Rodin's Thinker

The QI Philosophy

They say the primal drives are food, sex and shelter.

QI says there is a fourth: Curiosity.

We are hard-wired for curiosity: it is innate - a fierce need - and, unlike the other three drives, it is what makes us uniquely human. But pure curiosity, completely standard in children under seven and found in great artists, scientists and explorers, is, for some reason, quickly suppressed, sublimated or shrunken in most people. We make do with crossword puzzles, gossip, football results, pub quizzes and Jerry Springer.

Our first three drives get plenty of fuel. Celebrity chefs are front page news. Eighty per cent of internet traffic is to do with sex. More and more programmes titled Celebrity something-or-other seem to keep appearing...

The world brims and bulges with interesting information, but these days it rarely reaches us. A preference for the quick fix on the part of both consumer and corporation offers increasingly materialist, visceral satisfaction. We want it easy and cheap and we want it now. Fashion, celebrity, pornography, lottery. The culture is withered and lame, flashy and shallow. They're just not interesting.

People are living in a daze: swamped with information, starved of stimulation. They're overworked, anxious, bored and confused. They don't know what to do with their evenings. It takes all day to read a single Sunday paper, but no-one's any the wiser afterwards.

The human brain is the most complex object in the known Universe, with as many neurons as there are trees in the Amazon rain-forest. The number of possible connections in a single human brain is said to exceed the number of particles in the universe. But what are we doing with this extraordinary organ between our ears? Reading Hello is what. Doing the lottery in the pathetic hope that things would be all right if we were on a yacht.

People say the brain is like a computer, but it is not. It is nothing like a computer. There is no computer in the world today that knows or understands as much as any five year old child. Smarter than computers though we may be, what do we know, really, any of us? Sure we can build aeroplanes and toasters (well, you and I can't, but we know a man who can). Some people can remember all the state capitals in the US or the name of Napoleon's horse. But as to the knottier questions...

What is life? No one knows. What, if anything, happens after death? Nope, got me there. What is consciousness? Er... Music? Light? Viruses? Laughter? Electricity? No one has the faintest idea what any of these things actually are. We do not know how the universe began, how large it is, how fast it is expanding (or even if it is) or if there is more than one of them.

Orthodox modern physics asserts that there are many universes, though exactly how many is anyone's guess, because there is, unfortunately, no quantum physicist in the world who understands quantum physics. Well, why should they ? I've never met a single person who understands the workings of their own mind or how to bring up their own children properly, let alone tricky stuff like The Copenhagen Interpretation.

We live, they say, in The Information Age, yet almost none of the information we think we possess is true. Eskimos do not rub noses. The rickshaw was invented by an American. Joan of Arc was not French. Lenin was not Russian. The world is not solid, it is made of empty space and energy, and neither haggis, whisky, porridge, clan tartans nor kilts are Scottish.

So we stand, silent, on a peak in Darien: a vast, rolling, teeming, untrodden territory before us. QI country.

Whatever is interesting we are interested in. Whatever is not interesting, we are even more interested in. Everything is interesting if looked at in the right way. At one extreme, QI is serious, intensely scientific, deeply mystical; at the other it is hilarious, silly and frothy enough to please the most indolent couch-potato.

The steam engine was invented in ancient Greece. The earth has at least seven moons, not one. George Washington's teeth previously belonged to a hippopotamus. The information goes on and on, deeper and wider, stranger and stranger.

And this is the point of QI: it is worthwhile. It is 'autotelic' - worth doing for its own sake. And it echoes the venerable mission statement of Lord Reith's BBC: to educate, inform and entertain.

No one need ever be bored again.