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Prof Raymond Tallis to challenge Stephen Hawking claim

Birmingham Salon signs up renowned polymath for latest event which will examine whether physics has destroyed philosophy

Professor Raymond Tallis

Leading polymath Prof Raymond Tallis is set to use a Birmingham pub to challenge Stephen Hawking's declaration that "philosophy is dead".

In a meeting of the Birmingham Salon at the Victoria in John Bright Street, Prof Tallis will discuss 'Has physics destroyed philosophy?'

To do so, he will use a prepared set of notes with slides - before taking questions and answers.

"I like to set out a case and not miss the steps," said the Manchester-based retired medic who specialised in the neuroscience of strokes and epilepsy while becoming a renowned philosopher, poet, novelist and cultural critic.

Should politicians in election year follow suit and use slides instead of following the trend to try make speeches from memory?

Prof Tallis said: "People like a properly prepared lecture as long as it doesn't go on too long - that then leads to a very good question time with members of the audience asking questions outside of the framework of two plus two equals four, quantum mechanics or whatever.

"Philosophy is a dialogue. It is a waste of effort to rehearse a talk instead of thinking about the validity of your ideas and a lost opportunity.

"Actors can talk for two-and-a-half hours and that's a feat of memory, not thought. When you respond to questions, that's when you have to improvise."

Named by The Economist  in 2009 as one of the world's leading polymaths, Prof Tallis said he would have loved to have been a late 18th century fly on the wall during The Lunar Society meetings of Birmingham's leading industrialists like Matthew Boulton and the man who fascinates him the most, Erasmus Darwin.

"He was a poet with an interest in the natural world and medicine, which is a humanist subject in the middle, and he even managed to anticipate his grandson's (Charles Darwin) theory of evolution."

But, for now, it's Prof Stephen Hawking who is uppermost in his mind.

Married for 42 years and a father of two, Prof Tallis said: "Hawking said 'philosophy is now dead... because it hasn't kept up with physics'.

"But, although science is our greatest cognitive achievement, it can never explain consciousness and it will never tell us what it is like to be a human being."

Who was cleverer - Einstein or Hawking?

"Einstein was an absolute giant who originated contemporary cosmology," said Prof Tallis.

"He formatted the disc on which his successors are writing files. He was completely off the scale in every possible way but he had a huge respect for philosophy, too, and imagined he was riding on a beam of light."

Today, Prof Tallis uses his own imagine to turn every household electrical plug into a metaphor for not knowing.

"There is an argument that as machines get smarter,  you get dumber," he said.

"I don't know how most of the things in my kitchen work but could anyone in the 1950s draw a circuit diagram for their radio?

"But we will never get a conscious computer because they don't have their past in their present."

Prof Tallis will be speaking at a public Birmingham Salon event at The Victoria, 48 John Bright Street, in Birmingham, from 7.30pm on Thursday, January 29.

Tickets are £5.50 and details are available at the Birmingham Salon website.

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