Socialist Worker

Science You Can’t See: Dangerous Knowledge

by Anindya Bhattacharyya
Issue No. 2062

Kurt Gödel

Kurt Gödel

Decent science documentaries are few and far between these days. They have been a prominent casualty of the commercialisation and cost-cutting that has hit the television industry.

So it’s a pleasure to see Science You Can’t See, a season of intelligent but accessible programmes looking at the breakthroughs in our understanding of the world.

Dangerous Knowledge looks at the work of mathematicians such as George Cantor, Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, who transformed our understanding of what mathematics is.

The presenter David Malone does a good job of explaining the ideas of Cantor and Gödel without losing sight of the social and historical context of their work.

It’s a shame, however, that the documentary puts so much stress on the cliché of the “mad genius”. Cantor and Gödel both suffered from mental illness throughout their life, and Turing was persecuted for being gay, eventually committing suicide.

Malone impies that these tragic facts are in some way linked to the work of these men – as if exploring the foundations of mathematics and logic somehow sent them “over the edge”.

This is a profoundly conservative vision of science, reminiscent of ancient mythology and its stories of humanity being punished by the gods for its intellectual curiosity. It marrs an otherwise excellent documentary.

Science You Can’t See: Dangerous Knowledge
BBC4 Wednesday 8 August, 9pm

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Tue 31 Jul 2007, 18:49 BST
Issue No. 2062
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