Humanist Book Club

We are starting a Humanist Book Club to be held in the back room of the Tiger Inn in Lairgate, Beverley.  The meetings will be bimonthly on the first Monday of the month, beginning on Monday 5th February 2018, between 7.30pm-9pm. Most book clubs discuss novels and literature but this club will be focused exclusively on non-fiction books covering topics related to humanism such as science, philosophy, history and politics. I have selected the first two books to be discussed in 2018 to give people plenty of time to read them. The third and subsequent books will be voted on by attendees at the first meeting, which will allow 4 months notice to read the books once they are picked, which should be long enough even for a slow reader like me. There will be no fee for attendance other than buying a drink at the bar. All welcome.
Tim Stephenson, Group Secretary, October 2017


Upcoming Book Discussions

Monday 1st October 2018, 7.30pm:
“Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande

Venue:  the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG 

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn’t matter whether you were five or fifty – every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality – about what it’s like to get old and die, how medicine has changed this and how it hasn’t, where our ideas about death have gone wrong. With his trademark mix of perceptiveness and sensitivity, Atul Gawande outlines a story that crosses the globe, as he examines his experiences as a surgeon and those of his patients and family, and learns to accept the limits of what he can do.
Never before has aging been such an important topic. The systems that we have put in place to manage our mortality are manifestly failing; but, as Gawande reveals, it doesn’t have to be this way. The ultimate goal, after all, is not a good death, but a good life – all the way to the very end.

Atul Gawande is an American surgeon, writer, and public health researcher. He practices general and endocrine surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. He is a professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

 


Monday 4th February 2019, 7.30pm:
“The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch

Venue: the back room of the Tiger Inn, Lairgate, Beverley, East Yorkshire, HU17 8JG 

Throughout history, mankind has struggled to understand life’s mysteries, from the mundane to the seemingly miraculous. In this important new book, David Deutsch, an award-winning pioneer in the field of quantum computation, argues that explanations have a fundamental place in the universe. They have unlimited scope and power to cause change, and the quest to improve them is the basic regulating principle not only of science but of all successful human endeavor. This stream of ever improving explanations has infinite reach, according to Deutsch: we are subject only to the laws of physics, and they impose no upper boundary to what we can eventually understand, control, and achieve.
In his previous book, The Fabric of Reality, Deutsch describe the four deepest strands of existing knowledge-the theories of evolution, quantum physics, knowledge, and computation-arguing jointly they reveal a unified fabric of reality. In this new book, he applies that worldview to a wide range of issues and unsolved problems, from creativity and free will to the origin and future of the human species. Filled with startling new conclusions about human choice, optimism, scientific explanation, and the evolution of culture, The Beginning of Infinity is a groundbreaking book that will become a classic of its kind.

 


Previous Book Club Meetings

Monday 5th February 2018:
“Secularism” by Andrew Copson

Until the modern period the integration of church (or other religion) and state (or political life) had been taken for granted. The political order was always tied to an official religion in Christian Europe, pre-Christian Europe, and in the Arabic world. But from the eighteenth century onwards, some European states began to set up their political order on a different basis. Not religion, but the rule of law through non-religious values embedded in constitutions became the foundation of some states – a movement we now call secularism. In others, a de facto secularism emerged as political values and civil and criminal law altered their professed foundation from a shared religion to a non-religious basis.
Today secularism is an increasingly hot topic in public, political, and religious debate across the globe. It is embodied in the conflict between secular republics – from the US to India – and the challenges they face from resurgent religious identity politics; in the challenges faced by religious states like those of the Arab world from insurgent secularists; and in states like China where calls for freedom of belief are challenging a state imposed non-religious worldview. In this short introduction Andrew Copson tells the story of secularism, taking in momentous episodes in world history, such as the great transition of Europe from religious orthodoxy to pluralism, the global struggle for human rights and democracy, and the origins of modernity. He also considers the role of secularism when engaging with some of the most contentious political and legal issues of our time: ‘blasphemy’, ‘apostasy’, religious persecution, religious discrimination, religious schools, and freedom of belief and thought in a divided world.
Andrew Copson is the Chief Executive of Humanists UK.

 


Monday 2nd April 2018:
“Freedom Regained” by Julian Baggini

Do we have free will? It’s a question that has puzzled philosophers and theologians for centuries and feeds into numerous political, social, and personal concerns. Are we products of our culture, or free agents within it? How much responsibility should we take for our actions? Are our neural pathways fixed early on by a mixture of nature and nurture, or is the possibility of comprehensive, intentional psychological change always open to us? What role does our brain play in the construction of free will, and how much scientific evidence is there for the existence of it? What exactly are we talking about when we talk about ‘freedom’ anyway?
In this cogent and compelling book, Julian Baggini explores the concept of free will from every angle, blending philosophy, neuroscience, sociology and cognitive science. Freedom Regained brings the issues raised by the possibilities – and denials – of free will to vivid life, drawing on scientific research and fascinating encounters with expert witnesses, from artists to addicts, prisoners to dissidents. Contemporary thinking tells us that free will is an illusion, and Baggini challenges this position, providing instead a new, more positive understanding of our sense of personal freedom: a freedom worth having.

Julian Baggini is a patron of UK Humanists and a founder member of the Humanist Philosophers Group.

 

 


 Monday 4th June 2018:
“Religion for Atheists” by Alain de Botton

What if religions are neither all true or all nonsense? Non-believer Alain de Botton considers the debate between fundamentalist believers and non-believers to be boring.  Religion for Atheists argues that the supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false – and yet that religions still have some very important things to teach atheists. Religion for Atheists suggests that rather than mocking religions, agnostics and atheists should instead steal from them – because, says de Botton, they’re packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies. He proposes that we should look to religions for insights into how to:
– build a sense of community
– make our relationships last
– overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
– escape the twenty-four hour media
– go travelling
– get more out of art, architecture and music
– and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs
This book is a challenge to the more widely read “new atheist” books of recent decades. Alain de Botton is the author of non-fiction essays on themes ranging from love and travel to architecture and philosophy. His bestselling books include How Proust Can Change Your Life, The Art of Travel, and The Architecture of Happiness.


Monday 6th August 208, 7.30pm:
“Personality” by Daniel Nettle

Why are some people worriers, and others wanderers? Why do some people seem good at empathising, and others at controlling? We have something deep and consistent within us that determines the choices we make and the situations we bring about. But why should members of the same species differ so markedly in their natures? What is the best personality to have; a bold one or a shy one, an aggressive one or a meek one? And are you stuck with your personality, or can you change it? Daniel Nettle takes the reader on a tour through the science of human personality, introducing the five ‘dimensions’ on which every personality is based, and using an unusual combination of individual life stories and scientific research. Showing how our personalities stem from our biological makeup, Nettle looks at the latest findings from genetics and brain science, considers the evolutionary origins and consequences of personality variation, and even includes a questionnaire for you to assess your own personality against the five dimensions. There is no optimal personality to have. Rather, every disposition brings both advantages and disadvantages. Life is partly the business of finding a niche where your personal characteristics work for you. Full of human as well as scientific insight, this book will enable you to understand the perils and potentials of your personality to the full.

Daniel Nettle is Professor of Behavioural Sciences at the University of Newcastle.

 

 


 

Comments are closed.