Filmmaker Adam Curtis discusses power, politics and his searing cybernetic vision of the future.
The notion of cybernetics looks at the whole world, from society to cells, as systems. For Curtis, it is a highly political ideology whereby systems of nature and systems of computers have become intertwined.
“It’s a beautiful vision of this interconnected world, resonant of the cyber-utopian mood of our time, bleeding into nature”.
Curtis sees the increasing salience of cybernetics as a fundamental shift in the way we view human beings.
“We are moving away from the old enlightenment idea than human beings are separate, above the rest of the world and can shape and bend the world. In fact we are all components in systems of an interwoven network where everyone is connected”.
In this connected world, Curtis argues democracy is not about lots of individuals, but about mediating the powerful. Regulating those who often use their unequal access to power at the expense of the weak.
“It’s about electing people who will stand up and represent the weak and negotiate against the powerful. All evidence in western society shows power becoming more concentrated and unequal.”
First broadcast 20/05/11
David Aaronovitch, writer, broadcaster and commentator on international politics and the media joins Little Atoms to discuss the role of the conspiracy theory in shaping modern history.
“A very committed conspiracy theorist is as attached to their theories as any significant religious person is to their faith or a political ideologue to a political idea that they really don’t want to give up.”
His book, Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History explores the importance of rationality in the information age.
“The sources of information available to young people today are at a level that we never dreamed of. It will be increasingly important that as the information revolution deepens, to create spaces that have a rationalist kite mark on them - spaces that have a badge of quality on them. I think its going to be one of the big discussions of the next 10 years.”
For Aaronovitch deconstructing conspiracy theories and finding the truth is vitally important.
“It matters because one is true and one isn’t. It matters trying to get at the true versions of history and the true versions of science as far as we can know them. That effort matters.”
First broadcast 29/05/09
Sarah Churchwell is Professor of American Literature and Public Understanding of the Humanities at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe, writes regularly for the Guardian and the New Statesman, and often appears on television and radio talking about the arts, culture and all things American. Her latest book is Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of The Great Gatsby.
First broadcast on 10th September 2013.
Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London. He is also editor of THINK: Philosophy for Everyone, a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy (published by Cambridge University Press). Stephen has published numerous books on philosophy, including The Philosophy Gym: 25 Short Adventures in Thinking (on which an Oxford University online course has since been based) and The Philosophy Files (aimed at children 12+). His other books include The War For Children's Minds, a defence of liberal values against religious and moral authoritarianism, and The Great Philosophers: The Lives and Ideas of History's Greatest Thinkers.
Stephen is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. He was previously a Junior Research Fellow at The Queen's College, Oxford, and holds B.Phil and D.Phil degrees in Philosophy from the University of Oxford. He has a blog at www.stephenlaw.org. Stephen Law was appointed Provost of Centre For Inquiry, London in July 2008.
First broadcast on 13th March 2009.
Rachel Cooke is a journalist, writing for The Observer, where her features and interviews have won several awards. She is also the television critic of the New Statesman. Her first book is Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties.
First broadcast on 15th October 2014
Robin Ince is a comedian and writer. For the last two years he has been the host of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. His Radio 4 show with Professor Brian Cox, The Infinite Monkey Cage, has just finished it's second series. Robin has recently written a book, Robin Ince's Bad Book Club, which casts a critical eye over Don Estelle's autobiography, tales of giant killer crabs, and romance novels set in the Antarctic.
First broadcast on 30th July 2010.
Professor Noam Chomsky has been described as the world's greatest public intellectual. Born in 1928 in Philadelphia, Chomsky earned his academic stripes as a young linguistics professor at MIT in the 1950s. His theory of transformational grammar, forged at this time, posits that the capability to form structured language is innate to the human mind. But the general public first came to know Chomsky for his outspoken opposition to the Vietnam war. For more than 40 years, he has been the academy's loudest and most consistent critic of US policies at home and abroad.
Chomsky has written more than 40 books, includng American Power and the New Mandarins, Manufacturing Consent, Hegemony or Survival, Deterring Democracy and Failed States, and continues to lecture frequently, as prolific a provocateur as ever.
First broadcast on 24th April 2009.
