Horizon – Cutting Edge – tape 1650

Documentaries now, with Horizon – The Man who Made Up his Mind. It’s about Gerald Edelman, who developed a theory about the brain called Neural Darwinism, an attempt to explain how the brain developed in evolutionary terms.

They’re trying to explain the problem by using a computer metaphor (and explaining why it’s wrong).

I’m not an expert, but the theory under discussion here appears to be the idea that the brain learns by reinforcing neural patterns in response to success triggers. The example shown is babies learning to reach out and grasp objects. At first, babies make a lot of random moves, some of which are viewed as successful, some are not. But over time, the movements become less random as the successful movements, and the neural pathways behind them, are reinforced by the signals of success.

A cute baby

This is also how our current models for machine learning work, training networks with inputs and success criteria.

Floppy Discs

Among the people who find Edelman’s theory compelling is Oliver Sacks.

Oliver Sacks

Sacks talks about a patient of his, who had cataracts removed after being virtually blind since birth. After the operation, he was able to see, but wasn’t immediately able to make sense of what he was seeing. But over time, first making use of his previous ability to use touch to visualise the world, then without needing to touch, he was able to start making sense of the images his eyes were now sending his brain.

BBC Genome: BBC Two – 24th January 1994 – 20:00

After this, recording switches to Channel 4 later that same evening, for Cutting Edge: Graham Taylor The Impossible Job.

Now, I’m the first to admit I have next to no interest in football as a sport, but I was interested in Graham Taylor as England Manager because my sisters are fanatical Watford supporters, and they started supporting the club during the time that Graham Taylor was their manager, and took them from the lower leagues all the way to Division One (back in the day when Division One was the best division, and not the third best, as I believe it is now). He also took them to the FA Cup Final.

But this documentary covers his stint as England Manager, football’s most celebrated poisoned chalice. Just this last week, the current manager resigned after one single match when he was caught in a newspaper sting operation offering things he shouldn’t be offering, for cash. (I don’t pretend to understand what exactly were the favours he was offering. I’m not a football scientist.)

People had high hopes for Taylor, though. He was (and still is) revered at Watford, and his subsequent career at Aston Villa was, I think, a success.

Amusingly, the announcer at the start warns of strong language, and counsels that there is an edited repeat later in the week more suitable for children, which is a good idea, I think.

The first match covered is versus Norway, and at the end (a draw?) as he’s going through the tunnel, he stops to talk to the supporters at the edge of the tunnel. This strikes me as about as sensible as trying to argue with commenters at the bottom of a Daily Mail article about you.

Taylor Talks

During the match against San Marino, a country, let’s not forget, with a population the same size as Saint Neots in Cambridgeshire, England are struggling to score. Taylor understands this is a problem. “They’re going to get at all of us aren’t they, unless we score goals. So it’s as simple as that. People’s judgement will all be based on how many goals we score. They’ll not look at how you played.”

The team do, in the event, score a few.

In the car, conversation turns to Paul Gascoigne, and whether he’s unhappy at Lazio. “He’s like a lead violinist, and they need a little bit of pampering” says assistant coach Laurie McMenemy.

Gascoigne even has to wear a phantom of the Opera style facemask because of a fractured cheekbone.

The game against Poland elicits one of Taylor’s famous exclamations, “Do I not like that?” when Poland grab possession and score.

The nature of the touchline conversations is fascinating. “If we take Barnesy off for Wrighty, then he can help Platty up front.”

It does appear, from this, that the job of England manager is to tell the team that they have to win, and not lose, over and over again. I know the stereotype of footballers is that they can be a bit stupid, but surely winning games is about as fundamental as it gets?

As it gets towards the last games in the qualifying rounds, there’s a very spirited press conference, where Taylor tries to get one of the journalists to at least crack a smile.

The penultimate last game doesn’t go well. One of the England players is tripped in the penalty box, but the referee only awards a free kick, and doesn;t send off the offending player. Later in the game, that same player scores for the opposition from a free kick.

Taylor is reduced to complaining to the linesman as the game draws to a close. “I was just saying to your colleague, the referee’s just got me the sack. Thank him ever so much for that, won’t you?”

Taylor Complains

There’s one last game left, England have to win to qualify, and it’s those plucky part-timers from San Marino (Saint Neots, remember?)

England need to win by 7 goals, and hope that Poland beat Holland. Can England’s Lions pull it off?

San Marino score within the first thirty seconds.

Here’s a version of the documentary, if you want to relive the pain.

After this, an unmarked recording, Late Night with David Letterman. Guests are Demi Moore (then very pregnant)

Demi Moore

Tony Randall and Mandy Patinkin interrupt the show so Mandy can rehearse a number.

Tony Randall and Mandy Patinkin

Willy Nelson is another musical guest

Willy Nelson

Al Franken talks about playing football with President Clinton

Al Franken

After this, there’s a few trailers, then the channel encrypts, and runs until the tape runs out.


  • trail: Basic Instinct (German)
  • trail: Das Gesetz Der Gewalt
  • trail: Wendezeit
  • trail: JFK
  • trail: My Cousin Vinny
  • trail: Bugsy
  • trail: Brennpunkt LA – Dei Profis sind Zuruck

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