Friday, 8 August 2014

!!!! Elders Part 1 - Sir David Attenborough

Episodes  - 16 June 2008


Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Attenborough
The first in the six-part "Elders" series, this episode brings you the interview with Sir David Attenborough as he talks about his life experiences after a lifetime exploring the world.
ANDREW DENTON VO: We live in a society that worships youth. On television, in magazines, in advertisements and on billboards, what sells and what is sold to us is youth. But in some cultures it is the elders of the community who are valued and whose wisdom is sought. In this series we are going to seek out six prominent elders of our tribe, each over the age of 65 to see what life has taught them. Welcome to the elders.

Here is the most travelled man on the planet. A man who has not only seen more of the world than anyone, but who has spent over half a century chronicling it and bringing it into the homes of billions of others.

Now in his eighty second year he himself stands as an intriguing study of a singular kind of man. An entirely reasonable man, Sir David Attenborough.

You’ve travelled I think more than any human being, quite possibly more than any human being but this is where you always come back to. How long has this been your home?
ANDREW DENTON: And what does this place mean to you?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well it’s my shell, it means to me what a snail shell means to a snail. And this is where you are, I am totally relaxed and I have everything around me and everything i want. I mean I’ve been very incredibly lucky so that there’s nothing much that I need.
ANDREW DENTON: Can I take you back to when you were 14 and you used to head off by yourself for weeks at a time into the wild. What would you do?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well I wanted to put it in a pretentious way I would say I was investigating the geology of my local countryside which to a degree was true, but what I was actually doing was collecting things. I was collecting fossils and collecting is downgraded in many people’s eyes as being a kind of trivial activity but actually it’s the foundation of a lot of natural history.
ANDREW DENTON: When you went out for these trips you were only a young boy. Were you literally off by yourself? Did you parents know where you were?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t think they knew particularly where I was, no. I mean I have had a rabid silver speed super-sports bicycle and I built on the back out of canvas in which I would put specimens and then I had a big wooden box, a trunk, which I put on the local railway and addressed it to the station master at the next station that I might want up the road and so it started off full of rolled up newspapers and it ended up full of fossils but it went all the way round the Lake District for example in Britain and then finally ended up Leicester where I lived with about half a ton of fossil.
ANDREW DENTON: I’m struggling to think of a parent today that would comfortably let a young teenage boy head off by himself for that period of time
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: That’s true and tragic it is.
ANDREW DENTON: Cause your father was a teacher wasn’t he?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: He was a great teacher yes.
ANDREW DENTON: How did he teach you? What made him a good teacher?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh he knew what any decent educationalist knows which is that teaching is the question of pouring information into empty pots you know and persuading people to learn things by rope and drilling it into them. Education is finding out. Education is what the child does in order to discover so when I produced a fossil and I said to my father look at what I found and he said “Ah, that’s extraordinary, absolutely. What is it?” And I said, “Well I don’t know what it is.” And he said, “Well you could find out what it is. Well why do you suppose you find it in the middle of England when it’s obviously a sea creature there?” “Well I don’t know.” “Well you better find out. I mean you know you could go to the university, you could go to the museum to find out what it’s name is and I’ve heard of some books that would tell you this that…” And so I found out so I knew and then I went to him and said, “Father, I’ve found this out” and he said, “Amazing.” Tibunithenum turbinatum..... what an extraordinary name.” You know, that sort of stuff.

