Archive for April, 2013

The Silence of Animals: Gray and Tallis on what it means to be Human

In his latest book, John Gray continues the themes he explored in his immensely successful Straw Dogs. Raymond Tallis was so disgusted with that book that he wrote Aping Mankind in response.

In many ways these two thinkers exemplify what Steven Pinker termed The Tragic Vision versus The Utopian Vision. Are we animals, doomed by our flawed human nature to economic, social and political failure, or can we transcend our evolutionary history and scale the ladder of progress into a sunlit future?

Our treasurer John Little will argue this week that the silence of animals should be seen as their inability to tell stories. But stories, even if false, can act as Magic Feathers – that is they can be causal –  challenging a strictly materialist picture of the world.


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Weather permitting, Dr  Stephen Bigger will visit the Phil Soc this Friday to deliver his talk which had to be postponed in January due to snow.

It is approaching 25 years since Stephen edited ‘Creating the Old Testament (1989)’ for the Society for Old Testament Study.

In the 1980s we felt were were on the boundary between the old (proving the Bible narrative and searching for ancient sources) and the new (taking a wholly secular and investigative point of view to work out what the writers meant, whether good or bad). Stephen and 16 other top scholars divided up the Old Testament to discuss possibilities. Later, a number of writers continued the thought in their own books, and it has become standard now in academic study.

This talk therefore is on the secular study of the Old Testament as purely historical texts, written for social and political purposes to defend an elite point of view. This throws doubt on most of the ‘assured results of Biblical scholarship’ that were held in 1970, despite a backlash by conservative theologians, especially in the USA.


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For the first meeting of the Summer term,  Dr Peter Wilson, a Reader in Electronics at the University of Southampton is speaking on this topic. He says:

“There has been much hype and publicity in recent years about making a “copy” of the human brain. With the recent announcement of significant financial support for the effort to map the human brain by President Obama, is this going to unlock our understanding of the brain and how it works? In this talk we will explore some of the current research efforts underway to not only understand the brain, but to replicate its structures and behaviour. Where are we down this road? What are the challenges in this work? Why do want to do this?”


Come along this Friday to hear more.



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