Brighton Festival 2014

Brighton Festival 2014: Alex Bellos and AC Grayling

Another weekend another fun two days volunteering!

Alex Bellos, Alex Through the Looking Glass (Saturday 17th May)

Unfortunately I forgot my note pad on Saturday so I didn’t have the chance to jot anything down. Apologies for any inaccuracies, I’m writing from memory.

Alex Bellos is a writer and broadcaster, he studied mathematics and philosophy at University and thus is quite the genius, in my opinion at least. You may know of Bellos either from his previous Maths book, Alex in Numberland or from his work on Brazil, specifically football. His latest book is titled Alex Through the Looking Glass and is his second book on Maths. To quote Bloomsbury:

Read this captivating book, and you won’t realise that you’re learning about complex concepts. Alex will get you hooked on maths as he delves deep into humankind’s turbulent relationship with numbers, and proves just how much fun we can have with them. 

If you’re anything like me – afraid of the numbers – Bellos is the perfect person to get you thinking differently about Maths. He aims to demonstrate that you too can love maths when you take it from the classroom and apply it to the world. The first chapter of the book focuses on favourite numbers. On being asked, many times, what his favourite number was Alex decided one day to turn the question on the audience member who asked him. Expecting silence it surprised him they did in fact have one. Intrigued by this Alex set up a website asking participants for their favourite number and the reason why.

These were the results:

      1. 7
      2. 3
      3. 8
      4. 4
      5. 5
      6. 13
      7. 9
      8. 6
      9. 2
      10. 11

More than 30,000 people globally filled in his survey, and there were some interesting explanations for people’s favourite numbers, of which I remember none. I was expecting 3.14, but it wasn’t one Alex mentioned. Seven is my favourite number, but that is probably because of Harry Potter. Thirteen is a close contender – the date of my birth. The psychology behind these choices is an indicator of how maths is entwined into our lives, Maths isn’t just sums.

Alex went on to describe how we tend to favour even numbers in advertising, but how having an extra one at the end of a number gives it pizazz. He also went on to explain how we gender numbers, odd for male and even for female. That semi-blew my mind, I had thought of this before but never to the extent that I would verbalise such thoughts. The way we subconsciously gender the world right down to numerics fascinates me.

As the talk concluded not only did I feel an intense desire to read his book, I also got thinking of several of my friends whom I would give it to. He also has a lovely wife who I chatted away with, it was a pleasure to meet them both.

I think this festival is going to break my to-be-read shelf!


A. C. Grayling, The God Argument (Sunday 18th May)


I did remember my note pad Sunday, although my notes weren’t entirely legible. Grayling was marvellous and incredibly intelligent, as I wrote down one bit of interesting information he was on to the next.

In this talk Grayling was discussing his book, The God Argument. Here he puts forth the case for humanism and against religion as a way of ‘moral’ existence.

As a child of religious parents this talk was particularly significant for me. Grayling stated that people tend to come to or leave religion at a time of great emotional conflict or upheaval. From my experience of church, and the people who joined while I attended, this is true. Although, it wasn’t like that for me, I remember from a young age not understanding why people were believing what I was faking. I acted my way through my religious upbringing. In fact, I used to write a lot of stories in Church, I got away with it because the congregation thought I was taking notes on the service.

“Daddy, I don’t believe in Gods and Godesses, but I do believe in fairies.”

“Well yes, you’ve got empiricle evidence for that.”

The majority of the talk was on religion, spanning it’s historical origins to state of religion in the world today. The majority of the notes I made cover Grayling’s opinions on religion. However, it was his alternative, humanism, that had me most interested.

Humanism – from my understanding of Grayling’s explanation – is a mindset, not a movement. It encourages you to think and learn, to respect and understand the moral differences of others. He explained that the mantra of treated others as you would like to be treated is illogical, as that sets an egotistical standard. It doesn’t account for difference. To treat others as they would like to be treated is a fairer attitude. Humanism is a generous and sympathetic approach to others, allowing them the space to do as they like as long as they don’t cause harm.

My initial feeling on hearing this was that I was probably a little too snobbish for this movement. I do deem some actions worthier than others. However, I thought of the following: While you could argue that humanism is for the hippy middle class, all it requires of you is to think. Religion – conversely – asks you to act. You must pray, you must tithe and you must refrain, but you do this without thought. Historically the Church has ensured that only the upper echelons would do the thinking. While I won’t be signing up to the church of humanism, I am impressed that all it asks of me is to continually strive to overcome my ignorance. Religion never let me think, it just told me to act, mindlessly following the crowd.

I recommend seeing Grayling talk if you can, my write up isn’t doing the event enough justice.

Three events down, three more to go, TTFN


5 thoughts on “Brighton Festival 2014: Alex Bellos and AC Grayling

  1. Interesting. Neither of these books would be ones I would pick up on my own but they both sound fascinating. I particularly like the sound of Grayling’s The God Argument. Thanks for introducing them to me!


    1. You are most welcome 🙂

      I felt the same way listening to the talks, definitely not books I would have bought without attending these for inspiration.


  2. This post alone is fascinating, the talks must’ve been wonderful! I’ve heard of 7 being the number of heaven or something like that, 8 being lucky in Asia. It’s interesting how we assign thoughts and superstitions to numbers. I love the ‘treat others as they would like to be treated’. A very good point.

    Hope the other events were good, or are good if the festival’s still happening.


    1. Thanks Charlie! The other events were marvellous too, I need to write the rest of my volunteering days up. The festival has ended now though, I’m not sure what to do with myself.


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