An Ancient recipe for a good life: Aristotle on Happiness,
26th January 2016
Fifty members of Exeter U3A attended this interactive talk given by Dr. Gabriele Galluzzo, Lecturer in Ancient Philosophy.
A brief introduction, given with a smiling ease, calmed any thoughts that the proceedings would be of too esoteric a nature for any of us to understand.
Initially, we were asked, as an audience, what we understood by the term 'happiness' and Gabriele used our answers such as pleasure, commitment, security etc. as a way of providing an insight into the use of the word by Aristotle. This was illustrated by many quotations from Aristotle's 'Ethics'. We were treated to an almost Socratic investigation into the range of meanings of the word. In many ways he illustrated for us, in so far as it can be rendered in English, what Aristotle ascribes it to. It is generally accepted that happiness is a goal that almost all people seek. For Aristotle happiness is achieved: by being a worthy person; by leading the good life; by seeking, even if not always finding, all the virtues.
After this very satisfying talk, to an avid and appreciative audience, there was a question and answer session. This showed that the U3A members had been very involved with the talk and that it had prompted much serious thought. We were left with the hope, or should one say almost expectation, that there will be future similar occasions to enjoy. Thank you Dr. Galluzzo.
When I wrote to thank Gabriele for his superb interactive talk, he replied:
"It is actually me who needs to thank you and all of you for that wonderful event yesterday. I had so much fun discussing ancient philosophy with you all in a way that is rarely the case with students and colleagues. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion and the very stimulating questions. I went through the feedback last night and people left so many interesting comments and make several interesting suggestions, which will be very useful for future similar events."
What Happens When We Make Things? 24th February 2016
Out of the twenty U3A members who attended this talk, I’m sure I was not the only one who arrived wondering what craft has to do with geography. Dr Nicola Thomas, who is a Cultural Historical Geographer, explained that she is interested in studying the interactions between places, people and materials. Since 2008 there has been a surge in the popularity of craft, as has happened before in times of national crisis.
In the course of her research, Nicola has studied the lives of individual craftspeople in the South West, together with the organisations who support them and promote their work. She is also interested in government policy in this area. In order to relate better to her research subjects, she decided to learn to weave, and discovered that it not only brought her closer to other craftspeople, but to her own ancestors. Making connections was the recurring theme of the afternoon.
We also learnt about ‘craftivism’, the use of craft to draw people’s attention to political and environmental issues. Craft itself raises economic and moral questions: how much are we prepared to pay for items which have been individually and ethically produced? On a lighter note, Nicola introduced us to ‘yarn-bombing’ and we were amused to find out that ‘visible darning’ is all the rage in certain circles. This entertaining talk gave us a different perspective on the subject of craft, and provoked a lively discussion.
Moral revolutions: killing and slavery, 16th March 2016
Thirty-one Exeter U3A members attended this talk in which Dr Nigel Pleasants shared with us his thinking emanating from his work looking at, and attempting to learn from moral revolutions experienced within our own life time.
The overall theme emerging was the relationship between social structure and moral agency. Within this context the Nigel explored a range of issues arising from reflection on the phenomenon of 'institutional wrongdoing' (Pleasants, 2008), including both explanation and moral evaluation, with a particular focus upon: the Holocaust and genocide; the exploitation of non-human animals; slavery, abolition and the anti-slavery and animal liberation movements. Nigel further explored the role that social and political criticism, moral education; critical reflection and argument addressing social morality, moral philosophy, and our individual attitudes, assumptions, prejudice, beliefs and behaviours have to play when addressing such important paradigm change.
We were left to consider the following challenging questions for those of us willing to engage: How do we explain moral revolutions? What role for ‘revolutionary moral agents? What role for moral education, critical reflection and argument? How best to promote progressive moral doing?
Nigel is currently working on papers on the ‘problem’ of structure and agency in the social sciences, the possible uniqueness of the Holocaust, the concept of genocide, and responding to critics of the idea of moral certainty. In the near future he hopes to produce a book manuscript consisting of philosophical reflections on the Holocaust and genocide and their wider social implications.
Why Popeye was Right (to eat his greens): Dr Anni Vanhatalo
Cherries and Berries: Live Long and Prosper: Professor Jo Bowtell
18th April 2016
Almost 50 of us spent a fascinating morning hearing about research at Exeter University on the benefits of certain foods.
The first talk on dietary nitrates concentrated on the benefits of beetroot, which is one of many vegetables high in nitrates (others include lettuce, spinach, kale, swiss chard, radishes, leeks, fennel, celery etc.). A group of older people (70 to 80 year olds) and a smaller group of students (20 year olds) drank concentrated beetroot juice as a supplement over a ten-day period. The results showed that for the older people blood pressure was lowered by about 6%, their cognitive function was improved and with more oxygen in their blood stream they had better walking efficiency. The benefits were less noticeable on the younger subjects. We all know he sold cheap prom dresses to women. You don’t have to drink beetroot juice every day to enjoy these benefits but should eat a healthy diet including the above vegetables (raw, steamed or roasted, but not boiled).
