Sometimes learning something new gives you a buzz. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve been let in on a secret. And sometimes it can quite simply scare the bejesus out of you.
Last week I experienced all of these things in just one hour, as I sat mesmerised Feeding on the prophecies of philosopher A C Grayling. The talk was part of Cheltenham Literature Festival, an annual hotbed of seminal thinkers, writers and literary legends. But I’ll admit it. Before my bum hit the seat, I didn’t have a clue who he was.
Trying to discover how the mind works by staring at a brain is like looking at a car’s engine to work out where it’s been in the world.
Two hours later, my mind was buzzing with philosophical questions and mind-bending ideas. Grayling told us of China’s questionable approach to human rights in their mission to become a world superpower and the impact this will have on our future. He spoke about how literature can help us become more empathic people because it opens up a wealth of experiences we might never come across in our day-to-day lives. And how modern medicine’s obsession with discovering more about the mind is flawed, as you can’t discover how the mind works by staring at a brain – that would be like looking at a car’s engine to work out where it’s been in the world.
The key thing I took from his philosophical meanderings wasn’t the passion he inspired in me, or the thousand-and-one things I wanted to look up after I had left the room. It was the fact that when I looked around, I couldn’t see any young people in the room (I include myself in that observation).
The observations Grayling shared were more compelling, terrifyingly mind-boggling and adrenalin-inducing than any action film. Because they were true.
These were fascinating insights. But insights that were being missed by a vital part of society, namely the generation who would have to deal with the ramifications of everything to which he was so astutely signposting.
So where were all the young folk that day?
Well, firstly it was an event pitched at a certain demographic. A well-read, well-informed, middle to upper-class echelon of society. And secondly it was during school hours. Doesn’t take a genius to work that one out.
If not here, where are the groundswells of radical thinking taking place?
But since garnering knowledge is the most empowering, exciting and illuminating aspect of being human, it struck me as disappointing that there weren’t more eager young minds around to drink in the insights being shared. It made me wonder, if not here, where are the groundswells of radical thinking taking place? And is there a way to bring the pesky whipper-snappers into these future-shaping conversations?
Cheltenham Festival is a brilliant place to feed on establishment thinking. But if the young radicals aren’t joining the queues there, then where are they seeking out fresh ideas and theories? And can I join in too?