What is life?

Posted on: December 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Multi-award-winning scientist Sir Paul Nurse considers the most fundamental question in biology, “What is Life?”

In a highly anticipated talk, Sir Paul will seek to answer this profound question by first exploring five great ideas in biology:

The cell – the fundamental unit of all living things

The gene – how do cells store, preserve and pass on information?

Evolution by natural selection – how is genetic information accurately transmitted to subsequent generations, whilst at the same time introducing sufficient variability for natural selection to operate and for new species to arise?

Life as chemistry – how do cells host myriad simultaneous chemical reactions in a minute space? What is the central role of carbon polymer chemistry?

Life as information – how do cells and organisms regulate and coordinate their internal environment? And how do they respond to stimuli and conditions in their external environment?

From consideration of these five fundamental concepts, Sir Paul will relate a number of principles which set a direction of travel towards a definition of life – something that requires more than just a description of what living things do.

His book “What is Life” has been published in 22 countries.

Have you got time?

Posted on: December 1st, 2022 by mlpEditor

Tempus fugit (time flies).  And a new year seems an appropriate time to think about time.  But have you got time?  If you are reading this, then the answer is probably ’yes’.  But have you got time, meaning have you understood it?  Then the answer is probably ‘no’.  Time has been a persistent philosophical conundrum for a very long time (!).  Perplexing, paradoxical and problematic … but a concept we couldn’t manage without.

Our friendly and respectful discussion will focus upon seven possible explorations of time covering the aesthetic, scientific, historical, literary and semiotic.  Is time the only reason everything doesn’t happen at once, as Albert Einstein quipped?  Is it merely a comparison of spatial changes or is it an independent aspect of existence?  What is the relationship between subjective time and chronological time as measured by clocks?

Recommended for background reading are two articles from ‘Philosophy Now’ magazine:

‘Time & Change’ by Raymond Tallis

‘Calling Time’ by Anthony Proctor

Good to know: These two articles are included in the focus material, which will be shared with event registrants.

“Time’s wingèd chariot [is] hurrying near” … so book a place now. It will be time well spent!

The tribulations and triumphs of Lydia Becker: a life of resilience and renewal

Posted on: November 28th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Discover more about the incredible life of the ‘unofficial’ leader of the British women’s suffrage movement in the later 19th Century.

In the 1868 general election women achieved a victory: a legal loophole allowed up to a thousand women across the country to cast their vote. This surprising event occurred due to the feisty and single-minded dedication of Lydia Becker.

It gave rise to the belief amongst campaigners that women would soon be enfranchised. But in fact, it would be another half-century before that goal was achieved. Lydia’s life became a series of triumphs and setbacks. For over twenty years she was the moving force behind ceaseless campaigning and publicity.

Brought up near Manchester in a middle-class family as the eldest of fifteen children, she broke away from convention, remaining single and entering the sphere of men by engaging in politics. Although it was considered almost immoral for a woman to speak in public, Lydia addressed innumerable audiences. Not only on women’s votes, but also on girls’ education, the position of wives, the abuse of women, and their rights at work. She kept countless supporters all over Britain and beyond informed of the many campaigns for women’s rights through her publication: the Women’s Suffrage Journal.

In every area there were setbacks. But relentless battling did begin to move society and politics towards a new perception of women by undermining the accepted orthodoxy of ‘separate spheres’.

Steamrollering her way to Parliament as chief lobbyist for women, Becker influenced MPs in a way that no woman had done before. In the 1870s giving women the vote was compared in the Commons to ‘persuading dogs to dance’; it would be ridiculous and unnatural. By the time of Lydia’s death in 1890 there was a wide acceptance that the enfranchisement of women would happen sooner or later.

But she did not live to see the achievement of her goals. The torch was picked up by others who built on the foundations she had laid. These included Lydia’s younger colleague on the London committee, Millicent Fawcett, and a woman she had inspired as a teenager: the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst.

Will humans become extinct through climate change?

Posted on: November 24th, 2022 by mlpEditor

In this talk by Dr Anders Sandberg of the Future of Humanity Institute, we will examine what role climate change may play in the end of the world as we know it.

Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. One way of looking at them are by their scope: how much of the world and the future do they affect? And by their severity: how bad are they?

Global catastrophic risks are those that affect the entire world, while existential risks are those that threaten all future generations – typically extinction risks. There are many potential threats in these categories, ranging from asteroid impacts to nuclear war. Most are fortunately unlikely to spell our doom… but there are enough of them to make us rightly concerned about our well-being.

While natural risks are unlikely to cause an end of humanity, human-made risks are. What is the role of climate change in this? Direct extinction by a changed climate is very unlikely: it takes very extreme heat to stop an adaptive, technological species that is spread worldwide.

But climate change poses a systemic threat. By stressing nearly every part of the world as we move into a century with many other risks, powerful emerging technologies, and an interconnected and fragile global system, it can amplify other dangers and make them more likely to coincide into vast disasters.

Climate change may not be the end of the world, but it can certainly help it along. Conversely, some (but not all!) ways of handling climate change can reduce large risks.

This is a hybrid event, that can be attended in person or watched live online.

Utilitarianism: Can maximal happiness in society be the basis of ethics?

Posted on: November 17th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Utilitarianism is the theory that morality need only be understood in terms of its utility to society. So, what is morality? Is it, as Utilitarianism implies, adaptable to the moods of time? Or is there an impersonal ethical anchor governing us all?

In this friendly and inclusive forum, we will examine Utilitarianism through a short introduction by Pierre Waugh, followed by discussions in small groups.

