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The Biology of Belief

Tuesday 5th February 2008 @ 19:00

Non-Member: £12.00 ; Staff: £5.00 ; Student: £3.00


The scientist, author, commentator and broadcaster, Lewis Wolpert, spoke about the nature of belief and its causes: the subject of his latest book. He looksed at the psychological basis of belief and its possible evolutionary origins. He asked what evolutionary advantage does belief provide? He put forward with his elegance and precision his theory that the human ability to believe had driven tool making. The ability to foresee that by creating sharp stones would improve the chances of killing game was the defining mental change that led us to diverge away from our ape ancestors.?

? Having first studied civil engineering in South Africa and at Imperial, Professor Wolpert applied his engineering knowledge to the problem of cell multiplication at Kings College, London. Particularly the division of a single cell into two cells. His principal work has been on the development of embryonic cells but he is also a great communicator. He wrote a column for The Independent for many years, was a panellist on the Brains Trust, and chairman of the Royal Society's Committee for the Public Understanding of Science. His books include A Passion for Science, The Triumph of the Embryo, The Unnatural Nature of Science. He has written about his own experience of clinical depression in Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression. This was turned into three television programmes entitled A Living Hell. Professor Lewis Wolpert FRS FRSL was appointed CBE in 1990.?

In an article on the Nobel Prize website he argues cogently that scientific knowledge is neutral morally and ethically. It is in the application of science that ethical questions are raised.?

After his lecture he joined members of the audience for a glass of wine and signed copies of his latest book Six impossible things before breakfast. He takes the title from an exchange between Alice and the Red Queen, in which the Queen says, "sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

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Venue: Sir Alexander Fleming Building