ANDREW DENTON: Your mum is an interesting woman. I think at her instigation your family took in refugees?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Both my parents were had very sensitive social consciences. I mean he the head of a little university college in Leicester is not a well paid job I can tell you and so he didn’t have any money but there were plenty of people who were poorer than us and he explained to us that was so and so therefore we will have two boys from Leicester who’d come on holiday with us and we said, ”What do you mean?” “You know, they, well they haven’t got any holidays, you know, they’re coming with us.” And that happened once or twice and then there were two girls, sisters, when war broke out and the Germans torpedoed a ship that was carrying children so all passages were stopped and my parents said well there you are, you now have two sisters, they’ll all be living with us until the war is over.
ANDREW DENTON: What impact did that have on a young boy, to have to have two…
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh well I mean I’d like to say I thought yes of course but on the other hand you know if you’re 14 or whatever, your family’s a very precious thing and your parent’s affection is a very precious thing and it’s quite hard to say no there’s these total strangers, girls what’s more, you know and they’re going to have as much affection from us as you do.
ANDREW DENTON: When you were older and you had perspective on it, did the lesson of your parents’ generosity, did that stay with you?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I would like to think it did. I think it’s certainly very powerful in my older brother.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: And I sometimes reproach myself that it’s not as powerful as it should be in me.
ANDREW DENTON: Can you think of a time in your life when you failed and if so I’m interested to know what you learnt from that.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I remember very vividly at university, one of the subjects I studied was X-ray crystallography and at Cambridge where the teaching system was that you had tutorials in which you and maybe one other but you had face to face with the person who was your tutor and there was another student undergraduate with me who was much brighter than I was, I mean he was a very very bright guy indeed and I was struggling with X-ray crystallography and I remember coming out of one tutorial in which he had been saying all these brilliant things, I didn’t know what the heck he was talking about, and I came out of it and I realised that actually he was thinking in three dimensions, mathematically in three dimensions and I couldn’t. Now up to that moment I thought any intellectual problem I would be able to solve if I got enough cold towels and put them over my head and sat there and gritted my teeth and went at it, I would in the end understand. And that was the moment when I knew that I was not going to do that. And I could show you the lamp post. I walked down Dowling Street and took a turn to the right, it was a small street, and with a gas lamp on it and I lent against the gas lamp and I gulped because I knew that I’d come across something that I couldn’t do and that was the first time, intellectually, that I couldn’t do, that was the first time, there’s been many since but that was the first.
ANDREW DENTON VO: That first sense of his own limitations held also the seed of epic opportunity for David Attenborough. The lofty realms of academia were, he decided, beyond him. By a series of coincidences he found himself instead in an entirely different world. The then utterly unchartered waters of television.

ANDREW DENTON VO: One of the most extraordinary personal missions of the century began. In hundreds and hundreds of hours of television, David Attenborough set out to give his viewer for the first time a comprehensive close up view of the planet in all its teeming life.
ANDREW DENTON: What sort of animals do you have an emotional response to? What gets your heart racing?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Emotionally not many but emotionally in the sense of affection but what sets my heart racing is when I see moments of splendour and of life of sheer resurgence of life when you see. Well I can remember very well up in Arnhem Land once when I was up there what 40, 50 years ago when there were very few people up there and certainly very few strangers and I remember building a hive by a lagoon a billabong and seeing it absolutely throng with magpie, geese and egrets and crocodiles and wallabies and other and on those moments you are divorced from the natural world, you are seeing something in which you pay no part it’s nothing to do with you but it’s going on out there, boy is it going on, you know absolutely full of zest and life and it’s going on out there and it happened before you were conceived and it’ll happen long since after you’ve gone.
ANDREW DENTON: You bridle at being called an animal lover. Why is that?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well because when people say animal lover it normally means that you have a little pet dog with ribbons in its hair and you keep it on your lap and you mmm and lick its face and or it licks your face.

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: That is not my game. I mean do I love an earthworm? No I do not love an earthworm but I think an earthworm’s a very interesting thing. So I’m interested in animals. I would like to think that I have a scientific interest in animals and I am fond of many animals in a rather irrational emotional way in which you can be with pets or indeed of other creatures which people now not normally keep as pets, but I just bridle a little at the word animal lover because that can be twisted to mean that you are using animals as a substitute for human beings.

