Death is a taboo subject, and on 11th October Clare Bodalbhai and Amelia Hart came to Chigwell School and set up a death café to have open conversations in small groups about something that people usually shy away from talking about. With tea and cake to normalise the conversation and to open up the atmosphere, the death café posed questions about death that most people do not think about. What kind of music would you want played at your funeral? How do other traditions and cultures deal with death? Who would you want at your funeral? The café gave people an opportunity to openly express themselves; be they facing fears, or overcoming grief.
Category Archives: Psychology
This week’s Williams Project meeting saw Alex Wade of Birmingham City University give a wide-ranging talk on ‘The Happy Consciousness of Pac-Man’. The much-loved, chomping, yellow character was analysed not just as a game but as an influence and reflection of ’80s and modern society, whether it be in his RAVE-like habit of popping pills or in his consumerist desire to never stop eating. We’d like to thank Mr Wade for his excellent talk which enlightened us not just on video games but also gave us an insight into some of the wider aspects of our culture and technology.
Mr Wade started by warming up the audience with some ’80s jokes, before talking about ’80s culture and its parallelism to the game itself. He carefully explained the idea of Pac-Man, that you play as a small, yellow creature who must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts, all inside a maze from which there is no escape. As you get to higher and higher levels, the mazes become more complex and difficult to escape from. He spoke elegantly about the game’s popularity in the ’80s, and also about how it is perceived by some to be more well-suited to females than males, as the ghosts never die when they are eaten, but merely float back to the “ghost box”, unlike most modern video games in which the characters often die. He also kept the audience entertained with fun facts about the game – for example, he told us that the shape of the character Pac-Man was originally inspired by a pizza with one slice missing.
However, for me, the most impressive part of Mr Wade’s speech was the final part, in which he expanded on his ideas about Pac-Man’s link to capitalism. In a broad, sweeping gesture, he stated: “Pac-Man is all about eating.” And so, he went on to say, is life. Pac-Man must eat power pellets in order to eat ghosts in order to live, so that it can eat more power pellets in order to eat more ghosts etc. In the same way, the population of a capitalist society are trapped in a cycle of consuming for the sake of consuming, buying more and more goods just to thrive in society. A cycle from which escape is extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of course, the hugely challenging question which this point causes us to ask is “is there a better alternative?” Would it be better to have a society with poor consumption (Communism) or one with excessive consumption?
A fascinating message delivered in a clear, confident manner, it is certain that all those who were present at Mr Wade’s talk will be thinking about it for a long time, and many thanks must go to the speaker for a thought-provoking session.
On Tuesday, 2nd December 2014, Peter Walling and Jagveen Tyndall (both Old Chigwellians) visited the Williams Project to give the final talk of the term. They both gave highly interesting talks on consciousness, though both talks were very different. Continue reading
Tim Chappell, Professor of Philosophy at the Open University, started the year’s Williams Project meetings in style with two different but related talks on the theme of Tragic Dilemmas.
The first, aimed at younger students, was a more general discussion about what a dilemma is, and how we go about resolving them. Our thoughts centered around “Sophie’s Choice”, a novel and film based on real situations in Nazi concentration camps, where Sophie has to decide which of her two children is to be sent immediately to the gas chamber. Tim showed how absurd it is to used any kind of calculation (e.g. utilitarianism) in making this decision. He stressed the importance of empathy, of imaginative involvement in the decider’s dilemma, as an important way by which we can use these situations to think about moral choices.