Sarah Wise took an MA in Victorian Studies at Birkbeck College, University of London. Her book The Blackest Streets was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Ondaatje Prize in 2009. Her debut, The Italian Boy: Murder and Grave Robbery in 1830s London, was shortlisted for the 2005 Samuel Johnson Prize and won the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction. Sarah was a major contributor to Iain Sinclair's compendium London, City of Disappearances. She has spoken on Radio 4's Thinking Allowed, Woman's Hour and the Today programme, and she regularly lectures to societies and at history events. Sarah's latest book is Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England.
First broadcast on 5th April 2013.
Stephanie Merritt was deputy literary editor of The Observer from 1998-2005 and is now a feature writer. She has contributed to a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as radio and television. She is the author of two novels, Gaveston (Faber, 2002) and Real (Faber, 2005), one non-fiction, The Devil Within, (Vermilion 2008) and the screenplay for Real, commissioned by Gabriel Byrne's Plurabelle Films. She also previously curated the Talks and Debates programme at Soho Theatre. Stephanie's latest book, written under the pseudonym S.J. Parris is Heresy, a historical murder mystery starring heretic astronomer Giordano Bruno.
First broadcast on 12th March 2010.
Tom Standage is the business editor of The Economist. He started his career as the Science and Technology Editor at the Guardian, and has written several books which merge popular science and history including The Victorian Internet, The Neptune File, The Mechanical Turk. and A History of the World in 6 Glasses in which he explores a notion that six drinks in history - beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola - could be seen as technological catalysts in advancing culture. He says of his books "I think the right attitude to new technologies is to regard them with historically-informed scepticism. My approach is intended as a sort of antidote to the scourge of mindless product stories: when something new comes along, I like to point out that it isn't new at all. This isn't quite as gratuitous as it sounds; it is quite often possible to learn useful lessons from history, particularly the history of technology"
Tom's latest book is An Edible History of Humanity, published in paperback by Atlantic in early March 2010. Tom has been our guest on Little Atoms twice.
Interview one first broadcast on 22nd June 2007.
Peter Tatchell is one of Britains foremost campaigners for sexual freedom and human rights. He was a founder member of radical gay-rights group Outrage!, whose confrontational tactics often saw Peter denounced in the press. He has been called a “Homosexual terrorist” by The Daily Mail, “Public enemy number one” by the Sunday Times, and a “Fascist” By the Daily Telegraph.
As well as campaigning for gay rights, Peter has long been involved in the wider fight for human rights, opposing capital punishment, apartheid and nuclear weapons. He has also campaigned for Aboriginal land rights in his native Australia, independence for the people's of East Timor, Palestine and West Papua, and for a Global War Against Poverty. Peter has twice attempted to place Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe under citizen's arrest on charges of torture, an act that provoked a vicious beating from Mugabe's bodyguards. For his human rights campaigning, Peter has been called “Heroic…an example to us all” by The Daily Mail, “A national hero” by the Sunday Times, and A civil rights campaigner we can all applaud” By the Daily Telegraph.
Terry Glavin is an award-winning author and journalist, an adjunct professor in the Department of Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia, and the editor of Transmontanus Books. His publications include This Ragged Place:Travels Across the Landscape, which was a Governor General's Award finalist, and The Last Great Sea. His latest book The Lost and Left Behind was published by Saqi Books on the 30th of October 2007. Terry blogs at Transmontanus.
Susan Cain is a writer who specializes in psychological non-fiction. She has a blog on psychology today.com, and her New York Times article on the evolutionary benefits of shyness was the most emailed article in the paper when published. Susan graduated with honors from Princeton University and Harvard Law School. She previously worked in corporate law for seven years, representing clients such as J. P. Morgan and General Electric, and then became a negotiations consultant with clients including Merrill Lynch and Shearman & Sterling. Susan is the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.
First broadcast on 6th April 2012.
Stewart Brand trained originally as an ecologist. His legendary Whole Earth Catalogue (1968-1985) won the US National Book Award in 1972. Brand, whose previous books include The Media Lab, How Buildings Learn, and The Clock of the Long Now, is president and co-founder of the Long Now Foundation and co-founder of the Global Business Network. Stewart's Latest book is Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, Published in January 2010 by Atlantic Books.