ANDREW DENTON: As you said people have a romantic view of animals, that they want to have a romantic view of them. Is part of the attraction for you is it the purity and sometimes the violence, is that part of the marvel?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh it’s certainly part of the marvel and of course it becomes when you’re watching … if you watch a lion take a young wilderbeast calf you would be inhumane if you didn’t feel deep pity for the pain of this small creature which had been eaten alive. I mean clearly literally having its guts ripped out of it and if you didn’t see the distress of the mother. Of course those things are going on and it is part of your humanity that you feel the pain and the tragedy but it’s a pain and tragedy that stems from you rather than it does from them. And you know perfectly well, I mean, people write and say why didn’t you go out and shoo off the lion? Well shooing off lions is not my game anyway but I mean even if it were you would only make the matter worse because the lion has got to feed or it’s got to feed it’s cubs or whatever and the little thing is probably too badly wounded and so was never going to recover so there’s nothing you can do about it and so you have to accept this that it is part of this pattern.

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: of course when it comes to your own species and you see that going on if it’s within your power you know enough of your own species to be able to be of assistance so you respond. I hope.
ANDREW DENTON: You hope? I remember after that extraordinary sequence of the gorillas in Rwanda and you’d described yourself as emotionally exhausted. Is there a… what is the connection between animals and humans beyond co-existence?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well gorillas are a different thing. I mean gorillas are very very close to us. Their ears, their eyes are very much the same as ours so they see the sort of world we see. We don’t see the world that a dog sees or an anteater sees or a bird sees, but we the gorillas see what we see. We see their world and their smell, we smell their smelly world and they also live in very much the same social groups with a dominant male and a and a group of either one or more female and young and so you can see it’s so easy to transplant yourself into their world and to some degree you suspect they’ve transplanted themselves into our world.

ANDREW DENTON: Why was the Rwanda experience emotionally exhausting?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Interesting question. I don’t know. I suppose it was emotionally exhausting because you were trying very hard to be a) genuine and b) to convince these creatures who you had this communication problem to some extent, you have what you get convincing them that you were one of them. And it’s got nothing to do with fear and it wasn’t that I thought they were suddenly going to go mad and tear me limb from limb but you desperately wanted them to accept that you were benevolent.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: And you felt a great … I mean what is emotionally exhausting it means that you are giving out emotion all the time and the emotion I was trying to convey to them and which I couldn’t prevent anyway was an overwhelming joy that they should accept me.


ANDREW DENTON: I’ve read you described really beautifully as a man with no enemies.

ANDREW DENTON: Yes. Do you feel you’re a man with no enemies?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t think it’s necessarily a virtue if it’s the case. Well because I think that there are times when you should be standing up for things and saying things in as bold a way, if you really believe them powerfully and they’re powerfully important, which inevitably will bring you enemies and it’s too easy to be a friend with everyone as it were, a jack of you know, a popularity Jack as they used to say in the navy.
ANDREW DENTON: How have you dealt with anger? I assume you get angry. What sort of things make you angry?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t get very angry actually.
ANDREW DENTON: See that’s a I think a rare quality. How have you managed to subsume anger?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t know. Maybe I ought to be more angry, maybe I ought to be more angry about some of the injustices which one sees.
ANDREW DENTON: Is it a conscious thing not to be angry or is it just in your nature?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Bit of both I think maybe.
ANDREW DENTON VO: But even for this man there is come a time for anger, all be it reason, finally measured anger. When observing the world around him was no longer enough it had to be confronted.
ANDREW DENTON: I know that you said that one thing that gets you gloomy is over population. Why do you respond so strongly to that?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Every disaster that’s striking the world today, aggression, pollution, famines, anti-social behaviour, all these things can be attributed to human beings living in densities which have increased very greatly. I mean I’ve been making films for over 50 years, but in that 50 years the number of people living on this earth has tripled.
ANDREW DENTON: Do you feel society, human society, has changed under the pressure of population?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes I think wars… people will say well there have been wars since humanity existed. Well that’s true but where people have got room to escape and to separate, where societies are getting in one another’s hair and really feeling aggressive with one another, 100 years ago, 200 years ago, 300 years ago you could separate and they did but now we are so down and chepa by jowl I mean there is the amount of Lebensraum, the number of living room. I mean that’s what Hitler said, you know, I need more living rooms for the German people. And what’s going on in the Middle East. I mean people wanting living room and in the past you could say OK well there’s that patch of land there with nobody on it, go there but the notion that nobody was living in Israel before is a mistaken one to put it mildly.

