DVD Review: Discovery Channel’s Through the Wormhole season three

Wormhole3The Discovery Channel is about to release a new two-DVD set from season three of its “Through the Wormhole” series which explores the science behind some controversial and mind-blowing questions about us, the earth, and the universe.  The series is narrated by “The Voice” Morgan Freeman.  Here are the program titles from the DVDs:

Disc 1:

Will we survive first contact?

Is there a superior race?

Is the universe alive?

What makes us who we are?

What is nothing?

Disc 2:

Can we resurrect the dead?

Can we eliminate evil?

Mysteries of the subconscious

Will eternity end?

Did we invent God?

These 10 programs represent over seven hours of video.  I have not yet watched them all.  For this review I picked two programs to watch which I though might be the most touchy or controversial to see how the subjects were handled, and they were handled well.  Here is a summary of those two programs:

Is there a superior race?

This program examines the questions: Are races fundamentally different? or Is race just skin deep?  Their answer to both is no.  The program explores DNA analysis of human races and notes that 99.5% of all human DNA is the same.  (Chimps differ from us by 3% in DNA.)

According to anthropological studies, human races began to differentiate about 50,000 years ago when our species migrated out of Africa.  Skin color differences were an adaptive response to different intensity of sun light and our need for vitamin D.  The program notes that our DNA is constantly mutating and mutations that don’t kill us are passed to the next generation.

Gene dating shows that many human genes are much younger than scientists had supposed (younger means they developed within the last 10,000 to 20,000 years).  These differences in genes were a response to environment and resulted in some races being more susceptible or more resistant to certain diseases.  The program notes that culture can also cause genetic adaptation.  For instance Chinese tend to be more lactose intolerant because, according to the program, their culture did not include much milk drinking, so they did not build up a tolerance.

The program explores a very touchy subject: is there a difference in average intelligence between the races.  Some scientists claim there is, but it is unclear whether or not the difference is due to genetics or to socioeconomic or nutritional conditions because the range of intelligence of all races is the same.

The program also speculates on the limits of human intelligence.  They note that higher brains, like high-powered cars, need more energy to function.  Have we reached a limit? They speculate on whether our increasing population and increasing technological interconnectedness will result in a hive-like mentality that could result not in a superior race, but a superior species.

Did we invent God?

This program speculates that perhaps religion is an attempt by our mind to make sense out of a chaotic universe.  The program documents a series of experiments to test and demonstrate human spirituality.  At what age do children come to believe in God?  One experiment shows that children will cheat at a game unless they believe some invisible adult is watching.

The program examines out-of-body experiences and notes that such perceptions can be generated by stimulating a portion of the brain with electric current.  It examines the psychology of fortune tellers and our ability to form patterns or relationships from random noise where there is no pattern.  Both things help us feel better when we seem to lack control.

The program examines some experiments to see if other intelligent animals experience God.  Apparently not.  They show the difference between  brain patterns when religious people pray versus meditation by atheists.  How do we know God answers prayers?  We look for “signs” and perhaps rationalize the answer; that goes back to our attempt to make sense of the universe.

In the end, the question “did we invent God” or “did God invent humans” goes unanswered, perhaps because we can’t know for sure.

These were very interesting and thought-provoking programs and I look forward to watching the rest.

This DVD set will  be available October 23 at http://store.discovery.com/

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