The brain strives to become a model of the world in which it must survive. It is often more important for it to be functional and efficient than it is to be factually correct. Indeed, there are numerous instances in which it seems to favour usefulness over accuracy, expectation over actuality. This has led many to conclude that even normal perception has a constructive or hallucinatory quality. In extremis, under the influence of fatigue, fear, illness or drugs, an entire reality may be created, one that seems to conflict with the reality accepted by those around us. This condition, known as psychosis, offers us important glimpses into the mechanisms of the mind and the many ways in which they may be altered.
Paul Fletcher is Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, Director of Studies for Preclinical Medicine at Clare College and Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist with the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. He studied Medicine, before carrying out his specialist training in Psychiatry and taking a PhD in cognitive neuroscience. He researches human perception, learning and decision-making and is especially interested in hallucinations – perception in the absence of a stimulus – feeling that the existence of such phenomena offers us important insights in to how our brains construct our experience of the world.
Lyse Doucet is the BBC's award winning Chief International Correspondent who spends much of her time covering stories in our news headlines including devastating wars in Syria and Iraq as well as Afghanistan. She often focuses on the human costs of conflict. Her work also involves asking questions of world leaders. Her BBC journalism began with postings in Abidjan, Kabul, Islamabad, Tehran, Amman and Jerusalem. She was awarded an OBE in the Queen's Honours list in 2014 for her services to broadcasting and the Columbia Journalism Award for lifetime achievement in 2016.
Migration is the most controversial political topic in the Britain of 2018. Issues around migration underpinned and informed much of the BREXIT debate and infuse wider debates about Britishness and identity. Yet migration and the immigrant communities it has created are also the focus of a huge amount of new research, scholarship and awareness. For Britain’s black community expanded knowledge of, and pride in, the longer histories of their communities – histories that stretch back far beyond 1945 – is now at odds with this new mood. History itself is being contested as some nationalist voices seek to dismiss historical fact and counter research with opinion and ‘alternative facts’. Two conflicting and contradictory visions of British history and identity, and the role of migration in forging them, are beginning to develop.
David Olusoga is an Anglo-Nigerian historian, broadcaster and author. Amongst other work, David presented and produced BAFTA award winning Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners for the BBC , in collaboration with UCL , and was the winner of the Pen Hessell-Tiltman prize for his most recent book which accompanied the TV series of the same name, Black and British: a Forgotten History.
Many extremist ideologies rely heavily on conspiracy theories to explain how the world works and where power lies. This lecture explores what our understanding of conspiracy theories – where they come from, how they work, who believes in them – can tell us about dealing with extremism. The US presidential election campaign showed that conspiracy theories are increasingly becoming part of the currency of democratic politics. Is democracy itself becoming more extremist? Where do the boundaries lie between the contestation of democratic values and the repudiation of them? This lecture will examine the relationship between harmless conspiracy theories, dangerous extremism and the rise of ‘post-truth’ politics and it will ask how we can still draw the line between them.
David Runciman is Professor of Politics and Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at Cambridge University. His books include Political Hypocrisy and The Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis and he writes regularly about politics for the London Review of Books. He is one of the directors of a major Leverhulme-funded research project based in Cambridge on Conspiracy and Democracy, which explores the history and impact of conspiracy theories on democratic politics. (More details of the project can be found here: http://www.conspiracyanddemocracy.org/) He is the host of the popular weekly podcast Talking Politics.
The Universe has many extreme events, from the Big Bang onward. In this talk I shall concentrate on extremes of power observed in the Universe, from Solar flares to exploding stars, magnetars, quasars, and the emission of gravitational waves from the merger of black holes. Extremes test our understanding of physics. The most extreme events briefly exceed the power of all the stars in all the galaxies of the observable Universe.
Professor Andrew Fabian OBE FRS is the Acting Director of the Institute of Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. He also leads the X-Ray research group within the Institute. The group’s research focuses on active galaxies, clusters of galaxies, elliptical galaxies, galactic black holes, neutron stars and the X-ray background. He is one of two UK members on ESA ’s Athena Science Study Team.
Before becoming its Director, Professor Fabian was a Royal Society Research Professor in the Institute of Astronomy. Between 2008 and 2010 he was President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and from 1997 to 2012 he was Vice-Master of Darwin College, Cambridge.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1996, and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences in 2016. He was awarded the American Astronomical Society’s (AAS) Bruno Rossi Prize in 2001, the Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics of the AAS and APS in 2008, the Catherine Wolfe Bruce Gold Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in 2016 and he was appointed an OBE in 2006. Asteroid 25157 Fabian was named for him in 2016.