24th June: Isla Aitken and Rev Dr Harriet Harris

Our second online salon in partnership with the Royal Society of Arts took place on Wednesday 24th June 2020 at 19:00 – 20:30

Diagnosed with breast cancer while on holiday in Japan, former journalist, environmental activist and one-time politician Isla distracts herself with tourist adventures — including snorkelling in the South China Sea and learning the three Japanese alphabets. Back in the UK, in between chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, Isla considers her life in light of her new discovery – the Japanese philosophy of ‘Ikigai’: reason for being.

Isla was interviewed by Rev Dr Harriet Harris, Chaplain of the University of Edinburgh

Mushroom Hunters by Neil Gaiman

Science, as you know, my little one, is the study

of the nature and behaviour of the universe.

It’s based on observation, on experiment, and measurement,

and the formulation of laws to describe the facts revealed.

In the old times, they say, the men came already fitted with brains

designed to follow flesh-beasts at a run,

to hurdle blindly into the unknown,

and then to find their way back home when lost

with a slain antelope to carry between them.

Or, on bad hunting days, nothing.

The women, who did not need to run down prey,

had brains that spotted landmarks and made paths between them

left at the thorn bush and across the scree

and look down in the bole of the half-fallen tree,

because sometimes there are mushrooms.

Observe.

Observe childbirth, measure the swell of bellies and the shape of breasts,

and through experience discover how to bring babies safely into the world.

Observe everything.

And science, you remember, is the study

of the nature and behaviour of the universe,

based on observation, experiment, and measurement,

and the formulation of laws to describe these facts.

The race continues. An early scientist

drew beasts upon the walls of caves

to show her children, now all fat on mushrooms

and on berries, what would be safe to hunt.

The men go running on after beasts.

The scientists walk more slowly, over to the brow of the hill

and down to the water’s edge and past the place where the red clay runs.

They are carrying their babies in the slings they made,

freeing their hands to pick the mushrooms.