HTLGI: Error and Renaissance

HowTheLightGetsIn, the world’s largest music and philosophy festival, has released its full programme for the HowTheLightGetsIn Hay 2023 event, taking place from the 26-29th May 2023 in the idyllic booktown of Hay-on-Wye, Wales. From Nobel Laureates and Pullitzer-Prize winners to political activists, HowTheLightGetsIn boasts an unparalleled gathering of the world’s leading thinkers. This year will see none other than firebrand philosopher Slavoj Žižek, key adversary to Trump Fiona Hill, superstar string-theorist Brian Greene, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, visionary economist Gillian Tett, and masterful novelist Esther Freud, amongst a wealth of other notable speakers. 


Following the theme Error and Renaissance, the festival will see thinkers across the fields of philosophy, science, politics and art come head to head to work through our present moment, find new ways of understanding the world and rebuild afresh.


As a festival of thought and ideas, HowTheLightGetsIn ought to be commended for giving children a place in the conversation. While they might struggle to participate in discussions with headlining figures such as Slavoj Žižek, with the right questions, the right activities, children are capable of reaching profundities the likes of which would rival the most esteemed philosophers.  

To illustrate, I recently ran one of the sessions I’ll be delivering at the festival, ‘Interaction’, with a class of 9-year-olds. During the session one child lifted up another and we considered whether holding a person involves holding their life. One very thoughtful child explained to me that you cannot hold a person’s life because the world is their life. With this she was echoing Wittgenstein’s comment in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, ‘The world and life are one’.  

It is clear to all who do philosophy with children that one’s philosophical journey can start at a young age. This fact is often overlooked because education is too preoccupied with helping children make sense of things. Philosophy, however, should not be where children come to make sense of the world, but rather where they go to lose it. This, of course, isn’t an end in itself, but it is where philosophy begins.  

Bewilderment is a constitutive and foundational part of philosophical thought. By destabilising the conceptual structures of the world and purposefully bewildering children in this way, they thereby have the opportunity to refashion and reshape the world in new and enlivening ways. Another question from ‘Interaction’ asks, ‘When you lick your lips are you also licking the universe?’ Such seemingly bewildering and ludicrous questions help to reconfigure a child’s sense of what the universe is and their relation to it.  

It is said that Heraclitus was so frustrated by the stupidity of the adults in his hometown that he preferred spending time playing games with children. His greater affinity with children suggests, indeed, that they have a greater proclivity for philosophy; children are less wedded to the conventional, the orthodox and the ordinary. My second session of the afternoon will draw on my book Befuddled to return to the ancients and the likes of Heraclitus, exploring their lives, legends and ideas. Their lives, just as much as ideas, show that the ludicrous is internal to philosophy, from Empedocles launching himself into a volcano, to Socrates obeying a voice in his head, to Diogenes’s hatred of cups.  

Placing the ideas of ancient philosophers in the context of their lives and legends helps remind us that philosophy is not a staid, dignified discipline, but one of experimentation, adventure and novelty. The very things that children love. So while HowTheLightGetsIn likes to boast that it’s a festival where you can bump into a Nobel Prize winner in the coffee queue, I believe that you’re just as likely to be stimulated, provoked and bewildered by striking up a conversation with one of the many little philosophers roaming the fields of Hay.  

By David Birch


More details on HowTheLightGetsIn Hay 2023, the world's largest music and philosophy festival taking place in the idyllic book town of Hay, Wales this 26-29th May, can be found here. As a festival partner, The Philosophy Foundation is offering a 20% discount on tickets with the code PHILFOUND23. Don't miss out on tickets here.

For those of you who can't be with us in person, all the debates and talks from the festival will gradually be released online in the months following the festival on the Institute of Art and Ideas online platform, IAI.TV.

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