I’m incredible honoured to be discussion why Science, Imagination and Communication are inseparable in conversations with two brilliant physicists at events over the next two weeks.
I will be exploring this theme together with Professor of Natural Philosophy and Fellow of the Royal Society, Prof Tom McLeish through the life and works of George MacDonald – a trained scientist, theological thinker, educator and writer. Even though he is recognised in his literary influence, as the major source of inspiration for H.G. Wells, the Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis – and often credited with the conversion of the latter to Christianity – we rarely speak about his as a scientist, because of preconceptions that lead us to believe the two as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Exploring the ways in which MacDonald believed they were, rather, mutually constructive, can prepare us to challenge and interrogate our own ways of understanding science, and how we think we know “science” and “scientific fact” – especially, when these are understood as opposition to “fantasy” and “storytelling”.
The York Festival of Ideas is happening – online! And I will be part of a very topical panel on ‘Human Flourishing in Times of Stress’ with archaeologist Penny Spikins, journalist Tim Radford and professor of Natural Philosophy Tom McLeish, as chair. The event will be free (!) but ticketed – you can sign up for tickets here.
‘Our conversation will explore how stories, things and thinking can bring comfort in times of stress.
Franziska Kohlt asks why many of us have felt drawn to the comfort of childhood classics –often unjustly dismissed as ‘escapism’. She explores how books like Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, or The Water-Babies, were written in times of epidemics, illness and crisis, and how these works can be valuable emotional tools to carry us through crisis.
Penny Spikins asks why in times of crisis we turn to programmes like The Repair Shop to find some sense of comfort, and why cherished possessions seem to help when we feel stressed or isolated. She explores where our tendency to attach to things came from in our evolutionary past and how finding attachments to objects can compensate for missing human relationships at times of stress or isolation.
Tim Radford’s contribution comes from his recent book, The Consolation of Physics. It is both a conversation with the past and a celebration of the shared scientific tradition of generosity and co-operation that has taken human understanding, mediated by international experiment, to the edge of the solar system, to the origins of Universe and to cataclysmic star-death in distant galaxies.
Our conversation is chaired by Tom McLeish, the University of York’s first Professor of Natural Philosophy and author of The Poetry and Music of Science.’
The recording of the event is available on YouTube:
In August I was extremely excited to be invited to shoot a little image film about my work on Victorian fantasy literature and science at Christ Church, Oxford. Christ Church kindly let me use some of Lewis Carroll’s own manuscript materials from their collection (have a look at some of their digitised items here) – including his photographs, proofs, sketches, letters, and his dedicated presentation copy of a first edition copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland! I also speak about Victorian children’s literature’s ties to Victorian Science Communication & Education, about Victorian Lunatic Asylums – and Charles Dickens’s visit to one – and how all of that can change how we think about Fantasy and Science Fiction Literature in general – I hope you like it!