HowTheLightGetsIn

Ten days of big ideas in Hay-on-Wye.

The New Statesman is delighted to be a media partner for this year's HowTheLightGetsIn festival in Hay-on-Wye. HTLGI is, in the organisers' description, "the world's largest philosophy and music festival". This year's feast of big ideas in the Welsh borders begins on Thursday 31 May and runs until Sunday 10 June.

Hilary Lawson, the festival director, says:

I little imagined five years ago when we held our first debate in a converted Methodist chapel in Hay-on-Wye that HowTheLightGetsIn would become the largest philosophy and music festival in the world. Five years on, we're back with a full programme of over 450 events across ten days and expecting over 35,000 visitors. The intention was always to take philosophy out of the academy and into people's lives, to encourage real dialogue about issues that matter and to invite leading thinkers with new ideas to share, rather than celebrities looking to plug their latest book. It's great to see this in action on the festival site and to watch our digital audience grow via iai.tv, where we post all of our debates, solo talks and live performances.

The range of speakers is too vast to summarise here, but highlights include: Jim Al-Khalili on chaos theory; Mary Midgley and Ruth Padel on poetic theories; David Aaronovitch and David Blunkett on the ends of ideals; James Lovelock on freedom of scientific speech; Raymond Tallis on music and neuroscience; Galen Strawson on the mind; Barry C Smith's philosophical wine-tasting; Steven Pinker on the decline of violence; and Peter Singer on humans and animals.

On Friday 1 June, New Statesman culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire will chair a session entitled "Uncharted Territory: Progress for a new era", with Giles Fraser, Hilary Rose, Bjorn Lomborg and Ziauddin Sardar. The following day, at 12pm, Jonathan will debate the ramifications of Stephen Hawking's recent declaration that philosophy is dead with Lewis Wolpert and Steve Fuller. In the afternoon, he will chair a debate on the "rationality of climate change" with Nigel Lawson, Bjorn Lomborg, Polly Higgins and Barry C Smith.

To see the full programme and to book tickets, click here.

Performers on the streets of Hay-on-Wye (Photo: Getty Images)
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Intelligent life on earth: why we need Radio 4's Book of the Week

When a book on quantum gravity came on air, it sounded like a brief return to something that has declined so much over our lifetimes – knowledge as part of a function of a media flow.

It sounded like the densest of abridgements: five days of excerpts from Reality Is Not What It Seems: the Journey to Quantum Gravity by the Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli (week beginning 28 November, 9.45am). Swarms of quantum events where time does not exist. Cosmology, meteorology and cathedrals of atomism. Leucippus of Miletus and lines of force filling space. Very few of us listening could have understood what was being said. Instead, we just allowed it to wash over, reminding us that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio.

Perhaps once or twice, as the week progressed, token attempts were made to check that everybody was keeping up (“So, the number of nanoseconds in a second is the same as the number of seconds in 30 years”) – or to encourage listeners to picture themselves as part of an experiment (“Imagine I’m on Mars, and you were here . . .”). But generally it was utterly airtight, the reader, Mark Meadows, doing a good job of keeping his voice at a pace and tone uncondescendingly brisk, flattering us that nobody was scratching their head (“The speed of light determined by Maxwell’s equations is velocity with respect to what?”).

It was my favourite radio book reading of 2016. Not because I learned a single thing I could repeat, or might realistically mull over, but because it sounded like a brief return to something that has declined so much over our lifetimes – knowledge as part of a function of a media flow.

It’s that old idea that something might be there for your betterment. When we were exposed to just four channels on television especially, and forced to stay on them, we got into astronomy and opera and all sorts of stuff, almost against our will. (Rigoletto? Jesus. Well, there’s nothing else on . . .) The programme was marvellously and unapologetically impenetrable, as the days and chapters piled up relentlessly (“We are immersed in a gigantic flexible snail shell”). What this adaptation comprehended was that we don’t actually want someone explaining Einstein to us. What is much more compelling – more accurate and clever – is simply to show what it’s like in other people’s brains. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump