As human beings we are equipped with the power of thought, feelings, memories and bodies in which to house them.
But that’s not the whole story, of course.
At the Swindon Festival of Literature (7th-19th May), we have writers who delve deeper, through science, memoirs, philosophy and history.
Trevor Cox says speech is crucial to our personal identity – it’s not just what we say but how we say it. The role of intonation, pitch and accent of our voices are explored in his book, Now You’re Talking, from Neandertals to the digital age.
Rachel Hewitt looks back to the 1790s at the collapse of the Enlightenment. Free-thinking radicals like Coleridge, Godwin and Wollstonecraft sought to reform sex, education, commerce, politics and medicine by freeing desire from repression. Instead, the Gagging Acts of 1795 and the emotional needs and privileged backgrounds of the protagonists, led the end of the eighteenth century into guilt, sin, failure, resignation and repression. This, Rachel argues in A Revolution of Feeling, laid the origins of our contemporary approach to feeling and desire.
Christie Watson gives a tender and fierce case for kindness and compassion through her own personal experiences as a nurse in The Language of Kindness – A Nurse’s Story. Looking after people at their most vulnerable, with tenderness and empathy, is the key to human dignity and equality, she suggests.
More personal stories by Afua Hirsch, in Brit(ish), show how race, class and our childhood country and neighbourhood can make us at home with our identity or leave us wondering where we fit in.
Miranda Doyle feared truth faced extinction in 2016. She wanted to balance the books between fibs and facts by facing the lies in her own life, in A Book of Untruths. Through memoir mixed with scientific and psychological research, Miranda explores what can happen when we do not tell the truth and how it shapes our lives.
And what of wisdom? Professor Edith Hall looks way back at the Ancient Greeks – or rather, The Ancient Greek, Aristotle – and how he has much to impart about the human mind and heart, in her book Aristotle’s Way – how ancient wisdom can change your life.
Human beings may not have changed much since the Ancient Greeks, but technology has. Our new concerns go beyond our own biology and towards artificial life. Alan Winfield, professor of robot ethics at UWE, looks at the laws around robots, which could be anything from soldiers to driverless cars or caregivers. What values should we teach them? What will they learn from us regardless? And who is culpable when an autonomous machine makes a deadly decision?
One thing we meat-and-gristle beings can’t get away from – yet – is death. Irishman Kevin Toolis, a former frontline foreign correspondent, is fed up with the British cold-shouldering death. His father’s traditional Irish three-day wake made him appreciate the ritual’s role in understanding mortality.
You can book any – or all – of these author events by clicking their names above or visiting www.swindonfestivalofliterature.co.uk