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Copernicus and Darwin taught us to be skeptical of feeling we were special. Yet from the size of the electron to the cosmological constant our universe is strangely fine-tuned for life. Is this a spectacularly fortuitous accident? Has the universe been tailored for us or do the theories just make it look that way?New York philosopher Massimo Pigliu…
 
At 10 billion matches, Tinder has made more connections than there are people. But neuroscience reveals that too much choice can increase expectations and reduce desire. Is choice actually a bad thing? Have dating apps democratised intimacy, or are they warping our relationships beyond repair?KCL philosopher Christopher Hamilton, eHarmony’s Chief S…
 
Mathematics is rarely seen as a romantic discipline. But 30% of couples now meet using online algorithms. Could big data be the key to making love last? And if so what makes for the perfect match? eHarmony's Chief Scientist Steve Carter unveils new research into the science of love and compatibility.(Supported by eHarmony)…
 
We all think we know what gravity is. But where gravity comes from stumped Newton, and 300 years later we are no closer to an explanation. We don't even have a mathematical account of gravity that applies in all situations. Why is a force so central to the universe so elusive in its character?Theoretical physicist Laura Mersini Houghton, Nobel Priz…
 
We think we know what is real and what is not. Yet strangely we can't even agree what reality is made of - everyday things, particles and energy, or language and thought. Is reality essentially incomprehensible because it is beyond us? Or do we just need time and patience to uncover the truth?CERN physicist Tara Shears, author of Closure and post-p…
 
The $3bn Human Genome project to uncover the genetic cause of disease was billed as ground breaking. Despite frequent positive newspaper headlines, critics argue we have uncovered almost nothing about disease. Will it eventually prove useful or are genes not the blueprint for life we had imagined?Author of The Science Delusion, Rupert Sheldrake, Im…
 
Freedom is a goal we all endorse. Yes as neuroscience shows and history suggests, we are less content when we have more choice. Is too much freedom paradoxically debilitating? Do we need constraints to thrive, and might our chains be key to our freedom? Or is this a dangerous conceit of the privileged and free?Psychiatrist Theodore Dalrymple, Blair…
 
From bats to beetles, animals sense the world differently in order to survive. Yet we think seeing and feeling tell us how things really are. Might our senses be radically limited? Are science and logic routes to escape our sensory limitations, or is feeling the rain on our skin the closest we get to truth?Cognitive neuroscientist Ophelia Deroy, ph…
 
We see community and society as good. Yet communities are also fortresses of privilege and conformity, as migrants know only too well. Is the tribe, from the football team to the nation, to be feared and contained? Or is finding our place in a larger group the core of what it is to be human? Author of Exotic England Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, editor of …
 
Madness is understood as the opposite of reason. Yet as Van Gogh and Nietzsche attest, madness can also be an inexplicable source of insight. Might madness be a strange form of wisdom rather than its diseased opposite? Or is this to make light of a condition that requires treatment?Author of Madness Explained Richard Bentall, psychiatrist Patricia …
 
We want "I love you" to mean forever. But neuroscientists claim three years into a relationship and romantic activity in the brain has ceased. Can love only be known in short doses? Should we accept romance as fleeting and abandon long term commitments, or can we outwit evolution and make love last?Screw the Fairytale author Helen Croydon joins Oxf…
 
From Aristotle to Einstein humans have tried to make sense of the world. Yet despite huge advances a final explanation looks ever distant. What makes our lives and the world so puzzling and inexplicable? Is it the limitation of the human brain or is language not able to describe reality? Or is it too soon to give up on finding light in the darkness…
 
We all want a better world, and we seemingly make progress, with more technology and less prejudice. Yet ideals and utopias are strangely difficult to imagine, let alone achieve. Is it that we just lack imagination or are leaders inherently corrupt? Or is there something impossible in the very idea?Philosopher and author Roger Scruton, former Green…
 
Philosophy as therapy is an ancient idea. Endorsed by Wittgenstein and popularized by self-help books. But isn't philosophy about understanding even if the insights are uncomfortable? Can philosophy be a dynamic force changing how we think and what we can do? Or does it serve only as a guide to everyday life?Oxford philosopher Adrian Moore, former …
 
