Saturday, August 2, 2008

Time - A Documentary

In this four-programme series, string theory pioneer Michio Kaku goes on an extraordinary exploration of the world in search of time. He discovers our sense of time passing and the clocks that drive our bodies. He reveals the forces of time that make and destroy us in a lifetime. He journeys to some of the Earth's most spectacular geological sites to look for clues to the extraordinary depths of time at a planetary level. Finally, he takes us on a cosmic journey in search of the beginning (and the end) of time itself.

PART ONE - Daytime
We humans seem to run to the beat of time, often without being aware of how this is the case or how our perception of it may differ from another person's, from nature's rhythms or from our own internal clock. In the first episode of the series, string theory pioneer Michio Kaku witnesses one of the most extraordinary feats of timing in nature on a remote Californian beach.

We also meet a French caver who spent months in complete isolation to see what would happen to his sense of time - and discovered that we have an internal clock that drives our days. Michio self-experiments by being monitored over 24 hours to see how this clock shapes his whole body chemistry. And we test a family with a rare disease to uncover the very roots of the body clock itself.

Where does our sense of time passing come from? We all know it's critical - as comedians demonstrate at a Soho comedy club. Michio discovers this critical timer (the stopwatch) in a brain-scan experiment at Duke University. It seems that this 'sense' of time is plastic: crash victims report that time seems to slow under extreme stress. We conduct a unique experiment to test this - by dropping someone 150 feet. Meanwhile, back at Duke an experiment with cocaine and marijuana on rats reveals the chemical process by which our sense of time is altered.

But time for us is even more than this. We have a unique knowledge of time. We 'know' past and future. It's an ability shared by no other animals... apart from a special few. King the Gorilla demonstrates his awareness of time to researchers in Miami. We meet a man with no memory and reveal how much we depend on being able to place ourselves in time. This special awareness of time raises some of the most important questions about time itself: Why does it only flow in one direction? Why can't we stop it, see it or hold it? And if it so elusive, then is it real or just a figment of our minds?

PART TWO - Lifetime
Why is our time limited? And does it have to be? Could our age-old dream of immortality ever be possible? In episode two, Michio Kaku explores these questions and meets some of the key people involved in the cutting-edge research into ageing. He travels to the amazing Methuselah tree, which is almost 5000 years old and still producing new pine cones. He discovers that time does get faster as you get older and, under hypnosis, he goes in search of his lost time, stored as memories. But it only proves that lost time is really gone forever.

We are incredible machines for living - but if we're programmed to live, are we also programmed to die? As we grow, our cells divide into a complex colony of three trillion individual cells in our bodies. Sir Paul Nurse has spent a lifetime studying cells to search for the most basic process of life - the secret of cell division. We discover that cells seem to be potentially immortal. They continue to divide again and again perfectly. Even our own bodies are replaced through our lives - most of our cells are replaced in a roughly seven-year cycle. Yet we know that we age and that time wreaks changes on our bodies.

This episode reveals the biological changes in our cells that make our skin wrinkle and our bones become brittle. This new understanding is beginning to reveal the process of time in our bodies and, through this, scientists are now looking at ways of slowing or even stopping time. Scientists in California are studying sea urchins for clues as they not only live longer than ever thought before but they appear to show no sign of ageing. Genetic manipulation is extending the lives of mice. And a British scientist is now suggesting that the pace of advance is so fast that the first immortals are already living today; that before our children have reached the end of their natural lives, the technology to stop and even reverse ageing will exist. But what will that mean for our essential humanity?

PART THREE - Earth Time
Our awareness that time stretches back long before we were born, and will continue to stretch into the future long after we're gone, lies at the heart of our humanity. Without this sense we couldn't learn from the past, and wouldn't plan for the future But where did we come from, and where are we going in time? Every culture mythologises time and attempts to answer the ultimate questions: was there a beginning? And will there be an end?

In the 17th century an Irish bishop used the scientific method and the Bible to calculate a date of creation - approximately 6000 years ago. It was a remarkable achievement, but he was wrong. Michio climbs down the layers of rock from which the Grand Canyon is carved to discover that the world must be much older. Meteorites hold the ultimate clues to the formation of the Earth - a staggering 4.6 billion years ago. Michio reveals that, far from being fixed, the Earth has been reshaped with incredible violence. It's usually too slow to witness directly, but inhabitants close to the world's most active volcano, Kilauea, on Hawaii know the Earth's forces all too well as they recover their homes from volcanic ash.

It's almost impossible to conceive of the vastness of Earth time: in an attempt to illustrate the planet's lifespan, Michio travels from the West to the East coast of America each millimetre representing one year. But where do we fit in? Our time seems so insignificant, but we're part of perhaps the greatest story ever told - the story of life itself. The programme looks at bacteria that have been brought to life from a time capsule of rock after 250 million years, encounters creatures in which evolution can be seen in action, and explores the ultimate biological clock - DNA. Michio has his own DNA tested to reveal his ancestral journey all the way back to our first human ancestors in Africa. Finally, the episode concludes with a look into the future to ask where we are ultimately going.

PART FOUR - Cosmic Time

Throughout history, one thing has never changed - time. It is something we rely on to plan our lives, and it is consistent, regular and ceaseless. But is it? High in the Alps, Michio encounters a mystery - tiny particles called muons which shouldn't exist. They don't last long enough to be detected on Earth - and yet here they are. The answer to this mystery lies in one of the greatest discoveries of all time - Einstein's theory of relativity. The faster you travel, the slower time ticks. So time is not fixed at all.

Michio goes on a journey to places where time becomes very strange. Inside atoms, time blurs to such an extent that something can be in two places at once. Within extreme places in space, like black holes, time is squeezed to such an extent that, to an observer, it seems to stand still. Time is more variable that it could ever have been thought possible. It can even, theoretically, move backwards. This leads to one of the most extraordinary possibilities - a time machine. This episode shows a graphical representation of what it might look like: the size of a planet and consuming unimaginable amounts of energy but still a possibility.

Finally, Michio tackles the greatest questions of all - did time itself have a beginning, and will it have an end? He explains how the time capsule of the stars revealed the evolution of the Universe - and pointed the way to the ultimate beginning, the Big Bang, 13.6 billion years ago. And the future? Michio discovers that the cosmos of the stars is only a moment in the Universe's history, that we live in the stelliferous age - the age of the stars - the second of the Universe's five ages of time. But Michio explains that it is hardly an age at all: within the entire lifetime of the Universe the stars shine for less than a finger-click of history.


Anonymous said...

What is the name of the musics used at the end of the last episode, when he was talking about the death of the universe?

It is really nice and sad in the circumstance he used.


callo said...

I really enjoy this series, Michio is a really good presenter.