Science, art and a sprinkling of fairy dust

Category: Literature

Makes you laugh and makes you think

At the Forest of Thoughts we’ve long been fans of The Ignobel Awards – indeed, we were fans before the Forest of Thoughts even existed (though the Ignobels certainly planted a few seeds). If you’re new to the awards, as a brief summary, they were created to reward scientific discoveries that, ‘First make you laugh, then make you think.’

Here’s a trailer for the awards:

And we’re very excited to report that we’ll be streaming the awards ceremony live at 12.30am GMT (if you’re elsewhere, see the world clock) on 29th September.

OK, it’s a bit of a late night but it’s well worth it. As a taster, last year’s Engineering Prize went to Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse and Agnes Rocha-Gosselin of the Zoological Society of London, UK, and Diane Gendron of Instituto Politecnico Nacional, Baja California Sur, Mexico, for perfecting a method to collect whale snot, using a remote-control helicopter; the Peace Prize went to Richard Stephens, John Atkins, and Andrew Kingston of Keele University, UK, for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain; and the Biology Prize went to Libiao Zhang, Min Tan, Guangjian Zhu, Jianping Ye, Tiyu Hong, Shanyi Zhou, and Shuyi Zhang of China, and Gareth Jones of the University of Bristol, UK, for scientifically documenting fellatio in fruit bats (and demonstrating it prolongs copulation time). Oh, and the prizes are presented by Nobel Prize Winners. This makes our inner geek go mushy.

Tickets to the event are sold out so the only way to see the show is to watch it online. So make a date and get watching! We hope you enjoy the Igs as much as we do.

NB:  if you play the live stream before about 12.10am tomorrow, the video will appear to buffer indefinitely until the video stream goes live, so don’t waste your time trying to watch until then. You won’t get access to any exciting behind-the-scenes footage.

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Question everything even this

Skeptics in the Pub is a fantastic organisation that, as the name suggests, is a group for those who enjoy discussion and sharing beverages with others of a skeptical nature. It aims to promote and foster the use of reason and science to further lifekind, while drinking beer.

The lovely Tim, who runs Brighton Skeptics, came along to the Forest of Thoughts at Playgroup Festival, to stimulate debate based on a series of questions he’d devised that we lovingly calligraphed onto paper doilies. I suspect this may be the first time that Skeptics in the Pub has utilised doilies as a communication medium. Should you feel like a debate tonight, here are just a few of Tim’s questions:

If man evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?
Science has been wrong many times before, how do we know it’s right now?
Why are people always criticising homeopathy if it’s only sugar pills? Surely it’s harmless?
How are the UK libel laws potentially damaging the public’s health?
Is ecstasy really as safe as riding a horse?
Is glass really a liquid?
If there’s no such thing as psychic powers, how do I sometimes know who’s on the phone?
Do I really have free will?
Isn’t the earth only warming up due to sunspot activity?
Why do clever people sometimes believe stupid things?

He offered the light of insight to people who stumbled into the forest blinded by preconceptions in a charming but ruthlessly skeptical way. And we loved him for it.

If you like the idea of stimulating your grey matter and engaging in some critical thinking, get down to The Caroline of Brunswick on  8th September to see Tabitha Innocent from  Sense About Science talk about the Ask for the Evidence campaign and some of the mythbusting and evidence hunting work Sense About Science has done.

Sense for Science exists to challenge many misleading claims about scientific and medical evidence. This autumn they are launching a public campaign, ‘Ask for Evidence’, to bring about wider, more lasting change. When people come across dubious scientific claims, they want someone to go to with their questions. The campaign will encourage everyone to take up claims they think are misleading, both by reporting dodgy science claims and by getting involved in tackling claims themselves, to help stop the spread of misinformation in public discussion.

Entry to Skeptics in the Pub (Brighton) costs a mere £2 to cover speaker expenses, and is on a first-come, first-served basis. If you can’t live with that level of uncertainty, advance tickets are available @ £2 + 5-p P&P from the venue’s website and include a voucher for £2 off any main meal in the pub on the day of the event.

And if you’re not Brighton-based, never fear. There are local Skeptics in the Pub groups across the UK.

Conan Doyle, fan fiction and the severed ear

I challenge anyone to meet Rufus Moonshine and not fall a little bit in love with him. He combines gentle charm with a viciously sharp mind, and has a brain full of obscure and fascinating facts. Talking to Rufus is like wandering through the backroom of a museum that hasn’t been touched for years and is hiding endless wonderful treasures. He’s uploaded the text for the talk he did in the Forest of Thoughts entitled  Conan Doyle, Fan Fiction and the Severed Ear. Enjoy.

Spliff Richard at FoT

Spliff Richard won the Hammer and Tongue Poetry Slam at Forest of Thoughts. Tom Hume captured him on video. Go with the flow…

FoTography by Tom Hume

Children of the revolution

Without Playgroup Festival, the Forest of Thoughts would have remained a thicket in my head. However, the lovely Playgroup team asked me to put together a cabaret tent and it spiralled from there. 140 performers and crew, 200 vintage photographs (thanks, mum), assorted bizarre props and many, many, many hours work later, the idea had turned from a bag of tiny acorns into, well, a Forest of Thoughts.

The entire Playgroup Festival was magical, with incredible decor (so good that I’ll be posting separately about the amazing team who created it) festival-goers dressed as woodland creatures, silly games, incredible walkabout performers, and delicious food and drink (again, more on the individuals behind that in a later post).

