I realise a lot of people reading this will be shaking their heads in disbelief – firstly that such an event exists and secondly that anyone should actually want to attend.
Well I’m afraid that I’m going to seriously disappointment those of you who hold such views, because this was my first visit to such a festival and at risk of overdoing the superlatives ‘I was blown away’ by the variety, depth and stardom of the presentations.
All the illuminati of modern day science were present and performing to the best of their considerable powers. The subjects were tremendously diverse from world leading behavioural psychologists to cutting edge mathematicians to archaeologists to nuclear physicists and so on.
They were challenging, entertaining and thought provoking and all had the rare gift of being world leading experts in their field and having the talent to convey their knowledge to an interested by predominantly lay audience. In short they have the talent to make science fascinating and relevant to modern day life.
Possibly my favourite talk was a panel of experts including the venerable Prof Winston (what a lovely chap) who were meant to be debating the role of science in the media but spent the whole hour pointing out the inadequacies of the Daily Mail. Regular readers will know that I have strong views about the Daily Mail and its irresponsible reporting of health stories – come the revolution the editor and a number of others of their staff will be up against the wall between politicians and the higher echelons of the civil service.
I thought that my views might be regarded as somewhat extreme, I now realise that I hold quite moderate views, for me a quick death would suffice but for the debating panel something far more painful and lingering would be appropriate!! It is interesting that out of an audience of over 2000 people there was only one dissenting voice, a science writer for the Daily Mail who was doing his best to change their culture from the inside – good luck to him.
One particular lecture concerned a meditation technique called Mindfulness. The Professor who led the discussions was obviously pretty sceptical that simply relaxing and thinking could have any beneficial effect, so he set about investigating whether it really worked or it was just another sham where people were being sold nothing more than a placebo. However the results of well designed trials show without doubt that ‘Mindfulness’ does make a very significant difference for a variety of different problems.
As a consequence this once doubtful professor is a pioneering advocate of the technique which he practices himself. At present it is recommended for patients with recurrent depression, but evidence is emerging that mindfulness is useful for anyone suffering from almost any chronic condition. In fact by the end of the talk I was pretty well converted and reassured that this wasn’t some hocus pocus odd spiritual/religious practice being rebranded as a therapy.
I am now keen that some of my patients should have the opportunity of benefiting from this drug free therapy – alas the availability in Dorset of mindfulness courses appears to be zero at present.