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Parasites and Personality20190620

If you think you’re in control, think again.

What invisible forces might be guiding your behaviour, your decisions, your most intimate emotions? Becky Ripley and Emily Knight take a trip into the bizarre nightmare world of the undergrowth, and watch ‘zombie ants’ stumble forward, blindly following the orders of the deadly fungi controlling their brains. Parasites often get the upper hand of their hosts, manipulating their behaviour in sometimes horrifying ways. But is that true of humans too? Could we be unknowingly subservient to creatures that live inside us? Do they wish us well, or might they be plotting our downfall?

Featuring entomologist Dr David Hughes from Penn State University, and neuroscientist John Cryan from University College Cork.

Who controls your thoughts and actions? You? Or the things that live inside you?

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

Sea-Sponges and the Illusion of Self20190618

The humble sea sponge has been around for over 500 million years. We may think of them as ‘simple’ animals, with no brain, no nerves and no organs. But they have a pretty good party trick up their fleshy sleeves. Push a sponge through a mesh, until all that remains is a cloud of cells. Pour those cells into a tank, and watch as the cells reform themselves, like the terminator, back into a sponge.

Becky Ripley and Emily Knight ask: is it the same sponge it was before?

In the human world, nobody is queueing up to be forced through a discombobulating mesh. But enter the world of science fiction and there’s something that’s not far off… the teleportation machine. Would you allow yourself to be dissolved into a molecular cloud and flung through space and time? And would the ‘you’ at the other end really be the same ‘you’ that left?

Featuring Professor Sally Leys from the University of Alberta, and Philosopher Charlie Huenemann from Utah State University.

Breaking down the illusion of self, with help from the humble sea sponge

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

Starlings and Social Networks20190617

Starling murmurations, those swirling, shifting sky-patterns made by hundreds of birds moving in synchrony, are one of nature’s greatest spectacles. How do they avoid crashing into each other? Becky Ripley and Emily Knight delve into the maths behind the movement with some computer modelling to help them chart the flight patterns, and discover the secret.

As for us humans, sadly we don’t fly together through the sky in swirling clouds. But there ARE patterns to how we interact with one another. Like a ripple of movement, travelling through a cloud of starlings, ideas can spread through social media with blistering speed. Here too, computer modelling can help us chart how opinions morph as we react to those around us. Do we have more in common with the birds than we think?

What can the patterns in a starling murmuration tell us about the way our ideas spread?

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

The Portuguese Man O'War and the Individual20190619

Strange things dwell out in the open ocean. Bobbing atop the waves, Becky Ripley and Emily Knight meet one such creature, the Portuguese Man O’War. With its bulbous air-sacs and trailing tentacles you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a jellyfish, but you’d be wrong. It’s a colony, a society of tiny individual animals, who work together to eat, hunt and reproduce as one.

In the Age of the Individual, we humans like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient little nodes who don’t need nobody. But that perspective gets called into question when you consider where we live. Thanks to some complex maths and some incredible data-crunching, we’re beginning to see the cities we inhabit in a different light. They grow, move, breathe, and die, just like a living organism, according to strict mathematical principles. Just like polyps in a Man O’ War, are we really any more than cogs in a machine?

Featuring Marine Biologist Dr John Copley from the University of Southampton, and Geoffrey West, Theoretical Physicist from the Santa Fe Institute.

Are we one or are we many? Examining individualism via a colonial jellyfish

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

Vole-love and Fidelity20190621

Ah, true love. Who can quantify that heady rush, the joy of another’s company, the unshakable bonds between one lover and another? Well, vole experts can.

This tiny rodent is not just an anagram of love, it can also teach us a lot about why we fall. And why we sometimes stray. Prairie Voles form life-long monogamous bonds, together until death they do part. Almost identical Meadow Voles don’t, living the single life, and mating at will. It all comes down to brain chemistry. And it turns out, some of us are more Prairie Vole than others.

Featuring Dr Larry Young from the Emory University,, and author of 'Sex at Dawn', Chris Ryan.

Lessons on love, and how to be faithful, from a rodent the size of a satsuma

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

01Starlings And Social Networks20190617

Starling murmurations, those swirling, shifting sky-patterns made by hundreds of birds moving in synchrony, are one of nature’s greatest spectacles. How do they avoid crashing into each other? Becky Ripley and Emily Knight delve into the maths behind the movement with some computer modelling to help them chart the flight patterns, and discover the secret.

As for us humans, sadly we don’t fly together thought the sky in swirling clouds. But there ARE patterns to how we interact with one another. Like a ripple of movement, travelling through a cloud of starlings, ideas can spread through social media with blistering speed. Here too, computer modelling can help us chart how opinions morph as we react to those around us. Do we have more in common with the birds than we think?

What can the patterns in a starling murmuration tell us about the way our ideas spread?

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

02Sea-sponges And The Illusion Of Self20190618

The humble sea sponge has been around for over 500 million years. We may think of them as ‘simple’ animals, with no brain, no nerves and no organs. But they have a pretty good party trick up their fleshy sleeves. Push a sponge through a mesh, until all that remains is a cloud of cells. Pour those cells into a tank, and watch as the cells reform themselves, like the terminator, back into a sponge.

Becky Ripley and Emily Knight ask: is it the same sponge it was before?

In the human world, nobody is queueing up to be forced through a discombobulating mesh. But enter the world of science fiction and there’s something that’s not far off… the teleportation machine. Would you allow yourself to be dissolved into a molecular cloud and flung through space and time? And would the ‘you’ at the other end really be the same ‘you’ that left?

Breaking down the illusion of self, with help from the humble sea sponge

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

03The Portuguese Man O'war And The Individual20190619

Strange things dwell out in the open ocean. Bobbing atop the waves, Becky Ripley and Emily Knight meet one such creature, the Portuguese Man O’War. With its bulbous air-sacs and trailing tentacles you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a jellyfish, but you’d be wrong. It’s a colony, a society of tiny individual animals, who work together to eat, hunt and reproduce as one.

In the Age of the Individual, we humans like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient little nodes who don’t need nobody. But that perspective gets called into question when you consider where we live. Thanks to some complex maths and some incredible data-crunching, we’re beginning to see the cities we inhabit in a different light. They grow, move, breathe, and die, just like a living organism, according to strict mathematical principles. Just like polyps in a Man O’ War, are we really any more than cogs in a machine?

Are we one or are we many? Examining individualism via a colonial jellyfish

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

04Parasites And Personality20190620

If you think you’re in control, think again.

What invisible forces might be guiding your behaviour, your decisions, your most intimate emotions? Becky Ripley and Emily Knight take a trip into the bizarre nightmare world of the undergrowth, and watch ‘zombie ants’ stumble forward, blindly following the orders of the deadly fungi controlling their brains. Parasites often get the upper hand of their hosts, manipulating their behaviour in sometimes horrifying ways. But is that true of humans too? Could we be unknowingly subservient to creatures that live inside us? Do they wish us well, or might they be plotting our downfall?

Who controls your thoughts and actions? You? Or the things that live inside you?

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.

05Vole-love And Fidelity20190621

Ah, true love. Who can quantify that heady rush, the joy of another’s company, the unshakable bonds between one lover and another? Well, vole experts can.

This tiny rodent is not just an anagram of love, it can also teach us a lot about why we fall. And why we sometimes stray. Prairie Voles form life-long monogamous bonds, together until death they do part. Almost identical Meadow Voles don’t, living the single life, and mating at will. It all comes down to brain chemistry. And it turns out, some of us are more Prairie Vole than others.

Lessons on love, and how to be faithful, from a rodent the size of a satsuma

The mystery and astonishing complexity of the natural world.