Growing Up in the Universe

Richard Dawkins presented a series of five lectures at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1991 titled Growing Up in the Universe explaining in glorious detail the process of Darwinian natural selection and how people (and other animals) came to exist. The entire series is available to watch in full on YouTube.

Each lecture is a full hour, but the investment is well worthwhile. This is how education with apparently unlimited resources might look. Dawkins seems to want for nothing as he presents each day. Dogs, insects, parrots, a famous author, fireworks, an enormous model of an immunoglobulin molecule, an autonomous robot, first editions of some of science’s best known publications, and limitless other props, tools, and visual aids parade through the lecture hall.

Children from the audience volunteer to run computer simulations, operate a scanning electron microscope, engage in a virtual reality simulation, and show their own eyes and faces in demonstrations in front of the camera.

The material is still entirely relevant after 21 years (though of course if presented today the series may have had more to say about DNA sequencing or other modern advancements in the field). I did enjoy that whenever a volunteer came to the dais to operate a computer simulation Dawkins was motivated to ask, “Have you ever used a computer with a mouse before?”

Ultimately the presentation is at once both a spectacular explanation of Darwinian natural selection and an awe-inspiring look into what education can do with the proper resources. I tried watching it in the background while doing other work, and frequently found myself quite entirely drawn in. At least give the first video a try, and see if you’re not compelled to take on the remaining four: