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BBC Precision The Measure of All Things 1of3 Time and Distance PDTV

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in 1852 clockmaker Edward Dent set out to construct the largest and most accurate public clock in the world. It took seven years to build a testament to a very human need. Our modern day lives are completely driven by precise measurement. Take Big Ben.

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For over 150 years, it's been ringing out the correct time to the people of London. When built, it was an engineering marvel, accurate to an incredible one second an hour. But times have changed. Today we can build clocks, which lose one second in 100 and 38 million years.

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And now there are plans for a clock accurate to within one second over the lifetime of the universe. What is it that drives us to such extremes of ever greater precision? Why do we feel the need to quantify and measure to impose order on the world around us? Since our ancestors first began to count the passing of the seasons, successive civilizations have used measurement to help master the world around them.

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It's taken us to the moon and split the atom, and it fascinates me. Ever since I was young, I've been obsessed with measuring things trying to make sense of the world around me. Where do those measurements come from? I mean, who decided that a kilo was a kilo and a second a second?

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What we measure, how we measure it and how accurately we can measure it are surprisingly complex. Questions, questions which have obsessed generations of great minds and created a system that describes everything in our world with just seven fundamental units of measurement. And the quest to define those seven units with ever greater precision has changed our world. In this series, I want to explore why we measure what drives us to try and reduce the chaos and complexity of the world to just a handful of elementary units.

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In this first programme, I'm gonna be looking at two of the most fundamental measurements, namely the metre and the second. It's likely that time and distance were the first things people ever tried to measure. They seem closely linked in our minds. We even talk about length of time, and as we'll see, time and distance are inextricably connected by modern science.

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Being able to measure time actually means spotting patterns, and that's actually a very mathematical way of looking at the world. In fact, measuring time is an incredibly sophisticated act. So where did it all begin? Our ancestors would have first picked up on the patterns of the seasons, marking time as the leaves turned brown or the days got shorter when rivers flooded or Berries ripened.

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These very practical observations would have helped them in the daily struggle to survive. One of the first examples of humans attempts to measure was discovered here in southern France by four teenagers near a dog called Robot. It was 1940 the 18 year old Marcel Rada was exploring these woods when he came across a hole where a tree had been uprooted by a storm. He needed some tools to make the hole bigger, so he came back four days later with his three friends, and they uncovered the entrance to a huge system of unexplored caves.

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But what they discovered inside was even more exciting. Wow, the boys must have been absolutely staggered to come in here and see these images painted on the wall. I mean, these are some of the oldest cave pain. Oh, look at this.

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It's all over the wall.

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