Humanities and Science: Representing Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/03/2015 - 12:55am in

An interdisciplinary discussion exploring the many possible approaches to representing science through the arts, as well as potential challenges The discussion begins with a presentation by Dr Kirsten Shepherd-Barr (Associate Professor in Modern Drama, University of Oxford) examining plays that have included scientific content from the Victorian era to Tom Stoppard and Michael Frayn. She will also explore the concept of “mediation”, examining how Frayn and Stoppard mediate the science using biography, history, and metaphor. This will be followed by responses from Professor Heidi Johansen-Berg (Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Oxford), Dr Jason Gaiger (Associate Professor, Contemporary Art History, University of Oxford) and Annie Cattrell (Artist, Tutor at the Royal College of Art and Reader in Fine Art at DeMontfort University). The discussion is chaired by Dr Dan O'Connor (Head of Humanities and Social Science, Wellcome Trust).

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 4:14am in


astronomy, Science

A discussion exploring Pedro Ferreira's book Pedro Ferreira (Professor of Astrophysics, University of Oxford) discusses his book 'The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity' with Harvey Brown (Professor of Philosophy of Physics, University of Oxford), Alex Butterworth (Historian and Author of The World That Never Was: A True Story of Dreamers, Schemers, Anarchists and Secret Agents) and Javier Lezaun (James Martin Lecturer in Science and Technology Governance, University of Oxford). Chaired by Xenia de la Ossa (Reader in Mathematics, University of Oxford).

The book is the first complete popular history of the theory of general relativity, showing how it has informed our understanding of exactly what the universe is made of and how much is still undiscovered: from the work of the giant telescopes in the deserts of Chile to our newest ideas about black holes and the Large Hadron Collider deep under French and Swiss soil.

Observing by Hand: Sketching the Nebulae in the Nineteenth Century

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 17/03/2015 - 3:13am in

A discussion of Omar Nasim's book Dr Omar Nasim (lecturer in history at the University of Kent) discusses his book with Dr Stephen Johnston (Assistant Keeper, Museum of the History of Science), Professor Martin Kemp (History of Art, University of Oxford) and Professor Chris Lintott (Astrophysics, University of Oxford).

The book sheds entirely new light on the ways in which the production and reception of handdrawn images of the nebulae in the nineteenth century contributed to astronomical observation. Omar W. Nasim investigates hundreds of unpublished observing books and paper records from six nineteenth-century observers of the nebulae: Sir John Herschel; William Parsons, the third Earl of Rosse; William Lassell; Ebenezer Porter Mason; Ernst Wilhelm Leberecht Tempel; and George Phillips Bond. Nasim focuses on the ways in which these observers created and employed their drawings in data-driven procedures, from their choices of artistic materials and techniques to their practices and scientific observation. He examines the ways in which the act of drawing complemented the acts of seeing and knowing, as well as the ways that making pictures was connected to the production of scientific knowledge.

Wayne McGregor: Neuroscience and Dance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 16/03/2015 - 11:43pm in

Wayne McGregor (Director, Random Dance) talks about his choreographic practice with Dr Phil Barnard, (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge) and Eckhard Thiemann (Arts Producer).

John Gray: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/03/2015 - 1:00am in

A new orthodoxy, led by Pinker, holds that war and violence in the developed world are declining. The stats are misleading, argues Gray – and the idea of moral progress is wishful thinking and plain wrong

For an influential group of advanced thinkers, violence is a type of backwardness. In the most modern parts of the world, these thinkers tell us, war has practically disappeared. The world’s great powers are neither internally divided nor inclined to go to war with one another, and with the spread of democracy, the increase of wealth and the diffusion of enlightened values these states preside over an era of improvement the like of which has never been known. For those who lived through it, the last century may have seemed peculiarly violent, but that, it is argued, is mere subjective experience and not much more than anecdote. Scientifically assessed, the number of those killed in violent conflicts was steadily dropping. The numbers are still falling, and there is reason to think they will fall further. A shift is under way, not strictly inevitable but enormously powerful. After millennia of slaughter, humankind is entering the Long Peace.

This has proved to be a popular message. The Harvard psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: a history of violence and humanity (2011) has not only been an international bestseller – more than a thousand pages long and containing a formidable array of graphs and statistics, the book has established something akin to a contemporary orthodoxy. It is now not uncommon to find it stated, as though it were a matter of fact, that human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. Ranging freely from human pre-history to the present day, Pinker presents his case with voluminous erudition. Part of his argument consists in showing that the past was more violent than we tend to imagine. Tribal peoples that have been praised by anthropologists for their peaceful ways, such as the Kalahari !Kung and the Arctic Inuit, in fact have rates of death by violence not unlike those of contemporary Detroit; while the risk of violent death in Europe is a fraction of what it was five centuries ago. Not only have violent deaths declined in number. Barbaric practices such as human sacrifice and execution by torture have been abolished, while cruelty towards women, children and animals is, Pinker claims, in steady decline. This “civilising process” – a term Pinker borrows from the sociologist Norbert Elias – has come about largely as a result of the increasing power of the state, which in the most advanced countries has secured a near-monopoly of force. Other causes of the decline in violence include the invention of printing, the empowerment of women, enhanced powers of reasoning and expanding capacities for empathy in modern populations, and the growing influence of Enlightenment ideals.

