Our minds at work -- creating fire and (a while later) telepathy


Talking to Jason Silva is a whirlwind experience. Ideas and words swirl through his busy brain and out his mouth. He's a technology guy who makes it all sound exciting ... even to a TV reporter who still uses a stupid phone. And now his new "Origins" series is looking way back. Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Jason Silva has
spent years talking about the future. “I'm a big technology
optimist,” he said.

But now he's looking
the other way. In the ambitious new “Origins” series, he talks
about the past – sometimes the deep, distant past.

No matter which
direction you look, he said, humans keep tinkering. So he likes to:

-- Peek ahead a few
years, to improvements in powered exoskeletons, often for medical
uses. “Technology is the thing that helps us overcome limitations.”

-- And look
backward. The “Origins” opener focuses on the development of
fire, which made life easier. “It freed us to use the cognitive
part of our minds.”

Able to cook food
and warm people, ancient man could go on to other things, from art to
agriculture. Much later, he would find bigger uses for fire and
bigger dangers; the opening hour – filled with high-octane visuals
and music – ranges from fire helping the Chinese repel the Mongol
hordes ... to a fire destroying old London ... to the emergence of
rocketry and beyond.

Shows like this are
part of a key makeover for the National Geographic Channel since
Courteney Monroe took over as CEO in 2014.

Not long ago, she
said, the channel “included shows like 'American Gypsies,' 'Church
Rescue' and 'Doomsday Castle' .... I suppose they all served a
purpose at the time.”

But that time seems
to have passed. What Monroe calls “the biggest rebrand in National
Geographic's history” has included such ambitious efforts as
“Mars,” “The Story of God,” the retooled “Explorer”
magazine, “Before the Flood” and the upcoming “Genius.”

Then there's
“Origins,” hosted by Silva, who fits neatly into any “genius”
category. As a teen-ager, he organized “salons” in his home, to
discuss big issues. “I was never good at small talk,” he said.

Or small anything.
Silva, 35, is 6-foot-4, a dynamic speaker who is global and
bilingual.

He grew up in
Caracas, Venezuela, where his mother's family was big in textiles.
Spanish was his first language and Montessori schools were an
influence. “They really build the curiosity and the passion.”

At the University of
Miami, he majored in film and philosophy – two things he used in
films that were presented at TED talks and beyond. Silva was on Al
Gore's now-departed Current channel and then hosted “Brain Games”
on National Geographic.

He seems fascinated
by the games of the brain, past and present. “There's a cyborg
anthropologist named Amber Case, who refers to texting as
'technologically mediated telepathy,'” Silva told the Television
Critics Association before “Brain Games” was launched. “It
allows us to ... send our thoughts brain-to-brain, transcending the
limitations of time, space and distance.”

It's part of human
progress that somehow went from creating fire to having a cyborg
anthropologist.

-- Origins, 9 p.m.
ET Mondays, National Geographic Channel, leading into “Explorer”
at 10

-- Opener (March 6,
about fire) reruns at 11 p.m. ET on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and
Sunday; also at 9 p.m. ET Friday and at 8 p.m. ET on March 13,
leading into the second hour, on “cheating death.”