This is a script for a television documentary, a satirical critique of the acclaimed series The Human Animal by Desmond Morris.
Copyright © 1994 by David Deutsch.
Stone-knocking rhythms, suggesting minerals, quarries, anvils etc.
Title: Man, the Mobile Mineral
The word "mobile" moves itself into place, and then jiggles up and down.
Title: with David Deutsch
Title: Dedicated to Desmond Morris whose television series The Human Animal opened our eyes to the importance of reason in the study of human behaviour.
Since the dawn of consciousness, we human beings have always taken it for granted that we are essentially [disgust in voice] animals.
David walking in a quarry, talking indirectly to camera.
Unusual animals, to be sure. Toolmakers.
Camera lingers on some tool at the location.
Creators of works of art. Discoverers of the laws of nature. Explorers. Fighters of wars. Players of games. Yes, animals with souls. But nevertheless [disgust in voice] animals. We may call this the bio-centric picture of humanity.
Stills illustrating these themes, ending with Leonardo’s man morphing into an ugly crab.
Yet modern science has revealed that this traditional bio-centric picture is naïve. We may share 90% of our genetic makeup with this grass. But with this rock we share deeper links. Human beings are composed of atoms, identical with those that make up rocks.
David, talking to camera, picks up a rock.
Split screen, (1) zooming in on the rock in David’s hand, and (2) zooming in on David’s other, empty hand.
Both screens end up with the same picture of atoms.
There is not a single atom in the human body that does not have a counterpart in this humble mineral, and others like it. These are the other minerals that make up the human body. Mix. Add water. Stir. At root, this is what we are. Human beings are not animals. We are certainly not vegetables. But we are … minerals!
Exciting but quiet piano music building up.
David crunches the rock to powder in his hand. Then adds other, coloured powders from bottles. Then adds water from a bottle labelled Mineral Water and stirs to make gooey paste.
Then reaches in eagerly and shows a handful of the stuff to the camera.
If it is hard for us to accept our kinship with this unappetising slime, it is because we possess a distinguishing attribute which, to us at least, is important. We move of our own accord. It doesn’t.
There are of course other minerals that move. Volcanoes. Waves. Plants. Animals.
But each of these has only a small repertoire of possible movements, which it acts out in a predictable manner under predictable conditions.
Volcano footage, a speeded-up plant growing.
A dog urinating.
None of them has remotely the subtlety, complexity and sheer range of movement that a human being has.
No other mineral is capable both of flying through the air and playing the piano.
A human playing the piano (the music we are hearing), doing various unexpected things, and end up with aeroplane.
We are, quintessentially, the mobile mineral.
Music reaches climax and stops.
From this point of view, all past thinking about human nature, and about our place in the universe, have been based on a fundamental bio-centric distortion. I want to show you that it is a distortion. What we desperately need now is a new, mineralogical portrait of our species, to lift the veil on our mineral nature.
PTC. Indoors, with a desk, a microscope and a mineral collection.
Given the conventional prejudices, I know that many people will find this thesis at once ludicrous and dangerous, just as Darwin was considered dangerous when he championed the far less fundamental kinship between man and ape. So indoctrinated are we, that the temptation to deny our mineral nature is formidable.
Show The Origin of Species, in a bookshop, say.
Then show dozens of books with titles like The Human Animal. A school biology book with that sort of name.
And yet, we owe so much more to our mineral heritage than perhaps we like to admit. We have a choice. We can either accept, understand and embrace our mineral nature, and make it work for us …
Positive images of minerals, such as glistening jewels, and molten steel being poured.
Or we can try to deny it. But suppressing such a truth has a dreadful destructive potential. We build up an intolerable stress within ourselves and each other which can find no outlet until it eventually bursts asunder the fabric of society and of our very minds.
Double-exposure: (1) molten lava; (2) images of violence, riots, war, madman in straight-jacket etc.
The land and resources over which we tend to fight are also minerals. Mighty minerals which could shrug us off at any moment. The Earth itself is a mineral from which we have traditionally separated ourselves by shame, misplaced contempt and bio-centric prejudice. It has become urgent for us to find ways of melding, moulding ourselves, alloying ourselves to this great mother lode on which we live. If not, we would not be the first mineral to be melted and fused and folded back into the glowing, primeval raw material, for a fresh attempt.
Still the molten lava in the background, becoming less faint and finally being the only image.
Meanwhile, an animation showing the Earth, then zooming in on something like the Gulf war, with arrows showing military campaigns in progress.
