Talks On Demand

Watch & enjoy past talks in our Garden Library. The same fascinating content, ready when you are.

Choose from 80 past Garden talks.

What makes an artwork good?

Dr. James Fox

Why are some artists famous and others forgotten? Why are some artworks priceless and others worthless? And in an era where so much art is so hard to fathom, how do we know whether a work of art is any good?

Wed, 18 May 2022 6:30 pm UTC

This talk is a part of the paid series: “Art's Biggest Questions
Is our anatomy our destiny?

Alice Dreger

In 1911, French doctors thought LS, a fashion model, had herniated ovaries. No one expected them to be testes. What is intersex? And what can we learn about sex and gender development from it?

Why are we so fascinated by the devil?

Dr. Mikki Brock

The devil is one of the most recognisable figures in the western world, making frequent appearances on screen, in art and literature, and even in political rhetoric. Why, in our comparatively secular age, does the demonic continue to captivate us?

What is art?

Dr. James Fox

Art is an essential part of what it means to be human. But what is art? When did we start creating it? And why do we still need it?

Wed, 11 May 2022 6:30 pm UTC

This talk is a part of the paid series: “Art's Biggest Questions
How do you lose connection to your body under stress?

Dr David Plans

Stress starts in the mind, but it can take an enormous toll on the body too. Left unchecked, it can even prove fatal. What is stress, from a scientific perspective, and how does it wreak havoc on our bodies when we're in a state of burnout?

Inspiring Artists: Bacon in Moscow

James Birch

In 1988, art curator James Birch, travelled to Moscow to mount the ground-breaking Francis Bacon exhibition. How was Bacon perceived at the time & how did this exhibition change society?

Could Putin be held to account for war crimes in Ukraine?

Dr. Jennifer Cassidy

News has recently broken that Ukraine is preparing war crimes charges against Russian military personnel. How feasible or likely is it that participants in the war could end up in the docks in Ukraine or the International Criminal Court in The Hague?

Inspiring Artists: Who was Francis Bacon?

Mark Stevens & Annalyn Swan

Irish-born painter Francis Bacon was one of the most important artists of the 20th century, his raw, unsettling imagery emerging from some of the most traumatic events of the modern age, including two world wars. Who was he, as an artist and as a man?

Is economic inequality a problem?

Paul Johnson

Many societies have become more economically unequal over the last 50 years; the world’s richest 1% now owns nearly 50% of the world’s wealth. What has driven this increase in inequality, and is it actually a problem?

Does love get better with age?

Dr. Jessica Riddell

Romeo and Juliet are often held up as the romantic ideal, willing to risk it all for their one great love. But if Shakespeare really agreed that this is what true love looks like, why are so many of his favourite couples distinctly... middle-aged?

Do plants have something to say?

Dr Jordan Dowell

We often think of plants as organisms left on their own to survive. Seemingly still and unable to make any noise they managed to fight with the rollercoaster of evolution. But plants talk to each other. So, what do they talk about?

Can we build a climate-resilient world?

Jonathon Porritt

Climate change is resulting in ever-more intense weather events of all kinds, from heat waves and forest fires to hurricanes and floods. If extreme weather becomes the new normal, can we survive it? And if so, how?

Where did the Easter story come from?

Dr. James Corke-Webster

The Easter story of the death and resurrection of Jesus is central to the religion of millions of Christians around the world, and its key events are recognisable to many millions more. Did Early Christians really believe in a literal resurrection?

How did fungi help create life as we know it?

Prof Katie Field

Plants wouldn’t have made it out of the water 450 million years ago if not for their collaboration with fungi. They are an ancient and extraordinary kingdom that exists everywhere. But if fungi are so essential, why are they so easy to miss?

What happens in the brain when you meditate?

Prof. Steven Laureys

Meditation - training your attention and awareness to reach a calm and stable state - is an ancient practice found all over the world and used in the modern day to manage stress. What's going on in your brain when you achieve this level of focus?

Why are flowers a biological mystery?

Prof. Richard Buggs

We could not exist without flowering plants, but to this date researchers cannot explain where they came from. Why did Darwin describe the origin of flowering plants as an “abominable mystery”?

How can we avoid nuclear war?

Dr. Lyndon Burford

From the Cuban Missile Crisis to the Cold War, the spectre of nuclear war has loomed over the planet many times since WWII. How did we step back from the brink, and what does that tell us about how to handle Putin's threats?

