Radio review: The Life Scientific, Grounded with Louis Theroux, and In the Native State

08 May 2020

briangreene.org

Professor Brian Greene, who was interviewed on The Life Scientific (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

Professor Brian Greene, who was interviewed on The Life Scientific (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week)

IT MAY be trillions of years in the future, but the end of the world fills the physicist Professor Brian Greene with “hollow dread”. The thought that everything will collapse is per­haps a surprising anxiety for an atheist who has spent his career working on the so-called “unified theory of everything”. But, unlike some of his colleagues in the world of super-brainy physics, Professor Greene sees no virtue in the abandonment of metaphysical imag­ina­­­tion in favour of a rational reality.

One could hardly imagine a more genial subject for The Life Scientific (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week). Professor Greene is known for his broadcasting and writing; so com­municating big ideas is what he does best. And, even if the untutored among us learned only that the universe is like a hosepipe, and is made up of ten — or is it 11? — dimensions, then we at least got some sense of the disciplinary realm in which this work currently op­­erates. Crucially, these theories are predicted by the mathematics, but have not, in the 25 years since their first proposition, been con­firmed through experiment.

It is a long time to wait. Pro­fessor Greene declares that he would be thrilled if he were proved wrong, just so that he and his colleagues could move on. It is a brave state­ment — one that for most career scientists would induce a more immediate hollow dread than the end of time.

Jon Ronson is a worrier. The author of numerous books and broad­­­casts about the curious, the eccentric, and the dangerous, he will admit to a range of phobias and syn­dromes, each of which particularise types of anxiety which most of us would associate with the normal stuff of being human. In contrast, his media doppelgänger Louis Theroux appears straight­­­forward and unself­conscious. Hence the title of his new podcast, Grounded with Louis Theroux (BBC Sounds, released weekly on Mondays), in which Theroux, prevented from roaming the United States in search of bizarre personalities, catches up with friends over the phone.

Ronson made an excellent first guest — indeed, a dream ticket for those who buy into the Ronson/Theroux shtick: sympathetic and yet sceptical, credulous and yet ironic. As professional conspiracy-theory-watchers, they are already being provided with plenty of new material by Covid-19, as claims that it’s all about the roll-out of 5G proliferate in the madder parts of social media.

Just as television and the internet are laden with generous servings of archive performances, so, too, radio: notably, a re-broadcast of Tom Stoppard’s 1991 radio play In the Native State as part of the Drama on 3 strand (Radio 3, Sunday). This account of colonial and post-colonial attitudes to India may in­­evitably show its age, so much more complicated has the colonial debate become of late; but it is worth a listen all the same, not least to hear Dame Peggy Ashcroft in her final huzzah.

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