Self-made Things

Jonathan Miller returns to his roots in medicine, and explores our scientific and philosophical journey to explain life, a journey that began with the Greeks and continues to this day.



Jonathan talks to scientists and historians about our efforts to understand the mechanisms that control reproduction and heredity.

Thanks to complex cellular and genetic biology, all living things, including homo sapiens, make themselves.

Jonathan argues that unlike spiders or termites, whose artefacts are also self-made, mankind's ability to create things with foresight and intelligence makes us unique in the living world


Jonathan discusses the Greek contribution to our understanding of reproduction and heredity.

Both Aristotle and Galen developed sophisticated theories to explain how and why living organisms reproduce themselves, and their views dominated biological thought until the Enlightenment.

When William Harvey published On the Generation of Animals in 1651, the stage was set for biologists to begin to uncover the cellular and genetic mechanisms that enable living things to make themselves.


Jonathan discusses the long struggle to identify the cell as the central component of living organisms.

Although the English microscopist Robert Hooke is sometimes credited with its discovery in the seventeenth century, it was another 200 years before we finally understood that cells were living entities which contained all the necessary elements for creating life.


Jonathan discusses the ground-breaking work of Gregor Mendel, whose plant breeding experiments persuaded scientists of the existence of an as-yet invisible particle that controlled heredity.

When this virtual particle was first identified, it was hailed as the biological equivalent of the atom, and scientists raced to decode the chemical composition of what would soon be called the gene.

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Jonathan discusses the processes that enable a single cell to divide and develop into a living thing.

As the cells divide, each one receives identical amounts of genetic material, but cells also differentiate so that different parts of the animal can be made.

The more scientists delve into these genetic and cellular processes, the clearer it becomes that evolution has provided us with everything we need to become self-made things.