Idea of the day at online York Festival of Ideas: Human Flourishing In Times Of Stress, panel discussion, 6pm, 12/6/2020

On the panel tonight: Franziska Kohlt, Tim Radford and Penny Spikins, hosted by Tom McLeish

THIS evening’s panel discussion at the online York Festival of Ideas will explore how stories, things and thinking can bring comfort in times of stress. Times like now in Covid-19 2020.

Taking part under the chairmanship of Tom McLeish, the University of York’s first professor of natural philosophy, will be Dr Franziska Kohlt and Dr Penny Spikins, from the University of York, and science journalist Tim Radford.

Franziska Kohlt asks why many of us have felt drawn to the comfort of childhood classics, often unjustly dismissed as “escapism”, she argues.

This evening, she explores how books such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, or Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies, were written in times of epidemics, illness and crisis, and how these works can be valuable emotional tools to carry us through such times.   

Penny Spikins asks why, when in crisis, we turn to programmes such as BBC One’s The Repair Shop to find some sense of comfort, and why cherished possessions seem to help when we feel stressed or isolated.

She examines where our tendency to attach to things came from in our evolutionary past and how finding attachments to objects can compensate for missing human relationships at times of stress or isolation.

Tim Radford’s contribution is drawn from his book The Consolation Of Physics. “It is both a conversation with the past and a celebration of the shared scientific tradition of generosity and co-operation that has taken human understanding, mediated by international experiment, to the edge of the solar system, to the origins of universe and to cataclysmic star-death in distant galaxies,” he says.

Franziska Kohltis a research associate with the University of York’s department of sociology and editor of The Lewis Carroll Review. She is a researcher in the History of Science and Fantastic Literature and an active science communicator with an interest in the socio-psychological history of what narratives make science communication effective.

She has explored a broad variety of topics, from insects to AI, in journal articles and exhibitions, and regularly appears on international media as an expert on Lewis Carroll.

Penny Spikins, senior lecturer in the archaeology of human origins at the University of York, is a Palaeolithic archaeologist with a particular interest in the evolution of human emotions.

Her research has covered the human origins of our sense of compassion, gratitude and tolerance and has been published in many journal papers and in her book How Compassion Made Us Human.

Now, she is completing a new book, Hidden Depths: The Palaeolithic Origins Of Our Most Human Emotions.

New Zealand-born freelance journalist Tim Radford has spent most of his life in weekly, evening and daily newspapers. He retired as science editor of the Guardian in 2005 and is now a founding editor of

Tom McLeish is professor of natural philosophy in the physics department and in the centre for medieval studies and the humanities research centre at the University of York.

He has won awards in the UK, USA and EU for his interdisciplinary research in “soft matter and biological physics” and also works across science and humanities on medieval science, theology, sociology and philosophy of science. He is the author of The Poetry And Music Of Science and appears regularly on BBC radio.

Admission to this online panel discussion is free but booking is required at:

Brought to you remotely by the University of York, York Festival of Ideas is brimful of ideas until June 14, gathered under the new umbrella of Virtual Horizons. For full details, visit