. I think there was a definite implication that, if Dr Dawkins hadn’t ‘ricocheted off into the weeds’ on this occasion, either he or others around here often did – I realise this was unintended by you. (Things often read differently from the way one writes them:).

                As it happens, while the Internet is full of discussions that turn into street brawls, this is one of the better-behaved lists, and I think its denizens take modest pride in that. Probably CeilingCat has something to do with that.

                With regard to your original question of ‘advance’ implying telos, I believe (from my admittedly limited reading) that the conventional view of evolution is that it does result in advancement (i.e. species better fitting their environment) but that does NOT imply telos. While it’s often convenient shorthand to speak as if organisms ‘want’ to evolve, that’s only a metaphor. I think some of us were a bit suspicious of the question.

              2. Re: infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm

                While I may have myself ironically ricocheted off into tangents later, I thought I made it plain that I was very appreciative that Dawkins was direct, actually paid attention to what I was asking, and responded accordingly.

                I try to avoid Internetian street brawls, but I never intentionally dodge honest enquiries. However, in the flood and confusion of the profusion of emails and postings, I sometimes miss questions, comments, and answers–regrettable but correctable if only the originator or a witness to the crime would put up a squawk.

                Thanks for alerting me to your interpretation of my remarks.


                PS: Would someone tell me why some messages lack a “reply button,” as in the referenced case?

              3. Wayne, look at the page layout. You can only nest comments to so many levels before the diminishing width of them gets ridiculous.

                When that limit is reached (when the reply button disappears) you can either keep adding comments at the same (inner-most) nesting level (if so, it helps to indicate to whom you’re replying), or start afresh with a new comment thread. You can even leave a note in the previous thread that you are continuing the discussion at comment # “x”.

              4. Re: Diane G.
                Posted January 31, 2012


                I like this system much better.

        1. I suspect Attenborough just used “progress” or “advance” as a convenient shorthand in a programme for laypeople to refer to the development of more complex, efficient, delicate and subtle structures from less. That is after all the more impressive side of evolution and how, tn the teeth of stupefying odds it is you and I, in our [extra]ordinariness,
          who are here.

          1. I thought I answered this one, but don’t see it, so

            The question about us is, “Will we persist?” Is “our better” our worse?

            Even though I wish, for the moment, to remain in quest mode, I will assert, just for the hellofit, that the seeds of failure are buried in every success, probably in rough proportion to the degree of same.

          2. In further reply to Shuggy (Btw, I apologize for misreading Shuggy as “Shaggy;” it was not intentional) Posted January 30, 2012 at 2:11 am


            Stimulated by the discussion at http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/02/11/accommodation-weekend/#comment-183995

            I would like to respond further to the issue of “convenient shorthand” or metaphor (see infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted January 30, 2012 at 11:32 pm).

            I see nothing wrong with convenient shorthand or metaphor (I often indulge m’self). Where I part company with such usage is where it introduces confusion in the mind of the “lay public.” Especially if the confusion leads to a misunderstanding of the phenomenon, in this case evolution, I believe that it can backfire. On the other hand, if both clarifies and circumvents needless blather and other padding, I’m all for it. Brevity is the soul of wit; as Einstein liked to put it, “as simple as possible, but no simpler.”

        2. I was not perceiving telos, but I’m not certain that no one else is. I am not an intelligent designer, if that is the source of this concern. I have trouble keeping my shoes tied.

          I have answered the other question in an earlier post.

  3. “alas, I’m too old to go clambering about on the mountains”

    Ranulph Fiennes had a heart attack in 2003 and had a double bypass. 4 months later, he set out to do 7 marathons on 7 continents. Then in 2009, he climbed Everest.

    I’m reminded of the Lance Armstrong quote in dodgeball:

    “You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?”