Utilitarianism seems intuitive in explaining why morality should exist in the first place: bringing about the happiness and fulfilment of the greatest number of people in a world that requires coexistence with others. If we call happiness good and unhappiness bad, then our very social language ascribes the same qualities to morality as it does to feeling. So why not maximise the good?

But can the aggregation of people’s personal happiness be a sufficient reason to govern all our decisions? Or is it more complex than that when different people’s interests conflict with one another? As with any theory, the nature of what it represents must be questioned.

Good to know: All you need to attend this relaxed discussion group is an enquiring mind.  We accommodate different levels of philosophical experience. You may find it useful to watch this 15 minute video published on the Royal Institute of Philosophy’s website beforehand.

The secret of biodiversity and evolution in plants

Posted on: November 9th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Our planet has an enormous range of plant and animal species, biodiversity. Why is this? How have they evolved and how are they evolving now?

Natural crossbreeding, or hybridisation, between species is widespread in both plants and animals but it is especially common in plants where it is recognised as an important ‘creative’ force in evolution. In plants hybridisation is frequently associated with genetic changes which can lead to the abrupt formation of new species. In some cases, this combination of hybridisation and genetic changes creates complex patterns of variation causing challenges for scientists working on plant classification and the determination of a particular plant’s place in evolution. These processes are especially frequent in the daisy family (Asteraceae), the rose family (Rosaceae) and in grasses (Poaceae) leading to extreme challenges in classification for these particular plants.

Simon Hiscock will discuss how such plant diversity has arisen, using various examples of evolutionary processes from the rose family, where these changes are especially frequent. He will include a discussion of the famous Oxford Ragwort which has an intriguing evolutionary history and future.

Exploring the past through objects: religious faith during the industrial revolution

Posted on: November 7th, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can books, embroideries and ceramics tell us about religious faith during the industrial revolution?

Professor Hannah Barker’s talk will explore the religious faith of ordinary people in northern English towns, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Many descriptive accounts of domestic devotion survive in diaries, memoirs, correspondence, and commonplace books. A variety of non-textual sources in the collections of museums and galleries also shed light on religious practice and belief.

Domestic objects such as needlework samplers, annotated books, printed pictures, and a variety of ceramics including figures, teapots, and plaques, are rich sources for the study of domestic piety. Their existence supports the contention that religious belief continued to be widespread and influential during this period which is often associated with the decline of faith.

Even if you are not interested in religion, most people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were. To tell their stories and understand the world in which they lived, we also need to explore their faith.

Symbolism in art (*second date added)

Posted on: November 3rd, 2022 by mlpEditor

What can the paintings in Manchester Art Gallery’s collection tell us about the history and development of ‘Symbolism’?

Art historians tell us that it was the 1880s that witnessed the inception of ‘Symbolism’ as a movement. But more than a generation before this, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood startled and outraged sensibilities with its depiction of strange and unsettling parallel worlds, bejewelled with luminous colours. Its rebellious spirit sought to awaken moral, spiritual and religious reflection through the deployment of mysterious signs and symbols. And yet even this tendency had its antecedents, most especially in the entertaining genre paintings and eerie still lifes of the Dutch Golden Age.

Guide John Ward will be leading us through Manchester Art Gallery, on a quest for the finest examples of a fascinating visual language.

Good to know: We will meet in the entrance of the gallery. The tour will start promptly at 2.00pm, so please arrive in good time.

Is belief ‘beyond the natural’ beyond belief?

Posted on: October 25th, 2022 by mlpEditor

Why do humans tend to reach for something ‘beyond the natural’ for insight or comfort? Is it justified?

This group discussion will continue to explore the ideas debated by Philip Goff and Jack Symes in our event Between God and Atheism (18th October).

Richard Dawkins made the point that every theist is an atheist of one sort or another. Even devout believers deny the existence of gods other than their own. But gods come in many forms. From the capricious personalities of Greek and Roman mythology and Abrahamic traditions to the god-soaked ‘atheism’ of Spinoza.

However, the supernatural need not be god-like. Some traditions, particularly in Eastern thought, have a less individualistic ‘spiritual’ conception of the transcendental, including pantheism. These days, Western intelligentsia normally contend that the natural is sufficient and other beliefs are unjustified. So why do humans continue to look for something (not necessarily a god) beyond the natural for either intellectual or emotional reasons.

We will explore whether there is a dichotomy between theism and atheism or intermediate stages of belief.

Avro Heritage Museum

Posted on: August 22nd, 2022 by mlpEditor

We are lucky to get the chance to have a fascinating glimpse of the history of some iconic aeroplanes at the Avro Heritage Museum, Woodford.

Avro (founder A. V. Roe) created many of the ground-breaking and iconic aeroplanes of the 20th Century, which were built on the site. Several of the cockpits have been restored, and the museum houses many fascinating exhibits detailing the history of the planes and the venue.

A guided tour has been arranged of the exhibition hall, followed by 2 x 15-minute cockpit tours of the Vulcan and the Lancaster.

Good to know:

  • Tea/coffee will be available afterwards.
  • Parking is available at the venue.
  • The tour is due to start at 2 pm so it is recommended that you arrive between 1.30 – 1.50 pm to ensure you find suitable parking.
  • Please advise if you have mobility requirements, hearing, mobility or vision impairment. There is no wheelchair access to the cockpits but there are interactive screens available for both jets.
  • The cost of the ticket covers the guided tour.

 

One of our members Richard Lees has kindly offered to host a social before and/or after the AVRO Heritage Museum at one of his pubs nearby. Suitably named ‘The Aviator’, it is just a 15-minute walk from the museum and boasts many award-winning ales, craft beers and great food!

We have the option of having a meal there around 12.30 pm and/or having some drinks there after the tour.

If you’re interested, please RSVP by emailing events@manlitphil.ac.uk.