The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion
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The Story of Science: Power, Proof and Passion

2010, Science  -   78 Comments
Ratings: 8.13/10 from 93 users.

The Story of ScienceFor thousands of years we have wrestled with the great questions of existence. Who are we? What is the world made of? How did we get here? The quest to answer these is the story of science.

Each week, medical journalist Michael Mosley traces the often unpredictable path we have taken. From recreating a famous alchemist’s experiment, to following in Galileo’s footsteps, and putting himself in the hands of a hypnotist, Michael unpicks how science has changed the way we see ourselves, and the way we see our world.

It is a tale of courage and of fear, of hope and disaster, of persistence and success. It interweaves great forces of history – revolutions, voyages of discovery and artistic movements – with practical, ingenious inventions and the dogged determination of experimenters and scientists.

This is the story of how history made science and how science made history, and how the ideas which emerged made the modern world.

1. What Is Out There? How we came to understand our planet was not at the center of everything in the cosmos.

2. What Is The World Made Of? How atomic theories and concepts of quantum physics underpin modern technology.

3. How Did We Get Here? Michael Mosley tells how scientists came to explain the diversity of life on earth.

4. Can We Have Unlimited Power? The story of how power has been harnessed from wind, steam and from inside the atom.

5. What is the Secret of Life? Michael Moseley tells the story of how the secret of life has been unraveled through the prism of the most complex organism known - the human body.

6. Who Are We? The twin sciences of brain anatomy and psychology have offered different visions of who we are. Now these sciences are coming together and in the process have revealed some surprising and uncomfortable truths about what really shapes our thoughts, feelings and desires.

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78 Comments / User Reviews

  1. Jim Greenfield

    he skipped many important issues and facts,a true member of the new mainstream media.

  2. Jane Wacky

    I did not agree with some content of Moseley's documentary "The Story of Science" as he made some monumental errors.

    1. Totally ignored non-Western science and no mention at all of the Renaissance.

    2. Perpetuated Descartes's myth with the phrase "Cogito, Ergo sum" thus, he could not be fooled.
    Unfortunately "Ergo" is not completely defined, consequently Descartes can be fooled.

    3. Perpetuated Turing's Test for artificial intelligence. Unfortunately neither science nor a computer
    will ever be able to distinguish good from bad.

    4. Perpetuated the myth that Science is/was the most important human endeavour.
    Science is flawed at its core and cannot make humans happy except materialistically.

    5. Unfortunately this documentary lacked depth and insight.

    1. Janeen Clark

      science is flawed at it's core? wtf do you mean by this?

    2. walterbyrd

      > Science is flawed at its core and cannot make humans happy except materialistically.

      I take it that you will have nothing to do with modern healthcare, including dentistry?

      WTF are doing on a computer?

    3. Reed

      Why are you watching science documentaries? You say that science cannot make humans happy? I was very happy when modern medical technology saved my mother's life. You comment lacks depth and insight too.

  3. Gaia O

    What I want to know is since it is said that the Mayans and ancient Egyptians and other similiar of the oldest cultures had a seemingly near perfect understanding of 'the heavens,' at least this is what so many documentaries suggest with their calendar and the pyramids and other early so called wonders, which supposedly as almost as precise as our 'modern' models based on the science of today. HOW can this be so, if as is also known and presented in this video, that the ancients 'knew' that the earth was the center of the cosmos and was stationary and everything revolved around our earth? How can they be so wrong, yet at the same time be able to be considered virtually as advanced in the area of astronomy with navigation, and how most all of the massive monuments and calendar were so accurate? Just a question that 'came' to me a few minutes ago.

