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Science and the Search for Meaning: Five Questions

Part One

What is Life?

Scientists can now explain virtually every stage of the evolutionary process. But there's a basic question that still mystifies even the best scientists: How did life first begin on Earth? Or to put in another way, how did non-life somehow turn into life? And can we say the Earth itself is alive? This hour explores some of the fundamental mysteries of life - from how it first started on Earth to the possibility of supremely intelligent life on other planets and why technology is evolving like life itself.

Original Air Date: November 21, 2010
Segment 1

The program begins with a rare recording of Nobel Prize winning physicist Edwin Schrodinger, followed by comments on his classic work What Is Life? from Nobel Prize winning biologists James Watson and Harold Varmus. Ken Miller, co-author of the most widely used biology textbook in American high schools, also weighs in, as does Craig Venter, widely regarded as one of science's leading innovators.

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Segment 2

University of Wisconsin geochemist Nita Sahai talks with Anne Strainchamps about how life might have begun on Earth. On the other hand, maybe the Earth itself is alive. That's the remarkable idea behind the Gaia hypothesis. James Lovelock came up with it in the 1960s and at first no one would take him seriously. Lovelock, now in his nineties and one of our most celebrated scientists, tells Steve Paulson where the Gaia theory came from and how it's evolved.

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Segment 3

Kevin Kelly is one of the founders of Wired magazine. He's also the author of a provocative book called What Technology Wants. Kelly tells Jim Fleming that the sum total of our technology - what he calls "the technicum" - is taking on the properties of life itself. And anthropologist Tom Boellstorff takes us on a tour through the virtual world of Second Life. Astro-biologist Paul Davies chairs the SETI Post-Detection Task Group and is the author of The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence. He tells Steve Paulson that alien intelligence might be stranger than anything Hollywood has dreamt up.

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Science and the Search for Meaning: Five Questions
Perspectives on the Self: Conversations on Identity and Consciousness
What is Life?
November 21, 2010
What Does Evolution Want?
November 28, 2010
Can Science Be Sacred?
December 19, 2010


The Nour Foundation: Exploring Meaning & Commonality in Human Experience
The John Templeton Foundation
Promega Corporation