Aired: 20 October 2014 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Phill Jupitus
Steering Committee: Sandi Toksvig, Will Storr, Lieven Scheire
In Sandi’s own words:
'Few people doubt the benefits of literacy but we rarely look at the cost to our thinking. The introduction of the alphabet brought in new linear, sequential and reductionist ways of thinking. It rewired the human brain to begin favouring left hemispheric, often cited as more male, ways of thinking and we can see a direct change in how humans perceived time, the death of the goddess cults and the rise of the omnipotent male God. It had a profound impact on women’s status. You can see this, for example, in a comparison of Athens and Sparta. These were two societies in close proximity that shared the same language, gods, and culture. Women had few rights in Athens: Women wielded considerable power in Sparta. Athenians glorified the written word: Spartan cared little about literacy. The love of Mary, Chivalry and courtly love arose during the illiterate Dark Ages and plummeted after the invention of the printing press in the Renaissance. NASA have done very interesting studies about the varying impact of right and left hemisphere thought process, male v female problem solving, reductionist v intuitive thinking.
It’s really about right hemisphere thinking (linear, sequential, reductionist) against left hemisphere (intuitive, emotional) but they are often associated with male (right) and female (left) ways of thinking. Hunting and killing are traditionally male and very right brained activities - there is my prey, I need to chase it, then kill it. Gathering is more female and left brained - here is a seed, I wonder what I might do with it to make more seeds grow, to make it more palatable to eat etc. Agriculture developed between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago and during that time all agrarian cultures worshipped earth goddesses. 5,000 - 3,000 years ago writing was invented. Less than 2% of the population was literate and gradually scribes became priests and as the men take charge we see a replacement of Goddess worship with powerful male Gods. Most religious books were written long after the inspirational leader had passed away. Buddha is a good example. He never wrote down a word but preached love, equality, kindness and compassion. When his words were canonized into an alphabetic book 500 years later it purported to show that he had negative ideas about women, sexuality etc. Same with the Bible. Jesus never wrote anything down and women played an important part in his life. 379 years later the Bible is canonized and suddenly women are banned from speaking in the pulpit or being in charge of any religious ceremony. The boys are in charge. They are writing things down and it gives them power.
The move from oral to literate in any society causes a massive shift in thinking which has usually accompanied a suppression of women. The marking of time becomes critical and the idea of process being done intuitively or seasonally becomes less and less acceptable. Things are divided and ordered in a way which suppresses left brain problem solving. The image becomes less important than the word. Indeed we are told ‘In the beginning was the word and the word was God.’ I’m not saying literacy is a bad thing I just think we should consider why women were marginalized in religion over time.'
Broadcaster & Comedian
Sandi was born on May 3rd 1958 in Copenhagen. Her Danish dad and British mum met in London when they were both working for the BBC. The family soon moved to America, when her father went there as Danish TV’s first ever foreign correspondent, a job which made him the biggest TV celebrity in Denmark.
When Sandi wasn’t in school (which was often), she was getting first-hand experience of some of the most significant events in American history: Watergate, the Civil Rights Movement, the space race, the Vietnam War and the assassination of Martin Luther King.
At the age of 14, she was sent to a British boarding school. She went on to study Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge University, where she earned First Class Honours, despite the huge amount of time she put into acting, writing and directing plays and revues, particularly for the Footlights and including the club’s 'first ever all-female sketch show'.
Sandi is an actor, playwright, broadcaster, historian, comedian, novelist, columnist, panel show host, sailor, travel writer, civil rights campaigner, university chancellor, a weaver, canoeist and amateur carpenter - and has even had a go at boxing.
Sandi began her career in the theatre, performing in musicals and straight plays and made her television debut presenting the children’s series Number 73 (1982–1986). She went on to do other children’s television including The Saturday Starship, Motormouth and her own show Toksvig.
She has presented Time Team specials; Island Race (in which she sailed around Britain with John McCarthy); The Talking Show; Great Journeys (in which she canoed across Africa) and a six-part documentary series about Sudan for Al-Jazeera English.