    1. Agimaso Schandir

      "Somebody once observed to the eminent philosopher Wittgenstein how s*upid medieval Europeans living before the time of Copernicus must have been that they could have looked and thought that the sun was circling the earth. Surely a modicum of astronomical good sense would have told that the reverse was true. Wittgenstein is said to have replied: 'I agree. But I wonder what it would have looked like if the sun *had* been circling the earth.'
      The point is that it would look exactly the same." -James Burke _The Day the Universe Changed_

      The Ptolemy model was good enough to do any calculations that were needed for the times. As the documentary mentions, the Copernicus model wasn't any better. Assuming the Earth is a stationary platform might make astronomical observations easier to visualize.

      The Earth's rotation wasn't 'proved' until 1851 with the Foucault pendulum.

  4. Anthony Mustacich

    This was good, but very eurocentric. It narrowly focused almost exclusively on the major scientific discoveries of the last 500 years and ignored the scientific discoveries of Africa and Asia, which formed the basis for Western Europe's scientific revolution. This series should be watched in conjunction with documentaries that show the history of science before Western Europe. Other than that, good.

  5. Il

    I would suggests another source of science, which came to us much earlier than what has been explained here about the expansion of the universe and basically the whole content. The Qur'an explains all this facts close to 1500 years ago, thus much earlier than Kepler, Einstein or any one else even had the idea to think about the black wholes or the nature of the space.

    1. Sto Pspamming

      Hahaha, I thought this nonsense had disappeared when all claims regarding science in the Koran were refuted and shown to be fabricated and made up.

    2. Anthony Mustacich

      Most of the basic technological inventions of human society, as well as the basics of geometry, astronomy, math, etc., came from outside of Western Europe. Writing originated outside of Europe, pottery and
      ceramics, the wheel, the shovel, all of these were created outside of Western Europe - and without them, those basic inventions, then there would have been no material basis for Western Europe's scientific revolution.

    3. Uriel theSecular

      It has nothing to do with the fact that the Quran is total bulls*it.

    4. Anthony Mustacich

      Um, my initial comment didn't speak on the Quran, somebody else brought that bullsit up. In fact, I never even alluded to the Quran.

  6. Kenneth Molyneaux

    What a well-made series.

  7. mnchkn84

    I do see it there now....thanks :)

  8. mnchkn84

    where is the documentary at? when i click, there is just a white space where the video should be...was it removed?

    1. Achems_Razor

      Not removed, is playing, must be your computer.

  9. Jed Lye

    anyone know where I can see trancendant man?

    1. Agimaso Schandir

      Look with the third 'inner' eye.

  10. Jed Lye

    anyone know where I can see trancendant man?

  11. Seiboldtsdorf Mark

    I have only just watched the "What is Out There", the first episode so far. As an astronomy teacher and lecturer for years, I found this very well done and would at least endorse this one episode wholeheartedly. I especially enjoyed the dramatic recreations of history in the beautiful and actual on site locations in Prague Czechoslovakia and Venice Italy. It makes me want to travel there now and continue my award winning astronomy art. - Mark Seibold, Portland Oregon

  12. Katisha Almeida

    I cannot explain how deeply grateful I am to have access to this website. I read, and only watch the science channel, pbs, and occasionally a decent DOC ( which sadly is no longer the case) on national geographic or history on television. Now I can watch a plethora of DOCS (not saying all of them are the greatest) that coincides with my studies as well as it being interesting and thought provoking as a whole. Thank you topdocs, I'm so glad I found you! P.S. Great series =] for any science lover like myself.

  13. danton

    great series in every way, cant believe i havent watched this one yet even though its been on the recommended list, a must for every science lover.

    Love some of the old demonstrations/experiments/machines, they still dazzle and amaze today.
    also cool that it started with the antikythera mechanism seeing that was the last doco i watched before this.

  14. Jeff Mullins

    think i'll start on these tomorrow. can't wait!

  15. William Opare

    worth it
    uncovers the lost geniuses
    glad i saw it

  16. Sharad Kakkar

    worth spending 6 hours?

