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Auckland Museum: Get Smarter, LATEr

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Samantha Lee
Samantha Lee
Who’s been to Auckland Museum lately?
Show of hands?
Okay. Who’s been there after dark?
Auckland Museum  has been running a monthly series on Identity, the first Thursday of every month, approx. 6.30pm to approx. 10pm, at $15 entry, as part of ‘LATE at the Museum’, an initiative designed to make the Museum accessible later for people who otherwise might not experience it.
The formula is this: take one Finlay Macdonald as mediator, add a few distinguished guests (Professor Peter Gluckman, Dr Stephen Goldson, Professor Grant Gillett and Professor Rosalind Hursthouse on Thursday), a couple of fringey (and not so fringey) musicians, ensure people are informed there’s an open bar, add aesthetically pleasing visuals and atmospheric lighting. Have an hour or so of brain-stimulating, (and sometimes brain-overstimulating) discussion, open the museum for night time wandering, introduce an intellectual, hip crowd, and you have a recipe for success.
At the LATE’s I’ve been to this formula seems to be working exceptionally well, especially mid-winter where the only other entertainment on offer is the choice between watching Barry from accounts strike out not once but three times with Susan from reception, or making the incredibly brave decision to wear next to nothing in sub-zero temperatures and go down the pub.
The topic this week was the last in the series until September, when a new series on Migration will commence,
The lecture, on Species Identity was fascinating. The reason I’m not going to include quotes, the various and many aspects of the discussion, or a blow-by-blow account of the verbal parry-and-thrusts is that, unfortunately I can’t remember half of it.
Now, hear me out, this only my fourth such experience of late, and I’ve only just progressed to having my own actual opinions about the topic, as opposed to somewhat worriedly attempting to follow the previous lectures.
And it wasn’t just me; after our first experience with LATE my friend decided we really needed to keep attending as obviously our mental abilities have collectively decreased significantly in recent years, as evidenced by my complete and utter inability to tell you what they were on about on Thursday.
I can tell you:
a) It made perfect sense at the time.
b) There were many intelligent comments and jokes made that I feel both proud and somewhat relieved to have understood.
c) Aristotle was mentioned.
My friend and I managed to retain information.
I told you the lecture was about Species Identity, and focused a lot on the question of how far we can go as a species in a rapidly changing world.
So, as a social species, we as humans are unable in theory to relate effectively to more than 150 people. This is called Dunbar's number.
This means, with the advent of Facebook et al, our ability to adapt to the environment that we’ve created for ourselves is called into question.
In terms of biology, our formulative years (between 1-4) affect our chemical brain makeup very dramatically- we have more influences pulling at us than ever before- can we all evolve fast enough to cope?
Also, the way in which we use our creations must play a part in our own ultimate survival. We must use our powers for good…but how do you define good, and how do we reach a consensus on it?
It was pointed out that we are not born innately good- this is taught to us by our social interactions, and the levels at which we consider others. We are not born with language embedded in our skulls, but with capacity to learn.
This is as far as I can follow it without blowing my own mind, but trust me, you will feel like you need to go and read a couple dozen books to fully grasp each aspect of the discussion.
But, having said that my friend and I both felt like we’d just read a really good book; it was that same blend of satisfaction and achievement.
Following the discussion we were treated to the opening o ‘The Mystery of the Orchid’, a new exhibition. This was a really interesting, innovative exhibit and I encourage anyone who is as sick of winter as I am to go get a hit of some pretty amazing flowers.
 This exhibit will be followed by ‘The Magic of the Rose.’
All in all, the lectures I’ve attended have been highly informative, thoroughly entertaining, and for the next series I’ve vowed to work harder at retaining what I’ve learned.
However I would suggest if you’re going to have an open bar that there be very large signs prohibiting drinks in the exhibit, as the Museum attendant that accosted me and my closed bottle of Coke was neither charming nor polite, and then proceeded to stand chewing gum at the entrance to the display looking bored out of his mind. This wasn’t the best way to end the evening, but the dancers and music made up for any unpleasantness.
At the end of the night, my friend and I were saying how in the absence of the LATE’s until September we were going to have to employ ourselves a smart person and get interim lectures, then realised we’d been discussing the lecture pretty damned intelligently on our own, and even came up with our own angles and insights,
See, everyone has the capacity to learn.
Opinions, anyone?

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