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Jan
20

Last Night’s Cafe: What Makes Us Human?

"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), u...

"Skeleton of human (1) and gorilla (2), unnaturally stretched." Size: 4.9 x 5.5 in² (12.4 x 13.9 cm²) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Does ‘being human’ rest on a particular set of capacities we possess but animals do not? And if it does, do this capacities somehow make us better – more valuable? – than non-human animals? These questions and others were discussed at last night’s CPC, led by Dr Chris Groves. The possession of language, the capacity to use formal systems of thought (reason in a broad sense, including mathematics and scientific methods), but also the ability to feel sympathy and compassion, are just some examples of the capabilities that have been put forward as part of the defining essence of human beings.

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Jan
12

Next Cafe: What makes us human?

Faroe stamp 430 The First Human Beings

Faroe stamp 430 The First Human Beings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Traditions of Western and Eastern philosophy have long puzzled over the question of what makes human beings different from other living beings. Religious doctrines offer up concepts of the soul and capacities for moral choice as distinguishing features. Rationality, the capacity to choose one’s ends, language, social complexity, the ability to make art from poetry to music, the ability to grieve – philosophers have offered all of these and more as evidence of a qualitative difference between the kinds of beings that humans are, and all other living things. But scientific research on the one hand, and technological advances on the other, have undermined these kinds of distinctions. Elephants that appear to mourn their dead; gorillas that learn sign language and paint; birds that create sculptures; complex social structures among primates, cetaceans and other creatures; artificial intelligences from Deep Blue to Siri.

Our understanding of our place in the world has changed significantly over the last couple of centuries. So can we be confident any more about what makes us distinctively human?

Join Dr Chris Groves from Cardiff University to debate these issues next Tuesday, 19 January 2016, at the Gate from 8pm.

This Cafe introduces a new programme of events for this year, looking at a range of topics: genetically modified food and food security, existentialism, love, mindfulness with/without Buddhism, empathy, equality, assisted dying, art and urban regeneration, and authenticity. Sign up for our mailing list to stay up to date!

Ahead of this month’s topic, why not take a look at this TED talk from zeFrank…

…this film from Yann-Arthus Bertrand….

…and respond to our poll below. Are there really significant differences between humans and animals? Which of these viewpoints is closest to your own? You can add comments below explaining your choice.


Dec
16

Last Night’s Cafe: Life, Love & Theory – A Verse Chronicle

Martin Heidegger Blick von seiner Hütte über d...

View from Martin Heidegger's mountain hut over Todtnau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is the relationship between philosophy and poetry? Philosophers have often taken inspiration for their analytic work from poetic language – as in the case of Martin Heidegger ‘s appreciation for Georg Trakl or Friedrich Hölderlin. Poets have sometimes returned the favour, as in the case of Coleridge’s reading of Friedrich Schelling. Sometimes, poets have mocked philosophers for their pretentions to absolute knowledge, from Aristophanes to William Carlos Williams. Rarer are efforts by philosophers to write poetry, and rarer still attempts to philosophize through the medium of poetry. last night, Prof. Christopher Norris from the Philosophy Department at Cardiff University presented and discussed examples of his own efforts to explore philosophical themes through poetic writing. The title of the session comes from a project on which has been working for around five years, producing individual poems that deal with the work of specific modern philosophers.

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Dec
09

Next Cafe: Life, Love and Theory: a Verse-Chronicle

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle Arator, a...

Woodcut from the Nuremberg Chronicle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many philosophers have also written about poetry. Some philosophers have also been poets. Next week at Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, we’re lucky to have joining us Prof. Christopher Norris (Philosophy, Cardiff University) to give us some examples of how the two can be melded. In this year’s Christmas Cafe, Prof. Norris offers us a series of villanelles which take off from the ideas of various theorists and philosophers (Descartes, Leibniz, Heidegger, Lacan, Althusser, Derrida, Deleuze, Badiou, Agamben) and then move out to address larger matters of life and love.

As usual, we’re in the Cafe bar at The Gate from 8.00 pm, on Tuesday 15 December. Hope to see you there!

Nov
04

Next Cafe: SeaChange – Visualising Climate Change

SeaChange Exhibition: 28 October - 20 November 2015

SeaChange Exhibition: 28 October - 20 November 2015

The SeaChange exhibition is being held at The Gate until 20 November, featuring the work of photographer and Cardiff University researcher Merryn Thomas.

Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing society. As part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science, and in the run up to the December UN Climate Conference, the SeaChange project draws on social science research at Cardiff University within the Understanding Risk Group to explore visualisations of this important issue.

Fusing art and science, an interactive exhibition at The Gate Arts and Community Centre uses images and interviews to explore representations of sea-level change on the Severn Estuary. An open evening (beginning from 6.30pm) and a special SeaChange themed Philosophy Café (from 7.30pm) will be held on Wednesday 11th November, where participants will be invited to explore issues drawn from the exhibition. A presentation from the project team will be followed by small-group discussions, exploring the meaning of climate change for us here and now, and how our perceptions of climate change here in Wales relate us to processes of environmental change happening elsewhere in the world and to the future.

Jul
14

Next Cafe: Design meets science – from crystallography to architecture

A segment of the crystal structure of a zeolite. Imaging by Sergio Pineda

A segment of the crystal structure of a zeolite. Imaging by Sergio Pineda

Interdisciplinarity is a dominant buzzword in academic research – but can it really enhance how people from different disciplines work together, and what challenges does it represent?

