On the last day of the Festival I went to two talks. The first was by Helen Pearson who has written a book called The Life Project – The Extraordinary Story of our Ordinary Lives. Pearson is a scientist/journalist who edits the magazine Nature. She found the research work based on following the lives of a cohort of babies born in one particular week fascinating and it forms the basis of the book. The first group was the babies born in one week in March 1946 and their lives have been documented over the last seventy years. Further cohorts have been recruited roughly every fifteen years. She looked at a number of conclusions that have been drawn from this research – she described it as the jewel in the research crown. One area is pregnancy where the link with smoking and infant mortality. On education, another book Born to Fail showed how hard it was for those from poorer neighbourhoods to improve their incomes and status. It was this research which gave the impetus to the introduction of comprehensive schools in the 1960’s. It was a fascinating account of important research which unfortunately will not be continued – the last cohort recruited in 2015 has already been abandoned.
We had coffee in the beach hut before the talk by A C Grayling drawing on his book Progress in Troubled Times. He believes the 17th Century was a turning point in the way humanity thought about itself as religious philosophy changed to the scientific one. He argued it came about when the Protestant religion introduced liberty of conscious – ‘you are your own priest before God.’ This liberated many to think for themselves about the world in which they lived. Whilst they tried to make base metal into gold, searched for the elixir of youth, and read the future in the stars, alchemy became chemistry, magic medicine and astrology astronomy.
It has been a brilliant four days. Looking forward to next year.