This show featured the first of our monthly guest hosts, Becky Hogge. Becky Hogge is a freelance writer and researcher. Formerly executive director of the Open Rights Group, and a former technology director of openDemocracy, she is currently a board member of the Open Knowledge Foundation. Becky writes and broadcasts on technology, civil rights and intellectual property in the digital age for publications such as the New Statesman, The Guardian and Index on Censorship. Read Becky's New Statesman review of Whole Earth Discipline.
First broadcast on 29th January 2010.
Formerly director of FameLab, Cheltenham Science Festival's search for new talent in Science Communication, and of engaging cogs, a forum for public discussion around engineering, Timandra now works as a consultant and trainer in sharing science and engineering with the public. She hosts and facilitates events for organisations including the Wellcome Collection and the British Council. Science writing work includes writing scripts and text for interactive exhibitions in the UK and abroad.
Timandra spent five years performing solo stand up comedy after running away from the circus, and is now half of THE COMEDY RESEARCH PROJECT, a double act with scientist Dr. Helen Pilcher.
She has written and directed two short films and, with Linda Cotterill, written a feature film about a man going to Mars in his own hall cupboard, with support from the UK Film Council. Their comedy, No Future in Eternity , was broadcast twice on BBC Radio 4 after a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Timandra won the 1997 Independent newspaper column-writing competition with a short piece on goat-borrowing. She now writes for newspapers and magazines including the Daily Telegraph, WIRED and BBC Focus on science, technology and motoring.
Tim Minchin is an Australian musician, actor, comedian and writer. Originally from Perth, he completed a Bachelor of Arts in English and Theatre at the University of Western Australia in 1995, then an Advanced Diploma in Contemporary Music at the Conservatorium of WA – part of the WA Academy of Performing Arts – in 1998.
In 2002, he moved to Melbourne, where he began to develop the solo comedy shows which have gained him public and critical acclaim in the last three years. He developed his unique style during an 18-month period when he played regularly in the famous 40-seat cabaret room of The Butterfly Club in South Melbourne, before producing his break out show, Dark Side, at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2005. This show won the inaugural Festival Directors' Award and was picked up by legendary Edinburgh producer, Karen Koren, matriarch of the Gilded Balloon.
At the Edinburgh Fringe, Tim became one of the most successful ever debut acts, selling out the 300-seat Debating Hall and winning the Perrier Award for Best Newcomer. He subsequently went on to perform Dark Side at the Soho Theare and the Lyric Theatre in London's West End, and also appeared on a bill with Mariah Carey and Westlife at the Royal Albert Hall.
He appeared at the Montreal Just For Laughs Festival in 2006 and the HBO US Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colorado in January 2007, where he won the award for Best Alternative Comedian. In November that year, he performed at the HBO Comedy Festival in Las Vegas and sold out short seasons at Ars Nova in New York and the ACME Comedy Theatre in LA.
Television credits include Comedy Shuffle (BBC), Never Mind The Buzzcocks (BBC), The World Stands Up (Paramount Comedy), Comedy Cuts (ITV), Spicks and Specks (ABC) and The Sideshow (ABC). He has appeared on British and Australian radio and has recorded two specials for BBC Radio 2: “Tim Minchin and Friends” and “Tim Minchin's Loving and Peaceful Yuletide Half Hour” .
He has released two live comedy albums, Dark Side (2005) and So Rock (2006). His debut DVD, So Live, was recorded at the Sydney Opera House in May 2007 and was released by Madman Entertainment in November that year.
First broadcast on 23rd January 2009.
See also interview with Tracy King, DC Turner and Tim Minchin
First broadcast on 8th October 2010
Michael Nevin is one of the country's most experienced and respected applied economists. After working as an economist for the Government of St Lucia in the late 1970s, he worked as an investment analyst with the Commonwealth Development Corporation in London in the early 1980s. He returned to the UK in 1986 to serve as Financial and Economic Manager of the London Docklands Development Corporation, sponsors of the world's largest urban regeneration programme. In 1997, he founded Caledonian Economics as a specialist project finance practice. He sold his interest in the firm in July 2007, since when he has acted for a small number of selected clients on financial and economic matters through Nevin Associates Ltd. Mike Nevin is the author of The Golden Guinea: The International Financial Crisis, 2007-2014: Causes, Consequences and Cures.