ANDREW DENTON: Are you optimistic for the future of the planet?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: No no. Well I think it’s very difficult to think that it won’t get worse. I’m not necessarily saying that it’s going to become intolerable or that we’re going to disappear or anything of that sort. But I think that living conditions will get worse.
ANDREW DENTON VO: For a long time David Attenborough resisted all calls to join the global warming debate, determined to see the hard science evidence fully developed. Once he’d made up his mind he spoke it with all his unique authority.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I think there will certainly be global warming, and as a consequence of global warming there will be famines, there will be the amount of land on this earth which is suitable for growing food is a very small proportion of the earth’s surface and it just happens to be the proportion on which we’ve decided to build all our cities and I think that it will be becoming increasingly hard for people to get enough food and on a worldwide sense. I mean there is a gleam of hope in that some people say that first of all we’re going to peak on the audience, on the population of this planet around 10 million though exactly why and whether that’s really true I don’t know but let’s say it is. And secondly that wherever there is female emancipation and literacy and the ability to restrict popular birth control then that population the birth rate does fall which is an argument for literacy and education and that you do that not only because it’s the right of human beings but because the human population demands it.

ANDREW DENTON: Let’s talk about the imagination of human beings. You’re strongly on the record as being opposed to the concept of creationism. Why do you feel so strongly about it?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I feel so strongly about it because I think that it is in a quite simple historical factual way wrong. The arguments I would put forward now that we are more knowledgeable about the world as a whole, we know that every single society has found it necessary to get some explanation as to how human beings came into existence and Australian Aboriginal societies and or some sections of it think it was a great sort of rainbow serpent that arches up in the sky and which vomited up the first human being from a water hole and there are people in South East Asia who think that the world started as a sea of milk in which there was a great snake and demons were pulling at one end and another lot at the other and they churned it and it turned into coagulations which human beings and there was a people 3,000 years ago wandering around the Middle East who thought that what happened there was a garden and a man from the sky created made moulded out of mud, blew into it and then that was the first man and then in order to make the woman he took a rib out of its side. Now all those things can’t be right. How do you decide which you’re going to believe or are you simply going to accept what it was your mother told you or your father told you? Well there are good historical clues to be found and they’re found all over the everywhere and they’re all the same everywhere. I mean the truth about our own bodies, about the shape of our own bodies and what they look like, the looking at fossils and the ground, looking at the rest of animal creation and so on and if you do that which is the same everywhere and if you no matter what nationality of people who look at that you come to the same conclusions which is that all life has evolved over a very long period of time and you can plot the course and the range in which it works so simply from a taking an objective point of view the answer is that life has evolved on this planet.
ANDREW DENTON: But of course not everybody does come to that conclusion and there are plenty of people who would say to you all very well David but God did that.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: The idea that when people say why don’t you give God the credit for all these wonderful things. When people say that they nearly always want to take the example of butterflies or hummingbirds or orchids or something, lovely and I’m or I write back because they write to me on this and say yes well it’s all very well but of course I think of a little boy sitting on a bank of the river in West Africa with a worm that’s boring through his eyeball and which will certainly turn him blind within a few years. Now this God that you so that created every single species, he must presumably have created that worm. Now are you telling me that this is Christian God who has compassion and mercy for every individual one of us and that he did it deliberately put a in make a worm and put it in the eye of this child. This worm can’t exist anywhere else. Well I don’t find that compatible with the notion of there being a merciful creator, God. If you’re a creationist do you actually believe that this worm together with tape worms and everything else actually were created at the same time as Adam and that God said OK I’ll make Adam and I’ll give him, I’ll kick him out with everyone of these little animal parasites. Did he do that? And if he didn’t do that, then what had happened presumably is that these worms related to other worms in the Garden of Eden and eventually moved into the ... in which case they then changed and so they couldn’t live anywhere else as the condition is now. They’ve evolved. Dear me, there’s a rude word.
