Burke delivered a wide-ranging and engaging lecture
on Oct. 2. After the lecture he stayed to chat with
By Michelle Osmond
Science historian, author and television writer/producer
James Burke attracted some very devoted fans on Oct. 2 for
the 2003 F. W. Angel Memorial Lecture. He spoke to an enthusiastic
crowd of about 175 people, some of whom requested autographs
as Mr. Burke mingled with the crowd during a reception afterwards.
The topic of the lecture, which was held by the Faculty
of Engineering and Applied Science, was Innovation and Change
and Mr. Burke managed to deliver his theories on the complicated
and chaotic patterns of history while frequently making
the audience laugh with his eclectic approach.
He spoke about several different topics (each one seemingly
connected to the next) from how we came to hunt animals
for food and how this led to our current democratic society,
to how we must use technology to help solve the world’s
environmental crisis. He even connected the need for better
navigational tools, which lead to improved steel springs
for machinery, the patent for which was bought by the same
company who, on the same day (just because it was available),
bought the patent for a continuous process machine for making
wallpaper which led to the invention of toilet tissue.
Mr. Burke's infectious passion for hyper-connections was
obvious as he brought audience members on journeys through
knowledge, explaining how technology has shaped our culture.
“The brain appears to be naturally configured for
innovation to work and to have new ideas because its job
is to use information about the world and innovate by modeling
new ways in which the state of the world out there might
be put together,” said Mr. Burke.
He also gave the audience a preview of an Interactive Knowledge
Web he's creating, which is due online next year. With this
tool, students can trace just about any innovation to everyone
in history to which the inventor was connected. As an example,
he used the software to connect Mozart to the invention
of helicopters in about a minute flat.
For over 30 years Mr. Burke has produced, directed, written
and presented award-winning television series on the BBC,
PBS and The Learning Channel, and has written several books.
His latest, Twin Tracks: The Unexpected Origins of the
Modern World, was published last month by Simon &