The second talk reported on the effect of eating cherries and berries on heart disease. Many red fruits contain polyphenols. There are more than 5,000 different polyphenols, but the one of interest is the group called the Flavonoids. Of these, anthocyanins (found mainly in berries) were of great interest as they may be helpful in improving vascular function. The highest concentration of anthocyanins is found in blackcurrants, but other red fruits also contain large amounts. The researcher had used cherries and blueberries, as it is possible to obtain them in an easy form to administer to participants. In addition, those taking the blueberry supplement were quicker and more accurate in some cognitive function tests.
Like all the best research, further research is needed to understand what the mechanism is for improving vascular function and checking the effects of other fruits.
It was a hugely enjoyable session and we were encouraged to try beetroot juice and concentrated blueberry and cherry juices. All of which tasted fantastic. And we learned a few new words!
The actual slides used for these talks are available from Carol McCullough firstname.lastname@example.org
Why does anyone go to university? Exploring the origins of higher education,
4th May 2016
Dr Eric Lybeck, Lecturer in Historical Sociology
I had not read anything about the talk and was surprised to find that Eric's PhD had been based on 19th century university development in Germany, which was subsequently adopted by the USA. A challenging 60 minutes followed, with everything from Shakespeare and the Brothers Grimm to the Nazis and more. We learned that the rapid development of the German universities in the 19th century was as a result of the French Revolution in Germany - the 300 small states became 30 and the state needed an elite to function. Germans did not take to the Enlightenment and idealised medieval scholarship which equalled 'University' in their eyes. So the system developed rapidly and, after Kant published 'The Conflict of the Faculties' in 1798, the first Doctorate ever was awarded from Berlin in 1810. Before this date the highest qualification was Master. The old order of the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie was gradually changed to include a new class of educated people.
I can't begin to set out how we got from there to the seminar system and the Arts and Sciences model of a modern university system, but suffice it to say that the USA in the 1890s wanted to have the success that Germany had and followed the same path. Students went to German universities and then returned to the USA and many of us were surprised to learn that 30% of US population is of German descent. There seems to have been a reinterpretation of this influence in response to the rise of the Nazis in Europe as many of the guiding principles of the university expansion had their roots in a similar vision and any association with that philosophy was not welcome.
After his talk, which was much, much more detailed than I have stated here Eric invited questions and comments from the audience about why we thought people went to, or should go to university. There was much lively debate and some differing views but most seemed to agree that 'fings ain't what they were!' Commodification of university education was a development that chimed with many and, also, lack of information about what employment would be available post-degree.
Eric hopes to move onto detailed research of the UK university sector and we will await that with great interest.
In all, a very interesting afternoon and well worth attending.
How Does the University of Exeter Work? 26th May 2016
Twenty four members of Exeter U3A attended this talk in May, given by Professor Jane Whittle, lecturer in History. We were given a very clear and thorough overview of the complex structure of the University and the initial surprise was to learn how much the University has expanded in just over 20 years since Professor Whittle joined the staff. The student population in 1995 was 8,000 and is now over 21,000. Whilst the majority are from the UK, there are in fact students from 130 countries. Of the 3,905 staff needed for this large expansion, 45% are academic and 55% non-academic.
It was interesting to learn that the quality of the students, the majority of whom come from the Home Counties, is extremely high and that the emphasis of the teaching is to encourage students to be critical and to work independently. This is essential in the modern workplace as employers want graduates who are immensely adaptable. Professor Whittle emphasized the point that flexibility, and the ability to change, is the ethos inculcated in Exeter. However, it was also quite thought-provoking to learn that for young PhD graduates there is often a period of about 10 years of uncertainty while they take on short–term or yearly contracts before gaining settled employment.
We were assured that academics do not ‘just teach’ then have long, lazy summer breaks, as has been the assumption in the past. When not teaching, the members of staff are engaged in research and preparation for the next academic year. The University is judged on the quality of the research produced which is of vital importance and determines 11% of the University income.
Mature students have dwindled in numbers recently, possibly due to the position of Exeter and the changes in charges for courses. However, those who study in later years are valued for their experience and commitment. Professor Whittle also said that mature students in a seminar group usually engender a lively discussion and are good at time management when studying, both of which may also be observed in many a U3A group!
Death by Rubber Duck? A talk by Lorna Harries, Professor in Molecular Genetics, 20th June 2016
Approximately twenty three of us were given a fascinating presentation on the subject of Bisphenol A or BPA. This chemical is used commonly in plastic food packaging.