    1. Momen Adas


    2. Dejan Magdenovski

      I've spent a week watching and thinking about the stories.
      Definetly worth it

  17. Edward Peschko


    I was taken a little aback with Wegener's (responsible for continental drift theory) fate (in episode 3).

    When the narrator said that he died on an expedition and was buried under the ice, and started out "he died on expedition to greenland", and continued "Because of continental drift.. " I guess I was expecting something like that he got a posthumous prize, or was reburied in a prestigious cememtary..

    When he said, instead, that "because of continental drift, his body is now 2 meters further from his homeland", well, I guess I got a perverse kick out of it.

    Man.. I've got a sick sense of humor.


  18. James Colwell

    Jesus Arnie... don't need a review...

  19. Arnie

    Overall a good series. Britain centric of course. Heaven forbid that other inventors like Nikola Tesla be introduced. If only Nikola Tesla had been British and not from in Smiljan, Croatia.

    Editing was good. Story line was good. The narrator did a wonderful job. I wasn't too crazy about his pink shirt at first (or maybe its mauve) however as the series went on, I completely lost notice of it. Interesting because he wears it throught the whole series for color consistency.

    No revolutionary ground breaking ideas just a good summation of science discoveries to date from a British centric perspective. And since this is a BBC program you really cannot knock them for that.

  20. Arnie

    Episode 5 - What is life?

    Here the BBC does a great documentary on the mechanics of the human body and the discoveries over time that revealed how the human body works. The title of this episode should be "What is the human body?"

    Because when it comes to discussing "What is life?" the BBC is afraid to talk openly about the new discoveries that have been emerging over the past few years that clearly show that the human life has two distinct parts.

    The first part is the biology and mechanics of the human body. Here the DNA sequence tweaked over the past 300 million years creates an incredibly complex biological machine. The human body is the hardware part of the human equation. It is born, reproduces itself, and then dies.

    The second part of the human equation is the software / consciousness that runs the human body. This is the spirit part of the human body that makes us individuals. The spirit part of consciousness is fused with the human brain at the quantum level. This process happens after the brain has been developed and can occur before birth or shortly after birth.

    The spirit in this case is NOT to be confused with religion. The spirit is a part of the life force that resides in a spirit dimension at the quantum level of the universe. This spirit dimension can be thought of as the accumulated life force and knowledge of the universe.

    When people experience an NDE, Near Death Experience, there is a common story of their spirit essence leaving their body and heading back to the spiritual dimension. The person's spirit is aware of their body and the fact that it is no longer functioning.

    What makes the NDE, Near Death Experience, unique is that the person's spirit is able to reenter and revive the brain bringing the body back to life. This seems to occur at the quantum level of the human brain. There is a fusion between the physical world and spiritual dimension at the quantum level.

    Memories obtained in the physical world are able to be transferred and stored via pure energy in the quantum spiritual dimension. The life force of the universe.

    Two documentaries that talk about NDE, Near Death Experiences.

    BBC - The Day I Died (available at this site)

    Life After Life - 6 true stories of NDE experiences (available at this site)

    After a human dies the person's spirit leaves the biological body and returns to the spirit dimension = Life force of the universe and all accumulated knowledge.

    After a period of time the person's spirit returns to the Earth to live in another human baby of its choice. Recent evidence suggests that spirit groups live several lives together taking on different roles. ie One life time a boy, a father and grandfather, another lifetime a girl, a mother and grandmother. It varies.

    A recent public example is the story of James, a World War II pilot who died in combat over Japanese waters and died in the 1940's. In the 1990's his spirit was reborn in a new baby boy in the United States. Early childhood memories were able to rebuild his past life as the US World War II pilot.

    This only has to happen once to prove the concept that a person's consciousness / spirit is separate from his physical body, but that in order to experience life they MUST work together.

    The web site "Past Children's Lives" has many more examples of young children 3 to 5 years old remembering past lives on Earth.

    It is very interesting and fundamentally answers the question, "What is life?"

