Stephen Hawking and the Poetry of Science


In this episode of The Imagine Athena Podcast, Candice Holdsworth speaks with Robin Gilbert Jones, contributing editor to Imagine Athena. They discuss the legacy of the late Stephen Hawking who passed away this week. He will be remembered not just for his scientific discoveries, which were immense, but also the courageous struggle he waged against his physical disability.

They also discuss how he represented the noble pursuit of objective truth in a time when people believe truth to be relative, or determined by whoever has the most power. These paranoid notions are regressive and disempowering. The very opposite of Hawking, who, in his career as a public figure, taught science to the public and tried to inspire them with the joy of discovery. He didn’t tell them they were the victims of some vast, dark conspiracy against them, but part of the magnificence and mystery of the Universe.

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South Africa Is Not Your Cautionary Tale

On this episode of The Imagine Athena Podcast, Candice Holdsworth and contributing editor Robin Gilbert Jones discuss the recent Land Reform Bill, which is currently making its way through the South African parliament. The bill calls for expropriation of land without compensation, a policy that would be ruinous for the South African economy.

South Africa does have problems of historic inequality that need to be addressed, people are still suffering from the legacy of Apartheid, but this is not the route to go down. Land reform of this kind has never worked in any country that has tried it.

They also discuss how South African politics is misrepresented in the international press on both ends of the political spectrum, left and right. British journalist Katie Hopkins’s recent sojourn in South Africa being a case in point. Robin and Candice are dual nationals and have spent their lives living between South Africa and England and have lots of bitter personal experience dealing with misperceptions of South Africa.

Also available on iTunes here.

Steven Pinker: Literature Improves Our Ability To Empathise

Is literature a type of empathy technology? In the video below, the Harvard academic Steven Pinker observes that the rise of the novel correlates with some of the most significant humanitarian drives throughout history. Pinker makes the excellent point that fiction requires the reader to use his/her imagination to project themselves into the life of another person whose experience may be far removed from their own.

One example he names is the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which served as a powerful intellectual impetus for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Other notable examples are the collected works of Charles Dickens and their depiction of poverty in 19th century England.  And though The Diary of Anne Frank  isn’t a novel, it is still one of the major humanitarian works of literature of the 20th century.

This is yet another argument against the strange notion that the arts and humanities are “useless“.


Disagreement May Be Uncomfortable But It Exists For Good Reason

Everything is political nowadays. I cannot remember a time of more intense political debate. People still share funny cat videos and pictures of their food, but as any content creator will tell you, there is huge interest in politics and current affairs right now. There is a lot of stuff going on in the news: Trump, Brexit, the EU, #MeToo, North Korea. The list goes on. But also people are more exposed to political debate through social media where everyone is mostly able to freely express their opinions, which they do a lot.  This has costs and benefits. It is good to see more people engaging in public discourse, but politics means disagreement and people do not always disagree well. Arguing over politics has caused rifts in families and friendships. In extreme cases it can lead to social discord, polarisation and even violence. There have been people, such as Thomas Mair, Salman Abedi, Darren Osborne, and the London Bridge attackers, to name a few notable examples, who stopped engaging with others and started attacking them instead. This has led many people to lose faith in free speech and open platforms that allow anyone to publish their views, no matter how abhorrent. At such times, it is important to not only argue for free speech, but also for disagreement itself. Read More…

Who is Winning the Culture War in 2018?

In the latest episode of The Imagine Athena Podcast, Candice Holdsworth speaks to Robin Gilbert-Jones about the political outlook for 2018. Between May and Corbyn who is winning the battle of ideas? Is May presenting a strong enough vision for Brexit?

They also discuss the cultural watershed Jordan Peterson interview on Channel 4 news. Does Peterson represent a new and distinct pushback against identitarians on both the right and the left?

Also available on iTunes here.

Civilisation Is About The Transformative Power Of Beauty

Next week Monday, the BBC will be airing a remake of the iconic television series Civilisation, which was first broadcast in 1969. Presented by the acclaimed art historian Kenneth Clark, the original programme examined the history of western civilisation through the prism of art, poetry, literature, philosophy music and architecture, in 13 episodes.

It was an incredibly ambitious idea that Clark and the BBC production team pulled off with great aplomb. Nearly half a century later, these visual essays are still magnificent to watch with their depth and range of scope. Read More…