    1. Just out of general interest, and inspiration, you might want to check out Kevin Shields – he does some seriously hard climbing with effectively one hand http://www.ukclimbing.com/news/item.php?id=49430
      There is also the Joe Simpson quote from touching the void

      “At 16, I asked all these monks some serious questions and they didn’t come up with the answers, and I just decided I didn’t believe in God. And I always thought, you know, if everything hit the fan, then I might turn around and say, you know, a couple of Hail Marys, “Can you get me out of here?” And in all those days, I never did once, not even in the crevasse. I never thought of some God or some omniscient being that’d lean down and give me help, and I feel, actually, if I had believed that, I just would’ve stopped and waited for it, and I would’ve died. And so in a way, that’s why that loneliness, I think, came in. I was 25, I was fit, strong, ambitious. I wanted to climb the world and I was dying. There was no afterlife, there’s no paradise, there’s no heaven. It’s just dead. And I really didn’t want to lose that. I’ve got immense respect for other people’s religions, be it Christian or Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim. I just…I don’t happen to have a belief, and I’ve tested that atheism, so, um, I respect my own lack of belief now. Before, I was never quite sure.”

      1. There was also his fantastic description of when he laid down to die and couldn’t stop singing to himself, ‘Brown girl in the ring’, which, like any right-thinking human, he hated. And he thought, something along the lines of, ‘Is this it? Is this what my life comes to?’

        Camus and Sartre never better described the absurd.

    2. OK, OK, Jerry’s not too old to climb Everest. I’m 56 and I’m not too old either. On the other hand, I am probably too old to do it while remaining an active professor with teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities. Perhaps Jerry meant something more like that.

  4. Attenborough was already a guest on DID in 1998, one of many older episodes worth listening to that are available on BBC Radio 4’s website. I only recently discovered the program, and have been listening to podcasts from its archive over the last several weeks.

    While far too few scientists seem to appear among the guests, I was happy to find that Richard Dawkins was on DID in 1995. However, listening to that show my impression was that the presenter was a little too confrontational on the issue of his atheism. Indeed, overall I feel that some of the presenters seem to be a bit too religion-friendly when the issue of belief and faith comes up. Also, I am not sure I understand the point being made by including the Bible along with Shakespeare as books made available to the castaway. Maybe someone more familiar with the program can enlighten me?

    1. The show has been running for 70 years and has always had the same format. The first guest was Vic Oliver, a wartime comic and son-in-law of Churchill, who, when asked whom he admired, responded, “Mussolini”. Why? “Because he had the good sense to shoot his son-in-law.”

      The programme has run for 1,000 episodes and is not designed to be confrontational; it is supposed to be a cosy chat with a range of public figures hung around a parlour game. Why the Bible and Shakespeare? Because that’s the way the show’s deviser and first presenter, Roy Plumley, wanted it. It could be a lot worse; the Koran and Barbara Cartland, anyone?

      1. Although Dawkins and Hobsbawm, guests on the last two podcasts I listened to, were not offered bible and Shakespeare, but only a book of their choice. That’s why I got the impression it was a more recent change to the format (they both were interviewed in the 1990s). No bible and Shakespeare for atheists and communists?

        1. Dunno, Alektorophile. But I’ve grown up with DID and I’m pretty sure it’s always been that way. A minor mystery.

    2. I think the point about the bible and Shakespeare being offered automatically is simply that too many people would have asked for them out of either duty or need for reference and we’d never know what books really interested them.

      1. Yes, that makes sense. And I guess a bible could be useful on a desert island after all. Would make the job of starting fires a bit easier, for example.

    3. “Also, I am not sure I understand the point being made by including the Bible along with Shakespeare as books made available to the castaway.”

      The reason is simple. If the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare weren’t already on the island, too many guests would choose one or the other as their book.

  5. My dear old neigbour Dorothy was very keen on spirituality, and once told me solomnly that Einstein and Ghandi had both climbed Everest – together, I think – “in the Ethereal”.

    I’m not sure how that works, whether gravity, oxygen, temperature and/or topology are different in the Ethereal, but anyway there’s hope for you yet.

    (A quick search suggests that this belief is not widespread.)

  6. I know that the Richard Dawkins post above links back to his website, but are we sure that is really him posting?

    I ain’t no scientist but I find it hard to believe that RD, who writes so clearly, wrote this question:

    “How else does subtle and delicate camouflage improve on the crude resemblance of the early stages in its evolution?” Crude resemblance to what?