The philosophy of science has often been about the clarification of what a reliable method for establishing reliable knowledge about the world might be. But outside the natural sciences, other disciplines are based on their own assumptions about how they should investigate and intervene in the world. One consequence of this is that it becomes hard to promote a ‘philosophy’ of collaboration, a clear approach to what it means for scientists and others to work together.

In this cafe, Sergio Pineda (Welsh School of Architecture, Cardiff) looks at the philosophy of collaboration from the point of view of a new project that brings together a team of architects in partnership with a team of crystallographers. The project proposes that designers can learn from the structure of matter at the atomic and molecular level, and that features found within matter at the nanoscale yield potentially transformative diagrams for design at a variety of scales. By exploring what happens when researchers invite collaborators from seemingly ‘foreign’ disciplines into their workspace, this cafe will also explore how advances in scientific imaging make possible new visions of aesthetics, art and design.

Join us next Tuesday, 21 July, from 8.00pm in the cafe bar at The Gate.

Jun
17

Last Night’s Cafe: The Philosophy of Cycling

The Cyclist as Man/Woman-Machine

The Cyclist as Man/Woman-Machine

Asking whether it makes sense to talk of ‘the philosophy of…’ something is a question that immediately launches other ones. It makes sense to talk about ‘the philosophy of physics’ or ‘the philosophy of biology’, insofar as it’s possible to explore the fundamental presuppositions of a science (e.g. what kinds of things are there?) and see if they cohere together. On the other hand, to talk of ‘the philosophy of nanotechnology’, or ‘the philosophy of mobile phones’ would be a stretch – perhaps ‘the philosophical implications of x‘ would make more sense. At last night’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, Clive Cazeaux, Professor of Aesthetics at Cardiff School of Art and Design, offered some reflections on the nature and meaning of cycling. While these focused on the philosophical implications of the experience of riding a bike, Clive suggested at the same time that, among these implications, is that cycling provides a particular way of ‘knowing’, or revealing, the world that makes up a coherent worldview. This, indeed, may be at the root of why cyclists and motorists sometimes find it difficult to share the same piece of tarmac.

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Jun
05

Next Cafe: The Philosophy of Cycling

Cyclist Léon Georget in 1909.

Cyclist Léon Georget in 1909. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is there a philosophy of cycling? When one tries to bring philosophy to cycling, one soon realizes that cycling is hard to pin down. Which aspect of cycling is meant? Racing, commuting, touring, mountain biking, family, leisure, town planning, environmental considerations, social structures, the fact that it is not motoring, states of physical exhilaration?

Although we have one word, ‘cycling’ in actual fact encompasses an extremely large number of ways of life and forms of being. This in itself is philosophically interesting, suggesting that if cycling is any one thing, it is perhaps first and foremost a set of questions that asks us to reflect on identity and the commitments we make in life. In tonight’s Philosophy Café, Clive Cazeaux, Professor of Aesthetics at Cardiff School of Art and Design, explores the questioning-character of cycling, and shows how it draws upon recent developments in the philosophies of embodiment and technology.

Join us in the Cafe Bar at The Gate at 8.00pm on 16 June.

Bike Week 2015

May
14

Next Cafe: Understanding Scientists’ Experiences of Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing

Personalised genomics

Personalised genomics

The coming era of personalised medicine has been touted for nearly two decades. Part of this promised future, in which treatments are expected to be tailored to individuals and healthcare information, through ICTs and the ‘internet of things’ will both be ubiquitously available and continually updated in real time, is the advent of personal genomics. Companies such as 23andMe offer personalised genomic scans which, it is claimed, can help you plan your future by alerting you to elevated levels of risk for common as well as rare conditions with a genetic component, from type-2 diabetes and heart disease to Huntingdon’s disease. Controversy has blossomed around these tests in the USA, with the Food and Drug Administration banning 23andMe’s products after a long period of uncertainty. Recently, 23andMe began marketing them in the UK, on the same basis as they had in the US – that with more information about our genetic makeup, we can take better decisions about how to live in order to stay healthy for longer. But what do these tests really tell us? And how can we make decisions based on the information they provide?

Michael Arribas Ayllon from the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University explores these issues using data from a study carried out with scientists who have themselves taken personal genomic tests. How do ‘experts’ use this information, and how do their interpretations differ from those of non-experts? Does having more knowledge about genetics make the information provided by these tests more meaningful? In an era where personalisation also means that we will become more personally responsible for our health, questions about the meaning and usefulness of genomic data are becoming more and more pressing.

Join us in the Cafe Bar at the Gate from 8.00pm on Tuesday 19 May.

Apr
16

Next Cafe: Sources and Resources – The Roots of Connection

Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clo...

Blake's The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with Sun (1805) is one of a series of illustrations of Revelation 12. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We are convinced that our individuality is the most valuable thing about us, but where, how and when does valuing individuality become valuing disconnection? In this Café, regular audience member Jo Harding explores the ‘roots of connection’, considering how we can make new links between inner and outer experience, and enhance our perception of the world we inhabit and our sense of connection to others. Can we, through practices such as meditation and mindfulness, transform our lives in ways that reflect William Blake’s remark “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, Infinite….”?

The Cafe starts at 20:00 on Tuesday 21 April in the Cafe Bar at The Gate.

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