Friday 25th May: moral behaviour in animals; and what makes humans human?

This Friday will be the final meeting of the summer term, and we’ll be departing from the norm and showing two short films on themes that have arisen this year:

1)     Moral behaviour in animals: caring about the well-being of others seems like a very human trait.  Biologist and primatologist Frans de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioural tests on animals, that show how many of these “moral traits” we apparently share with them.

2)      What makes you, you? Is it how you think of yourself, how others think of you, or something else entirely?  Philosopher and writer Julian Baggini, will give a surprising answer.

Don’t miss this experimental, interesting, and final event of the year! We are back at the Friends Meeting House, from 7.40 pm.

Friday 18th May: “The Wonderbox” and 3rd Swindon Think Slam

This Friday, 18th May, sees the Philosophy Society joining with the Festival of Literature for two events. Please note that both are at the Arts Centre in Devizes Road, and that times & prices differ from our normal arrangements. Tickets are still available in limited numbers, and are £7 each, or £12 for both events.

1) at 6.30 pm, ROMAN KRZNARIC is talking about “the curious histories of how we live”.
How can we improve the quality of our lives? Should we turn to philosophers, health gurus, educationists, financial advisers, religion, or the latest experiments of psychologists? Or should we simply look at history: for job satisfaction, the industrial revolution; for bringing up children, the Ming Dynasty; and for relationships, Ancient Greece?
Cultural historian, adviser to the UN, and faculty member of Alain de Botton’s School of Life, Roman Krznaric offers direct solutions to modern dilemmas in his new book The Wonderbox. It is full of stories and ideas that show how the past can shine a light on how to live well, today.

2) at 8.00 pm, the second part of the evening commences, and Roman Krznaric will be a key adjudicator, hopefully enjoying the third Swindon Think Slam.
Competitors have 3 minutes to present a thought-provoking idea, theory, or story. From then on, it’s a knockout! Judges will decide who inspires the most, and the winner will be crowned Think Slam Champion, and maybe Philosopher-King of Swindon.

Don’t miss these two events which promise to be a great experience.

11th May: The Anatomy of Melancholy

This Friday sees the first of two events organised jointly with the Swindon Festival of Literature. PLEASE NOTE THAT:

1)      It’s at the Arts Centre in Devizes Road;

2)      Start time is 7.30 sharp;

3)      Admission is by ticket only: £5 or £4 for concessions. There are only a few tickets left, so hurry!

This week’s speaker is philosopher, psychiatrist, and author  of books including The Meaning of Madness and, most recently, Hide & Seek: the Psychology of Self-Deception,  Dr Neel Burton, talking about  ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’.

Can depression be good for us? Is it a mental disorder? Is it a biological illness of the brain? Has it been unhelpfully over-extended to include all manner of human suffering? What part of the human condition is depression? Neel Burton will look at aspects of depression that may have been overlooked, or at best, received little attention.

Don’t miss what promises to be a fascinating evening.

4th May: the Better Angels of our Nature

This week, our speaker is our esteemed secretary John Little, talking around Steven Pinker’s latest book……

We’ve all had the experience of reading about a bloody war or shocking crime and asking, “What is the world coming to?” But we seldom ask, “How bad was the world in the past?” In his new book, the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker shows that the world of the past was much worse. With the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps, Pinker presents some astonishing numbers. Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as modern war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate of Medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today.

Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were common features of life for millennia, then suddenly were targeted for abolition.  Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the people they did a few decades ago. Rape, battering, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse, cruelty to animals—all substantially down.

How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed? What led people to stop sacrificing children, stabbing each other at the dinner table, or burning cats and disemboweling criminals as forms of popular entertainment? The key to explaining the decline of violence, Pinker argues, is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence (such as revenge, sadism, and tribalism) and the better angels that steer us away.