Naked Reflections

14 January 2020

Interview with 

Ed Kessler, Woolf Institute

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The Naked Scientists are launching a new project with the Woolf Institute in Cambridge. It’s a new podcast called Naked Reflections, and Ed Kessler, the presenter, and director of the Woolf Institute, joined Chris Smith to tell him what to expect...

Ed - Hi Chris. Well Naked Reflections as you say is this collaboration between The Naked Scientists and the Woolf Institute and essentially we're doing a weekly panel discussion taking one of the latest scientific discoveries that you've been talking about here on The Naked Scientists, and thinking about it from a philosophical, ethical, religious perspective. Essentially, what does science and all this science stuff mean to the rest of us?

Chris - When you came to talk to us, the point that we made to each other really was that we tend to deliver science in quite a fast paced way. Here's a science story, ask some hard questions about it. Here's another story. And sometimes there's many, many different facets and viewpoints underpinning a story. And, and I guess that's what you're going to try and get under the skin of, isn't it? You'll take one of those stories and say, well let's pick this apart in a bit more depth.

Ed - Exactly. So for example, one of the episodes that's just gone up is on childhood. And we bring together a scientist in this case, Simon Baron Cohen, professor of psychiatry and psychology, with two non-scientists, Lindsay Burton, who studies children's literature and Julian Stanley, who's worked with teachers for many, many years. And we ask what's changed in our attitudes to childhood, how have they changed? How have children changed or not?

Chris - Tell us a bit about the Woolf Institute itself because you were the founder. What's its mission?

Ed - Essentially the Woolf Institute was founded to understand the relationship between religions and religion and society. And the premise is very simple. I believe that you understand yourself better when you encounter somebody else. And that's true of identity and it's true of religions, it's true of society. And what I'm excited about with this podcast, is we're bringing together, we're encountering these different disciplines and just thinking about what is going on, questions of authority. Here, you Chris an authority on science and myself an authority on interfaith dialogue. But what do we do when people don't take our authority seriously? On what grounds do we debate these things on?

Chris - Many people may say though, and in fact people do say to me, religion and science are often uneasy bedfellows, so why are you making a program about science?

Ed - Well, in a way I'm unpacking what's going on in science. I'd like to think that you scientists would tell us how things work. I'm interested in the meaning of all of this for the rest of us, beyond the science community, because if we can extend it then the reach, not just of The Naked Scientists, but also the Woolf Institute will be far greater than it is at the moment.

Chris - And what's on your radar? Have you got any ideas upfront already as to things that you're going to be addressing next that are priority areas?

Ed - Well, one of the areas we're looking at, it may sound not a priority, is music. Are we touched by God as it were when we listen to music? But it's also governed by maths, the study of genetics, that modification of genetics. I mean these are all really important issues of the moment and between the Woolf Institute and The Naked Scientists, I think there's something there that all of us will benefit from.

Chris - And just lastly, how will you know if you've succeeded?

Ed - Ah, bring me back in six months and let's see what emails you've had, Chris, and what messages I've had. Let's see what people have to say.

Chris - It's a challenge accepted Ed. We'll get you back in six months. You could tell us how you're getting on. Now, if you want to give Naked Reflections a listen, you can find all the details about how you can subscribe. The initial episodes there are, I think eight of them, nine now, are on nakedscientists.com/reflections. And it tells you how you can subscribe and it's available via all the main podcasting channels. It's completely free. And give it a listen, these half hour conversations with a range of different perspectives. Absolutely fascinating.

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