Screensavors: Making a science of good TV

Channel 8's fun science program Lama Ma, takes a look at all kinds of scientific phenomena with a mix of information and entertainment.

There we were, stuck in the house, the children hogging the computer, Winograd hogging the airwaves, the mercury plunging as we anticipated walking through the slush to work. Everything seemed about as gray as the sky outside. That's when science intervened, or rather HOT Channel 8's fun science program Why and What (Lama Ma, weeknights, 19:45), a quick-paced Israeli offering that takes a look at all kinds of scientific phenomena with a mix of information and entertainment. The episode we caught, "10 Peaks at Brain Research," ran the gamut from hypnosis to detaching ourselves from reality, and we learned a ton. For example, there was a nice fellow having his brain mapped, a doctor using little electrodes to stick into his exposed brain to figure out what area of the brain stimulated what part of the body. When the doctor touched one spot, the subject said someone was touching his left hand, when in fact that wasn't happening. But if politicians have problems following a road map, how reliable is a brain map, especially if you ask an Israeli for directions? Still, it looked cool, which is all that really matters in these shows, especially if you're watching them with kids ("Hey, cool, that guy's head is like, completely OPEN, dude"). Even cooler was the section on reading thoughts, in which it was proven that by monitoring a certain section of the brain, it's possible to tell which of two options (press red button or press green button) a subject will choose even before he does it. If only this worked with matching socks for young children in the morning. The best news we got from the program's battery of experts was that forgetting is apparently a good thing. What were we saying again? Oh yes, that forgetting is a good thing, a sort of reset of the brain, which the scientists said is possibly one benefit of dreaming each night. But not necessarily if you dream of Maria Sharapova, however. So is being able to detach yourself from what's around you occasionally, creating a hierarchy of what's important at this moment and what's not - though as the expert pointed out, not if it means that you are thinking about your laundry list while having sex. The mix of humor and facts, along with good camera work and explanations that are geared for the layman and not the scientist make the half-hour show a nice way to spend an evening or afternoon, as Channel 8 reruns the program several times during the day. We also learned that 50 percent of people cannot be hypnotized, while the other 50 percent are getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy. Oh, right, the other 50 percent CANNOT be made to do anything they wouldn't ordinarily do in real life. But try telling that to the guy in the corner who still thinks he's a chicken. By the way, in case you think your newborn is much smarter than you, you're right. Another test showed that babies are much smarter than we give them credit for, reacting to math equations consisting of one doll plus one doll equals two dolls differently than if the equation says one doll plus one doll equals one doll. But we wouldn't suggest you let them prepare your tax return just yet. Yes, it's a fun program, especially when the walls are closing in and thoughts of chainsaw madness stir in the grey matter (men have more of it than women, apparently, thereby proving that at least when it comes to brains, size doesn't really matter). Channel 8 deserves kudos for proving that producing entertaining educational shows isn't necessarily brain science, but when it is, it can also be fun.