I expect that in taking this scientific approach I shall be accused of denigrating human beings by comparing them with mere rock, whose clichéd role is only to be kicked aside. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have spent my entire professional career trying to understand atoms, their arcane attractions and repulsions, and their relationships. All that time I have been captivated by the tremendous beauty of the world of the mineral. To me, comparing humanity with a mineral is not an insult but the highest possible praise. Indeed to me, the chief reason for making this programme has been to elevate humanity to its true status, a noble status, as a mineral among other minerals.
So I want to lead you into a fascinating field of study, in which we shall have to re-think all our accustomed ways of explaining and understanding ourselves and each other. We will travel together as scientists. And as the apparently chaotic and incomprehensible pattern of human events unfolds we shall understand the beautiful, crystalline regularity beneath.
Some sort of transition to indicate that the next section is beginning.
The method of my study is to look with open eyes. To free myself from the preconceptions laid upon me by human culture, and to observe the human race as I have been trained to, as a scientist. To regard the human race as just another mineral and to study it with the same meticulous care and scientific impartiality as I would any other mineral.
A crowd from a high vantage-point. Then zoom in on David walking through the crowd, looking around scientifically. Perhaps jotting down notes.
Some people deny from the outset that this is a proper, or even a possible, area for science to enter. They say that we humans move because we are free to act. We have higher purposes and needs whereas a rock can only sit there, or be kicked aside by an external force. But I have said that we are not the only mobile mineral. The Earth itself is mobile. It has been travelling in its majestic geometrical orbit round the Sun for billions of years. Once we have been moving for that length of time without grinding to a halt, we may be entitled to consider ourselves equally successful.
And anyway, is it really so true that we choose our behaviour according to higher purposes? Here is a simple experiment to demonstrate one of the simplest laws of nature, the law of magnetic attraction.
David with two magnets and a compass, sitting on a park bench.
Close-up of compass at one end of the bench being deflected to new, sideways position. [Pictorial echo of scene A below].
Close-up of one magnet sliding along the bench and sticking to the other. [Pictorial echo of scene B below].
There are two sorts of magnetic pole, North and South. There is a natural attraction between North and South, but not between two North poles or two South poles.
Show N and S on differently-coloured poles of the magnets. Show like poles repelling, one magnet being pushed off the bench. [Pictorial echo of scene C below].
Are we human beings so different? We, too, come in two polarities.
Split screen. At first there is a male portrait on the left, and a female one on the right, each taking up only a small fraction of the available area. Then zap, zap, zap … many other portraits fill in the area, of males and females of various ages, males on the left and females on the right.
Opposite polarities naurally attract one another, at a distance…
All the portraits other than the original two fade out and are replaced by a background which shows that they are in fact part of the same picture. They are a young couple sitting at opposite ends of the same park bench, looking slightly away from the camera.
Then they turn and look at each other.
They edge closer together. [Scene A].
…and more powerfully at close range.
They incline their heads together and embrace, then suddenly kiss. [Scene B].
But like polarities do not.
Cut to two females sitting on the same bench in the original postures. They glance at each other. Then one gets up and walks away. [Scene C].
The reason why many minerals take on these beautiful regular shapes is that on a microscopic scale, inter-atomic forces arrange the atoms of the mineral in into ordered patterns.
David at desk, holding a large crystal.
Zoom in on the crystal, ending up with an animation of a vast, regular array of atoms.
In exactly the same way, the forces of order in human society arrange us into regular patterns.
Policemen marching in formation. Schoolchildren sitting an examination. Seen from angles that reflect the previous animation of atoms.
Animals and plants eke out a living on the surface of the Earth — a small corner of Creation. Only man, and minerals, can reach into outer space.
Clip of space.
Animals and plants harness only a few of the forces of Nature — they are mere side-effects of a little sunlight and chemistry.
Crouch in grass. Pick some up and throw it aside.
Only man — and minerals — can control the whole range of forces, from the electrostatic force that holds atoms together …
Holding two pieces of cellophane.
To nuclear power. The Sun, pure mineral, is a nuclear reactor.
Point up at the sun.
And here in the Great Rift Valley of Africa, a million years ago, a natural nuclear reactor formed out of uranium and these rare ores. It produced enough energy to power a small town for several months.
David in Safari costume, crouching, holding some ores.
No animal harnesses nuclear power. Only man, and minerals.
Another attribute on which we pride ourselves is our capacious memory, the basis of our individuality and all our intellectual achievements. Animals can remember very little.
These chickens have been taught to count up to 3.
PTC with chickens.
No animal can do much better.
But minerals can! Only man, and minerals.
