HTLGI Festival: The Pill of Life

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.


'The Pill of Life' is one of my favourite philosophy discussions to do with kids. I try to run at every school I visit and often use it as an example of the work I do with children and whenever I am asked 'What sort of philosophy do you do then?'. The story is that a pill has been designed that will let you live forever and the main question is: 'would you choose to live forever and take the pill?'

At first, the answer seems to be 'yes, of course! Imagine all the things you could do if you were basically immortal!' but as the discussion moves on children quickly see the challenges of giving up a life that eventually comes to an end. They would constantly have to say goodbye to family and friends who were mortal and likely experience a great sense of loneliness of being the only one with this power. They may also see that life becomes meaningless or lacks purpose if they are not confronted with the ultimate end. What fun and challenge is living if it becomes possible to do everything you wanted to do and more? How do you learn about yourself and your priorities, your real likes and dislikes, if you never have to worry about the things you cannot do? By the end of the session, many of the children have opted out of living forever and opted in for a short, yet fully lived, mortal life.

This year, in Hay-on-Wye I will be presenting 'The Pill of Life' at the children's tent at the HowTheLightsGetIn festival. At midday on Monday, not long before the life of the festival comes to an end. After three full days of discussions, comedy, and music I will ask the question again - 'will you take the pill of life?' This time to a group of children diverse in age and present because their parents thought they would have fun at a philosophy festival! 

I wonder if they will come to a similar conclusion to the children in school, or will they think of something else? Will they argue that an immortal life would be worth living? Maybe they could have fun if they could be at a festival full of ongoing curiosity, creativity, and entertainment for the rest of their long lives? Or maybe they agree that even the best things in life need to come to an end?


By Annie Webster


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.

Posted by Lucia Araniyasundaran on 20th April 2023 at 12:00am