Science fan-boy and star of the Infinite Monkey Cage radio show on BBC Radio 4 Robin Ince performed his ongoing solo act “happiness through science” as part of this year’s Brighton Science Festival. I was lucky enough to attend the sell-out event for The Badger, and witness Ince comically contemplate the question “it is possible to be happy and rational at the same time?”
Upon opening, Ince made it clear that he lacked any formal science education, cautiously recommending that the audience googled any facts that they learned during the evening before repeating them. However, in spite of that, Ince executed a pleasingly scientific exploration of the human condition, celebrating mind-boggling science that ranged from our understanding of the outmost reaches of space to evolutionary theory and child psychology.
While rhapsodising about quantum physics, Ince stated that he was once an observational stand-up comedian, but his observation seemed to change the reality of the particles that gave him his material (a joke that depending on his audience knowing their way around basic quantum theory: quantum physicists discovered that the mere act of watching electrons caused them to behave differently). What’s more, Ince realised that quantum physicists could explain the premise of the Disney film Toy Story: toys that change and come alive when no one observes them!
Ince also wittily remarked on the apparent differences between chemists and physicists. The former theorise about what would happen if they produced novel concoctions of substances, and then actually do so. But the latter theorise about the mystery of atoms and the universe, and then merely call the Mecca for physicists, CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research located in Geneva, Switzerland, which operates the largest particle physics laboratory), to deliberate more.
Ince even brought up the taboo of drinking human breast milk, demanding to know who in the audience was willing to try it; he wondered why we should be so against it?
Supporting the plight of science, he continued to slate all tabloid media that ever denied that we need science, as they use TVs, aspirin or undergo childbirth with an epidural: all things that would never have been developed without science. He later added that scientific understanding does not strip the world of its beauty, but provides fascinating explanations that only make it more beautiful.
Militant atheist Ince also questioned the necessity of religion in such a science-orientated world.
An amusing impersonation of famous friend and co-worker Prof. Brian Cox, OBE, further added to the evening.
Ince ended by reminding us of some of the reasons for why he really loves science: one example being the complex and demanding journey that was taken to the deepest depths of the sea, and so discovered the blob fish (worth a google if you have not heard of this before).
These were just some of the many subjects that formed the show: a skilfully comical, informative, and passionate escapade through the multitude of disciplines that make up science. Ince’s brilliant performance kept myself, and the rest of the audience, utterly captivated for a full 90 minutes. It certainly was a worthwhile and enjoyable evening that I highly recommend to everyone: scientists and non-scientists alike.