Computer memory. "About This Macintosh" screen zooming in on memory left.
Sex. Love. Power. Wealth. The territorial imperative. There is nothing of importance to human beings that does not ultimately reduce to the mineral.
Newspaper headline: Gold rush. Sepia pictures of gold rush.
Newspaper headline: Oil crisis. B/W film of queue at petrol station.
Primitive humans were intimately in touch with their mineral roots. They used stone as tools and they lived in stone caves. Here is an astonishingly perceptive piece of prehistoric art in which man is represented in stone.
Man … as mineral.
David shows a prehistoric flint tool, and then a prehistoric stone carving.
The myth of King Arthur, too, reminds us of the eternal resonance between man, sword … and stone.
How well our ancestors understood what we have so tragically forgotten!
Picture of King Arthur drawing the sword from the stone.
Children have a natural sympathy and understanding for minerals.
But as we grow up we are taught contempt for the mineral within. We have to express our mineralogical urges in disguised ways.
Children playing in a sandpit.
Some adult activity, e.g. eating mashed potatoes, that mimics the child playing with sand.
People wearing earrings; wedding rings.
But they are never far below the surface.
Someone almost buried in sand on a beach.
Modern civilisation abstracts away the mineral component from our lives, and replaces it by insubstantial imitations which alienate and confuse us.
Picture peels away to a video game screen showing a swordfight, and then zooms out to show a child playing the video game, and another child watching a swordfight on TV.
In desperation, many turn to [disgust in voice] vegetable solutions.
People smoking, people taking drugs.
They know something is missing from their lives, but they do not know what.
A health food shop.
Follow someone in, who browses disconsolately from shelf to shelf.
Another transition to indicate the beginning of the final section.
Where do we go from here? The key is education. We have seen that children respect minerals. They instinctively avoid stepping on the cracks in the pavement. Thus they revere each paving stone as an individual without regarding them collectively as a mere mass of pavement, which is only there to be subordinated to the distinctively human purpose of moving from one place to another.
Child walking without stepping on the cracks.
Pan up to show a long pavement; then many adults come from behind the camera and walk on in a careless hurry.
It is vital that we encourage mineralogical awareness.
Cars are a wonderful means of totally enveloping ourselves in refined minerals.
Low-level shot of cars whizzing past on a road.
But why do we insist on painting our cars? Why do we cover our brick walls and concrete floors. Are we trying in vain to pretend that we are not minerals?
We should not hide our mineral relatives. They are nothing to be ashamed of.
Gaudily painted car.
Threatening graffiti on brick wall.
This is much better!
David in front of some elegant bare-brick or bare-concrete architecture.
Whenever possible we should sit in orderly rows.
We must not deny our distinctive moving heritage. But we must see it in the broader context of our mineral nature. We must never exploit minerals but should strive to co-operate with them in equal partnership.
PTC at the desk.
Consider strip mining. We have imposed an artificial ethic and aesthetic on our mineral world. In this strip mine, the hackneyed, conventional, bio-centric covering of grass and trees has been stripped away to reveal the universal, primeval mineral underneath. But instead of pride and fellowship, we feel guilt and shame.
So when we finish with the mine, we rush to cover it up again.
Bulldozers covering exposed rock with soil.
Why? Why do we think it more moral to burrow under the ground to get in touch with our minerals, like prudish Victorians piling on layers of clothing to escape their sexuality? We are ashamed of our eternal love-affair with the mineral.
Away with this cloying hypocrisy! As a species — as a planet — we can no longer afford it.
The outlook is hopeful. There are already indicators that our culture is at last beginning to see itself in the proper mineralogical light, which alone can bring harmony to the planet. The reverence in which moon rocks are held. The decline of the so-called "environmental" (or bio-centred) movement. The success of the recent popular film The Flintstones. Such things fill me with optimism about our future. Is it an accident that today’s young people favour rock culture?
Inspiring rock music crescendo over this piece.
We are the most remarkable of minerals, the mineral miracle, the mineral that moves. Now we may become the mineral that shines. The greatest tragedy of the traditional self-centred, bio-centred fallacy is that it has grotesquely exaggerated the differences between us — between humans and animals, between true and false, between right and wrong — only to obscure the overwhelming and fundamental similarity. Despite all our apparent differences we are mineralogically brothers and sisters. If we have so much in common with a rock from the garden, can we be as different from one another as we pretend?
Closing music begins, very quietly at first.
A still of a positive mineral image.
Closing music swells. We hear that it is a choir singing Rock of Ages.
Back to my home page