BPA is man-made and does not breakdown but builds up in the environment and the human body in high concentrations when food and drink is consumed that has been packaged in this flexible type of plastic.
It is also present in toothpastes and dental fillings, and in the linings of tin cans.
This product now has the worlds highest production volume with 500kg being produced an hour.
It has been found that people with higher concentrations of BPA in their bodies are statiscally more likely to have heart disease and type 2 Diabetes.
Professor Harries then described an intervention study for dietary moderation of BPA. For this they had one hundred and twenty four 17/18 year old volunteers from the local area to participate in the study. For a period of time they tried consuming food and drink only supplied fresh, with no plastic wrapping whatsoever. However, despite laboratory testing proving the harmful effects of BPA, this study did not prove conclusive. The conclusion was that BPA is so prevalent in our lifestyle that in the short term it is not possible to alter our BPA exposure solely with an intervention study.
With opposition from plastics manufacturers, it was decided the only path to take was to lobby Parliament for legislation on labelling, apparently the USA has already banned this product.
Concern was expressed by members and quite a number of questions followed as to which product packaging contained the substance.
Representing the Face: engaging with facial difference in contemporary art and heritage. A talk by David Houston Jones, Professor of French Literature and Visual Culture. 5th July 2016
Did you know that medical doctors in maxillofacial units in the First World War worked with artists when treating facially injured servicemen? Artists produced before and after drawings of the injured servicemen to aid the doctors in their reconstruction work. Sculptors also helped by making facial masks that servicemen used to conceal the disfigured parts of their faces as they walked the very difficult path of re-integrating into everyday life once their treatments ended. Because of the weaponry used and the nature of trench warfare, huge numbers of servicemen suffered horrifying facial injuries. It is estimated that 60,000 British servicemen alone were treated for facial injuries. Special maxillofacial units were set up in the UK and France to treat these men.
Professor Jones spoke to twenty-six members of Exeter U3A about a research project ‘1914Faces2014’ that he led and that investigated the treatment of these facially injured servicemen. The research was also the subject of an exhibition at RAMM in early 2015, where visitors were asked for their responses to the sometimes disturbing exhibits.
These responses are the subject of continuing research by Josh Powell who is a PhD student. The U3A members present at the talk divided into groups to discuss a selection of the responses to assist Josh in his research.
This informative and stimulating talk resulted in lively feedback from our members who were clearly engaged with the topic and perhaps energised by the generous supply of pastries.
The work of The Centre for Research in Ageing and Cognitive Health (REACH). 6th September 2016
Forty-six members of Exeter U3A attended this event which comprised short presentations concerning ongoing studies related to maintaining health and well-being in older adults.
Dr Julia Teale introduced the session and gave an overview of the work of REACH by outlining a number of studies.
Professor Linda Clare, the head of the team, also contributed to this overview of the wide-ranging work which is taking place.
Dr Ruth Lamont talked about 'Identity in Retirement' drawing on the results of a study in which several of our members had participated.
(We then had a break and took advantage of the tea, coffee and cakes provided.)
Dr Catriona MacKenzie, an Osteoarchaeologist, talked about her work on an early Christian burial site in Gaelic Ireland which found that diseases such as osteoporosis were common.
Lastly, Dr Siobhan O'Dwyer talked of her work on family care for people with dementa with an interesting reference to the indigenous people of Australia.
The work of REACH is described on their website:
FAMILY CLASS Thursday 20th October 2016
Seven Exeter U3A members had a very interesting and enjoyable session with the University of Exeter’s Family Class in October. There were about sixteen relatives of overseas students, including husbands, wives and parents, and they had come from many different countries including Italy, Spain, Turkey, China, Japan and Indonesia. We circulated around the ‘students’, who had been arranged in groups of four or five, and they asked us a range of questions which they had carefully prepared with Jo Hughes, their English language teacher before we arrived. Some of them had been in England for quite a while – one I spoke to had been here for four years – whereas some others had only been in England for a month or even just two weeks, and it was their first visit here. There was very lively conversation with much laughter for the hour-long session, with a great variety of different subjects being covered among the different groups, including Brexit, the Enlightenment, tourist advice, education, accents, US politics, and BEER! Some of us had taken photos along and they were a focus for sharing memories and exploring aspects of our culture. I explained the British affection for seaside piers to two visitors from China, and one of them showed a photo of her recent visit to Lands End. These sessions are always fun and very rewarding. All we have to do is chat to people who are fascinated by what we have to say – what could be a better way of spending an hour!
