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Wednesday, January 6 at 8 p.m. – The Human Spark

(Rochester, NY) Three and a half billion years of evolution have produced uncountable billions of living species. But only one can write a sentence. Only one species can think in symbols; recombine those symbols into infinite meanings; invent a technology to disseminate the message; worry how others might react to it; ponder the past; speculate on the future; imagine the unknown. Only one species goes to school, donates to charity, wonders why the sky is blue, builds cities, composes music, wages war, wears jewelry… makes television programs. These uniquely human abilities constitute the “human spark.”
The Human Spark, a three-part series hosted by actor, author, and science buff Alan Alda, airs Wednesdays, January 6-20 at 8 p.m. on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable1011/cable11). The series brings Alda’s trademark humor and curiosity to an exploration of the latest scientific research into what differentiates us from all other species.

In conjunction with the series, WXXI and Rochester Museum & Science Center (RMSC) will be hosting The Human Spark Preview and Talk Back Event on Sunday, January 10, 2010 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at RMSC's Eisenhart Auditorium. Guests will preview clips and engage in a discussion with local scientists Dr. Elizabeth Perry, RIT College of Science, and Dr. George McIntosh, RMSC Director of Collections. To register for this free event, visit: <http://wxxi.org/humanspark>.

From the cave paintings of Lascaux to the plains of Kenya, from crucial chimp sanctuaries to the inner recesses of his own brain, Alda, the long-time host of the PBS series Scientific American Frontiers, observes our most defining abilities and examines how they arose. Whether he’s holding a 120,000-year-old skull in his hands, throwing spears at a plastic deer, or contemplating his ability to read other people’s minds, he brings with him a warmth and familiarity that put even the most camera-shy experts (and chimpanzees) at ease.
In the series, Alda makes tools as the Neanderthals did, checks out ancient jewelry made from human teeth (and knockoffs made from mammoth ivory) and even has his head examined to see where his most human abilities reside. Pointing out that humans and chimpanzees share 99 percent of our DNA, he takes viewers on a far-reaching quest to uncover why we are genetically so similar, yet behaviorally a world apart.
Alda also participates in hands-on experiments that explore some of our defining human attributes — such as the ability to teach, socialize, and cooperate — seeing first-hand how we use these skills to tackle new challenges and solve problems. “The biggest surprise of all for me,” says Alda, “is how close science has come to being able to say, ‘this is it’ … this is the human spark.”

This program is offered with Descriptive Video (DVi), which provides concise descriptions of the sets, scenery, costumes, action, and other important visual elements between the dialogue of the program.

Pictured: Host Alan Alda

Credit: ©Larry Engel 2008


WXXI is the essential, life-long educational media resource for the Greater Rochester area. WXXI puts the community first with programming that stimulates and expands thought, inspires the spirit, opens cultural horizons and promotes understanding of diverse community issues. Log on to wxxi.org for more information about our services and programs.