Science Book a Day Interviews Richard Robinson

richard-robinson

Special thanks to Steve Jenkins for answering 5 questions about his recently featured book – My Manager and Other Animals

Richard is best known for building and voicing puppets for various television series such as Spitting Image. In the mid-1990s, after years taking his children to the Science Museum and related educational events he found a new outlet as a science busker, visiting schools and festivals with science cabaret acts. He has written nearly twenty books on science. – Adapted from Hefnes.co.uk

In 2005 he founded the Brighton Science Festival, now one of the biggest in the UK.

Richard’s Homepage: http://www.richardrobinson.org.uk
Richard’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/richardscience

#1 – What was the impetus for My manager and other animals?

About a decade ago Why The Toast Always Lands Butter-side Down (about the Murphy’s Laws of everyday life) did very well, so as one of the sequels a book about the Murphy’s laws of work was planned. But it was a jumble, a mess of quips and quotes, until someone said ‘Have you studied Emergence?’ The next two months were spent with my eyes on stalks and the hairs erect on the back of my neck. Emergence is breathtaking – unbelievable, but totally obvious. It is the observation that really big things can emerge from lots of small ones – for instance, the way the Wikipedia emerges from the input from thousands of contributors. The poster child of emergence is the ant. Ants are famously defenceless, blind, deaf and stupid, yet they can build their fantastic nests without any of them knowing what’s going on. It leads to the increasingly surreal conjecture that the way to get order is through chaos; that we create civilisation from millions of chunks of anarchy, blind decision-making and pointless rituals. The more you look at it the more true it appears; and the more hilarious.

#2 – Can we really learn anything about business from an evolutionary perspective?

Life has evolved on a chaotic planet, with droughts, floods, glaciers, earthquakes, volcanoes and poisons thundering around us. The only way to cope is to keep evolving; duck and weave, mutate, try to stay ahead of the next catastrophe.  In exactly the same way – and often for the same reason – the business landscape keeps changing. The discovery and exploitation of oil, minerals and water, then the panic when they get used up, dried up or stolen leads us to search out new resources, ingenious inventions or weapons, and all of this scrambling around echoes right the way through the system. The ripples end up affecting the very cup of tea we comfort ourselves with. (I once thought of writing a book called ‘How to Make a Cup of Tea’. It would begin ‘First, conquer India…’)

#3 – You introduce the idea of ‘egology’. What is this?

In order to rescue ourselves from the wacky planet we have created our own carefully controlled world, with barriers of double glazing and concrete separating us from mucky old reality. Here we can keep the temperature and humidity stable; rainfall is confined to showers and toilets, the grass (sorry, carpet) remains the same length for ever, and there is no dirt. This is our ego-system and we are the fauna, tweeting among the desktops.

#4 – Your book is full of humour and anecdotes. Is this an important philosophy to you when communicating science?

Serious people do serious science, trying their best to explain the almost inexplicable universe and its dark mysteries. I am tasked with communicating some of their discoveries to others. In order to be more  easy on the eye I have to make it less rigorous. I am always in danger of being called trivial, but I can assure you the science behind the humour is rock-solid, and I hope the conclusions are pertinent.

#5 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

Right now I’m studying the animals that inhabit that ego-system. The Office Bestiary is based on mediaeval bestiaries, with their descriptions of dragons, giants and mythical creatures. Nowadays we know of real creatures much more weird than the mythical ones, and we also know how closely related they are to people sitting a few desks away. Over there is a big baboon, next to a shark, over from a pussycat and and a pig who is busy as a bee, but with a grasshopper mind. Yet to appear are assassin bugs, platypuses, dragons (oh yes, they do exist), peacocks, pandas and Portuguese man’o’wars. I’m slowly feeding them into my website (http://www.richardrobinson.org.uk/bestiary).

[Image Credit: https://twitter.com/richardscience ]

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