The Future of Work and Leisure. A talk by Dr Edward Skidelsky, Lecturer in Sociology and Anthropology, 2nd November 2016
Thirty-seven members attended this lecture given by Dr. Edward Skidelsky on "The Future of Work and Leisure.” Dr. Skidelsky was co-author with his father, Robert, of the book “How much is enough”
Dr. Skidelsky initially spoke about how in the last four decades the world had been impacted by the effects of globalisation, the weakness of the Unions and how many jobs have been replaced by technology. He indicated that new jobs are not being created at the same rate as jobs being lost. He referred to Digital Taylorism which is defined as follows: Digital Taylorism is based on maximising efficiency by standardizing and routinizing the tools and techniques for completing each task involved with a given job. Digital Taylorism involves management's use of technology to monitor workers and make sure they are employing these tools and techniques at a satisfactory level.
He indicated that the future now was bleaker than at any time since the end of World War II. He referenced things like Zero Hours Contracts and Internships whereby people are asked to work for no remuneration and referred to these people as "The Precariat"
He showed that Maynard Keynes was quite accurate in 1930 when he stated that the GDP per capita in the U.K. would rise from £5,000 to £60,000 in 2030 which we are on track to achieve. Keynes was less prescient in stating that whereas people worked for 50 hours a week on average in 1930 but would be working just 15 hours a week in 2000 when it is in fact 40 hours a week.
He spoke about our Material Wants and how there is a bandwagon for things like Mobile Phones and an appetite for Snob Goods such as Club memberships indicating that as Lenin stated Capitalism has released man’s susceptibility to avarice.
A possible solution to our situation was put forward by suggesting that a Basic Income of £20,000 per annum be paid to all Citizens. Finland is testing this idea as are the Netherlands. This would provide a work/leisure hybrid in that a basic income would encourage some people not to work at all and not have to draw state benefits whereas others could take work of 16 hours per week as an example. Certain jobs like Doctors, Lawyers would need to continue to work full time for the sake of continuity. A Basic Income would remove the need for the bureaucracy for state benefits and change the situation currently which is as follows: 5% are wealthy, 25% are servicing the wealthy, 50% are public sector workers and 20% are on benefits. It could create a more equitable society.
There followed a question period whereby many people were sceptical on how successful a basic income could be implemented in the UK. Dr. Skidelesky pointed out how Bernie Sanders has attracted quite a following the in the U.S. and that things can change.
RESEARCH INTO WALKING
The average age of our four walking groups was drastically reduced in September and October when members of Hearty Hikers, Stride Out, Walkie Talkies and Short Weekly Walks were joined by Alexandra Smith, a young postgraduate student in the University of Exeter Business School. Alexandra is in the process of establishing the focus of her doctoral research into the area of walking groups and was keen to involve Exeter U3A in the early stages of her work. She thoroughly enjoyed her walks with our groups and enjoyed chatting with our members, and greatly appreciated the willingness of members to answer her questions. We not only gave her information about why we walked, what was important on our different walks, etc., but she also discovered how much fun we all have on our various rambles, treks and hikes, not least the amount of laughter that is involved and the noise level on public transport! Alexandra hopes to involve members again when she has finalised the precise area and nature of her research.
Regulating Women – Friday 16th December 2016
Twenty-eight members of Exeter U3A attended the talk by Dr. Sarah Cooper, which focussed on four main issues that affect women and that involve legislation: Abortion, Prostitution, Pornography, and Rape. It is no surprise that they all involve sexual activity.
After the 1967 Act, Abortion appears to be available on demand but the procedure has not been decriminalised – the previous Victorian act is still in place! The 1967 Act was framed as a medical issue and not to support the rights and safety of women. Abortion is only legal if a woman satisfies certain points, and two doctors agree that these have been met. As 65% of GPs are male and abortion is still seen as a 'moral' issue, the resulting access to abortion is patchy because conscientious objectors are influencing and slowing down decisions.
Prostitution – the sale of sex isn't illegal in Britain, unlike Sweden and Germany. How to protect women isn't prioritised and the police downgrade crimes involving it. You only have to remember the Yorkshire Ripper case as an example of this. Prostitutes working on the street are not acceptable in the UK but their male customers are left untouched. The issues surrounding prostitution and policy making are rarely deliberated in Parliament.
Rape is illegal but proving that one party didn't consent and therefore that a rape took place is always a terrible dilemma for the woman and her legal team. The United Nations estimates that 1 in 5 women will be subjected to rape, and if a woman is brave enough to report their experience to the police, 26% of cases are turned away, citing “lack of evidence”. Lots more women do not report experiences, probably knowing that their previous sexual history will be dragged out by the defence council. The recent Chet Evans case was given as an example – eventually he was exonerated and the woman blamed.
This leads on to Pornography in which rape is still not on the banned activity list and the latest 2003 Act regulating this, concentrates on protecting children and not women as well. Porn is accepted as normal in our society and there is little protection for the women involved.
Recent political successes seem to indicate that even existing women's rights cannot be taken for granted.