ANDREW DENTON: If you don’t see that as compatible with the concept of
a merciful God that worm that bores into the eye, does that therefore mean life has no
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: It would mean that life has evolved. I don’t think we can know what the, there is a purpose of life and for all I know there are all kinds of divine purposes which are beyond our cognition.
ANDREW DENTON: We’re in a time of great debate. Which is more powerful do you think, faith or knowledge?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I think in the end you have to vote for rational
thought because there are all kinds of beliefs that you can have, all kind of beliefs that
are plainly wrong and by that I don’t mean religious beliefs, I mean you can believe all kinds of things about what food to grow or where to go or what dangers are or how to organise and you can believe all sorts of things that are wrong but it is much better that you should have a rational insight into what these various problems are, so rationality has to win over faith.
ANDREW DENTON: And what would you say to a suicide bomber?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well a suicide, I mean a faith is something that you can’t argue with, I mean that’s one of the problems of faith I mean and that’s I suppose in the end why I say what I say that the rationality is if through a suicide bomber the only way that you could reasoning as a suicide bomber as I understand it is he believes that he will be doing God’s will and in consequence will have an afterlife of great privilege. Now the only way you can argue against that is to say that it’s not so and you can only, you can’t, it’s no good saying I believe it’s not so and you believe it is so, that doesn’t get you anywhere but actually even when you say I can’t see any rational proof in that, that doesn’t get you anywhere anyway either.
ANDREW DENTON: So there’s nothing that needs to be said.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Very little to be said it seems to me with a suicide
ANDREW DENTON: Can we talk about the music because I know that one of your great passions that you have a huge collection of classical music? Why does music mean so much to you?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: It’s a mystery, it’s a mystery isn’t it? And I often think about it as a biologist and I once made a film, a program about music and animals because music, of course it depends how you define it but you can produce a definition which includes other species apart from yourself that make music and whales or birds or gibbons. I mean they produce long sequences of sound which are very often individual and which are modified but repeatable and which has an effect on others. And so what does it do in the animal kingdom? Well it cements society but it also makes declarations about your emotional state and at the simple level a whale calling is saying one, this is me and two, I would like, it could be, I could be calling for a female. Certainly that’s what a bird says under certain circumstances as well as saying other males get out of my way. So that’s very low level stuff but human beings have taken this particular thing, which I’m absolutely convinced came to us before language. Music is before language. We were beating on stalactites and we were using drums and drumming on, you see, just as the same way as chimpanzees are drumming on trees to signal to one another, which they undoubtedly do. We were doing that before we were speaking in any degree and it’s very eloquent this particular thing. So when you get great minds, great minds can express themselves in music. Trivial minds can do so too but when great minds do it, when Jo Johann Sebastian Bach does it, the effect is overwhelmingly as far as I’m concerned cause I because he enables, he is able to speak and communicate, not only to his own people but across the centuries in an extraordinary way.
ANDREW DENTON: When you were young you saw a Polish concert pianist entertaining
ANDREW DENTON: Polish refugees during World War II.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I remember it very well, very very well. And I remember his name, Pushtof. During the war there were Polish airmen ref stationed around Leicester where I lived. Very brave people who’d lost their homeland. And it so happened that quite close to where I lived there was a big, the best concert hall such as it was not very good but it was the best in the Midlands and this Polish pianist appeared, his name was Pushtof he was going to play Chopin and I’d been selling programs and then he played a polonaise and there was a man, he wasn’t even sitting down, he was standing at the back, he had grey hair and I remember rather long grey hair and tears appeared in his eyes and trickled down his cheeks and of course he must have been a Polish refugee and his face didn’t move apart from that. I mean he just, tears coursed down his cheeks. I had never seen an adult cry before and I was absolutely astounded that this was happening and I suppose I must have realised that music meant something in things of communication, was communicating to that guy in the most profound way.
