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Institute of Advanced Study

Durham Book Festival - IAS Debate October 2014

THERE’S NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN 

At the Durham Book Festival this week the Institute of Advanced Study hosted a debate in accord with its 2014-15 research theme of Emergence. Focusing on the question as to whether truly novel things emerge, the motion proposed was that There is Nothing New Under the Sun. As many in Durham will know, this is drawn from Ecclesiastes 1.9: ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun’.

Arguing for the motion were Professor Barbara Graziosi, well-known classical scholar and co-Director of the IAS for Arts and Humanities, and Natalie Haynes, broadcaster, classicist, and comedienne. They argued cogently that we need to recognise the very long-term histories and processes from which ideas, behaviours and other things emerge, and the recurrent patterns in these. Opposing them were Dr Colin McFarlane, a Reader in Durham University’s Department of Geography, and Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize, who suggested that new combinations of events, technologies and materials allow multiple novel emergences. Good points were added by an enthusiastic audience, and the final vote appeared almost too close to call. The Chair, Professor Tom McLeish, physicist and theologian, declared that the day had been won by the opponents to the motion. But the international scholars visiting the IAS this year will doubtless continue to debate the question. To participate in their ongoing exploration of Emergence, members of the public are invited to come to their lectures and related IAS events. See https://www.dur.ac.uk/ias/events/events_listings/.