Monday, 29 December 2014

The First World War: Learning from History

Our first meeting of the New Year will be on the 8th Jan at the new time of 7.30pm at the White Rock Hotel

The Winter Solstice has now passed so the days are lengthening as we climb back towards the renewal of Spring. The night is always darkest before the dawn so the mid-winter celebration is an important age old process for coping with the depredations of winter.  I hope you are all enjoying yours as much as I am…..

Our first subject for the New Year will be:

 ‘What can we learn from the First World War?

We now have the benefit of 100 years of hindsight, so are there any clear lessons that we can learn from the Great War? 

The subject was proposed by George Farebrother of Herstmonceux Quakers, and we hope he can be present to introduce the subject from his point of view.

In 1913 there was an optimistic mood around most of Europe, new innovations were being introduced every day, there was a real optimism for the future and the progress that technology could deliver as the world was getting better and better.  Nobody had any inkling of what was about to come.

Then the disaster of WW1 and 4 years of carnage and destruction which transformed the map of the world, broke up the empires that had survived for hundreds of years preceding and ushered in a transformation in the class system of deference and accelerated the change in the status of women. 

We all know about the trigger for the war, the assassination of the arch Duke Ferdinand at Sarajevo; but what was the cause?

There is little doubt that wars always precipitates a fall in the standard of living of everybody (there are no winners) and today this is likely to be worse in a world in which our interdependencies are growing exponentially and where the costs of a profound dislocation cause by war is bound to be that much higher, Syria being only the most recent and obvious example.

So is pacifism the answer, or does that just give free reign to the international bullies?

We invite everybody with an opinion to come and share it in an open discussion of the subjects.

A poster advertising the meeting is available.

Stephen Milton

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Festive Dinner

The Festive Dinner will be going ahead on December 11th at the White Rock Hotel. So far we have 14 definites who will be there, but any others will be very welcome. We need to finally confirm numbers a few days in advance, so please let us know if you want to join us but have not yet told the Chairman Stephen Milton. It is £15 per head and we will need to pay on the night or before.

Note that this meeting is at our usual start time of 7pm. The later start time for the new year does not apply until January.

It was suggested that we bring along the names of Heroes of  Humanism as a subject of conversation. There may also be time for party pieces.  

Monday, 24 November 2014

AGM Minutes for 2014

The AGM was held at the White Rock Hotel on 13 November.

There were 11 members in attendance (Stephen Milton, George Jelliss, Mike Lynott, Leonard Sterling, Mike Funnel, Julienne Attwood, Barry Wright, Terry Stoner, Nick Terdre, Adele Rolfe, and Hazel Lloyd) and four apologies for absence.

The Minutes of the 2013 AGM were read and accepted as correct.

The Secretary summarised the Programme of meetings for the past year, many of which had been suggested at the last AGM. The Secretary noted that most communications with supporters were now sent out by the Chair while the Secretary's work was to look after the blog and to keep the email contacts list up to date.

The Chair also reviewed the past years meetings, and gave details of the proposed festive dinner for the December meeting this year.

The Treasurer presented a statement of accounts which showed a loss of £58, but a comfortable balance. A difference of £10 appeared to be just an arithmetical error. The Treasurer was thanked for taking on the work and carrying it out efficiently over the year after difficulties the previous year.

The date, time and venue of our meetings was discussed, and it was decided to stay at the White Rock Hotel on the second Thursday of each month but to start the meetings at 7:30 pm from January 2015.

In view of the loss over the year due to subscriptions not covering the cost of the room it was decided to increase the contribution for each evening to £3 for members and £5 for non-members, though the cost of annual membership would remain at £6.

Our Affiliation fee of £25 to the BHA was paid in September, and it was decided to continue as an Affiliate Group though the possibility of becoming a Partner Group should perhaps be revisited at some time.

The present Secretary (George Jelliss), Chair and Programme Secretary (Stephen Milton), Treasurer and Publicity Assistant (Mike Lynott), and Vice-Chair (Leonard Sterling) were confirmed in these positions, and Julienne Attwood agreed to join the committee as a Publicity Assistant, and Mike Funnel would consider becoming Social Secretary.