    1. Manus Gevit

      Very concise and descriptive post. Thank you for this :D

    2. Sto Pspamming

      I suppose the BBC did not touch on spirits and ghosts because this is a documentary.

    3. Agimaso Schandir

      Or that they don't exist, or that this is a docu on science, or because touching a spirit or ghost is very chilling :P

  21. Dan Cassidy Silver

    i was a bit put out when they mentioned AC and didnt mention Tesla, but what ya gonna do hey? all in all, a good series

  22. Rob Burgin

    i know why mars goes backwards in the sky but, he doesnt explain it does he?

    1. Agimaso Schandir

      Yes, the docu does. When it does, its known as the planet Sram :P

  23. Liebewitz

    35 years ago-I read psychology. I 'thought' BF Skinner was slightly odd-or rather that his theories were. Perhaps it was because I liked birds (UK slang version particularly)...
    and I thought it was not right to treat pidgeons that way; re-episode 5/6.

    Now -with PR; TV -and their servings of propanganda and consumer products-to an imcreasingly susceptible society (the adjective was the kindest one -replacing sheepish)-
    I see behaviourisn as valid -though not the greatest method to treat conditions such as PTSD (trauma anxieties) and depression. I know-c 1981.

    Besides, birds deserve more respect

    Maurice in Ireland

    aka Liebwitz

    addendum----Presenter a bit too cloyingly off-putting. Bring on Dr. Jan Garavaglia (notwithstanding slightly different discipline)

    1. Agimaso Schandir

      ♪Liverpool birds are the besty...♪ example of British slang.

      ♪There's pigeons down on Market Square,
      She's standing in her underwear...♪ example of American slang.

      Or 'chick' as in American and Australian slang.

      All said respectfully.

      Addendum---Neil Oliver, Neil deGrasse Tyson are my latest favorite presenters. Simon Schama might have fitted into this series.

  24. Nick Griffiths

    My favourites were that valuable contributions made by the woman and the black man

    1. Dan Cassidy Silver

      not to be funny, but which were they then? very PC, and a bit prejudiced

    2. Black Scholar

      The White Man didn't mutate upon earth until 30,000 year ago. he was actually Black, but got trapped in the ICE AGE and you know what Thousands of years of no sun did to that little black guy? Turned him white. Which is why your eyes are lighter. You know the reason whites noses are pointy? So you do not breathe in too much ARTIC AIR. Black people are Sun people. White people are Cloudy/Icy/scarcity of food people. HINT. such as the world we live in.....SCARCITY/GREED/ANGER.

  25. Neville Jones

    Michael Mosley has been in some very interesting sciences documentary recently and this it one of them. More history then science but totally amazing.

  26. Guitarslut

    Very interesting! Thank God for the enlightenment and the rise of technology. Science is the most precise of all disciplines (within it's scope of inquiry) but it does not have a monopoly on the truth

    1. Dejan Magdenovski

      -Science realises that "the truth" is such an ivasive thing.
      Despite this it never gives up the chase.
      The only thing that holds that monopoly is imagination.

  27. kirastianity

    It does seem like all of our social problems are Insignificant compared to the Greatness of the Universe. I just wish everyone could see it that way, then we would really enjoy the beauty of our existence.

    1. Heather Wade

      Well, there's you, the 18 people who like your idea, and me... that makes 20 that we know of so far who realize the Greatness of the Universe & agree.
      It's a start :)
      I am sure there are more of us, we are just so quiet sometimes, because we're looking at everything in awe.

  28. Furqan Ur

    Great series !!!!
    Learnt a lot about life and things around us.

  29. Oli

    This is one of my favourite science documentary series, awesome!

  30. young

    This series is just excellent! 4.5 stars!

  31. nick_kcin

    hey vlatko what happened to that Roachinkansas comment everyones talking about? sounds pretty controversial I want to read some of this 'shear' stupidity for myself

  32. tanzanos

    Some Greek philosophers like Aristarchus believed that the sun was the centre and not the Earth. Credit must be given where credit is due!