She has also acted in sitcoms such as The Big One (which she co-wrote) and more recently BBC’s Up the Women. For many years she was team captain on Call My Bluff. Other panel shows include Whose Line Is It Anyway?; Mock the Week and QI. She was the host of What the Dickens, Antiques Master and currently presents the new incarnation of 15 to 1. In 2010, she brought live drama back to television when she conceived, co-wrote and hosted Theatre Live for Sky Arts television.
Sandi is a familiar voice for BBC Radio 4 listeners, as the chair since 2006 of The News Quiz and for many years as the host of the travel programme Excess Baggage.
Sandi also writes for the theatre. She and Elly Brewer wrote a Shakespeare deconstruction, The Pocket Dream, which Sandi performed in at the Nottingham Playhouse and in the West End in 1992. In 2002, she and Dilly Keane co-wrote a musical Big Night Out at the Little Palace Theatre, written for the Watford Palace Theatre, in which they appeared with Bonnie Langford. In September 2012 her play Bully Boy starring Anthony Andrews was the opening production of London’s new St James Theatre. She is currently writing a musical.
Sandi has written at least 18 books (non-fiction and fiction for children and adults). She has been a columnist for Good Housekeeping magazine for more than twenty years and for seven years wrote every week in The Sunday Telegraph. In 2009 a collection of her Telegraph articles was published in book form as The Chain of Curiosity.
Her latest novel Valentine Grey was published in the autumn of 2012 and her book Peas and Queues - The Minefield of Modern Manners was published in the autumn of 2013.
She is the current Chancellor of Portsmouth University and is involved with many charities focusing on civil liberty, women’s rights and education.
Sandi is in 'an immensely civil partnership' and recently renewed her vows to celebrate the advent of gay marriage.
She has three adult children and one smallish step-daughter. She spends her free time weaving, cooking, canoeing, hanging out with her children and having a laugh with her friends.
I once read this book that said the best thing for toilet paper was a live goose. And I have yet to check in to a five-star hotel without a sense of disappointment.
Lieven Scheire was born on May 3rd (the same day as Sandi) in 1981 in the Flemish countryside. He studied physics at the University of Ghent. While he was studying, he also started doing stand-up comedy and formed a sketch group Neveneffecten (Side-Effects) with three friends.
This sketch comedy group got famous when his fellow Neveneffecten-member Jonas Geirnaert won a jury prize at the 2004 Cannes film festival for his short film Flatlife. Because of his sudden fame Neveneffecten were commissioned to make a TV show on Belgian national TV. This was the start of their TV career. They wrote, directed (and of course acted in) their own comedy sketch series.
Their follow up series Basta, a documentary series in which Neveneffecten fought the smaller and bigger wrongs of everyday life, was awarded a Prix Europe in 2011 for “Best TV concept of the year 2012 to reach new audiences”. It was also one of the seven nominees in the 2011 EBU Eurovision Creative Forum. The series was also sold to Holland, and is still running there as Rambam. In Belgium Basta reached 1.3 million viewers on VRT 1, the Belgian national broadcaster and got a stunning market share of 49%.
Lieven has already written three popular-scientific books and performs solo as a stand-up comedian and as a keynote speaker in Belgium and abroad. He regularly performs in English.
Lieven has two children, Gitte and Lander, with his partner Sien. You are allowed to wake him at night for some cloud spotting (but only if it is about cumulus nocturnialis of course).
Lieven is the former world champion cloud spotter (on his cloud spotting app.) He has recently been knocked off the top spot by a British woman.
Lieven is taking on the challenge of becoming the ultimate geek. This involves being the best at geeky things geeks do, like play computer games, break the Donkey Kong record etc.
The Australian lesser budworm moth is so beset with parasitic wasps that when it lays eggs more often than not the resulting hatchling is a wasp, not a caterpillar.
The ichneumon wasp - which lays eggs inside living caterpillars - convinced Darwin of the impossibility of a benign, omnipotent god-creator. ‘I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars.’
The Polysphincta gutfreundi parasitic wasp grabs hold of an orb spider and attaches a tiny egg to its belly. A wormlike larva emerges from the egg, and then releases chemicals that prompt the spider to abandon weaving its familiar spiral web and instead spin its silk thread into a special pattern that will hold the cocoon in which the larva matures. The “possessed” spider even crochets a specific geometric design in the net, camouflaging the cocoon from the wasp’s predators.