Is social media today's central battlefield?

Dr. Jennifer Cassidy

International diplomacy in the age of social media is no longer conducted by letter or considered phone call but Live Tweeted in real time & in public. From Trump vs North Korea to the Ukraine War, how are foreign relations conducted in the Digital Age?

How does where you grow up impact who you become?

Dr. Dorsa Amir

We often hear about nature vs nurture, but did you know that science can pinpoint specific personality traits that can be traced to the environment we grew up in? How much of our adult personality has its roots in not who we were born, but where?

What turns a leader into a dictator?

Prof. Fathali M. Moghaddam

The 20th and 21st centuries are said to be the age of dictatorship, and this month's invasion of Ukraine is the latest frontline. With our world's leaders in the spotlight, what traits do they share, and when and why do they cross society's boundaries?

How does love help us survive?

Dr. Anna Machin

Love can make us act against logic and reason. It can make us irrational. It can make us forget about our own best interests, or even risk our own safety. Why have we developed such a strong instinct to love, when in so many ways it would be easier not to?

Does where you're from change how you dream?

Prof. Sidarta Ribeiro

The study of dreams is a fascinating journey through neuroscience, biochemistry, psychology, history and anthropology. How do dreams differ around the world, and what do they tell us about the world itself?

Why can't Putin accept Ukraine's independence?

Prof. Nathaniel Knight

The invasion of Ukraine by Russia took the world by surprise. But tension between these two nations has been bubbling for many years. Why is Ukraine so important to Putin? And how did we get from Ukrainian independence to invasion?

How do artists depict paradise?

Dr. James Fox

Humans have always speculated about what a perfect world might look like, whether as a reward in the afterlife, part of an origin story like the Garden of Eden, or a real place on Earth. How do we see these ideas play out in the art we create?

Why was the Black Death the deadliest event in history?

Prof. Mark Bailey

There have been nearly 6m victims of Covid-19, but even this enormous death toll represents just a fraction of those lost to the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages. What do you need to know about the most fatal event in human history?

What does fiction say about the world we wish we had?

Prof. Matthew Beaumont

Imagining new worlds in speculative fiction, fantasy and sci fi doesn't just help us envision possible futures; it also gives us a powerful way to think about our world as it is now. What do our fictional worlds tell us about the world we want to live in?

Could the metaverse perfect our imperfect world?

Prof. Andy Miah

When people talk about the metaverse, they mean a future where there's a seamless connection between physical reality and the virtual world. But will that future be better than the world of today?

Do you still have free will when your unconscious mind is in charge?

Dr. Uri Maoz

Have you ever arrived at your destination with no memory of the journey that got you there? Your unconscious mind has been at work. Does that mean we don't always have free will over our actions and decisions? And what does that tell us about the brain?

Where do we go when we go to sleep?

Dr Lauren N. Whitehurst

We think of sleep as a period of relaxation and recuperation, but while we snooze, our brains remain incredibly busy, often with intriguing "side effects" like dreams and sleepwalking. What does the mind get up to when we're not paying attention?

Why did WW1 inspire so many utopian experiments?

Dr. Anna Neima

A century ago, the world was reeling in the wake of the First World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic. How did these catastrophic global events motivate people to live in new ways?

What conditions create witch hunts?

Dr. Mikki Brock

Witch hunting is, by and large, a thing of the past, yet we remain captivated by the concept. What drives this fascination, and why are we still talking about witch hunts today?

Are we living in an age of persecution?

Prof. Fathali M. Moghaddam

What's driving us when we act as a collective? And why does modern life mean more people feel persecuted than ever before?

How has modern science transformed colour?

Dr. James Fox

The last 150 years has brought about the greatest revolution there's ever been in colour. How have we ended up living in a hyper-coloured world?

Is happiness a modern invention?

Prof. Darrin McMahon

Today, we tend to think about happiness as a right: a natural goal all humans strive towards. How could it be possible that this idea came into being just two hundred years ago?

Why are animals better at navigating adolescence than human teenagers?

B. Natterson-Horowitz, MD

Humans aren't unique in having an adolescent stage, but we are pretty unique in how we react to it. Why do other species find it easier to surf the trials and turmoils of this challenging life phase than we do?

Did the Roman Empire really wage a war against Christians and their God?

