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The Scientist Harry Witchel in an Elevate-Interview about the Festival theme Human Nature.

Harry Witchel joins Elevate on Thursday March 5th and takes part in the discussion "Music: A Universal Language of Humandkind?" on Friday.

Free entry at the Festival location Forum Stadtpark! -> Full programme info.


Elevate's festival theme 2020 is "Human Nature". What's your second thought about it?

Music is fundamental to human nature, but there are definitely some people who do not like, or listen to, music. Charles Darwin famously avoided music concerts as he grew older, because he apparently could not bear the high degree of mental arousal. As he put it, music "set my mind to too rapid perambulations". More dramatically in his Descent of Man, he said music "arouses dormant sentiments of which we had not conceived the possibility, and do not know the meaning." Scary stuff, but those sentiments are precisely the reason many people listen.  As a scientist, I still find it amazing and am mystified as to why it is that music is a privileged sound; somehow, among all the frequencies we hear day in and day out, we tune into music emotionally in a way that we might not for other sounds. Perhaps this specialness of experience is what Lord Byron was trying to tap when he said, 'There's music in the sighing of a reed; There's music in the gushing of a rill; There's music in all things, if men had ears'

And your first?

Human nature is incredibly diverse. Most scientists have now accepted the idea of emergent behaviour, which means that people have tendencies rather than limits. When people give out signals, like a choice of music genre, it may be an effect of their personality, but it may also be a cause of their personality and behaviour, as well as an indicator of a personality trait or behavioural characteristic

Quo Vadis Humanity? In 2009 Elevate's main theme was the climate crisis. 10 years have passed. Whats your take on the next 10?

From frying pan to fire?  opulism is a scary thing. Can music save us all? I hope so.
Of course, events will eventually swing away from populism. But history shows us that populism lasts a long time and its embers continue burning for over a decade. In America, the Andrew Jackson presidency started in 1829, and his hand-picked successor Martin Van Buren was in office until 1841.  That's 12 years, so my prediction for the next decade is more populism.

The relationship of humans and technology - more reasons to be pessimistic or optimistic? Can you name some?

Emotionally I am pessimistic about computers and technology, because their user interfaces are so obviously flawed, and could be made much better with so little effort. Objectively though, technology is pretty incredible. We now have amazing varieties of food available at all times of the year in supermarkets. We can fly anywhere to have a vacation. Whether or not you think this is good, you have to admit it is a jaw dropping achievement for Mankind. If King Henry the VIII could see us now, he would fall off his chair.  Remember, Henry VIII died of natural causes when he was 55, and his father King Henry VII died of natural causes at the age of 52.

And our relationship with nature? Of course we are "part of it", but....where are we going?

We have "conquered" nature, but that may not be such a wonderful thing. We now know that the Earth's environment is ultimately interconnected, and a giant volcano in Indonesia can eliminate summer and kill off agriculture in Europe and North America (eg 1816). The idea that a man's home is his castle, and that you can do whatever you like on your own land, and that no one outside can tell you otherwise, is absurd. Bad behaviour in one part of the planet affects people in other places.  What will happen to the World's climate when they inevitably destroy Brazil's rain forests?

"Psycho-spiritual crisis", "a psychotic society",... How bad is the status quo of humanity?

Not as bad as we think, or we would have been in a European war that was worse. War seems to have limited itself to places of poverty. I think rich people understand that war at home is both a costly and painful proposition. If everyone was rich, I think war would be incredibly unlikely (although crime would continue).

A message to the Elevate Festival community? What can we do?

Be good to your fellow humans. Listen to nuance.

Elevate features many amazing artists in the music & arts programme. Can we meet you on the Dancefloor too?

Yeah baby, let's dance!


Harry Witchel joins Elevate on Thursday March 5th and takes part in the discussion "Music: A Universal Language of Humandkind?" on Friday. 

Free entry at the Festival location Forum Stadtpark! -> Full programme info.

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