The second talk, a more formal lecture aimed at older students, was a detailed examination of moral philosophy based on a scene from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, where the Chorus describe the Greek king’s dilemma between abandoning the expedition to Troy (and thereby losing all his status among his fellow kings) and sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia. (The goddess Artemis was preventing the wind from blowing the right way, and demanded this price.) His decision, to kill his daughter, successfully gets the ships to Troy, and leads directly to military success and glory; but it also leads to his own death, as on his return his wife Clytemnestra kills him in revenge for their daughter’s life. Tim drew attention to Agamemnon’s words just after he has made his choice: “May all be well” – a desperate plea, made by one knowing it won’t be. Agamemnon was in a completely messy situation – there was no way out, and no moral system could help him. Tim’s point was that there were two contrasting ways of looking at the moral world. One, put forward by Plato and moral-system people such as utilitarians, claimed that by using such and such a system one can always find the right thing to do, that all can “be well”; the other, shared by Aeschylus, Bernard Williams and himself, was that there are lots of situations in life where this won’t work, where we are just stuck and there’s no way out. In these circumstances what might help us a little is not a moral system, but an imaginative empathy developed from our own experience of life, and our experience of literature and drama. When we watch Agamemnon on stage we in some strange way feel what it’s like to be in his shoes, and gain some moral strength and wisdom from the experience.
Chigwell’s philosopher-in-chief and four Remove students (Adam Goriparthi, Max Humphreys, Tom Lockley and Michael Newman) led the Williams Project in a demonstration of the P4C (Philosophy for Children) method. We watched a ‘stimulus’ video about a near-death experience, in small groups generated questions we’d like to discuss, voted on the two we’d like to consider in more depth, and then had an open discussion on these two. Our two chosen questions were: “Can near-death experiences be medically explained?” and “If there were such a thing as life after death, why would there be life after death?”.
A really interesting afternoon. Mr Goodfellow’s P4C club will restart in September (Tuesdays of Week A, 4:15, RS1).
The Ancient Greeks and Romans placed a huge amount of importance on their sexual being, and had a keen interest in the biological and psychological mechanisms behind lust and carnal desire. Daisy Thurkettle’s talk at the Williams Project on provided a fascinating insight into the various botanical and pharmaceutical methods that the ancients used to synthesise lust and cure impotence (or perhaps less eloquently, ‘get in the mood’). The talk began on the use of essential oils in swathes in royal palaces, such as Cleopatra (who allegedly bathed in milk and rose), but the audience was quickly surprised to learn that love potions and cures for impotence were not only used by the femmes-fatales and powerful goddesses of myth, but by actual Greek people.
These cures included a mass of vegetables and plants which were, perhaps obviously, considered to have genitally-themed aesthetics (leeks, carrots and terebinth tree, anyone?). However, what really gripped the audience were the variously disgusting, poisonous and cannibalistic ingredients; these included dried human marrow, powdered silver beetle, wolfsbane, skink lizard and the famed hippomane – a piece of membrane found on the head of a newborn foal, which was mixed with milk to create the potion Dido made for Aeneas. Needless to say, any combination of some of these ingredients probably caused more death than arousal.
Miss Thurkettle called on a wide range of texts – fragments by various ‘unknown’ ancient authors, texts by Apuleius (including the famous Golden Ass), Hippocrates, and even the Bible. The overarching message of the talk was that the ancients were actually scientifically wise beyond their time in the discovery of some biologically effective aphrodisiacs, but were also developed psychologically (perhaps unintentionally) in their use of the placebo effect.
Old Chigwellian and Texan anaesthesiologist Peter Walling treated the separate branches of the WP to three challenging, thrilling and fascinating accounts of his research into consciousness. Using animals on his farm, his own family, and patients waking up from anaesthesia, he has established that the number of dimensions of the attractors associated with EEG wave patterns is directly linked to the level of consciousness. In a nutshell, frogs show a similar dimensionality to humans waking up, so are likely to be in some ways conscious; fish are not.
Also, and more philosophically, his research has led him to suggest that our consciousness is a construct made up of perceived slices of a higher-dimensional reality.
Peter’s home-grown research, enthusiasm and clarity were inspirational, and we all hope that a future Einstein of consciousness was somewhere in the audience.
Peter kindly gave the school several copies of his book, so we can read his ideas at leisure.
Allan Conway, a professional graphologist, spoke to all three branches of the WP on how much he can tell about people’s characters from their handwriting. He then demonstrated his skill on members of the audience, with usually uncanny accuracy. A fascinating insight, and a stimulating end to the term.