There was some discussion of subjects for meetings in 2015.
For January the subject will be the First World War and Learning from History. We have been offered a presentation on this subject by George Farebrother of the Herstmonceux Quakers.
A topic sutable for Darwin Day is needed for February. Could this perhaps be a look back at "The God Delusion" by Richard Dawkins and its influence (or perhaps his other books on Evolution)?
The Secretary suggested getting someone from Atheism UK to talk to us from an anti-religious stance.
Paul Buswell in an email proposed a meeting on the humanist approach to death or non-being.
Stephen Milton proposed a discussion on "Mindfulness".
Julienne proposed a talk on GM foods.
There may have been other suggestions I have forgotten. Please let me know if you recall details.

Monday, 20 October 2014


Our next gathering on 13 November is the Annual General Meeting.

Usual time and venue: 7 to 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel.

So far, as Secretary, I've had no notices of any specific motions.

During the year our Chair, Stephen Milton, has taken on the organisation of meetings.

Volunteers to take on some of the work would be welcome.

We should certainly discuss ways we can be more active in the local community.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

What is Science?

Our next meeting is on Thursday 9th Oct at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject this month will be “What is Science?”
This follows on neatly in the series What is Art? and the fun of Maths.

A definition
The simplest answer might be that offered by Tim Minchin “Humankind’s incremental acquisition of understanding through observation (and experiment).”

Moulding our world
But Science is also the force that has transformed our world several times in the last few thousand years and at an exponentially increasing rate.  Most recently and significantly in the 250 – 300 years since the beginning of the industrial revolutions…. But, in all probability, it will be equally transformative in the next 30 to 50 years which is still in the lifetime of many of us.

The Legacy we will leave
It is also our human legacy.  The Egyptians may have left the pyramids as the legacy of their 3,000 years of dominance, but our legacy may be the scientific understanding of such fundamental questions as the Higgs Boson (God particle), the map of the Milky Way and a more detailed and consistent answer to the creation story that is at the heart of most faiths through the ages. Our ability to delve into the mysteries of the Universe is truly awe inspiring and is actually transforming our understanding of what we mean by philosophy.

Practical Benefits
On top of all that Science is also a source of great optimism for the future. Modern scientists may be pygmies standing on the shoulders of giants, but this cumulative effort is so deep and specialised that it is becoming indistinguishable from magic for most people. The opportunities that are opening before us are amazing.

Serious risks
And, of course there are significant risks. The whole process of peer review is in serious jeopardy and is a key issue for us to master if we are to maintain social control of forces that are ever more powerful and can be used to tip the world between good and bad outcomes. This apparent magic must not become the tool of Shaman and con artists.

I hope that I will be able to justify some of these grandiose claims and I would be really surprised if they do not generate a wonderful debate as we explore what they might  mean for all of us.

 Stephen Milton

(If you haven’t done so already, don’t forget to ‘like’ us on Facebook and to forward this email to anybody who you think may be interested in joining us.)

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Magic of Numbers

Our next meeting is on Thursday 10th July at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject this month will be:  The magic of numbers

If the Scientific Method is a key to the philosophy of Humanism,
and Maths is the language of Science,  
then numbers are the alphabet of maths.

Numbers have the capacity to reveal a type of truth that is independent of opinion, even overwhelming conventional wisdoms. To make the point we will start with a short quiz on the facts that ‘everybody knows’ and compare them to the actual facts… then a gallop through some interesting stuff about numbers:

                    The history of numbers and the resulting change in human understanding
o   Roman numerals that could not be manipulated,
o   The invention of zero and negative numbers
o   The concept of infinity
o   The maths concept of ‘i’ (square root of -1)
                    Universal constants like Pi that a clever alien would be able to recognise and understand even though there are no other reference points.
                    A definition of what numbers are…Bertrand Russell’s ‘Principia Mathematica’
                    New facilities for making maths easy to access and might lift the fear for future generations  – Khan academy and Wolfram
                    And fun things to do with numbers

I know a lot of people find the whole concept of maths totally off-putting and scary. But I think it is like any other language; once you understand a little bit of the vocabulary, you might end up loving the simplicity and poetry of its better writers.