    I know that RD and SJG had their disagreements, but “…lamentably influential S J Gould” doesn’t ring true to me. Does anyone else think this?

    1. Yes, it’s Richard. And he’s clearly referring to the improvement of mimicry to whatever is being mimicked. Gould and Dawkins’s dispute over the progressiveness of evolution is well known, and is documented in their “duelling book reviews” I published as book-review editor of Evolution. I had them review each other’s books, which I thought was very clever on my part!

      1. I understand that Gould also locked horns with Wilson. Can anyone provide me with a “Dawkins and Wilson disputes with Gould for dummies” link? I’d like to better understand the basis or bases for those disputes.

    2. The camoflage sentence read fine to me, Dermot. Probably helps to have enough of a biology background to know that camoflage and mimicry generally begin with only the slightest of changes that confer a small but significant survival benefit, and advance (heh) from there…

      “Crude resemblance” to whatever item/background/etc. the evolving organism is developing camouflage to resemble. (Let’s stick with Dawkins’s sentences; I’m getting all thumb-tied trying to be brief with this concept.)

      1. Even I know enough about biology re: your ‘slightest of changes’, Diane. My worry was that the sentence didn’t parse like RD’s normally very precise sentence construction.

        It’s all by the by now anyway, for the poster is he (exclamation mark).

        1. Well, I think we all use less precise sentence construction in comments on blog posts than we might in our formal writing (esp. that for publication).


        2. Aw, crum, Dermot. Profuse apologies!

          The brilliance of your contributions here on matters literary and historic had led me to some mistaken assumptions. I should instead have expected you to be as wide as you are deep.

          1. If you’re expecting me to respond to that using some sort of blockquote malarkey, then you have no idea what a slow learner I am.

  7. Well, it’s not unusual for him to post here… And he disagrees very strongly with Gould about punctuated equilibrium, iirc, so I’m not sure it’s that out of character… see, e.g., p. 95 of the Penguin edition of Climbing Mount Improbable.

    Maybe Jerry can confirm… ?


      1. I sit corrected. Thanks for the research, anyway, JAC and AA. My ‘Climbing Mount Improbable’ has probably set base camp on some lower shelf of the local Oxfam.

  8. So, Jerry, what would your desert island discs be? And book? (And — I see – you are allowed an alternative to the Bible!)

    Guests are invited … to choose eight pieces of music … to take with them; […] … they choose the one piece they regard most highly. They are then asked which book they would take with them; they are automatically given the Complete Works of Shakespeare and either the Bible or another appropriate religious or philosophical work.

    Guests also choose one luxury, which must be inanimate and of no use in escaping the island or allowing communication from outside.


  9. The author Vikram Seth was the guest on DID recently and his choices included a recording of a nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos singing in a woodland in southern England. A fine thing to listen to in its own right but this recording was made more poignant by the fact that part way into the recording the sound of WWII bomber squadrons passing overhead can be heard as they flew by on their way to bomb German cities. The extent of those bombing raids is hinted at by how long it takes for the aircraft to pass by.

    1. Was that recording included in a compilation called “The Sounds of Time”?

      I have heard a recording of Wanda Landowska playing Scarlatti on the harpsichord (she pretty much singlehandedly rescued the instrument from oblivion) in Paris in 1940 when a bomb goes off in the background. NOTHING stopped Wanda Landowska from playing Scarlatti.

      1. Yes, I believe I have that recording somewhere in the house. It is on vinyl and the cover is picture of Wanda in all her sweetness.

        I read elsewhere that everyone dove for cover – but not Wanda. The bombs are definitely in the distance and do not intrude too much on the Scaralatti – but the whole scene is, I think, a significant bit of memorabilia.

  10. With respect to the photo at the top of this page, y’all should be aware of the photographer’s latest book–the first time ALL of the known species of birds of paradise have been published in one volume: http://www.timlaman.com/#/birds-of-paradise-book

    PS: I continue to be curious about Dawkin’s decision to let his declaration about advancement in evolution stand without clarification.

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