First broadcast on 7th December 2012.
Jonnie Hughes is a filmmaker in the BBC Natural History Unit and Head of Development for BBC Earth. His documentaries have been shown on the BBC, Discovery and National Geographic Channel. He studied ecology and evolution at the University of Leeds. Jonnie's first book is On the Origin of Tepees: Why Some Ideas Spread While Others Go Extinct.
First broadcast on 16th November 2012.
Richard Martin is an energy expert and an award winning journalist. He was the first person to write about Thorium in the mainstream press, His cover story for Wired inspired Google to launch a conference on Thorium that led to several high-tech startups. As a journalist his work has appeared in Time, Fortune, Wired, The Atlantic, The Asian Wall Street Journal, and The Best Science Writing books. He is a director of Pike Research, a leading clean-energy research firm based in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Richard Martin is the author of Superfuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future.
First broadcast on 6th July 2012.
Stewart Lee is a writer and stand-up comedian. He has written for radio, television, theatre, newspapers and magazines and performed as a stand-up comedian all over the world. His first novel, The Perfect Fool, was published in July 2001. He is co-author with the composer Richard Thomas of Jerry Springer: The Opera, which was denounced by the good folk of Christian Voice as “crude, offensive and blasphemous in the extreme”.
First broadcast on 15th September 2006.
Tim Wu is an author, policy advocate and author of The Master Switch. He is a professor at Columbia Law School, the chairman of media reform organization Free Press. Wu was recognized in 2006 as one of 50 leaders in science and technology by Scientific American magazine, and in 2007 Wu was listed as one of Harvard's 100 most influential graduates by 02138 magazine. Wu has written for the New Yorker, the Washington Post, Forbes, Slate magazine, and others.
Tim Wu's best known work is the development of Net Neutrality theory, but he has also written about copyright, international trade, and the study of law-breaking. Tim has recently joined the Federal Trade Commission as a Senior Policy Advisor.
First broadcast on 1st April 2011.
In the Land of the Free is a documentary feature that examines the story of Herman Wallace, Albert Woodfox and Robert King. They are known as the Angola 3 and have spent almost a century between them in solitary confinement in Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary in the USA. Herman and Albert are still held in solitary confinement after thirty six years. The film is directed by Vadim Jean (Leon the Pig Farmer, Hogfather).
Travis Elborough has been a freelance writer, author and cultural commentator for more than a decade now. His books include The Bus We Loved, a history of the Routemaster bus; The Long Player Goodbye, a hymn to vinyl records; and Wish You Were Here, a survey of the British beside the seaside. His latest book is London Bridge in America: The Tall Story of a Transatlantic Crossing. He's also the co-writer with Bob Stanley of How We Used to Live, a BFI archive film directed by Paul Kelly, which premiered at the 2013 London Film Festival.
First broadcast on 22nd October 2014
Jo Marchant is an award-winning journalist who specializes in writing about cutting-edge science. She has worked as a staff reporter and editor for Nature and New Scientist, where she is currently a consultant. Jo is the author of one previous book, Decoding the Heavens: Solving the Mystery of the World's First Computer, and her latest book is The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy.
First broadcast on 3rd September 2013.
Ian McEwan has written two collections of stories, First Love, Last Rites and In Between the Sheets, and 12 novels including The Cement Garden, The Child in Time, The Innocent, Enduring Love, Atonement and Saturday. He won the Booker Prize for Amsterdam in 1998. Ian's latest novel is Solar, to be published by Jonathan Cape on the 18th March 2010.
This show featured Adam Rutherford as a guest host.
Cory Doctorow is a science fiction novelist, blogger and technology activist. He is the co-editor of the popular weblog Boing Boing, and a contributor to Wired, The Guardian, Popular Science, the New York Times, and many other newspapers, magazines and websites. A visiting senior lecturer at the Open University, he was formerly Director of European Affairs for the Electronic Frontier Foundation), a non-profit civil liberties group that defends freedom in technology law, policy, standards and treaties. He is currently on the advisory council of the Open Rights Group..
