Creativity may save us from tide of technology

The woes of the modern world were top of the agenda yesterday at 'The Independent'-sponsored Bath Literature Festival

It is our creativity that might save us from being dehumanised by the onrush of new technologies, neuroscientist Susan Greenfield told an attentive but slightly gasping audience of more than 300 at The Independent Bath Literature Festival yesterday.

"We will need three things: a strong sense of our own identity; the ability to form new meanings – to see the world in new ways; and a sense of usefulness, that what we do contributes to a bigger context than ourselves."

Now, a confession. That quote comes from a quick chat with Baroness Greenfield after her talk – as she was rushing for a train. That talk, which she introduced as "the fastest neuroscience course in the world" was so full of ideas, delivered so fast, they proved tricky to capture.

Some of us got lost in her expositions of the role of the pre-frontal cortex in consciousness, how recreational drugs boost dopamine production and why London taxi drivers have a bigger hippocampus than the rest of us (it's where they put The Knowledge). Which may be why so many queued to buy her new book, You and Me: the Neuroscience of Identity.

Greenfield likes to think of herself as among "the least reductionist" of her brain-scanning peers. "The brain is like an orchestra," she explained. "Each instrument may have a specific role, but they always play together." Not that she's against a little deconstruction. At one point, she described how, at 16, in front of her three-year-old brother, she used her mother's kitchen scissors to dissect a rabbit destined for the dinner table. Including its eyes and brain.

Greenfield is more concerned with linkages than breakages. She worries about the type of links we make, in an increasingly interconnected world. The paradox is, she feels, that social networking in cyberspace may make those who rely on it feel increasingly lonely. And she spoke movingly about Alzheimer's disease. "For sufferers, it's like a reversal of childhood," she said. "Retracing the steps from the cognitive – all the things we've consciously learned – back to the purely sensory. A truly frightening state."

She is herself most saddened, she said, by fear of change: "When people feel so threatened by what's happening in their culture that they become hostile to it – in denial."

She expressed severe doubts about whether we can – on Facebook, perhaps – reshape ourselves as perfect, "by ticking boxes to put up an image of ourselves as we would like to be, rather than as we are in, say, a family crisis." The danger, she thinks, is that people no longer feel happy with their real identities "but see themselves as commodities".

Toksvig's bicycle ride into history

Sandi Toksvig, host of Radio 4's The News Quiz, has written travel books and children's stories for years. Now she is returning to the adult market with a new novel, Valentine Grey, set in the Boer War. "I saw this plaque [at] Canterbury Cathedral, commemorating a bicycle regiment in South Africa, and the image stayed with me," she told an audience at Bath Guildhall. "Just imagine, I thought, the effect of the veldt on your poor rubber tyres. When I came back and looked... again, it was actually the Anglo-Indian War. But by then I was hooked on the bicycles and the Boers." The book is out in September.

Dame in a tight spot without a corset

Best literary anecdote of the festival so far came from Sandi Toksvig, about Dame Ethel Smyth, dauntless composer of the Suffragette's hymn, "March of the Women." She was cycling to visit Virginia Woolf in Rodmel, Sussex, but felt anxious about her lack of a corset. So she dropped into a shop in a local village and bought a birdcage. She was later found, by other arriving lunch guests, in a hedgerow, striving to climb inside it.

Happy ending for couch potatoes

During an Independent Voices discussion of "Why are we so neurotic about food?" Candida Crewe, told the audience: "Like a dog, I eat only one meal a day. I don't have breakfast or lunch, only dinner." She added: "And when I was training for a marathon, I ran every day for a year and never lost a pound." You could hear scores of couch potatoes giving her a silent high-five.

What's on: Today's highlights

11.15am What are Universities for? Stefan Collini argues for a rethink on tertiary education

1pm Independent Voices – Are Books Doomed? JK Rowling's agent, Neil Blair, and Charlie Redmayne lead the discussion.

6.15pm The Golden Age of Arabic Science. BBC boffin Jim Al-Khalili argues that West and East should takes a fresh look at Baghdad's House of Wisdom.

8pm Tim Liardet and Fiona Sampson. Two of today's finest British poets discuss elegy and the music of what happens.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on