  33. Jo McKay

    @ Sam "We have to remember that the search for power is innate and often overrides ethics, compassion and the material evidence". Thanks for that. I agree and would add it is personal power (or empowerment) that is most long for, (at least thinking and feeling that one has some power over the important aspects of their own life)... in that regard most of our societies get a FAIL - then 'we' seek power wherever 'we' can, and "ethics, compassion, material evidence" often,become secondary. @ Dick from Brisbane - Yes Top Docs is the best - Thank you Vlatko - you will find the comments are (often, sometimes) as good or better than the film. Enjoy.

  34. Vitor Mendes

    this is a fascinating documentary,i learned alot about the world and how things work. Recommended

  35. ipek

    nice documentary, however the real discoverer are not always the ones mentioned here, there are far more important people paid their inventions with their lives. they just picked the most famous ones I think.

  36. sam

    A great series, I learnt a lot. An engaging presenter. He trained as a medical doctor and his comment during the programme on Galen et al was very revealing - as a medical student one is forced to accept medical wisdom and not to question anything. Galen's very dodgy teachings were adhered to for over 1500 YEARS. Little in medicine moved on because doctors were braindead sheep who dared not step out of line and think independently.

    THIS is the biggest problem with science. Once a 'big name' has pronounced, scientists generally follow like lemmings, much to the cost of others who suffer, often fatally, their need to conform.

    I was disgusted though at the presenter's explication of the roots of psychology. Yet again, Jean Martin Charcot and Freud were lionised.

    Charcot was a consummate showman. He paid 'patients' to act out, most dramatically, his theories. Freud, studying the spinal cords of fish, spent 18 weeks in a class of Charcot's in Paris.

    After that Freud considered himself qualified to set himself up as an expert in the human psyche. His famous cases were absent of any science, he didn't actually meet one of his subjects and another dumped him after 11 weeks of what she felt to be nonsense.

    The presenter, similarly, gives absolutely no explantion of any biological processes behind e.g. 'hysteria'.

    But this is history as written by men who are intelligent enough to engage others but not intelligent enough to think for themselves.

    Our presenter insists all through the programmes that science has ever been driven by 'power, passion and proof'. We have to remember that the search for power is innate and often overrides ethics, compassion and the material evidence.

    With that major caveat about this series, if you bear in mind that our engaging presenter is seriously biased in some ways, then there's quite a lot to entertain and learn here.

    1. Susan Donovan

      This was a very conservative history of science all around. Fun, but very Eurocentric.

    2. Dan Cassidy Silver

      again, i know its PC to bash DWEM (dead white European males, but who would you put in their places? to pick someone JUST because they are black or whatever is racist.

    3. Dan Cassidy Silver

      an unusually intelligent comment. y'know how it is though (and im just playing devils advocate here), to be completely objective, is virtually impossible. its very hard to try and do 'pure' research without either trying to prove or disprove a theory, and so doing, as is natural, missing facts that may not fit what we desire.

  37. Shashikiran Srinivasa

    Remarkable piece of film. Very interesting look at all things around us. Really appreciate this being here... Thanks!

  38. Breadthing

    Dear Vlatko, i love this site. i get stoned and watch these videos all the time while doing homework and stuff. keep up the good work

  39. Robin

    Informative doc, but what happened to episode 5 called "What is the Secret of Life"???

  40. Dick from Brisbane

    What's the deal? Is this like, the one intelligent 'Comments' column on the net or something? Even the rants are entertaining - I haven't even watched this doco yet (that background image looked like a Disney childrens show or something) but I've got to check it out now (if only to see what RoachinKansas is on about)

  41. Vlatko

    Yeap @Sandie M.

