Human Spark With Alan Alda
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2010
What is it that distinguishes humans from the rest of animal kingdom? Why can only humans communicate through auditory and written symbols that can be recombined into virtually infinite meanings, hypothesize what the future may bring, or imagine the unknown? The Human Spark with Alan Alda explores the differences between modern homo sapiens, our extinct Neanderthal cousins, and modern-day chimpanzees. An extraordinary documentary about what modern-day science has to say about the quintessential distinguishing features of humanity, The Human Spark with Alan Alda is enlightening and intriguing, highly recommended especially for public library collections. 3 hours, widescreen, closed captioned.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2011
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What is it that makes us, that is humans, different from other beings on planet Earth? This difference is the HUMAN SPARK, the subject that's analyzed in this fascinating documentary hosted by M*A*S*H*'s Hawkeye Pierce himself, Alan Alda.

In order to answer this big question, other questions are answered such as:

(1) What is the origin of the human spark?
(2) When and why did the human spark ignite?
(3) Why didn't it ignite in our cousins, the Neanderthals?
(4) Why didn't our present-day relatives (chimps and other apes) never get the spark?

Alda travels all over the world to talk with those actively engaged in research to answer the big question and the other questions that follow from it.

This documentary is in three episodes. Each episode is composed of six chapters.

The first episode is entitled "Becoming Us." Here our earliest ancestors are examined. My favourite chapter has the title "Crash-Course in Primitive Tool-Making."

Episode number two has the title "So Human, So Chimp." Here there is examination of our closest living relatives. My favourite chapter is called "Apes vs. Humans."

The final episode (and my personal favourite) is entitled "Brain Matters." In this episode, neuroscientists in Boston scan and analyze Alan Alda's brain. The last chapter of this episode is particularly important and interesting. It is called "The Essential Human Spark."

Watching Alan Alda host this documentary, you get the sense that he could teach basket-weaving and make it interesting, relevant, and fun! You can't help but like him and his curiosity about the subject is infectious.

Finally, the DVD itself (the one released in 2010) is perfect in picture and sound quality. It has one extra of deleted scenes. (Note that the title for the second episode given on the DVD menu is incorrect,)

In conclusion, this is a fascinating documentary that attempts to answer an equally fascinating question about humans!!

(2009; 2 hr, 45 min; 3 episodes; 55 min per episode; 6 chapters per episode; wide screen)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 13, 2013
Most documentaries are thinly-veiled propaganda for whatever pet-theories the producers want to indoctrinate upon viewers. (ie- Loose Change)

The Human Spark is great, and Alan Alda does a great job asking simple questions about the "spark" of intelligence that makes humans different from animals, and those questions lead him to scientists who have been testing the same ideas. Each scientist has an agenda, and the creators of this series shows both the arguments and counter-arguments, and show real examples of these scientific arguments being tested. The beauty of the film is that it doesn't lecture you on which theory is right. The viewer is presented several theories and examples and tests of each, and is allowed to form their own opinions. I wish all documentary filmmakers shared that sort of neutral-bias.

Alan Alda as non-scientist is the perfect host to ask such questions. The series is easy to watch because all of this "hard science" is reduced into conversational terms and the producers do a great job to "show me" when the subject matter gets complicated. This is well produced, easy to watch, and accessible even to the "low information" viewers. (I hate that term)

I strongly recommend this series to all animals on Earth that walk upright on two legs.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 8, 2010
Alda does a pretty good job seeking out and chatting with interesting and well-informed people doing up-to-date research into what makes humans human. We saw the three-part series on PBS and thought enough of it to buy a copy for the family. Unless you actively and regularly seek out reports of current research into the evolution of the human mind and brain, you'll almost certainly find much of interest here.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2010
Despite comments by others, Alan Alda makes a great narrator for this series. His wonderment (real or acted) in the science he is discussing is infectious and draws the viewer in. This is an excellent series to help open minds to the idea of the development of humans.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2010
Saw only episode 3 on PBS. Outstanding review of cognitive ethology. The deleted material alone is worth the price. A great introduction to Thinking Without Words (Philosophy of Mind)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 11, 2013
Enjoyable to see how we evolved. Sometimes it felt like Alan Alda was a bit too over the top, but I think he truly enjoyed the assignment, and to be honest, I would too! I often thought he had an agenda re: why Neanderthals were unable to 'catch up' or evolve. It was explained to him many times that there were much fewer Neanderthals than our forebears, and, therefore, since learning occurs in groups, and occurs faster and better in larger groups, Neanderthals were at an evolutionary disadvantage. They did, however, survive a tremendously long time and obviously their mode of survival was effective, obviating the need for change. Aside from this annoying focus, I did enjoy his enthusiasm, learned a great deal about where we came from, and, on the whole, feel a bit more enlightened about the 'human spark.' I do recommend this series. If, however, you believe that life has only been on this planet for nigh on 2,000 years, stay away! You will swear this show is the devil's work! : )
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2013
The scenery is lovely and Mr. Alda's attitude of a "learner's mind" makes this series interesting. I watched all 3 episodes in one sitting.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2013
New look at what makes us different from other animals & how or minds work. Why & how or brains got so big.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2014
This could have been much better. Focusing on, and in many ways mocking, the Neanderthals seems to exclude the other branches of the human ancestry that migrated into Asia and Australia. Evidence of ancient mariners over 800,000 years old has been found in the West Pacific archipelagos. And as far as the Neanderthals are concerned, they had quite a run without seeing much need to change anything, and might have still been around if another species (us) hadn't shown up. Sorry but I wanted to like this, but when the story stopped short of following the natural path of migration around the coastal plains of southwestern Asia, I zoned out.
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