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January 6th, 2010
Interactive: Highlights from the Human Spark

Alan Alda traveled the world, meeting with researchers who helped him narrow in on just what that elusive Human Spark is. What is it that makes us so different from our closest genetic relatives? What do we have that they don’t? Scroll through this interactive feature to learn a bit about some of the evidence Alan examined as well as some of the current debates in the field.

  • Louis

    Very disappointing, simplistic and sophomoric. Outdated information regarding Neandertal people. One hopes the series improves after tonight.

  • Tom

    What an incredibly entertaining and informative program! I can’t wait for the next two programs! Congratulations and thank you.

  • Nina Cassel

    What an incredible show. It left me with more questions and interests. Did these people travel to China? The art work on the wall of caves do remind me of oriental art. Thank you, looking forward to next weeks episode.

  • Mark (PDX)

    Great informative show, and we are thrilled to see you educating us in the science arena again (we miss SA Frontiers!) Thank you.

  • Louis

    Awaiting the next two programs. We never get enough of Science programs, especially about human evolution.

  • LaDonna

    Loved it! Clearly the series is geared to the lay person, but is not insulting. Perhaps ’simplistic’ for a scientist, but just right for the rest of us. I adore Alan Alda, and HIS spark – there could not be a better suited, more inspirational host. His enthusiasm is contagious.

  • kay

    I agree, we need more educational programs. We might acually become EDJKATED….
    I look forward to the science programs….and think Alan Alda has to be the most well rounded and interesting person to chat with!

    I can’t tolerate the tv “SIMPSONS FAMILY” mentality… what a waste…….

  • Thomas

    This has bean a wonderful program so far, but I think the cause of the extinction of the Neanderthal is that humans developed the boat that brought them exposure to many new diseases. The arrow is maybe two or three hundred thousand years old Neanderthals decline around forty thousand years ago. The boat is believed to be about fifteen thousand years old. Witch makes more sense a two hundred thousand year gap or a twenty or twenty five thousand year gap. The evidence is in front of them humans eat fish Neanderthals do not, and we have repeated this in our own history of the decline of Native Americans. Their decline was ten percent of the population in as little time as a century due to disease, and they were out populated by Europeans due to the metal plow. No genocide has ever proven to exterminate any large ethnic group, and European Jews are recent evidence of that.

  • Bob

    I’d like to echo an earlier comment. These shows remind me how much I miss the Scientific American Frontiers series. Thanks for bringing back Alan Alda.

  • Henry

    No one series aimed at laymen—or experts for that matter—can cover all aspects of a subject as vast as this.

    Regarding the extinction of the Neanderthals the Nova Becoming Human series offers the additional insight that Neanderthal brains were too large. Our brains consume about 25% of our daily caloric intake. Theirs used 35% if I remember the number correctly. Virtually every moment of their lives had to be devoted to finding food giving them much less opportunity to develop culture.

    More important the series points out that although their brains were larger, the areas important to creative thinking were flattened out in the narrow front area of their heads and don’t appear to have the space needed for the kind of development homo erectus had.

    I agree with the comments regarding Alda. The format of these documentaries is quite predictable. Everyone on television uses it. But Alda is absolutely the ideal surrogate to represent us in the audience. His enthusiasm and informed curiosity seem totally natural and unforced. As someone who has done this kind of work I’d love to know just how the interviews were set up, particularly how many of the questions were the experts expecting and how many of his observations were ad lib. Regardless of the answers, Alda makes these shows fresh and inviting and never dry.

  • Jim Mauch

    Very good program. Thank you for trusting the audience to not need special effects to be engaged by the facts. Alan Alda’s interviews made you feel like you where there asking the questions. How can one not be curious about how we evolved into an animal whose survival is almost entirely dependent on brain power.

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