7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

Degrees of social ineptness...

Theme tunes for TV programmes do not tend to occupy a great deal of my attention generally, but I have recently listened, with increasing anxiety, to the lyrics of a song that is played at the start of a programme called The Big Bang Theory.

For those who have not yet seen it, I should explain that The Big Bang Theory is essentially a documentary following the lives of a small group of scientists at an American university, led by a string theorist, Dr Sheldon Cooper, who in his own generally accurate opinion is on a fast track to a Nobel prize.

Dr Cooper and his companions all have varying degrees of social ineptness, but none quite so advanced as Dr Cooper, as is only to be expected in one of such intellect. But why, I wonder, does he not do something about the lyrics of the theme song?

They begin with the words: "Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,

Then fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait..."

Dr Cooper, I feel, would have preferred the more accurate figure of 13.72 billion years ago for the timing of the Big Bang, but "nearly fourteen billion" seems to me a fair enough estimate, but the lyrics then continue"

"The Earth began to cool, The autotrophs began to drool," which I think is an over-simplification. (Quite apart from the facts that it sounds like "autotrophs began to dree", but I have checked, and the word is definitely 'drool'.)

Autotrophs, as you probably know, were among the first species of life on this planet and created their own food through photosynthesis, using sunlight to turn carbon dioxide and water into useful organic compounds such as sugars. Heterotrophs, on the other hand, (not that they had hands, of course) do not create their own food but rely on consuming other external foods to provide the energy to sustain their own life processes.

Autotrophs, having no mouths, cannot drool, so the line 'autotrophs began to drool' may be accused of being misleading, as I am sure Dr Cooper would be among the first to point out. Heterotrophs, however, may have evolved from autotrophs, so the line 'autotrophs began to drool' could be taken as a poetic way of saying that autotrophs evolved into heterotrophs, with the ability not only to use external food sources, but to drool at the prospect of eating them.

Drooling, of course, is a biological side-effect of producing saliva which contains the digestive enzymes that are so useful for the process of eating.

Yet many believe that heterotrophs evolved before autotrophs, which makes the autotroph drooling even harden to justify.

The song lyrics go on to say that "Neanderthals developed tools", which is rather unfair to homo habilis, which used stone tools long before homo neanderthalis was around. That line, however, is not heard on the TV show, probably because of protests by lawyers acting for the Neanderthal Liberation Front. It really is time Dr Cooper sorted all this out.

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