Lights In The Sky: the search for meaning

Lights In The Sky: the search for meaning’, is on 24 June 2014.
Lights In The Sky: the search for meaning’, is on 24 June 2014. 

— Chartered Accountants’ Hall, ICAEW, One Moorgate Place, London, EC2R 6EA 

The Institute of Advanced Study’s next London event, ‘Lights In The Sky: the search for meaning’, is on 24 June 2014.

The event will feature a panel of leading thinkers to explore and discuss a range of perspectives regarding what ‘lights in the sky’ mean in diverse historical, cultural and intellectual contexts.

• Professor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell (FRS), renowned astrophysicist and former President of the Royal Astronomical Society
• Dr Serafina Cuomo, classicist and historian whose work focusses on Greek and Roman antiquity
• Professor Bob Layton, anthropologist interested in social change and social evolution, indigenous rights and non-western art.
• Professor David Wilkinson (FRAS), professor of theology at Durham University

This evening event will build on the success of our previous London events, for example last year’s successful Timed Out: evolving to extinction with Jonathon Porritt, Caspar Henderson, Gillian Beer, Simon Conway Morris and Paul Wignall.

Organised by Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study, these events offer the Friends of the IAS and the wider Durham alumni network an opportunity to come together for what should prove to be a stimulating and entertaining occasion.

Date: Tuesday 24 June 2014
Time: 7.30pm – 10.00pm
Venue: Chartered Accountants’ Hall, One Moorgate Place, EC2R 6EA
Format: Drinks and nibbles will be available from 7.00pm before the event starts at 7.30pm. This will be followed by a drinks reception at the end to enable guests to mingle and chat with the speakers.
Cost: Free

Spaces are limited and will be awarded on a first come, first served basis. If you would like to attend this event please register at

Once registered a confirmation email will be issued and this will act as your ticket. Alternatively you can register via email by contacting

Additional Information

Human societies, however diverse, share one sky. Over millennia and in all parts of the world they have gazed with wonder up at the sky and observed, recorded and tried to explain celestial events: eclipses, comets and supernovae or, closer to home, phenomena such as rainbows or the aurora. Ancient Babylonian records continue to inform contemporary astronomical investigations. Stars have been seen as deities; as signs of other worlds; and as clues to the origins of the Universe and life itself. Humankind continues to be intrigued by the possibility of Earth-like planets elsewhere, other forms of life, and the potential for communication with these.

Our shared fascination with the sky also extends across the disciplinary spectrum. What happens when we bring together a range of perspectives to consider what ‘lights in the sky’ mean in diverse historical, cultural and intellectual contexts? How do such different points of view inform and potentially transform each other?To answer these questions, Durham University’s Institute of Advanced Study will bring together, for a public discussion, a group of distinguished scholars whose research reaches upwards and outwards. The panel will explore topics such as pulsars and gamma ray bursts, the ‘lighthouses’ of outer space; early societies’ interpretations of stars and rainbows; classical visions of astrology and celestial pathways to other dimensions; religious metaphors employing notions of illumination; transitions from astrology to astronomy; and contemporary ideas about extra-terrestrial life and its place in the modern imagination.

In accord with the IAS’s commitment to interdisciplinarity, the panel will be composed of speakers from the natural and social sciences, and from the arts and humanities. Inviting input from the audience, the panel will consider a variety of questions, including:

How do lights in the sky illuminate understandings of the origins of the Universe; the life cycle of stars, and implications of the fact that ‘we are stardust’.
In different historical and cultural contexts, how have societies have interpreted stars, comets, rainbows, the aurorae etc.?
Does light’s capacity to illuminate the natural world lead, inevitably, to its centrality in notions of moral and intellectual enlightenment?
Does the meaning of light as a source of life underlie contemporary enthusiasms for new mythologies about extra-terrestrial life?
How do we detect and interpret signals from outer space? And should we be sending signals back?

One Comment

  1. Had the opportunity to meet Dr Michio Kaku on Saturday night at the Sydney Town Hall after his presentation sponsored by UTS Science, he touched on elements of this topic…..sounds exciting. Wish I was in London!

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