Dr. James Corke-Webster

History remembers the persecution of early Christians as a clash between the Roman state and its traditional gods, and the new Christian cult and its upstart God. But is that really all there is to the story?

Why do we think white means pure?

Dr. James Fox

The colour white has been associated with purity for millennia in religious iconography, architecture and art. But has it come to represent something darker too?

Why does comedy make us happy?

Prof. Angus Fletcher

Humans have created art to provoke laughter for millennia. Why does comedy work, and what does it reveal about the counterintuitive biology of the human brain?

Are our hormones being hijacked by technology?

Dr. Anna Lembke, MD

Dopamine is our feel-good hormone: the one that encourages us to seek out pleasure. But the relentless pursuit of pleasure can lead to pain too. How can we find contentment in an age of instant gratification and overindulgence?

Why do some cultures have no word for blue?

Dr. James Fox

Until relatively recently in human history, there wasn't a word meaning "blue". Of the ancient cultures, only the Egyptians had a word for this colour. What was everyone else seeing?

What is colour?

Dr. James Fox

Colour is an experience: the colours we see and what they mean to us will differ for every human on the planet. What can art history, science, anthropology, literature and politics teach us about colour?

What happened after the first Christmas?

Dr. James Corke-Webster

Many people know the famous story of the birth of Jesus. But what do we know about where it comes from and what happened next?

At what age do you become responsible for your actions?

Prof. Leah Somerville

The law has to decide at what age someone should be held accountable for their actions. What does neuroscience tell us about when that should be?

Why are allergies on the rise?

Dr. R. Sharon Chinthrajah

1 in 15 people globally has a food allergy - a rate that's more than doubled since 1960. What's behind this soaring increase?

What does bioluminescence tell us about life in the ocean?

Dr. Edie Widder

More than 75% of sea creatures produce their own light. How do they do it, and what can we learn from this incredible marine firework display?

What can the recipes of the past tell us about the society they came from?

Prof. Rebecca Earle

Old cookery books can tell us a lot more than just how to cook a meal. What do they reveal about topics as diverse as access to technology and the concept of truth?

What is life like beneath the polar ice?

Prof. Antje Boetius

We know so little about the deep sea, and even less about what it's like beneath the ice of the Earth's polar regions. How does life flourish in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet?

Why are teenagers so influenced by their peers?

Dr. Wouter van den Bos

Peer pressure is a powerful influence on adolescent decision-making. What is it about the brains of teenagers that makes it so important to be liked, and to go along with the crowd?

Do we eat with our ears?

Prof. Charles Spence

Besides taste, there are other senses at work when we eat. How much of an influence does the environment have over our food behaviour?

How does HIV affect the brain?

Dr. Dionna Williams

Researchers around the world have been studying the HIV virus for years. But do we completely understand how it behaves and how far are we from finding a cure?

What is the future for our children?

Prof. Anthony Costello

Prof. Anthony Costello discusses his decades in public health. How has social, economic and health development affected the health of our planet?

How do our genes control our response to what we eat?

Dr. Vimal Karani

Not only does DNA control physical characteristics like height, but it also shapes how our bodies react to food. Is it true that you are what you eat?

How do cultures around the world think about property and ownership?

Dr Saskia Vermeylen

The Sharing Economy is challenging the West's traditional view of ownership, but other ways of thinking about property and possession have existed for millennia. What do they look like?

How does the ocean contribute to new drug development?

Dr. Jeanette Davis

There's so much left to learn about the sea and its organisms. Could the ocean be the source of the next drug to change medicine?

Were the first thought experiments in Shakespeare's plays?

Prof. Fathali M. Moghaddam

Scientists have long used thought experiments to further their understanding of the world. But was Shakespeare the first person to do it?

Why do humans have such a unique relationship with food?

Dr. John S Allen

Not even our closest primate relatives think about food in the way humans do. What does the food we eat tell us about our own evolutionary history?

How do the stories we tell shape who we are?

Prof. Ann Phoenix

Conversation is a continuous act of curating, connecting and analysing the events in our lives. How do we decide how we want to be seen?

What alien habitats exist on the bottom of the ocean?

Prof. Erik Cordes

The tech required to explore the deepest parts of the ocean is coming on in leaps and bounds. What bizarre habitats and organisms have we found, and what still remains to be discovered?

