Nature Without Humans

Jan 5 2013 @ 3:01pm

David Attenborough recalls his own vision of it:

We built a hide on a big billabong and got there at about three o’clock in the morning, a couple of hours before sunrise. And the sun comes up, and you see this billabong thronged with magpies, geese, herons, cockatoos, kangaroos, coming down to drink, marine crocodiles. You had a vision of the natural world, a Rousseau-esque kind of thing. You suddenly held your breath, because you were in a strange, godlike thing; you saw the world as it was without humanity in it. And then suddenly something happened – I forget what it was, someone made a noise or something – so the whole thing was gone. But that was a moment of perception which haunts you.

You can watch the unembeddable trailer for his new series on the Galapagos here. After producing 60 years of programming, Attenborough admits he is still "flabbergasted" by nature all the time:

I wasn’t involved in filming it, but a friend of mine was up in the Andes filming the courtship display of a particular hummingbird, a high-altitude hummingbird. The female was trying to advance, and the male was coming and going, "prrrrrrt", and then it was gone. You think, "Oh, that’s OK" – but then my pal had the wit to shoot it at 250 frames [a second] and you suddenly saw the complexity of the display. It was astounding, all at this very, very high speed.

The moment you say that, you think of the timescale of hummingbirds, the speed of their hearts and the temperatures at which they operate. Their timescales are quite different. You suddenly realise your own limitations: how your sensory perceptions are governed by your heart rate. I thought that was so exciting, and it taught you so much, not only about how complex nature is, but about how impoverished your perceptions can be, governed as they are by your human condition.