Friday, April 06, 2012

Ince-sane in the brain - review of Robin Ince, Happiness Through Science

Robin Ince: Happiness Through Science, at Arlington Arts, Snelsmore, on Friday, March 23

DO you remember Robin Ince before he went all sciencey? Back then, he was best known as Ricky Gervais’ support act and whipping boy, and toured a rather delightful cabaret night called The Bad Book Club. I enjoyed it so much when he brought it to New Greenham Arts, that I sent him a copy of Danielle Steele’s Love Poems. Some people may consider that the act of a stalker, but Ince saw in it the wonder of poetry at its worst, and later performed readings from it accompanied by music and interpretative dance. Truly stunning.

Clearly having exhausted the deepest seam of terrible literature with that pinnacle of artistic achievement, Ince has more recently turned his sights outwards to the universe, and the comedy to be found in the wonderful world of science and its writings. As a layperson from an arts background, Ince has an enthusiasm about theories and discoveries for their intrinsic beauty, as well as the entertainment value that can be found by an outsider trying to grasp concepts as mind-messing as quantum theory, and the fabulous quirkiness of great thinkers such as Richard Feynman.

Ince showed how Schrodinger’s thought experiment (the cat-in-box paradox; not to be confused with Pavlov’s Dog) can be applied not only to the recession (“Here’s a box of oil for you... don’t open it!”) but also to nostalgia for TV programme from childhood (“if you buy a DVD of a show you loved, you must never ever watch it”). He also did a rather good impression of his co-presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage, Dr Brian Cox (“he’s good at pointing”) and hinted at a chink of humanity in outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins, who was rather put out by a certain item of his anatomy as depicted in a reworking of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, with Dawkins painted into the part of Adam.

Central to Ince’s exploration was the question whether it is possible to be a scientific realist and/or atheist (as Ince himself is, despite coming from a family of vicars - some of his relatives were in the front row at Arlington) and still be happy. Can you find any joy in living if you believe that life - and the universe - is ultimately pointless? Ince believes that you can; with as much wonder to be found in the scientific world - and so much more to discover - as in religion, faith and mysticism. Maybe you can’t be happy all the time; but you can certainly find plenty of things along life’s path to both amaze and amuse.

* Robin Ince brings Happiness Through Science to Cornerstone in Didcot on Friday, June 29.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, March 29, 2012

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