Wellies and Wisdom: How the Light Gets In

HowTheLightGetsIn 2014Back home. Mud to show for a mind-expanding sojourn at the HowTheLightGetsIn Festival at Hay, a parallel event to the annual book jamboree that takes place every May in this town-of-many-bookshops.

HowTheLightGetsIn is only six years old, and it does what maybe nothing does in our culture — it brings great minds, ordinary minds, curious minds, philosophers, physicists, political theorists and activist scholars together — all of them as participants.

Speakers and listeners have access to each other, and the organisers ensure that book writers are available to their readers; theorists are available to congregate with…well…anyone.

There is a lovely democratic esprit.

I was fortunate to be doing both — talking (about End of Equality) and listening. This year, its spirit was signified by mud.

LSE sociologist Catherine Hakim turned up in baby-pink shoes (was she carried in a sedan chair?), as if her feet were her manifesto. By contrast, green wellies were de rigeur for the philosopher Mary Midgley, who was extraordinarily busy at Hay this year.

Mary Midgley at HowTheLightGetsIn 2014

Midgley becomes exponentially more prolific with advancing years — she is 94 — as she smothers brittle Darwinists with the tough soft tissue of really wise, big knowledge and philosophical ‘good sense.’

I wish I could have got in to hear Mr. Scruff. Sold out.

And I wish I could have heard cosmologist Laura Mersini-Houghton, theorist of the multiverse — in contrast to universe — debating with particle astrophysics pioneer John Ellis, their research on the origins and structure of our universe/s

“I think this is a wonderful place to come and release these things,” Mersini-Houghton told Observer journalist, Tracy McVeigh, “As a scientist you are isolated, and I have spent the past five months locked up with equations. It is wonderful to come here and see people’s eyes light up in front of you as they get it. The big scientific questions are just as interesting to everyone.”

She said it: this festival lets the light in. It’s a way of thinking — people gathering, listening, speaking, dancing, chilling — about philosophy and music and everything in between, is democratic: speakers mingle with everyone; heroic intellects get to share their thoughts with people like us, who are, of course, people like them.

To paraphrase John Ellis’ book, ‘A Theory of Everything’, HowTheLightGetsIn is a smart challenge to the lowering horizons and narrowing aperture of what passes for politics — it encouraged and enabled everyone to be interested in everything.

HowTheLightGetsIn 2014

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