ANDREW DENTON: Have you experienced that with music?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes. Yeah yes although I think I am not
very demonstrative.
ANDREW DENTON: So what was the music that reached you?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh Bach nearly nearly always. Bach nearly always. If I really was talking about profundity but Bach which is about mercy and which is about love and I don’t mean ecstatic sexual love, I mean a profound love of humanity and a vision of the infinite and now what that means I have no idea but I cant think of any other words to use to explain many a Bach cantata.
ANDREW DENTON: When those times when you’ve surrendered to Bach, was that a moment of relief?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes I suppose so because you unlock certain doors.
ANDREW DENTON: See I’m from that new generation of men that weeps at the drop of a hat and I actually rather like it.
ANDREW DENTON: Not so for you.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t express emotion easily.
ANDREW DENTON: Is that a generational thing do you think?
ANDREW DENTON: Is it a frustration?
ANDREW DENTON: What occasions do you express emotion?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: On those very occasions when I’m angry, which of course don’t exist, as I’ve already explained. Well I mean with people moments of great emotional crisis and of course that includes birth and death as well as sexuality and on those emotions on those times of course they can it can be an occasion for tears.
ANDREW DENTON: I know your mother died in a car crash and you didn’t get to say goodbye and I read an interview many years later where you said it’s wrong the way that we’re shielded from death. How should we respond to deal with death?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well I suppose to confront it because it’s part of reality and to that extent a part of life but we are shielded from death and we don’t we try and pretend to our children that it doesn’t exist whereas children are much more wide eyed about it.
ANDREW DENTON: Do you think often about the fact that you weren’t able to farewell your mother?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: No, more powerfully than that I realised that I never spoke to my mother and I never knew my mother who died 20 years before my father, that I didn’t know her as an adult as well as I wished I had. And I think probably every generation thinks that about their parents. I knew my father better but again it’s extraordinarily difficult to know your previous generation and I’m not absolutely sure that you need to know that. Why would it be necessary to know that your father’s point of view of many aspects of his life, which I didn’t know about? And because I loved him certainly and had a deep respect for him, but that doesn’t mean to say I need necessarily to know about his teenage exploits, whatever they may have been.
ANDREW DENTON: You were married for just on 50 years. What makes a good marriage?
ANDREW DENTON: Easily said.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yes. And the fact you’re wanting to do it. I mean if you spent all your time saying am I enjoying this and is this what I really want to do and wouldn’t I be happier if I was unnecessarily with somebody else but maybe just not doing this sort of thing, then of course you, the marriage comes under great strain but if you i are committed to the notion that you are a family and that there are going to be good times and bad times and you’re not as perfect or as you might wish to be or whatever and neither are your children and neither, you know we’re living in a perfect world but above all you want it to succeed. That’s what it is.
ANDREW DENTON: How were you able to deal, confront the death of Jane?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well you have no choice. Well it isn’t a question of method if your wife dies or wife dies and you can’t pretend otherwise. And it’s perfectly true I couldn’t do anything for several weeks because when death happens all kinds of… the extraordinary thing is in the midst of all this wrenching, emotional wrenching, there’s just a mass of practical things that you have to do. I mean, banal practicalities and they’ve go to be done and so you do them. And equally in the same tone as it were, and the same manner of speaking there are a lot, and you’ve got a job to do and the people, so you get on with it.
ANDREW DENTON: You’ve got two grandchildren now, is the challenge of raising kids today very different from when you were a father?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh yes, well I would imagine so but my two grandchildren are in Australia so I don’t see them as much as I would wish but I would think that they have their problems just the same but the standards and the principles by which you guide your life are the same.
ANDREW DENTON: If they’re in Australia they’re alright David.