More women MPs, more women CEOs, women it would seem are on the move. Yet the gap between successful women and the rest is growing. Might feminism's success paradoxically harbour the end of the sisterhood as we swap one inequality for another? Or are female care workers and CEOs still on the same side?American civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crensha…
 
Designer babies and human enhancement were once confined to fiction. Now biotechnology allows designer genetics, and many already choose the sex of their children. Where will this technology lead the human race? Should we be nervous of the ability to enhance ourselves or embrace an exciting new future for humankind? Science fiction author Richard M…
 
If we have rights and ownership of anything it is surely of our own body. Yet we cannot dispose of it as we please, intoxicants are outlawed, and selling our body for sexual pleasure or organ donation is restricted. Is our body strangely not our own after all? Should we insist on our rights and freedom or do we need to be protected from ourselves?T…
 
We structure our lives on the flow of time. Yet physicists since Einstein have argued that all time, past, present and future, is like space provided in a single block. Is the flow of time an illusion? Are we deceived when we feel time passing, or is it time to strike the strangeness from our science?The PanelAuthor of Time Reborn Lee Smolin, live …
 
We all want to do the right thing. But from suicide bombers to Catholic priests, we have never been able to agree on what the right thing is. Should we give up on morality and see it as a fiction designed to justify beliefs? Or, despite our disagreements, is it still the most important tool we have to measure human behaviour?The PanelSpiked Online …
 
We think we've grown out of the belief in evil. It's not in our genes and people don't get possessed. But across media and culture, from Star Wars to Isis, evil still holds us strangely captive. Why does the devil seem to have the best tunes? Is the battle between good and evil an essential part of being human after all?The PanelCambridge Psycholog…
 
We want news to accurately reflect the real world. But in an age when competing channels with different perspectives are instantly available should we recognise this goal as an illusion? Should we accept that journalists set the world's agenda with their own fictions and fantasies, or is there a framework of objectivity we should require and demand…
 
We think science is based on facts and evidence. But from gravity to dark matter, string theory to parallel universes, its theories are curiously bereft of hard evidence. Is evidence less important than we think and conjecture alone capable of leading to greater understanding? Or has science dangerously drifted into fantasy?The PanelNew York philos…
 
Many neuroscientists believe disorders of the mind will be solved when we understand the differences between the male and female brain. Yet is is frequently argued that men and women are not born but made. Are mental differences between the sexes real? Or is this just sexism dressed up as science?The PanelCambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, D…
 
Evil artificial intelligences are luckily confined to fiction. Yet leading scientists claim that intelligent machines are 'the most serious threat facing mankind'. Are they right or could a mind free from human prejudices create a better world? Or is all talk of artificial intelligence a deluded fantasy?The PanelPhysicist Roger Penrose, computer sc…
 
As Romeo and Juliet showed, love is a wild and unpredictable force even when faced with reason and control. But we join online dating sites to increase our probability of finding it. Are emotions and intimacy rational choices that can be measured and explained, or is this the sort of reductionist thinking that love seeks to escape?The PanelBroadcas…
 
Nearly twenty years have passed since scientists first proposed a mysterious force, Dark Energy, pushing our universe apart. Yet there is no direct evidence for it or any idea what it might be. Might our theories of the universe be profoundly mistaken or is an explanation of Dark Energy around the corner?The PanelM-Theorist Michael Duff, Philosophe…
 
While the world turns we think ideas, right or wrong, are eternal. Yet meaning changes over time and context. Should we conclude that, like the material world, ideas are transient and knowledge and morality passing stories? Or is the eternal in our grasp after all?The PanelNew York Times columnist and author of 'The Trouble with Principle' Stanley …
 
At a time of uncertainty and doubt, we often suppose that science alone can uncover the truth. Yet a recent paper found that 90% of scientific studies are not reproducible. Should we see science as a flawed method and look elsewhere for our truths, or is it the only direct line to reality we’ve got?The PanelOutspoken philosopher of science Steve Fu…
 