Can life be both wonderful and terrible at the same time?

Prof. Shannon Murray

The modern world is increasingly polarised; we see things in black and white. How can Shakespeare teach us to hold two conflicting ideas in our heads simultaneously?

How do you separate fact from fantasy in a cold case?

Professor Jim Fraser

Cold case reviews often have to battle misinformation and conspiracy theories, as well as missing pieces. How do investigators see through the chaos to a solution?

Intro to Catherine de Medici: Why do we love to hate a woman in power?

Dr. Leah Redmond Chang

History's leading ladies often come with a bad reputation. What can the Black Queen teach us about the misunderstood women of the past?

Does the ocean breathe?

Dr. Veronique Oldham

The oceans absorb nearly 1/3 of our carbon emissions; they are literally the world's lungs. How does the sea 'breathe', and why does it do it?

How are truths made?

Prof. Lisa Dickson

What you believe about the world depends on the lens you view it through. What does Shakespeare's Henry V have to tell us about different perspectives and where the real truth lies?

Is it ethical to use biometrics to catch criminals?

Dr. Richard Guest

Fingerprints are getting rarer - everyone's seen the TV shows. What new tools can we bring in to confirm a criminal's identity, and is it ethical to use them?

Why are our universities getting whiter?

Prof. Kalwant Bhopal

With more scrutiny on it than ever, inclusion in our universities should be the widest it's ever been. So why do so many key metrics tell a different story?

How did oceans shape human history?

Prof. David Abulafia

Territory, food, commerce and conquest: what role have the seas played in the development of the nations we see today?

How can psychedelics help us understand consciousness?

Dr. David Luke

How can someone on an acid trip see sounds or hear colours? And why do some people have this same experience all the time, drug-free?

How do we handle mentally ill offenders?

Dr Sohom Das

It's not always clear what drives a criminal to act the way they do. How does the justice system deal with offenders whose behaviour is rooted in mental illness?

Is the human brain pink, blue or fifty shades of grey matter?

Prof. Gina Rippon

Do the anatomical differences between men and women extend to the biology of the brain? Or does it all come down to environmental influence?

How can investigators identify a criminal when they don't leave DNA?

Dr. Candice Bridge

DNA is the go-to forensic evidence in many criminal cases. What other trace evidence can be used to identify the perpetrator when they don't leave DNA behind?

Which mathematical challenges will shape the 21st Century?

Prof. Yang-Hui He

The most transformative scientific breakthroughs depend on maths. Which problems are mathematicians working on that will drive scientific change in the coming decades?

Why does the mind create real symptoms in the absence of disease?

Dr. Suzanne O'Sullivan

The body can create a shocking array of symptoms, from paralysis to seizures, seemingly without any medical explanation. Is the brain responsible, and if so, why does it do it?

Why isn't DNA analysis a silver bullet for solving crimes?

Dr Georgina Meakin

As the science improves, we can detect smaller and smaller traces of DNA. Does that mean we could pin someone to a crime scene who was never there at all?

Why is a computer not a good analogy for the brain?

Prof. Angus Fletcher

Artificial intelligence systems are built to mimic human intelligence. Do they have any chance of replicating all the abilities of a brain?

What's the connection between stories and memory?

Dr. Michael A. Yassa

Stories make it easier to understand complex topics and make sense of our lives. But why does the brain work this way?

When does pain management become the pain of addiction?

Dr Kelly E. Dunn

More than 70% of deaths linked to drug use worldwide are related to opioids. How did these drugs designed to treat pain end up crippling communities?

Did Jesus answer fan mail?

Dr. James Corke-Webster

The Abgar Legend tells the story of the King of Osroene, who (it's said) got into a correspondence with Jesus. Are these letters real?

How do our waking lives meet our sleeping brains?

Dr Lauren N. Whitehurst

We know some of the basic factors that can disrupt sleep: caffeine, blue light, stress... But how does the way we spend our waking time change our sleeping brain?

Rethinking Serendipity: How is luck created?

Dr. Christian Busch

Research has proven that there's more to luck than simple chance. How can the right mindset turn uncertainty into serendipity?

Rethinking Forensic Science: We know what it is, but what does it mean?

Prof. Ruth Morgan

We think of forensics as a science - dispassionate and objective. But can we say the same about the humans who interpret it and decide what it means?

That's all for now

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