First, here’s Steve Jones introducing me last night. If you’ve heard him you’ll know that he’s quick with a quip and cracks audiences up, which he did yesterday. Steve and I worked together for a long while in the 1980s, studying the movement of fruit flies in Death Valley, California as well as in Maryland. The BHA now has a writeup of my talk that you can see here.
After my talk I finally got a good night’s sleep, and woke up today to a Big British Breakfast Buffet in the Hilton. It included all the usual suspects, including black pudding and baked beans, which I eschewed. (The British penchant for baked beans with breakfast mystifies me.) After a big tuck-in, a shower, and a little more rest, I wandered down to Bedford Square to meet Anthony Grayling for lunch. On the way, as one does in London, you pass buildings that would be considered architectural marvels in the U.S. but are quotidian in this historical town.
Here’s the University College Hospital, which I believe is still a teaching hospital associated with the University of London:
Waterstone’s bookstore on Gower Street, Europe’s largest academic bookshop (it was formerly Dillon’s). It was built in 1908.
The Art Deco entrance of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (built 1905):
The Bonham Carter House, bearing one of the blue oval plaques that denotes a historic site (see photo below). I have no idea whether this is an ancestor of Helena Bonham Carter, but the house is on a site where anesthesia was first used in Britain.
Almost next door on Gower Street is the house of Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938), famous member of the Bloomsbury Group, hostess of a literary salon (Yeats, Eliot, Lytton Strachey, Virginia Woolf etc.), and well known for her many lovers, including Dora Carrington and Bertrand Russell.
Here’s Lady Morrell, who I think looks a lot like her friend Virginia Woolf. They both have that equine insouciance that I find irresistible in British ladies:
This is Senate House, the administration building of the University of London, which looks very neo-fascistic to me. It was apparently the model for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell’s 1984. I think of that book every time I see this scary building:
Here’s a Victorian building near Russell Square that’s lovely, but I don’t know what it is. Some reader will surely identify it:
My goal for the afternoon: 19 Bedford Square, home of New College of the Humanities, founded in 2012 and still headed by Anthony Grayling, the well known ethical philosopher and atheist. (The College is quite controversial because, in contrast to other British universities, it charges very high tuition.) I was there to meet Anthony for lunch:
In the foyer as you enter is a big photo of Anthony’s hero, Bertrand Russell. Anthony admires him, as do I, because Russell was not just an academic philosopher, but believed in public engagement, and lived out his philosophy—including stints in jail for objecting to war.
Grayling took a selfie of the three of us, and of course the biologist’s hair is much more unkempt than that of the philosophers’! In the tonsorial department, Grayling is like the Werewolf of London.
We had a nice two-hour lunch and talked about many things, including free will, whether there is any objective morality, the problem of modern philosophy (postmodernism), and so on. I won’t characterize Anthony’s views, but I did ask him if he could meet one philosopher from history, who would it be? He demurred, saying that there were many, so I rephrased the question, asking him which philosopher he would choose to meet to ask questions clarifying that person’s views. He answered that one immediately: Kant.
After lunch I repaired to the British Museum, almost next door, for my usual wander round my favorite relics. More on that tomorrow if I have time.