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Think at Oxford 2018

Event Information

From: 23rd Mar 2018

To: 25th Mar 2018

Think at Oxford 2018

Balliol College, Oxford

23 - 25 March 


1970s: Expression – through genes, war and art


The weekend theme is a continuation of what we have being doing: the history of ideas.

This year we are starting to look at the 1970s.  


Thinking at Oxford … 

For many centuries, generations of enquiring minds have quietly and steadily made their way to Oxford. Mensans – being quick of mind themselves – have picked up on this tradition, and established for themselves a similar pilgrimage. For several years now, a springtime gathering of Mensans has met to forge friendships through intelligent conversation ….. and even to forge intelligence through friendly conversation.

For the past few years we’ve been exploring the history of ideas, taking each decade of the twentieth century in turn, and reviewing its significant events, achievements and tragedies – and their resonance for our lives today. This approach allows for a great variety each year: we select topics from literature and the arts, the sciences and philosophy, politics, economics, sociology and psychology. To help frame this we remind ourselves of key influences from the past as we move towards the possibilities of the future.

The choice of topics within these categories is informed by members’ wishes. The general format is to have a guest speaker for the Saturday evening talk, with Mensans giving the other talks. The aim is to fulfil the participatory ideal of Mensans drawing on their own expertise, debating with each other on equal terms. The standard of questions has always been impressive, and we promote the practice of discussion amongst the audience – which always seems to extend to wide-ranging conversations over coffee breaks, meals, quadrangles and walks in Oxford.

So the tenor is participatory. Feedback is consistently that there is a friendliness and expectation of intelligent conversation, somewhat more so than at other organised Mensan gathering.

The Venue The Topics

This year we are once again at Balliol College.

Founded in 1263, Balliol College is one of the oldest colleges in Oxford.

It is named after John de Balliol, lord of Barnard Castle, located in present-day Teeside.

Over the Saturday and Sunday we will have seven talks on topics ranging from time, evolution, genetics to war, music and the question of taste. 

As usual the plan is to have a guest speaker for the Saturday evening event “The Roger Farnworth Discourse and Dinner”. 

On Friday there is an informal gather at one of the local pubs for a philosophy café.  


1970s: Expression – through genes, war and art

Last year we looked at the 1970s with a focus on “Justice, Ethics & Belief”.  We had well informed and exciting insights into the moral uncertainties generated through developments in medical science and how the law strove to respond to the ethical dilemmas created.  We reflected upon how we come to believe what we know, and whether we need to doubt our certainties just a little bit more.

And, building on this, we examined what are the ideas, and ideals, that could rationally lie within a just and fair State.  Our keynote speaker addressed the Iranian Revolution, and brought together the realities of how beliefs impact upon notions of justice and ethics.

This year we will continue to explore “The Seventies” as a period often viewed as one of pivotal changes following the socially progressive changes of the 1960s, such as the increasing political awareness and economic liberty of women, and the civil rights of minority groups.  At the same time progress in science!!

There is no doubt that the 1970s is a continuation of the 1960s.  That is so not just because of the delineation of an arbitrary calendar system (e.g. one based on fixing variable years – an idea we will be looking at), but also appreciating that decades are irrelevant as markers for how the human world develops. And, it is some key developments that we are going to consider at Think! 2018. 

We are going to look more deeply at what makes “us” – how human beings are expressive genes, and creatures with fighting tendencies, observed horrendously as warriors and perhaps trivially as fashionistas.  To this end we will explore how ideas in evolutionary theory evolved, particularly in the growth of understanding of gene expression.  In some ways human behaviour, such as wars, may seem like the other end of the spectrum in terms of scale, but chemical warfare, has had effects on both a genetic and social level.  The Vietnam War (or more accurately “The American War in Vietnam” is an example of this and provides some salutary lessons.  Consequences that impact survivors and their children today.

There was a public response to wars and hence the 1970s is seen as a decade of protest.  It saw protest emerge in revolutionary music, in the arts and, perhaps indirectly, in fashion, art and design.  The 1970s is a decade when what counted as ‘taste’ was seriously challenged.  From this perspective, the 1970s was not quite as dark a decade as it is often represented.

As always, we will pause for conversation and allow time to ponder how these events and ideas continue to impact upon us today. So, do join us for what looks to be fascinating perspective on some of the major ideas and developments of the 1970s.


  Friday, 23rd March – Note: If you arrive on Friday, check in is after 1400
  We will again be casually organising a philosophical discussion in the evening - it hasn’t always worked out as planned. BUT, for the Friday afternoon we can loosely gather in the King’s Arms, 40 Holywell Street, Oxford OX1 3SP, where food is available all day. For those staying at College – breakfast will be served on Saturday at 8am in the Great Hall
  Saturday, 24th March – Note: If you arrive on Saturday, you can check in at any time
10:15 Tea/coffee
10:45 Welcome, formal introduction and plans for weekend
11:00 The Evolution of Evolutionary Theory
12:00 Fixing the Variable Year
13:00 Lunch (not included) and free time. The afternoon is free for you to explore Oxford
16:00 Tea/coffee
16:30  The Decade That Taste Forgot: The 1970s
17:50 Break – bar opens—freshen up for dinner etc.
18:30 The Roger Farnworth discourse & dinner – to include guest speaker:
19:30 Dinner in the Old Common Room
21:00 Philo café – to further discuss topics of the day and more …
  Sunday, 25th March
08:00   Breakfast
09:30 Welcome – plans for the day
09:45 Epigenetics
10:45 The Vietnam War & its Legacy: defending Democracy or Colonialism
11:45 Tea/Coffee
12:15 The Music Revolution of the 1970s
13:15  1970s: Expression – through genes, war and art closing
13:30  Feedback and plans for next year
14:00 Departure – Optional lunch (not included) at The King’s Arms


Booking Options

1 Saturday night B&B only, dinner, standard room £149.00
  Includes all Sat & Sun talks , tea/coffee/biscuits, Saturday evening dinner and Sunday breakfast.    
2 Saturday night B&B only, dinner, en-suite room. £159.00
  Includes all Sat & Sun talks, tea/coffee/biscuits, Saturday evening dinner and Sunday breakfast.  
3 To include Option 1, adding Friday night B&B (23rd March) £209.00
  B&B standard room and Saturday breakfast.  
4 To include Option 2, adding Friday night (23rd March) £229.00
  B&B en-suite room and Saturday breakfast.  
5 Saturday night B&B standard room. £105.00
  Includes all talks, tea/coffee/biscuits, but NOT Saturday dinner.   
6 Saturday night B&B en-suite room. £115.00
  Includes all talks, tea/coffee/biscuits, but NOT Saturday dinner.  
7 No accommodation. £99.00
  Includes all Saturday (incl. evening speaker) & Sunday talks, Saturday dinner, and tea/coffee/biscuits.   
8 Saturday talks (+evening speaker) only. £35.00
  Includes tea/coffee/biscuits.  
9 Sunday talks only. £19.00
  Includes tea/coffee/biscuits.  



Thank you for your interest. Bookings for this event are now closed. 



Call Mensa HQ: 01902 772771, option 3 during office hours. Monday-Friday, 9am-4pm.


Organiser Information

Austin Caffrey