There is no reason for thinking human beings are becoming any more altruistic or more peaceful

There is something repellently absurd in the notion that war is a vice of ‘backward’ peoples

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Faith and Wisdom in Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 19/02/2015 - 11:24pm in

A Book at Lunchtime discussion with Tom McLeish, Sally Shuttleworth, John Christie and Ard A. Louis An interdisciplinary discussion about Tom McLeish's "Faith and Wisdom in Science".

About the book:

"Do you have wisdom to count the clouds?" asks the voice of God from the whirlwind in the stunningly beautiful catalogue of nature-questions from the Old Testament Book of Job. Tom McLeish takes a scientist's reading of this ancient text as a centrepiece to make the case for science as a deeply human and ancient activity, embedded in some of the oldest stories told about human desire to understand the natural world. Drawing on stories from the modern science of chaos and uncertainty alongside medieval, patristic, classical and Biblical sources, Faith and Wisdom in Science challenges much of the current 'science and religion' debate as operating with the wrong assumptions and in the wrong space. Its narrative approach develops a natural critique of the cultural separation of sciences and humanities, suggesting an approach to science, or in its more ancient form natural philosophy - the 'love of wisdom of natural things' - that can draw on theological and cultural roots. Following the theme of pain in human confrontation with nature, it develops a 'Theology of Science', recognising that both scientific and theological worldviews must be 'of' each other, not holding separate domains. Science finds its place within an old story of participative reconciliation with a nature, of which we start ignorant and fearful, but learn to perceive and work with in wisdom. Surprisingly, science becomes a deeply religious activity. There are urgent lessons for education, the political process of decision-making on science and technology, our relationship with the global environment, and the way that both religious and secular communities alike celebrate and govern science.

Humanities and Science: Randomness and Order

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/02/2015 - 10:16pm in


Music, Physics, Science

An interdisciplinary discussion exploring the role of randomness and order in physics, probability, history and music. The discussion begins with a 20 minute presentation by Professor Ian Walmsley (Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics & Pro Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Oxford), followed by three c. 8 minute responses from:

Professor Jonathan Cross (Professor of Musicology, University of Oxford)
Professor Alison Etheridge (Professor of Probability, University of Oxford)
Professor Chris Wickham (Chichele Professor of Medieval History, University of Oxford)

Chaired by Professor Stephen Tuck (Director of The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities, University of Oxford)

For related videos and more information about the Humanities and Science series please visit:

Humanities and Science: Mental Health

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 10/02/2015 - 4:01am in

An interdisciplinary discussion exploring the role of the humanities in mental health.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate review – Naomi Klein’s powerful and urgent polemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 22/09/2014 - 6:00pm in

Naomi Klein pins the blame for climate crisis squarely on capitalism. John Gray fears the problem is much bigger

This Changes Everything is as much about the psychology of denial as it is about climate change. “It is always easier to deny reality,” writes Naomi Klein, “than to allow our worldview to be shattered, a fact that was as true of diehard Stalinists at the height of the purges as of libertarian climate deniers today.” Much of this book is concerned with showing that powerful and well-financed rightwing thinktanks and lobby groups lie behind the denial of climate change in recent years. There is not much reasonable doubt as to the findings of science on the subject. As a result of human activities, large-scale climate change is under way, and if it goes on unchecked it will fundamentally alter the world in which humans will in future have to live. Yet the political response has been at best ambiguous and indecisive. Governments have backed off from previous climate commitments, and environmental concerns have slipped down the policy agenda to a point at which in many contexts they are treated as practically irrelevant.

For Klein none of this is accidental. Following on from her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine, a timely and powerful exposé of the environmental and social devastation wrought by neoliberal policies of “shock therapy”, Klein interprets the marginalisation of climate change in the political process as the result of the machinations of corporate elites. These elites “understand the real significance of climate change better than most of the ‘warmists’ in the political centre, the ones who are still insisting that the response can be gradual and painless and that we don’t need to go to war with anybody… The deniers get plenty of the details wrong… But when it comes to the scope and depth of change required to avert catastrophe, they are right on the money.”

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Science and the Humanities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/03/2014 - 10:35pm in



Are the Humanities and the Sciences fundamentally different? Or do they share roots, values, aspirations and a common, contemporary predicament? Are the Humanities and the Sciences fundamentally different? Or do they share roots, values, aspirations and a common, contemporary predicament?

Presenter: Howard Hotson, Professor of Early Modern Intellectual History, University of Oxford (Chair, Cultures of Knowledge network, TORCH)


Ian Walmsley, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics, University of Oxford
Mark Pagel, Professor and Head of the Bioinformatics Laboratory, University of Reading

Chair: Sally Shuttleworth, Professor of English, University of Oxford

This seminar is part of "Humanities and the Public Good", a special series of events bringing together leading scholars in the arts and sciences and influential figures beyond academia, to consider the role of the Humanities in addressing contemporary challenges.