  42. Sandie M


  43. blackev

    bo - I think there are a lot of good documentaries on this site that will answer you question such as the psychology and religion sections,
    religion has survived to this day by evolving with the times, also family and tradition have an influence.
    and keep in mind that "30% of the europeans are never ever been able or capable to enter the net" - Neelie Kroes Vice President European Commission,
    If you would allow me to extrapolate that across the globe, i would question if we are in a age of the internet after all.

  44. bo

    Science does change. One thing I try to explain but have trouble thru my lack of communication skills, is that altho history has achieved many things, I have a hard time believing anything pre internet lol. The age of the internet is the days we have evolved to understand many things.

    Take religion for example. How can I trust the Bible when back in that time, people didnt understand crapp! True many civilizations accomlished some amazing things and understood complex things but they also didnt understand most things. I think nowadays we can not only understand most things, but also have the technology to communicate that information. I believe we live in an age of knowledge.

    What I'm trying to say is, why do people believe so easily, a religion that was invented during the days when people didnt understand anything? I know this video not about religion but it made me think of this question.

    1. batvette

      If the implication is that people who populated the earth 2000 years or so ago were stupid, that's a mistaken assumption. You could say their knowledge base of acquired information they could tap was lacking, but their reasoning skills were not much less capable than ours.
      I recall a story I once heard about 2 sociology researchers who were travelling to an Eskimo village north of the Arctic circle, one had been there previously and was becoming annoyed at the other's repeated comments about their lack of education making them stupid and ignorant. He said "well I hope you keep your disparaging remarks to yourself when we get there, lest our hosts throw you out in the cold. I can assure you a stupid or ignorant person will have a life span measured in hours once he's on the ice, in the dark, at 60 degrees below zero."
      While it's certainly true we know a lot more now than they did in those days, that should bring more respect for those peoples' ability to discern BS from truth.
      Moreover, as for the religion aspect, belief in a higher power and more specifically "eternal life" in "heaven" would be a tangible asset with a need that directly correlates to the harsh environments people exist in. Humans can endure the worst of conditions as long as there is hope things will someday be better. Believing there is something better when your mortal days here end is not ignorance, but the optimism of hope that allows you to carry on.
      You are correct though about the information revolution changing things, and we must consider religion is threatened in many ways. Not easy to get people to travel 1000 miles to see a water stain on a building resembling the Virgin Mary when a picture of it takes seconds to distribute and be explainable by simple deduction.

    2. vonnie

      Check out the writings of Gerald Massey. You will get a new understanding of how our ancestors thought about the cosmos and everything they saw and how all the knowledge has been perverted into 'religion'.

  45. blackev

    Good documentary,
    entertaining take on history, not as good as James Burke – The Day The Universe Changed.
    I would like to see episode 5.

  46. HaTe_MaChInE

    I don't think it is ever "ok" to jump from a plane... even if its sitting on the ground.

    With a parachute you might be able to avoid Epicurus' mushy pile, but as a betting man I would wager that the parachute wont always prevent the mushy pile.

    So just because you can demonstrate one outcome doesn't mean another outcome isn't possible or more probable.

    You have a very linear thought process. Common among those that misspell 'iteligent' and ignore punctuation.

  47. Vlatko

    As always @Epicurus makes my day.

    "...a good way to get yourself killed through shear stupidity."

    Good one.

  48. WTC7

    @ RoachInKansas

    I like the way you think

  49. Epicurus

    so roach are you skeptical that when you jump out of an airplane you will fall violently to the hard solid ground which would leave you a mushy pile of death?

    many many things we know, will always be true. its not healthy to think everything is an illusion like you tried to allude to up there. actually that is a good way to get yourself killed through shear stupidity.

  50. tyler durden

    @ Roachinkansas, great rant! You're onto something. Lets be friends.

  51. Cliff T

    Glad to see this here, I missed the last episode. Great Documentary with some of the lesser known thinkers of the past.

  52. Sandie M

    Just the beginning of this series is AWESOME. I DOUBT I'll be disappointed.