And that’s before we even get onto the utterly inspired musical line-up featuring the hottest new acts. This is not hyperbole. Having known the Playgroup team for a year, I’ve already seen several of their featured artists go on to become massively succesful. Quite how the team are so good at A&R, I don’t know – I used to work in the music industry and had an effortless knack for loving and supporting bands who went on to have a staggering lack of success. As such, I think anyone who’s a good A&R must have been dipped in fairy dust that gave them magical powers.

But, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. As such, the above video from Latest TV is worth about 1000,000 words. Watch it and judge the festival for yourself (it’s particularly lovely to see the amazing NGP Security get the praise they deserve. If you’re arranging an event and need security, NGP are by far the best I’ve ever worked with and I’ve heard rave reviews of them from many seasoned promoters.)

Playgroup Festival tickets are now on sale, and if you get in quick, you can take advantage of the Early Early Bird price of £65 (plus booking fee) – but buy now. I have it on good authority that the 100 tickets are moving at an extremely rapid pace so you’ll miss out if you don’t act now.

The ultimate cunning linguists

If you like words and have never encountered Hammer and Tongue then you haven’t been trying hard enough. This phenomenal organisation stormed it in the Forest of Thoughts on Friday 5th August, packing out the tent to such an extent that I couldn’t get in, and had to make do with hiding behind the tent and listening from afar.

Performance poets included Ray Antrobus, Spliff Richard, Ros Barber, Paul Stones, Robin LawleyChristian Watson, Chris Parkinson, Lucas Howard, Ash French, Rosy Carrick (who was also the wonderfully efficient organiser and charismatic host of the night) and featured artist, Adam Kammerling. The crowd clapped, whooped, cheered and generally lapped up every word that dripped from the hammering tongues on stage, finally deeming Spliff Richard to be the winner. If you think poetry is dull, check out some of the above links and you’ll see quite how exciting it can be.

You can see Hammer and Tongue on 1st September at Komedia – book your tickets now as it’s sure to be a sell-out show.

Step into the Forest of Thoughts

 

Illustration: Kate Shields

Thinking is nice. This was the idea that spurred the creation of the Forest of Thoughts: a place where creative people can come to share their ideas, find collaborative partners, promote their events and find out about events that stimulate the grey matter, whether scientifically, artistically or, better yet, both.

The seedlings for the Forest of Thoughts were planted at Playgroup Festival: if you haven’t heard of it, read the reviews.

Over 140 artists were involved in the Forest of Thoughts alone. As such, rather than listing them in the first post, we’ll be posting profiles of the various individuals and groups involved over time, to help show the amazing diversity of clever, witty, interesting, challenging and creative people, groups and collectives out there. Most of them run regular events which are well worth attending (the rest are individuals who might be persuaded to talk about their given subject if you ask them nicely. Particularly if they have a book to promote or an offer of coffee/cocktails/beer).

However, there are a few people that deserve a particular mention.

Richard Robinson of Brighton Science Festival was a true hero, entertaining the crowd by turning them into a giant brain, delivering science magic galore, and explaining gravity, ably assisted by Ruby DeMure’s lovely pivot.

The glamorous Ruby forms one half of The Flirtinis and, along with the glorious Infinity Favour, provided a sparkling array of entertainment, with a shimmy, a wink and an in-depth understanding of philosophy, comedy and generally interesting ideas.

Miss Hinchliffe (top pic above) and Miss Murgatroyd (immediately above) helped by the amazing Foxy (aka Penny Howe) added even more class to the Forest of Thoughts with their fine tea blend challenge, in which people had to see if they could spot their oolong from their lapsang; ensured everyone on site could stay groomed courtesy of make do and mend workshops; and showed a wonderful selection of vintage  film clips to take the audience back to another, more innocent time. 

Baba, the life-size fortune-telling gypsy puppet, dispensed love voodoo and levitation, before stunning the crowd in the dance tent late at night when the lovely Ellen de Vries took her dancing.

And the Flavour Tripping Edible Garden saw people ingest miracle berries, before sucking on lemons and limes that tasted miraculously sweet as a result. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral (the creators of the installation) sold 120 berries in their first hour, such was the experience. Follow them on Facebook to find out when they’re next around.

And then there were the amazing stage managers and decor team, who I won’t name here as it will mean nothing to most readers and I’d hate to bore you. However, if you’re after recommendations for the most efficient, charming, intelligent and all-round amazing crew it’s possible to get, please get in touch. The team were truly incredible, providing talent, backbone and heart in equal measure.

Come back for more detailed info on all the wonderful performers who added their branch of wisdom to the Forest of Thoughts, and details of their latest events. I’d love to list everyone here but given the number of people involved in the Forest of Thoughts, this would be an unfeasibly long post, so it seems fairest to let them speak for themselves about their wonderful organisations.

If you were at Playgroup Festival and happened to enjoy a stroll in the forest, we’d love your feedback, photos and videos. If not, let us know about any intelligent events that are worthy of mention – and if they have a sense of humour, so much the better.

Come back soon to help us string fairy lights in the trees so that everyone can see things a little more clearly, without destroying any of the magic of discovery.  In the meantime, here’s a video made by the lovely Dan Doherty, which gives a mere taster of the path ahead.