From conspiracy theories to black holes, ultra-processed foods to the great climate upheaval, these are the talks you don’t want to miss at this year’s New Scientist Live, says Rowan Hooper
What to say by way of introduction to New Scientist Live, the world’s greatest festival of science? Just this: I know from experience that your time spent there will repay you over and again through the reinvigoration you get from exposure to the sheer number of ideas. Tickets for both Saturday 8 and Sunday 9 are still available. You can purchase them at newscientistlive.com today.
With dozens of talks from world-leading scientists and authors, it’s no easy task to pick a list of ten. And while there is in fact a TARDIS from Doctor Who at the show, all the talks will be available to stream on-demand afterwards, so there is plenty of opportunity to catch up and binge. Here then are some of the talks I’m especially looking forward to. And do forgive number eleven.
Nichola Raihani: Believing the unbelievable: The science of paranoia and conspiracy thinking
Mind and Body Stage, 08 Oct 2022, 14:35 – 15:25
Evolutionary biologist Professor Nichola Raihani will be exploring how paranoia evolved and looking at its role in mental health conditions and conspiracy theories, as well as illuminating the logic and benefits of paranoia. Paranoia is the most common presenting symptom of psychosis and is often viewed as a cognitive malfunction. But is this really the best way to understand paranoid beliefs? Join Nichola Raihani as she presents an evolutionary perspective to illuminate the logic – and even the benefits – of paranoia.
Chris Jackson: The geological record of climate change
Future Stage, 09 Oct 2022, 13:25 – 14:15
I once foolishly thought rocks were only interesting if they had fossils in them. Professor Chris Jackson has helped me see the error of my ways. In this talk, he will look at the geological record of climate change, how these changes impacted life on Earth, and how this can help us better understand our present and future climate. I am hoping for some cool volcano footage too.
Emma Byrne: A brief history of your brain
Mind and Body Stage, 08 Oct 2022, 11:55 – 12:45
Our brains are incredibly adaptable, and rewire themselves in our first two decades of life. It’s one of the features that lie behind our species’ success and intelligence. Neuroscience expert and author Dr Emma Byrne looks at the secrets of this adaptability, focussing on what happens in the first two decades of life. Great to understand teenagers, although I am hoping that older brains retain a bit of flexibility.
Agnijo Banerjee: The biggest number in the world
Future Stage, 08 Oct 2022, 15:45 – 16:35
Agnijo Banerjee is like a mathematical knight – he’s on an epic quest for unfathomably large numbers. I for one need to know if there are more grains of sand on Earth or stars in the universe. Is there enough paper on Earth to write out the digits of a googolplex? If you don’t know what a googolplex even is, this is where you find out.
Gaia Vince: Nomad Century: The great climate upheaval
Our Planet Stage, 08 Oct 2022 11:55 – 12:45
At a time of planetary and species emergency, we need solutions, and we need them now. With every degree of temperature rise, a billion people will be displaced as swathes of the world become uninhabitable. In this talk, Royal Society prize-winning author Gaia Vince will describe how we can use managed climate migration for our survival while we restore the planet’s habitability.
Simon Baron-Cohen: The pattern seekers
Future Stage, 08 Oct 2022, 11:55 – 12:45
World-renowned autism expert Professor Simon Baron-Cohen has a really bold new theory about what has driven human progress over the last 70,000-100,000 years – it’s an idea he’s developed through his work on autism – and that could really change the way we think of non-neurotypical people. By linking one of our greatest human strengths – ‘if-and-then’ invention – with a condition that is so often misunderstood, this talk will challenge us to think differently about those who think differently.
Jeff Forshaw: Black holes
Universe Stage, 08 Oct 2022, 15:45 – 16:35
Black holes are endlessly fascinating objects because of the way they force us to address the biggest questions in physics. Also, we all want to know what would happen if we fell into one. In this talk, particle physicist Professor Jeff Forshaw will examine the consequences of trying to track the flow of information into and out of a black hole. We’ll find out that space and time are emergent features related to quantum entanglement – something we all need to be aware of.
Adam Rutherford: The dark history and troubling present of eugenics
Mind and Body Stage, 08 Oct 2022 10:45 – 11:35
You might think eugenics is something abhorrent that the Nazis wanted to do – evil, but it happened a long time ago. You’d be wrong, as you’ll learn in this important talk by Dr Adam Rutherford. The idea that we are able to control and programme genetic changes to complex traits such as intelligence is overblown – despite what you might hear to the contrary.
Chris and Xand van Tulleken: Ultra-processed food
Mind and Body Stage, 09 Oct 2022, 10:45 – 11:35
Make sure you have a good breakfast before you watch this talk. Twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken reveal that in the UK we get over half of our calories from ultra-processed food. Is that a bad thing? Make your own mind up after learning what these foods do to our bodies. This is a real news-you-can-use talk.
Nick Lane: The deep chemistry of life and death
Our Planet Stage, 09 Oct 2022, 10:45 – 11:35
Professor Nick Lane has written some of the most insightful books I’ve read in the last few years. In this talk, he will describe his latest idea, based on a re-evaluation of the Krebs cycle – the biochemical reactions that power our cells – that you might remember from your studies. Nick will show that the conditions on the early Earth can lead to the biochemistry we see at the heart of life. It doesn’t get much bigger than explaining life – but then Nick links it to the emergence of consciousness too.
Rowan Hooper: How to spend a trillion dollars
Future Stage, 08 Oct 2022 14:35 – 15:25
Yes, I am vulgar enough to recommend my own talk in a list of must-see talks. I’m going to be talking about my book, How To Spend A Trillion Dollars. I’m biased, but I think it’s important because we can get paralysed by the size of the world’s problems, and I show in this talk that the solutions, and the money – are out there. Also it’s an interactive talk – I want to hear from you about how you would spend the money. It’s not every day you get to pretend to spend a trillion dollars – so let’s do it!