Swindon Think Slam – prompting thought as opposed to answering questions

21 May
Martin Hawes

Martin Hawes

Will Self shared at his talk on Tuesday his fear that some people attend Literature Festivals in lieu of reading – as if an author event will provide a quick literature fix. And at my first Think Slam, I was conscious of doing just that.

I am not well versed in philosophy. An ex-partner who studied a degree in English and philosophy once joked to friends: “she thought that Plato was a ceramics company.” I didn’t – honestly – but it was a low blow to someone uninitiated to the subject.

Therefore, as a way of introduction, I was grateful to hear that the evenings’ second competitor, George Dowling, would be answering the question What is Philosophy?

However,  his presentation didn’t provide answers, just more questions. Because the very definition of philosophy and the Think Slam is to prompt thought, not directly answer it. And as Will Self said: “there is no such thing as a quick fix.”

The Think Slam is unique to Swindon, something that Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics and the evening’s judge-supremo heralded as transforming her view of the town that she had always regularly passed on the train, but not alighted at until today.

Never again would she would hear the train drivers call for Swindon without recalling the evening’s presentations of the interconnectedness of nature, individuals being in rifle shot of Hitler, and Stephen Hawking’s invitation to a birthday party in the past. Host Sara-Jane Arbury went on to say: “Brilliant ideas come out of Swindon all the time. It is inspiring.”

Indeed, they were, and the ideas presented to us were brilliant, thought-provoking, and diverse.  With questions of the existence of truth, global debt, and gullibility amongst other topics.

To help me get started, fellow chronicler, Louisa Davison began with How to Fix Climate Change in Three Steps – a difficult topic structured simply for understanding. Louisa clearly laid out her points in an engaging manner with the suggestion of a communal solution, optimistic outlook, and a pollution tax on fossil fuels,

John Little, this year’s Think Slam winner, tackled the somewhat different topics of artificial intelligence and its bid to take over humanity, global overpopulation, and hints of Brexit through a series of complex metaphors and historical examples.

John’s presentations sveltely shifted between humour and the macabre. A difficult transition but one he achieved nonetheless, causing me to be both shocked and disturbed into thinking and wanting to find out more.

While in balance to John’s tales of historical infanticide, runner-up Martin Hawes spoke of the fantastic discoveries of science on the workings of nature and trees ability to communicate: not through phones (obviously) but funghi.

I learnt – thanks to Martin – that when it comes to trees there is such a thing as community. When a tree is deemed as unwell a fellow tree channels nutrients to it through its roots and funghi to restore health.

Most importantly, Martin said this dispelled the myth of survival of the fittest a term that many use to justify their questionable behaviour because nature is a community who demonstrate society in their actions.

So, can the Think Slam and Swindon Festival of Literature be heralded as doing the same? Feeding the minds of the people of Swindon and beyond with literature, fact and thought. It was certainly proof that community was alive and well in our town at least.

When I arrived for the Think Slam I had felt somewhat weathered, unsure, and a little lacking in knowledge. However, on leaving I was energised and grateful for the neuroplastic approach the evening had on my mind and the thoughts that had branched from the 90 minutes I had spent watching the proceedings.

I could not time travel backwards as the competitor, Andrew explained, aside from the impossibility there is little point in doing so. It will not change anything due to our consciousness of the present.

Even though I wanted to travel back to all the previous Think Slam’s to learn more, I knew I could only move forward to the pub to discuss and explore my new found knowledge over a few choice beverages and a lively conversation.

The 9th Think Slam was held at Swindon Arts Centre on Friday, May 18, 8pm. Words by Emma Smith. Image © Fernando Bagué




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