Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Karl Popper at the Auckland Writers’ Festival

On Friday I drive to Auckland for the 2010 Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival where I am to perform. On arrival at the venue I meet Denis Dutton of Arts & Letters Daily and Canterbury University’s philosophy department. We spend a pleasant half-hour talking about philosophy of science, specifically the great Karl Popper who was at Canterbury from 1937 to, I think, 1946 and wrote The Open Society and its Enemies there. We also talk briefly about Paul Feyerabend, who taught philosophy of science at Auckland University in 1972: I attended his lectures and was impressed not just by him – he was a wonderful, invigorating man who must have changed many more lives and minds than just mine – but also by the way he scored the most beautiful student in the room within about five seconds.

I say to Denis, “I had no idea there was such a thing as a philosophy groupie.”

He says, possibly wistfully, possibly not, “We don’t get a lot of that at Canterbury.”

Just before I leave I attend Rick Gekoski’s session on Sunday afternoon. He gives good anecdote but, as he tells me later, does not want to be boxed in to telling anecdotes, which is what he is famous for. He does that, but spends a while talking about death, Wittgenstein and – in a pleasing symmetry – Karl Popper. He is good on Wittgenstein and gives the best brief and accurate account of Popper’s concept of falsification as being central to the scientific enterprise I have ever heard. It is a fabulous performance that takes its audience seriously and is both the funniest and deepest session I have seen in all my years of attending the festival.

In between Denis and Rick, I have my own hour-long session with Granta editor John Freeman about his book Shrinking the World. That story will have to wait for the next post.


PK said...

Ah yes, well I was there too, as you know. And he did indeed score the lovely model. Pity he couldn't get it up - the old war wound, you know.

Feyerabend was indeed invigorating and life changing. Although what he wrote was largely bollocks, it was very entertaining and challenging bollocks, which is really all that counts in teaching.

I think David Stove is a better guide on these matters - see Anything Goes: the origins of the cult of scientific irrationalism.

Stephen Stratford said...

I had forgotten about the war wound. Why do we know this? It wasn't mentioned in "Against Method" or "Science in a Free Society" . I suppose it is in his excellent autobiography "Killing Time" which I have mislaid just now. Funny thing to write about, though full credit for it not getting in the way of scoring the departmental hottie.

And I have just worked out that when we were in his class, he was the age I am now. Not that he seemed old or anything.

And now I want to go and re-read him and Lakatos, Kuhn and the rest. Oh all right, Stove too.

But first up is Denis Dutton's "The Art Instinct". Any book on the philosophy of aesthetics that has Fred Astaire on the cover is for me.