Western values have been extraordinarily successful. Yet now we seem on the back foot, unsure of ourselves and sometimes embarraseed at our own past. Beset with postmodern doubts, do we need to revive belief in the values and importance of our ideals? Or is the age of the West at an end?The PanelEminent Indian activist Gita Sahgal, Tony Blair's for…
 
We think empathising with others is the route to a better world. But studies show that empathy encourages us to help one named child over ten anonymous others. Is morality perhaps not about empathy at all? Does the moral way to act have more to do with thinking than feeling, or is empathy a vital force for good?The Panel'Zero Degrees of Empathy' au…
 
'God does not play dice with the universe' Einstein famously argued. Yet contemporary physics embeds just such dice playing at the core of its account. Is the universe really unknowable even to itself? Or as Einstein implied is this misguided and its secrets remain to be uncovered?The Panel Oxford Constructor theorist Chiara Marletto, mathematician…
 
Our life is made up of experiences. But what experience is remains a mystery. Heidegger thought it inexplicable and neuroscientists cannot find its location. Do we just need a better theory to uncover its secrets? Or is experience somehow both all that we have and yet not part of this world?The PanelFormulator of the hard problem of consciousness D…
 
Few take anarchism and the abandonment of organised government as a viable political goal. Yet in economics, capitalism is just such a leaderless anarchic system. Might a radically decentralised political system be more credible than we think? Or is centralised government necessary in politics if anything is to be achieved?The PanelSenior economic …
 
From Newton's laws to E=mc2, we think we have uncovered the secrets of the universe. But some claim these laws evolve and others point to their human and cultural origins. Might eternal natural laws be human hubris? Or is the mind of God in our grasp?The PanelCERN physicist and coiner of the term "Theory of Everything" John Ellis, author of The Sci…
 
We believe democracy leads to a fairer world. Yet almost all governments claim to be democratic including China, Russia and Syria. And 50 years after the abolition of hanging, UK polls still show a majority in favour. Is democracy illusory and troublingly incoherent? Or is an ideal democracy yet to be fully realised?The PanelAuthor of The Establish…
 
As China and Russia adopt their own variants, the reign of capitalism seems absolute. Yet there are many who wish for an alternative and some who claim a final crisis is in the making. Is there a radical alternative that we have not yet discovered? Or is the reality that capitalism is the only viable economic system?The PanelFormer Secretary of Sta…
 
We think space and time are the structure of the universe. Yet Einstein argued 'space and time are modes by which we think and not conditions in which we live'. And philosophers, Kant and Heidegger, saw space and time as the framework of thought not the world. Are space and time just a human fantasy?The PanelPhysicist and author of The End of Time …
 
The power of words is a wonder, and language perhaps our greatest skill. Yet the gap between the sound of a bell and its description is huge. Are the limits to language so profound that the big questions of science and philosophy are beyond us? Or can everything be said if we try hard enough?The PanelDirector of the New York Institute of Philosophy…
 
There is no self, no 'I', only a flickering illusion. So claim many neuroscientists and philosophers. Yet for the rest of us, the denial of the self feels like a bitter pill to swallow. Is the self a fantasy? Or is it essential to our being and consciousness?The PanelCambridge and NCH philosopher Simon Blackburn, neuroscientist Colin Blakemore, phi…
 
From schizophrenia to depression we assume our psychiatric diagnoses are real. But as the mental health epidemic turns global, the categories now seem like the cause. Is it time to abandon our biological account of mental illness? Or is it the best strategy we've got?The PanelPolly Toynbee interrogates Cambridge psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen, auth…
 
Neuroscience has enabled us to explain how the brain affects the body. Yet there is no theory to explain how the matter of the brain creates thought and experience. Is consciousness inexplicable because it is not part of the material world? Or is it somehow physical after all and within our grasp?The PanelGerman philosopher Markus Gabriel, philosop…
 
A generation raised on Foucault and Derrida has learned to distrust claims to objective truth. Yet the mantra that 'there is no truth' is a paradox. Do we need a new conception of fantasy and reality to free us from the tyranny of truthmakers and the paradoxes of postmodernists alike?The PanelAmerican philosopher John Searle, post-postmodernist Hil…
 
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