Asecodes abitarsis is a parasitic wasp which lays its eggs in another wasp, which in turn lays its eggs in the pupae of another wasp which in turn lays its eggs in the caterpillar of a moth. That moth lives and feeds on trees, which makes the original wasp a parasite of a parasite of a parasite of a parasite, a quaternary parasitoid.
While the rest of the world was using pesticides, the Soviet Union and China were controlling caterpillars with Trichogramma wasps that are smaller than this full stop. Now pesticides are in decline in the West, farmers stick Trichogramma wasp eggs to bits of card and hang them on trees where they can hatch and attack caterpillar eggs.
The parasitic emerald wasp Ampulex compressa turns the common household cockroach into a zombie by a “neurotoxic cocktail” which blocks the receptors and deprives them of any will to escape to safety even when electrocuted or drowned.
The trigonalid wasp lays thousands and thousands of eggs because its life cycle makes successful growth to adulthood pretty unlikely. In order to grow, the wasp eggs must not only be eaten by a caterpillar, but it must be a caterpillar that has already been parasitized by another type of wasp; because the trigonalid wasp larvae cannot live without eating that other wasp larvae.
The male parasitic wasp Dicomorpha echmepterygis is just about the world's smallest insect, at 139 micrometers in length (a micrometer is 1/1000 of a millimetre).
The parasitoid wasp Aleiodes gaga, was named in honour of Lady Gaga.
Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.
Kevin is donating a smile. He regards it as an important tool of persuasion, manipulation and social lubrication.
Dr Lane Strathearn at Texas Children’s Hospital used fMRI scans to look at mothers’ brains when they hold their newborn. Seeing her baby smile lights up the reward centres in the mother’s brain in a way similar to that observed in experiments on drug addiction.
Genuine smiles are known as Duchenne smiles after the 19th-century neurologist who defined them in detail. They engage muscles both near the corners of the mouth and around the eyes – the zygomatic major and the orbicularis oculi respectively. Fake, “non-Duchenne” smiles exercise only mouth muscles.
Duchenne studied facial expressions by photographing his subjects as huge bolts of electricity were applied directly to their faces.
Fake smiles are known in smile-science circles as ‘Pan American’ after the fake grin of air hostesses on the now defunct airline.
In the late 1950s, about 150 female students at Mills College in California agreed to allow scientists to conduct a long term study of their lives. By comparing year book photos, it was found that those displaying the Duchenne smile were significantly more likely to be married, stay married, be happier and healthier throughout their lives.
Homer coined the term “sardonic grin” to describe ceremonial killings that supposedly took place in Sardinia, where Phoenician colonists gave to criminals an intoxicating potion that put a smile on their face. They were then dropped from a high rock or beaten to death, smiling all the time.
Smiling affects the way you speak; some people have “smilier” voices than others and listeners can identify the type of smile based on sound alone.
Will Storr is a novelist and long-form journalist. The Independent have called him a ‘versatile, imaginative, committed long-form journalist with a populist touch... a talented, ambitious writer’.
His stories appear in broadsheet newspaper supplements such as, The Observer Magazine, Seven Magazine (Sunday Telegraph), The Sunday Times Magazine and The Guardian Weekend. He is a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and GQ Australia. His award-winning radio documentaries have been broadcast on BBC World.
He has reported from the refugee camps of Africa, the war-torn departments of rural Colombia and the remote Aboriginal communities of Australia.
He has been named New Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer of the Year, and has won a National Press Club award for excellence. In 2010, his investigation into the kangaroo meat industry won the Australian Food Media award for Best Investigative Journalism and, in 2012, he was presented with the One World Press Award and the Amnesty International award for his work for The Observer on sexual violence against men. In 2013, his BBC radio series ‘An Unspeakable Act’ won the AIB award for best investigative documentary.
He is also a widely published photographer, whose portraits of LRA survivors have been the subject of an exhibition at the Coin Street Gallery in London's Oxo Tower.
Madness is a rare thing in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples and ages, it is the rule.