Stephen Milton

Monday, 2 June 2014

Scientific Methods in Medicine

Our next meeting is on Thur 12th June at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock

The subject this month will be:  The application of scientific methods to Medicine?
And it will be introduced by Leonard Sterling

The practice of medicine has arguably been one of the greatest achievements of modern man, largely liberating us from the tyranny of pain that formed a backdrop to everything from toothache to childbirth.  Today we in the UK spend 9% of GDP on health care (the USA spends 19% of GDP) and in part as a result, we live longer and better.

We will review how medicine has progressed from opinion and prejudice  to peer group review of a major scientific industry.  And let’s think about  the implications of future developments, the role of complimentary medicines and the placebo effect.

Stephen Milton.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

What is Art?

Our next meeting is on Thursday 8th May at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel

The subject this month will be:  What is Art?

This is a question that has been asked since the beginning of philosophy (and perhaps before)

There are definitions from Leon Tolstoy to Germaine Greer and many more besides. 

Is art a manifestation of some mysterious idea of beauty or even of God,  or should the question be dodged as the Dadaists proclaimed “art is anything done by an artist”. The human attachment to art is clear and deep, so it might be the result of some Darwinian natural selection that rewards artistic appreciation in some other survival characteristics; or could it be an accidental side effect of the thinking mechanisms of the brain?

I will look at some of the science of Art.  The golden rectangle, the fibonacci series, the Mandelbrot set, and the way the brain works. 

And then Alistair Robertson will be looking at the art of Art.  What should be included in the category of ‘Art’? And who should decide?

The following are two of the art-works that Alistair particularly spoke about.

Kazimir Malevich The Black Square

Mark Rothko Black on Maroon

Friday, 28 March 2014


Please be aware that our next meeting is on

Thursday April 10 at White Rock Hotel from 7pm

when Leonard Sterling will arouse our

consciousness of Consciousness.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Local Government Discussion

Our next meeting is on Thursday 13th March at the normal time of 7.00pm at the White Rock Hotel
The subject this month is:  How does local Government work?

I am delighted to welcome Councillor Jeremy Birch to answer our questions on how we manage local issues.

Jeremy was born and bred in Hastings and has been involved in local politics throughout his adult life.  He is a member of the East Sussex County Council and is currently the leader of the Hastings Borough Council of which he has been a member for 18 years since 1995. If anybody can explain the intricacies and limitations of local government, he can.  

He will be joining us for the second half of the evening from 8pm till 9pm, so I think we should limit ourselves to about 10 questions: Please give me your questions in advance so I can organise them.

For the first half of the evening and in preparation for the Q & A, I will prepare some basic information on what things are the responsibility of local government and what budgets are available to meet those obligations, and any other basic information that I can find.

My personal feeling is that England has one of the most centralised governments in Europe and that governments of all political persuasions have progressively reduced the level of local discretion and moved it to Westminster.  That is why we all feel increasingly politically impotent or are reduced to single issue protesting.

Expect an interesting debate, as always…..
Stephen Milton

Friday, 7 February 2014

Darwin Day: Anthropology, Race and Eugenics

Anthropology, Race and Eugenics.

These are the topics for discussion at the Hastings Humanists "Darwin Day" meeting
on Thursday 13 February, 7 to 9 pm at the White Rock Hotel.

The Secretary will introduce these subjects by a look at their history.

There have been many new discoveries regarding human precursors reported over the last years –
in fact only today there is a report in the News of 800,000 year old footprints discovered in Norfolk –  do we have the full story of human evolution yet? – probably not, it's getting more complicated.

The concept of Race has long been controversial – does it have any meaning?

Eugenics got a bad name in the twentieth century – is it making a comeback?

We are not experts – If you have views or knowledge bring them to our discussion.

Here are some links to sources of some of the information in my talk

- of cannibals
- Michio Kaku on CBS
- origins of racist ideology, Gobineau. Lapouge, etc.
- John Mitchel paradox

- I don't think denying races exist is any way to get rid of racism!
- what scientific idea is ready for retirement?
- race according to Nina Jablonski

- eugenics a question of authority
- see the comments too
- can we increase human intelligence
- cause of down syndrome

This is by no means a complete list.