Jan 20, 2010 4:47 AM EST
Human Target9/8c FoxSunday's sneak preview of this new thriller gave us a good idea how Christopher Chance operates, such as finding a novel way to ge… Read more
An exploration of what differentiates humans from other species, investigating our ability to think in symbols, write and imagine the unimaginable.
Premiered: January 6, 2010
In the third program, viewers literally peer into Alda's head with a variety of high-tech imaging techniques, looking for his human spark. The unique circuitry that provides us with our most prized ability, language, is closely tied to another unique human skill, our ability to make and use complex tools. In his own brain, Alda finds the site of his ability to figure out what others are thinking. And in perhaps the biggest surprise, he discovers that the essential human spark, our ability to build alternative worlds in our heads - to imagine - lies in a brain region closely related to that used when thinking about others' minds - and that fires most fiercely when we are doing nothing at all.
In the second program, Alan Alda joins researchers studying our fellow simians - mainly chimpanzees, our closest living relatives - to discover both what we share with them and what new skills humans evolved since we went our separate ways. By watching - and participating in - experiments comparing chimps with children, he learns that human uniqueness lies in our ability to reason about things we can't observe, especially the content of others' minds, and to employ this skill in the collaborative enterprise we call civilization.
In the caves of the Dordogne region of France, host Alan Alda witnesses the spectacular paintings and carvings that date back some 30,000 years, artwork that archeologists once thought to be the first record of people with minds like ours. When this art was created, Europe had already been peopled for hundreds of thousands of years by Neanderthals. Alda discovers, from visits to sites where Neanderthals once lived, that they were tenacious and resourceful, but they produced no art and employed a stone tool technology that changed little over millennia. The people who painted the caves, our ancestors, were strikingly different, possessed of the "human spark," capable not only of art but of innovative technology and symbolic communication. Alda asks: Where and when did the human spark first ignite? In these caves, as archeologists have long believed? Or at a much earlier time - and on another continent?