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TV Review : Roger Bingham Probes the Science of the Brain on 'Inside Information'

November 29, 1990|ROBERT KOEHLER

Jerry Mander once wrote a wonderfully incendiary book titled "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television." But even Mander might have second thoughts after seeing a piece of television like "Inside Information" (tonight at 8 on Channel 28).

Once again, KCET's Mr. Wizard, Roger Bingham, has made science--in this case, the science of the brain--knowable, tangible, appealing. Perhaps television can do this better than any other medium: reason enough not to eliminate it.

That's especially the case with this probing, engaging look at how the brain works. Bingham begins with crude models, like the loom or needlepoint, to suggest brain function, and then works up to more involved ones--bird flocks, beehives--as the report tracks how neurological research is now suggesting a brain of great subtlety and sophistication. Throughout "Inside Information," the viewer is given a lively visual sense of this intensely complicated story.

Medium becomes message: The act of watching this program and absorbing its information becomes a replication of the kind of brain process described by researchers such as Caltech's Carver Mead. If you're stumped by sections like the one explaining the latest research into "parallel computation" (in which individual brain sections work separately and together as a network), then that's just an example of how the brain isn't a perfect machine. It's a survival mechanism borne out of evolution.

It is also offering us, as UC San Diego's V.S. Ramachandran puts it, "a convenient fiction, a tentative reality"--a conclusion arrived at by both advanced science and post-modern art. This is worth thinking about, while wondering if biologist Richard Dawkins' obvious love for a post-human cybernetic "civilization" isn't pushing things too far. TV can provide brain food.

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