Through The Wormhole” with Morgan Freeman – Discovery Channel

The bar­ri­er that all pop­u­lar sci­ence pro­grammes have to sur­mount is that so many of our recent dis­cov­er­ies have come through the avenues opened up by Spe­cial and Gen­er­al Rel­a­tiv­i­ty and Quan­tum mechan­ics. And they are both so unfath­omably com­plex that it’s incred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to talk about either of them to the likes of you and I. Either you sac­ri­fice the sci­ence for the sake of mak­ing your pro­gramme acces­si­ble, or you alien­ate your view­ers by own­ing up to quite how insane­ly counter-intu­itive the quan­tum uni­verse is in the age of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty. Inevitably, pro­grammes tend to err on the side of pop­u­lar at the expense of sci­ence. They tend in oth­er words to be more BBC1 (and 3) than BBC2 (and 4).

Recent­ly though we’ve seen a num­ber of pro­grammes that man­age to redress that bal­ance, explor­ing the cut­ting edge of sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­ery, but doing so in a way that the non-sci­en­tist can (just about) com­fort­ably fol­low. Bri­an Cox’s pro­grammes on the Won­ders of the Solar Sys­tem and then the Uni­verse (see below), the His­to­ry Channel’s The Uni­verse, and now this, Through The Worm­hole with Mor­gan Free­man. The way that he’s done it is, basi­cal­ly, by mak­ing a pro­gramme that he’s designed specif­i­cal­ly for him.

Free­man plays the host, steer­ing us through the day’s top­ic which range from black holes and time trav­el, to the ori­gins of life and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of intel­li­gent life on oth­er plan­ets. But unlike so many of the fig­ure­heads who are tacked on to front pro­grammes like these, Free­man is as gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in the top­ic being explored as we are. Like us, he too is curi­ous about what we now know when we look up into the night skies, and what it can tell us about who we are and where we came from. But he too has nev­er got around to for­mal­ly study­ing it. So when he was asked to get involved in a series about space and the cos­mos, he clear­ly saw it as a fan­tas­tic oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore all those things he was inter­est­ed in a bit more sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly (or alter­na­tive­ly, he’s an even bet­ter actor than I gave him cred­it for).

The jour­ney he takes us on in the course of the (so far two) series is as much his as it is ours. And the rea­son it works so won­der­ful­ly well is that he and it assume that we are as intel­li­gent as he is, but no more so. So that whilst it nev­er shies away from M (or string) the­o­ry, Rel­a­tiv­i­ty and the quan­tum uni­verse, he’ll remind us every now and then that he’s as baf­fled and befud­dled by all these appar­ent­ly insane the­o­ries as we are. After all, as Nils Bohr, one of the great 20th cen­tu­ry physi­cists put it:

Those who are not shocked when they first come across quan­tum mechan­ics can­not pos­si­bly have under­stood it.”

Apart from the mer­ci­ful­ly brief flash­backs relat­ing to so say child­hood mem­o­ries that each episode feels oblig­ed to begin with, it’s a won­der­ful­ly engag­ing, sci­ence-heavy series that man­ages to be both acces­si­ble and stim­u­lat­ing. And the fact that it so suc­cess­ful­ly bal­ances the dic­tates of edu­cat­ing, inform­ing and enter­tain­ing (and in that order) is in no small mea­sure a reflec­tion on its genial host.

Series 1 and 2 can be seen on the Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel now.

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