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alkamid

Living in the Cambridge bubble

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Festival of Ideas

Another great event which I must mention here: Festival of Ideas consists of talks, panel discussions, guided tours, exhibitions, concerts - essentially anything that is stimulating your mind and imagination. It is held here every year and, I believe, they are constantly improving it.

On a panel discussion called Why Languages Die? I learned that there were about 40 languages in and around Iberian Peninsula two thousand years ago but only three survived to our times. Basque’s story is astonishing: although it has never been an official language of any political or economical power, it has always lived in literature, art and amongst people who have had a strong sense of national identity. Languages die not only because of conquers, immigrants or political reasons — climate can kill a language, as it will probably do in Greenland in a few years - Inughuit people will be forced to move to other parts of the island, communicate in Danish or Greenlandic and forget their mother tongue.

Is the future of food GM? was definitely a treat. There was no end to questions from the audience. Surprisingly, people asked them rather out of curiosity than hostility - it seemed that people who had come there were less sceptical than an average European. The general consensus of the discussion was that something _has to _be done, because the way the law is now, it is a pain for any farmer who wants to use genetically modified seeds.

Adventures of a palaeolinguist was the first talk that I went to - a little less exciting than panel discussions, but still very interesting. I hadn’t expected Happiness and sustainability to be purely philosophy oriented so I was struggling a bit with the unfamiliar language, but I liked the speaker’s attitude very much - he was a wise man and gave very good examples. Science and religion: friends or foes? was probably the one I liked the least, just because all four panellists were scientists and believers, which narrowed the perspective in my opinion. However, I cannot say I didn’t learn anything: I think I realized that they are neither friends nor foes as long as you understand their purpose properly. Religion does not explain chemical reactions in our bodies, science on the other hand will never tell us why we are here. It is all about the answers you need and the ones you don’t care about.

_Energy policy: should scientists be in charge? _was another discussion I attended. I liked the fact that the speakers had different backgrounds: there were two engineers, one scientist and one economist. Engineers had an easy task: before the discussion, the audience were asked who would they put in charge of the energy policy. 80% answered… “engineers”. Whoever it is, everyone seemed to agree it shouldn’t be politicians.

There was also a post-festival event: a screening of The Hitch-hiker’s guide to the Galaxy preceded by a popular science talk and demonstration. Albeit amusing, the talk was too chaotic and I don’t think lay people could understand anything from it. On overall, I loved the festival and I wish I had booked the most interesting events earlier (they were all free or almost free, but for some booking was necessary).