I love music festivals. And I love science.

It’s not every day that you get to combine the two.

I had the unique privilege and pleasure to help coordinate the Guerilla Science Camp at the Secret Garden Party this past July (my favourite festival of all).

Most of the time you see an educational type tent at a music festival it usually runs along the lines of “Realign your chakras with transcendental meditation” or “WAKE UP!! 9/11 was an inside job!!!!”

Not here.

Here we served up lectures on the philosophical implications of of quantum physics and string theory, the lysergic and mathematical patterns in fractals, optical illusions that illuminate the structure of your mind, and methodologies to master memory and the ways that you (yes, even you) can memorize 40 random digits in under a minute.

We featured workshops on the science of beatboxing, illustrations of the beauty of fluid dynamics, tutorials on climate change myths, proofs and solutions, and a science pub quiz (populated, like all pub quizzes, by unusually witty drunkards).

For the paranormally and psychically inclined – usually the scientifically averse – we also offered the chance to prove your telepathic abilities.

Our tent showcased the sounds of stars, the paradoxes of game theory, and – a subject very close to my heart – a lecture on mind-bending parasites and the medically under-appreciated prevalence of such infections. (I almost died of a parasitic infection as a child due to misdiagnosis. My fellow editors cringed when I published a guide on parasitic infections as a student journalist – see whatseatingyou-05022004. Whatever. People need to know more about this stuff, lest their bodies and minds become hijacked by nefarious nematodes.)

And, for the verbally impaired (as are commonplace at music festivals), we served up some hands-on fun with tactile molecular models, experimental fun with everyday materials, like cornstarch and bubble solution, and lessons in brain anatomy with cortextual-shaped cakes.

Fun for kids especially.

FYI: watching half-naked trashed people inflate balloons with baking soda and vinegar is unbelievably entertaining, possibly without rival.

But, above and beyond making a sticky molecular mess and shooting flames with custard powder, we had a higher philosophical aim. Science is, all too often, taught very badly at school. Students frequently walk away from secondary school thinking “science is boring” and “I should study Fine Art at Central St Martins.” Alas.

Science is about exploring and celebrating reality. And reality is bloody amazing. One of the principal aims of the Guerilla Science Camp is to rectify the shortcomings of mainstream schooling by re-educating people. Show them the magic that goes on every day in the world around them, in every cell of their body, every single second. Inspire them.

And you know what? As sleep deprived, as hungover, hot, sweaty, and addled as so much of the audience was, they really and truly listened to what our speakers had to say.

I was amazed and proud to see so many people walk away with new eyes, new thoughts, and new questions.

Appreciating the scientific method is important, not just for your experience of reality, but for how we interact with reality – socially and politically. How seriously should we take the threat of climate change? How do we decide how to approach it? How can we know if vaccines actually put children at risk for developing autism, and what are the real consequences of shunning the jab?

Helping everyday people understand the relevance, wonder and beauty that can be found in the sciences is an under-appreciated and important job. It is very rare – and very heartening – to see it happening in the midst of a music and sunshine-fueled love-in. This should happen more often.

Go reality.

Thanks, and so much respect, to everyone who worked so hard and so passionately to put this weekend’s events together. And credit must be given to our speaker Frank Swain, science punk, who went far and above the call of duty, helping us with technical pit falls, scheduling headaches and logistical nightmares. Absolutely stellar. 

You can see a video montage here (I myself appear at about 2:45 and 4:05).

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