He has won the Locus and Sunburst Awards, and been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and British Science Fiction Awards. His most recent novel was Makers, and his previous novel Little Brother, made it to the New York Times Bestsellers.
On Wednesday 29 April the winner of the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. In the first of two special editions of Little Atoms, Neil Denny talks to three of the shortlisted writers. This week: Miriam Toews, Scott Stossell and Sarah Moss.
Miriam Toews was born in 1964 in the small Mennonite town of Steinbach, Manitoba. She has published four novels and a memoir of her father, and is the recipient of numerous literary awards including the Governor General's Award, the McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award (twice), and the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. Her latest novel is All my Puny Sorrows, which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Scott Stossel is the editor of The Atlantic magazine and the author of the New York Times bestseller My Age of Anxiety: Fear, Hope, Dread, and the Search for Peace of Mind which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Sarah Moss was educated at Oxford University and is currently an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick. She is the author of two novels; Cold Earth and Night Waking, which was selected for the Fiction Uncovered Award in 2011. She spent 2009-10 as a visiting lecturer at the University of Iceland, and wrote an account of her time there in Names for the Sea: Strangers in Iceland, which was shortlisted for the 2013 RSL Ondaatje Prize. Her latest novel, Bodies of Light, was published by Granta Books in 2014, and is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Dr Brandy Schillace writes about culture, the history of medicine, and the intersections of medicine and literature. She is Research Associate and guest curator for the Dittrick Medical History Center and Managing Editor of the international medical anthropology journal Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry. She teaches for the SAGES department at Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, and has lectured at the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine at the University of Manchester, the University College of Dublin, and the New York Academy of Medicine. She writes for The Huffington Post and InsideHigherEd, among other publications. She is the author of Death’s Summer Coat: What the History of Death and Dying Can Tell us About Life and Living.
Caitlin Doughty was born and raised in Hawaii. She moved to California after gaining a degree in Medieval History from the University of Chicago. She is now a licensed funeral director living and working in LA. She is also a writer, performer and film-maker and is the creator of 'The Order of the Good Death', an online community of artists, actors, poets, musicians and directors who are committed to staring down their death fears through art. Caitlin is the author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, And Other Lessons From the Crematorium.
Francis Wheen is a writer, broadcaster and journalist. He is the author of several books including a biography of Karl Marx, which won the Isaac Deutscher Prize and is now regarded as one of the definitive sources on the subject. An award-winning column for The Guardian ran for several years. He is the deputy editor of Private Eye. His collected journalism – Hoo-hahs and Passing Frenzies won him the George Orwell Prize in 2003. His other books include Tom Driberg: His Life and Indiscretions, and the set-text for Little Atoms listeners, How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World: A Short History of Modern Delusions. His latest book is Strange Days Indeed, a prequel of sorts to Mumbo Jumbo, was published by Fourth Estate in early September.
Francis can regularly be heard on Radio 4's The News Quiz, and seen on Have I Got News For You. His docudrama about Harold Wilson, The Lavender List, was broadcast on BBC4 in March 2006. Francis has been our guest on Little Atoms twice.
First interview broadcast on 13th October 2006.
Second interview broadcast on 11th September 2009.
Christopher Bollen lives in New York City. He regularly writes about art, literature, and culture. He is the author of Lightning People and is currently the Editor at Large at Interview Magazine. His latest novel is Orient.
On Wednesday 29 April the winner of the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize will be announced. In the second of two special editions of Little Atoms, Neil Denny talks to two more shortlisted writers, Henry Marsh and Marion Coutts.
Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s foremost neurosurgeons. He has been the subject of two major documentary films, Your Life in Their Hands and The English Surgeon, which won an Emmy. He was made a CBE in 2010. He is the author of Do No Harm: Life, Death and Brain Surgery, which is shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.
Marion Coutts is an artist and writer. She wrote the introduction to art critic Tom Lubbock's memoir Until Further Notice, I am Alive, published by Granta in 2012. She is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and the author of a memoir, The Iceberg, which was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction in 2014, and has been shortlisted for the 2015 Wellcome Book Prize.