ANDREW DENTON: God’s own country, you know that.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I certainly do and they certainly have freedoms which I don’t have.

ANDREW DENTON: There’s a saying that there are three stages of life, there’s youth, middle age and gee you’re looking good.

ANDREW DENTON: Do you find people’s attitudes change as you get older towards you?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh yes I suppose so.
ANDREW DENTON: What do you see when you look in the mirror?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh I’m sure I see an illusion actually because you see what you think you know, and so I think that I probably see myself as looking much younger than I do. But that’s about all. I mean what I do know is that here I am, I’m 82 and I know other people who of 82 who for no justice or whatever in the world, I mean they’ve had about, they’ve had heart attacks, they’ve lost their memory, they… Now I can’t walk very well any more. I mean I certainly can’t run but if that’s the worst well then I should be extremely fortunate and but it’s nothing to do with merit, it’s just luck and I am, I count myself as amazingly lucky that I still can write a script or indeed read a script.
ANDREW DENTON: As you have got older, how has your attitude towards death changed, has it changed at all?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I mean, I think about death every day.
ANDREW DENTON: When you think about it, what do you think of?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I think mainly of the problems I’m leaving for others really, actually, that’s mostly it. And of course the sort of cliché which we all wish which is that well when it comes make it quick but that’s about it. But I do, I mean occasionally you think why are you doing this, do you, why are you buying this object or buying that or doing the other, that, you’re probably not going to be here in 5 years time, oh no to hell with that, I’m not, I’m still behaving as though as I was immortal.
ANDREW DENTON: Do you have a sense of the afterlife?
ANDREW DENTON: None at all?
ANDREW DENTON: Does that worry you?
ANDREW DENTON: A good sleep in.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: I don’t see how it should worry one. I’d be much more worried if I thought there was someone up there with a profit and loss account in terms of moral behaviour as some religions say there are. But I don’t I can’t, I see no evidence of that.
ANDREW DENTON: Would you be found in profit or in loss morally?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Who knows? Who knows what the moral code is.
ANDREW DENTON: Mmm. The Christians I spoke to in Texas, it was a very tempting offer because you not only get to, if you totally subscribe to their belief system, not only do you get to go to heaven but what I didn’t know is you get to sit in judgment on those who wronged you.
ANDREW DENTON: Yes you get to go through the book.

ANDREW DENTON: And see now you’re tempted aren’t you? Yes. Look he’s weakened at the last minute. I knew I’d get you.
ANDREW DENTON: Yes. You’re 82, what do you have left to learn?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Oh gosh a mass of stuff but mostly fairly materialistic stuff. I mean you know I am fascinated by, I mean I read evolutionary science all the time, I’m the things that have been discovered in my lifetime are absolutely extraordinary you know. I mean the whole of the genetics at the moment is so exciting. Hocks genes, do you know about hocks genes – these are groups of genes which have a wondrous sort of switch on them which will build you an arm. I mean there was an advance a few years ago that made it look as though there was a sort of a mad scientist and the mad scientists have got themselves to blame to some degree, but there was a picture of a mouse with an ear…
ANDREW DENTON: I saw that…
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: …growing on its back.
ANDREW DENTON: And I saw that and I thought they finally had a break through in discovering what cheese has to say.

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Now that’s mind-blowing exciting.
ANDREW DENTON: And as you know a lot of people are uncomfortable about the fact that we can now tinker with the building blocks of life.
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Yeah, well I think that I can understand that and it is. I mean if you… one thing another, you know if you’re putting these huge powers into your hands, there’s a powerful things going wrong as well for going right so it is, it’s a tightrope stuff, tightrope stuff but that particular thing of understanding the way in which our bodies are built, which all the other animals in the world are built, that is so exciting. I just love the notion of it, I just love seeing the way it works and seeing it work with me, that’s where I mean I’m part of it, you know we’re all part of it.
ANDREW DENTON: I know you don’t believe in an afterlife but maybe there’s reincarnation. If you were to come back as an animal, which would you choose?
SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well I might have said, a lot of things really, I might have said a male bird of paradise, just sitting there flaunting its feathers. No, alright a sloth, how about a sloth hanging upside down from a tree doing nothing much for most of the day, chomping a leaf here or there, thinking, wondering about whether to move over to the next branch but just thinking, well by and large not, don’t forget where you were. That wouldn’t be bad.
ANDREW DENTON: It doesn’t strike me as you . . .

SIR DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Well I don’t know, I don’t know what I’d be.

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