Nietzsche in full swing
On the 12th September, the first Williams Project of this academic year was held in which Professor Ken Gemes and Dr Andrew Huddlestone of Birkbeck, University of London, came to talk about Nietzsche, a prominent German philosopher of the 19th century. Being the Bernard Williams Philosophy Lecture, we welcomed Patricia Williams, his widow, yet it was also special as it was the first of many more interactive seminars in which the audience were constantly questioning and participating in a discussion which was constantly interpreting what the philosopher means.
The talk began with a reading from ‘The Gay Science’ on the madman and whether ‘God is dead’ – with ‘God’ referring to the idea of god, religion and morality and whether we have some morals and human values left in this westernized modern world. This encouraged further questions of “How does the madman react to the death of God?” and “How did the marketplace folk, the non-believers, react to the madman’s whimsical nonsense?”. More importantly, the passage describes us as the murderers of God, which invites us to ask “What do we do now if there are no more Christian values? Do we create our own or is the madman merely a madman and we should ignore him? Do we need these old values in such a new society?” The discussion only developed further into ideas and many questions regarding nihilism and also the personal and political beliefs of Nietzsche – an atheist!
Overall, this talk was incredibly engaging – allowing the audience to question what the ‘death of God’ means to them, and serves as a great introduction to a year of Williams Project sessions.
On Tuesday the 6th of June, Mr Chaudhary, one of Chigwell’s maths teachers, gave a talk on “God – the ultimate reality”. First, he took measurements of a student in “good proportion” and pointed out similarities. Then he started with the human embryo and how the embryo develops, then showed a sentence in the Quran that also explains the human embryo and how accurate it was. He showed us another quote in the Quran which tells us that two seas never meet, and then showed us a video of two seas that don’t mix. He then shows some more believable facts that God exists. Finally Mr Chaudhary was asked questions with the hope of proving him wrong, but he stood his ground and answered them in detail.
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.
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).
Our Head of Maths, Mr Chaudhary, gave us a vastly wide-ranging and heartfelt exposition of the centrality of the ratio φ (“phi”) in the universe and the human body, and what that centrality meant.
He showed that the ratio (see above, equivalent to 1:1.618…, which is, uniquely, the same as 0.618…:1) lies behind the Fibonacci sequence, which we see in so many growth patterns in animals and plants, as well as in the relationship between a myriad of measurements of the human body. It’s also one of the commonest principles in the way we perceive beauty: painters place horizons at it.
Mr Chaudhary argued that the odds of this one ratio being at the centre of so much were virtually nil, and so it is convincing evidence of divine design behind creation. He showed us verses from the Quran which point out that God has designed the universe in a way whereby we can detect, even deduce, his hand.
Universal Laws and the Golden Ratio
15 Uncanny examples in nature
Disputed observations (Wikipedia)
On Tuesday 22nd January Amia visited us from All Souls College Oxford, where she’s studying for a D.Phil. on issues in epistemology, ethics and meta-philosophy. She spoke to two full WP meetings about whether moral truths actually exist – whether there is an objective right or wrong (the Realist position), or whether right and wrong is ultimately a matter of what we humans believe (Anti-realism); is moral opinion the same kind of thing as an opinion on whether celery tastes nice, or is it more than that?
Using question-and-answer, and audience votes, she skilfully exposed the inconsistencies in our thinking: Realists have the luxury of being able to condemn unequivocally outrages like the Holocaust, but, unless they are religious, have problems explaining where they get their universal moral truths from; anti-Realists sit happy in a materialist, Darwinian universe, but aren’t able fully to condemn horrible crimes like the recent rape on a bus in Delhi. We concluded that most of us are inconsistent: in moments of reflection we tend to think we are Anti-realists, but when we live our lives and read the paper we seem to be Realists. She patiently explained that this presents us with a problem.
The conversation continued over food, and back at Sandon Lodge with a small group of philosophical VIth formers.
For the first WP meeting of 2013, Toby Houlton, an Old Chigwellian studying for a doctorate at the University of Dundee, told us about shrunken heads – tsantsa: who produced them, how and why. We learnt about the tribes in Peru and Ecuador where these customs arose, and the religious beliefs behind the custom. Most cultures preserve their own dead and try and erase the memory of their enemies; these SAAWK tribes did the opposite, as they believed that new members of a tribe could only be born if their dead were completely forgotten. Thus they erased all memory of their own ancestors, but preserved the heads of their enemies. They also believed that the enemy’s spirit could come out of his mouth to haunt them, hence the stitching up of this orifice. Toby explained how the heads were shrunk – basically by taking off the skin and chemically hardening it – and made to look stupid by pushing back the nostrils and pulling out the lips. We passed round a pig’s head which Toby, to prove that he understood the method, had shrunk himself.
He then told us about how colonialism had distorted the system: because Europeans were keen to possess tsantsa, the tribes actually went out hunting enemies just to fuel this export market. Europeans also made versions themselves, sometimes to sell as ‘the real thing’. It’s now been banned, so the practice has stopped.
A brilliantly delivered and fascinating account of something everyone has heard about but knows little of.
On Tuesday September 11th we were lucky to have with us Bernard Williams’ widow Patricia, as well as the well-known philosopher Nigel Warburton, who spoke to the WP on “Moral Luck: an Oxymoron?”. Nigel’s point was that we often surprise ourselves by blaming people for being unlucky: his main example was that of a speeding driver who runs someone over – the driver is surely unlucky if someone runs out in front of her, and yet we feel she deserves a harsher sentence than if she’d been lucky and no one had been hurt. We somehow feel that the harm done by one’s actions ought to feature in the calculation of a fair punishment, regardless of the amount of control the person had over their actions. It was a really clear and interesting presentation, and Nigel was particularly impressed with the contributions from the younger pupils, which he said were better than those of many undergraduates. The conversation continued into the evening.
Shir and Thuraya, from the OneVoice movement, shared their personal experiences as young Israeli and Palestinian women growing up in the conflict. Their moving testimony shocked us, and brought home to us how different and difficult life in such circumstances must be. Their proposal of a two-state solution, and their rejection of violence, was put with articulacy and conviction, and led to a very interesting discussion.