October and the Festival of Ideas

October is here, and with it comes the Festival of Ideas. Appropriately enough, since autumn and winter are reflective seasons. Why it should be easier to think when the days are shorter, and colder, and muddier, I do not know; but I am not alone in thinking so. Here, for example, is William Cowper:

Come, Ev’ning, once again, and continue long!…
…And whether I devote thy gentle hours
To books, to music, or to the poet’s toil;
To weaving nets for bird-alluring fruit;
Or twining silken threads round iv’ry reels,
When they command whom man was born to please;
I slight thee not, but make thee welcome still.’
William Cowper The Task Bk IV The Winter Evening

I won’t be dedicating my time to weaving nets to protect my raspberries (although it would not be a terrible idea in itself); nor to winding reels of thread, and certainly not to the poet’s toil, but there is something unarguably contemplative to the rhythm of the short days and the long nights. In part this might be a matter of fewer distractions (although Cambridge has more that its share of beautiful sunny winter days), but there is also a general slowing of the world, and a concentration indoors; perfect for ruminating slowly and invisibly on tuberous ideas, such as whether there really is such a thing as ‘the second conditional’.

And for those who feel the same, but who also feel the need to get out, there is the Festival of Ideas, now in its seventh year, where the university essentially opens its doors to the wider public in a series of talks and events covering the whole spectrum of university studies. The Festival is hosted at various university venues from the 20th of October to the 2nd of November, but booking is already open for those events that require it.

Here is a one-minute taster from the 2012 festival.

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