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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.


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.

Read the rest of this entry »


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


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.


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.


Last Night’s Cafe: The Pursuit of Happiness

Jeremy Bentham, by Henry William Pickersgill (...

Jeremy Bentham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is happiness? What produces it? These were two of the questions featured in last night’s Cafe talk by Chris Groves. Happiness may be considered, as it often has been from Epicurus all the way through to Jeremy Bentham and J. S. Mill, as a subjective state of mind, a feeling of pleasure or at least freedom from disturbance. Or it may be considered as a more objective condition, like to Aristotle’s concept of eudaimonia, which is manifested through behaviour and the dispositions or virtues manifested in it. Often, it has been thought of as a value which has a special, central place in human life, granting meaning but also moral direction to our existence. Other times, it has been seen as an inward looking obsession with pleasure or satisfaction at the expense of engagement with the outside world.

So how should we think about the nature and sources of happiness, and whether or not it is a moral value (the kind of thing which imposes obligations either on ourselves or on other people), or just something nice? Read the rest of this entry »


Next Cafe: The Pursuit of Happiness

English: Emotions associated with happiness

English: Emotions associated with happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this Café, Dr Chris Groves (Social Sciences, Cardiff University) considers one of the oldest questions in the history of philosophy, regarding what it is that makes life worthwhile and fulfilling.

In recent years, it has become a public as well as a private question, however. Happiness is increasingly on policy agendas, as governments become concerned that their emphasis on measuring economic growth is not telling them enough about the quality of the lives of the people they govern. ‘If you treasure it, measure it’, former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell, is reputed to have said.

But in happiness surveys, well-being indices and so on, what is being measured? And how close does this get to what makes us happy? Is happiness the point of living, anyway? Join us in the Cafe Bar at The Gate on 17 March from 8.00 pm to discuss these and other questions.


Next Cafe: Aristotle’s Poetics and Modern Drama

At next week’s Cardiff Philosophy Cafe on Tuesday 20 January, Mike Picardie introduces us to Aristotle’s seminal work Poetics, its account of what gives value to dramatic art, and asks whether this account still holds for modernist theatre

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a ...

Bust of Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC; the alabaster mantle is a modern addition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Aristotle’s Poetics is about classical Greek aesthetics applied broadly to poeisis - creativity as it is manifested in in music, painting, poetry, drama, even in the writing of scientific accounts in biology. To be aesthetically satisfying the work of art or science has to observe the rules of mimesis and anagnorisis – that is, it must represent nature or history in a way which is accurate, and also creates recognition, thus producing pleasure as a result of the skill and accuracy manifested by a work. But is this a necessary feature of any work of art, or is it simply a feature of ancient Greek (and subsequently, Western European) aesthetic values that is projected onto aesthetic experience? Mike will look at tragic drama as an example of Aristotle’s vision of aesthetics, and ask whether modern drama places his assessment in question.

On Aristotle’s account, tragedy as the highest manifestation of dramatic art should feature peripeteia (reversal), subjecting virtuous people to pathos (suffering), leading to catharsis (purging) of eleos (pity) and phrike or phobos (terror). But the greatest modern drama – say Waiting for Godot – arguably represents the pity and terror of a pleasurably poetic fracturing of meaning and we experience catharsis through watching cruelty and participating in humour. Does Aristotle’s account of art still speak to us today?

We will as usual be in the Cafe Bar at The Gate, from 8.00pm. Hope to see you there.


Tuesday’s Cafe: Encounters with Energy

English: Energy infrastructure Electricity cab...

Pylons and a gas main

How much energy we use is, like how much and what kinds of food we eat, is an issue that has taken on, more and more, the characteristics of an intense moral debate. We are told again and again by policymakers to take responsibility for our energy consumption, just as we are for our intake of saturated fat and sugar. But we face all kinds of conflicting advice about how best to respond to the challenge of using less energy or eating more healthily. In this Cafe, Dr Chris Groves from the Cardiff University Energy Biographies project outlined results of research on some of the unexpected ways in which our social environment constrains our choices and makes it difficult to heed such imperatives.

We live in environments that often make it difficult to change our behaviour. This can be at the level of infrastructure: we increasingly need computers and smartphones for shopping, managing finances, communicating with each other. It can be at the level of social norms – what kinds of behaviour and environments are accepted as normal or desirable – as in the standard for indoor heating that assumes that 22°C is the optimal temperature. So we live in environments that encourage us, all the time, to use more energy just as we live in environments where processed food is cheap and easily available all the time. If we live in obesogenic environments, we live in ones that intensify our consumption of energy ones too.

The Energy Biographies project has studied since 2011 our sometimes difficult relationship with energy in our everyday lives, and the ways in which how we use energy is related to our ideas about what it means to live a worthwhile life, a good life. The project is based on the idea that our relationship with energy can come into sharper focus at times of transition – periods in our lives when we pass from one status or social category to another (leaving school, having children, getting married, bereavement, jobs change, moving house). Times of transition are times of uncertainty: what kind of parent will I be? What will life be like after retirement? Changes in how we use energy are part and parcel of such transitions – we do more laundry as parents, take more trips abroad as retirees, or need to use more energy to heat a new house that’s hard to insulate or has more bedrooms.

Read the rest of this entry »


An additional Cafe for November: Encounters with Energy

English: Transfer of heat to water kettle

What are the wider implications of how we use energy in our everyday lives? What does energy use tell us about our identities and our relationships with each other? What does how we use energy tell us about the collective ideas we have about the ‘good life’? How might we need to change the ways in which we use energy to achieve a more sustainable society and how can the communities in which we live work together to do this? Join us to discuss these and other issues at this special ‘Energy Café’ on 4 November 2014, which features interactive exhibits developed around research carried out by the Energy Biographies project at Cardiff University and contributions from participants in the research.

As usual for Cardiff Philosophy Cafe, the Cafe will begin at 8.00pm in the Cafe Bar. However, the event will feature exhibits from a recent research exhibition and these will be available to view from 7.00pm on the day.

This event is part of the ESRC Festival of Social Science.

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