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Whales in the Sahara - a new educational series 2 about evolution

Not only cooking and tourism programs allow you to escape from "the situation". A fascinating series about evolution does this with no less efficiency

The first revelation, sensational in itself, following the viewing of the first episode (out of eight) of the series "Evolution" produced by PBS, which was broadcast last Saturday on the educational channel 2, is about the new escape routes from "the situation"; Escapism, which is common to talk about in relation to the cooking and tourism programs that have been so popular here for many months, is also possible by watching an educational series.

This escape also has an added value - learning. Although cooking and tourism programs can sometimes be learned, those who watch this new popular series will discover that it is possible to completely forget what is going on around us - and get away with it; Even to suddenly understand the garden map, which is explained here in a very tangible way, with colors and geometric shapes. The series, which explains the origin of animals, incorporates in each of its chapters innovations and discoveries from the field of evolution research - including some that became clear only about a decade ago - which changed basic assumptions in the field and, as a result, also the textbooks.

The creators of the series and the dozens of researchers who take part in it - including first-class scientists as well as very popular ones like Steven Gold - have invested a lot of resources, talent and energy in the continuous seduction of the viewers. The first episode of the series, for example, is a dramatic adaptation of a supposed biography (also based on his diaries) of Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolutionary research, who changed human thinking and forced the world to recognize that the role of Almighty God is not defined to create a certain creature, such or Other.

Although this dramatic adaptation, which is at the center of the first two episodes of the series, is rather forced and ridiculous, it soon becomes clear from it that the work of the evolution researcher is, first of all, detective work. When you look at the way in which researchers a generation ago retraced Darwin's steps in the rainforests of Ecuador, how biologists treat these forests in South America as a laboratory for the study of the origin of species, they look like detectives retracing the steps of the genius Moram; And when you listen to the questions that Darwin asked himself time and time again (for example, how is it that the pharaohs in the Galapagos Islands are of such a different origin, even though they are all

Living in a similar climate?) And when you closely follow his methods of investigation, you discover the common affinities between his methods of investigation and those of the researchers who operated and operate in the 150 years after his discoveries became known - and the detective story behind each significant find.

Investigating evolutionary phenomena (and basically any scientific investigation) means days upon days of dealing with details (such as, for example, what are the different sources of food in the Galapagos Islands and what kind of source is particularly effective for starving); Slow identification of a mantis that looks like the leaf of the tree it settled on in the rain forests of South America, quite different from the mantis known here; How hummingbirds know how to lower their body temperature to minus 50 degrees in order to survive the winter. All these things lead to the basic assumption - it is admittedly quite well known among people with an average education living at the beginning of the third millennium - with which Charles Darwin laid the foundations for modern scientific thinking: that one ancestor was the father of all creatures (perhaps this is the way to dispel their anger of zealous believers from the three religions, who rebel against the objective truth revealed by research: to accept that God Almighty created the ancestor, and is solely responsible for the common origin of all life forms and all living beings).

The discovery (the dramatic reenactment seeks to illustrate, among other things, how much anger and outrage he provoked) about natural selection also stands as the basic premise in the opening episode of the series. "Why would God put different creatures of the same species on islands with the same climate?" Darwin asked one of his colleagues, and the anatomist Owen, a cautious and thoughtful contemporary, declared that to say that Providence was not responsible for the creation of different species of animals like him was like "putting guns in the hands of a mob."

Fascinating parts of the first and second episodes of the series are those dealing with the survival of viruses; For example, the survival of the AIDS virus, which changes at any given moment precisely because of the drugs and the way they try to overcome it. Also interesting are the conversations with two patients who explain their condition and with the doctor treating them.

The third episode of the series, one of its most fascinating, deals with whales, the 200-million-year-old mammals whose minds are as complicated and complex as the human brain, and about whom paleontologist Paul Ginwich says, that they are the equivalent of humans living in the water, a kind of mirror image of us and even an alter ego. One of the instructive and fascinating moments in the series is the one that reveals the transformation and evolution of the whales that lived 50 million years ago in the Sahara desert (when there was still a sea); To adapt to life in the water, they shed their fur and changed their jaw structure.

No less dramatic is the discovery (indeed a detective) of Jenny Clark, a scientist from the University of Cambridge, who brought four tons of rocks from the Canadian mountain range and managed to recover a complete skeleton of a tetrapod (a 370 million year old creature). Through it she discovered sensational things about the transition from mammals living in water to land; It turns out that everything happened the other way around: first they lived on land and then they entered the sea. What led Clark to several years of research was a letter, in which this mountain range was discussed, without any details. This detective research of hers resulted in the discovery of a "fish with fingers" and brought to mankind the information about fish that had arms and other organs.

Those who will overcome the resistance caused by Liam Neeson's overly dramatic narration, or the discussion in the eighth chapter that seeks to reconcile the theory of evolution with the religious belief in the creation of the world by God - will enjoy this viewing; Both because of what can be learned from it directly (the seventh chapter, for example, explains how the mind of a person is born, and the sixth chapter examines the place of the species in the living world) and because of an important conclusion that one of the scientists makes - "We are not alone in the world", he says, "We Only the character-narrator".

The website of the series Evolution on PBS

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