The rise and rise of philosophy
Hundreds of the world’s leading thinkers and thousands of inquisitive minds are decamping to Hay-on-Wye. They’re attending for HowTheLightGetsIn, the philosophy and music festival organized by the Institute of Art and Ideas. Our aim is simple: to free philosophy from the shackles of the academy, to remind people of its relevance and uses and to introduce it in its broadest forms to new audiences. We want to create a space where real human interaction can take place; a space whether emerging thinkers are offered a platform alongside more established names from across the disciplines; where ideas, not celebrity, is the prerequisite for participation.
Armed with our vision and a belief in the power of philosophy to help us make sense of the world, we planned our first festival. The audience was initially cautious, with hands rising tentatively into the air in the question and answer sessions following debates. People felt nervous. They felt they needed to know a great deal to join in. This was an illusion, and one that was quickly dispelled by an atmosphere facilitating conversation and relegating jargon. We found that audiences wanted even more interaction with the speakers so that conversations ignited beyond the walls of the venue, rolling out into the fields surrounding the Globe at Hay. Discussions continued into the night and, with a backdrop of live music, people exchanged ideas over ciders at the bar. We joked that this was a festival that visitors would leave with more than just a hangover.
A few years on, and we’re the biggest philosophy and music festival in the world. The UK’s appetite for new thinking appears insatiable. Given the changing global conditions and social, political and economic upheaval, this is unsurprising. In response to this, we offer a programme of over 450 events tackling the latest theories in everything from philosophy and art to science and politics.
To reflect this global instability and to try and make sense of it, the theme of this year’s festival is Uncharted Territory: progress for a new era. For centuries in the West we’ve seen ourselves as on the upward curve of history. The future, however, looks increasingly uncertain and our values appear increasingly precarious. Do we need a new notion of progress and if so what should it be?
It’s a broad theme and is allowing for wide-ranging debate. Independent scientist James Lovelock has already made a powerful case at the festival for the freedom of scientific speech, asking whether the corporate collectivism of modern laboratory work has begun to stifle the creativity and insight on which scientific discovery relies. Raymond Tallis, Angie Hobbs, Jim Al-Khalili and Craig Bourne debated the notion of time, potentially the ultimate form of progress. How, they asked, should we understand it? As a dimension, a flow, a place, a process, a social construct, or something altogether more mysterious? Barry Smith and Luciano Floridi considered whether oppositions – true and false, male and female, Heaven and Hell – are fundamental to human thought and wrought within the fabric of the world. David Aaronovitch, Nigel Lawson and David Blunkett questioned why grand new visions, with the power to transform reality, have fallen from grace and asked whether we should we be looking to find new ideals to kindle our imagination and change our world. Kevin Warwick, Eva Aldea, and Angela Saini looked to technology as a driver of progress. Is it, they asked, mankind’s salvation, or has a technological arms race taken the place of meaningful human goals?
Over the next few days, we’ll consider everything from the notion of perfection, to linguistic diversity, violent sex, the war on drugs, the physics of poetry and life after the nuclear family.
We are all looking for intellectual guidance and, at some level, we all imagine ourselves philosophers. People feel lost. We hope that they’ll find some answers.Tagged in: HowTheLightGetsIn, Institute of Art and Ideas, philosophy
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