The Penultimate Curiosity - Premier




18:45 - 21:30


 - Roger Wagner (Oxford)


Wang Gungwu Theatre

Graduate House, HKU


 - FaSCoRe, HKU


map directions poster

World Premier Film Screening.

Watch the trailer here.

When young children first begin to ask 'why?' they embark on a journey with no final destination. The need to make sense of the world as a whole is an ultimate curiosity that lies at the root of all human religions. It has, in many cultures, shaped and motivated a more down to earth scientific interest in the physical world, which could therefore be described as penultimate curiosity.


Part One: The Routes of Curiosity (6.45 pm)

How did the idea that the physical universe could be rationally understood first begin to take root? Scientist Andrew Briggs and artist Roger Wagner set out to investigate this question together. Flying themselves in a small plane they embark on a journey that begins in France with some of the earliest known cave paintings. From there they travel to western Turkey, and trace the route of an idea that travelled from the 6th century Greek colony of Miletus, to the Athens of Plato and Aristotle, and onwards to the library and museum of Alexandria in Egypt. It was here that the philosophical religion of the Greeks and the revealed religion of the Jews and Christians dramatically came into contact. In a recently excavated philosophical school they discover a place where, through a dialogue between two different religious traditions, a new way of thinking about the physical world began to emerge.


Discussion and Q&A

Roger Wagner, artist and documentarian, will talk with Dr Fung Kam Wing, a HKU historian of science, to consider how the ideas raised in the film relate concretely to the Asian context. There will then be a time for audience Q&A.

If you need to leave after this, you are free to do so. Alternatively, take a short break to enjoy the refreshments provided, and stay for Part Two to bring the story up to the present day.


Part Two: The Conflicts of Curiosity (8.15 pm)

If the ultimate curiosity of religion can motivate and inspire the penultimate curiosity of science, why have there been any conflicts between the two? Continuing to pilot themselves in a small plane, scientist Andrew Briggs and artist Roger Wagner set out to investigate this question. Arriving in the city of Pisa where Galileo began his career, they discover that his most fundamental conflict was with Aristotle’s view of the world. Galileo’s own scientific work had been motivated by his faith, and marked by a concern to prevent his church from falling into the trap of confusing what today we would call religion and science.


Throughout history there have always been those who have sought to prevent unnecessary conflicts between different kinds of curiosity, and travelling to the University of Oxford, Wagner and Briggs discover thinking of this kind at the heart both of the development of the scientific method in the 17th century, and of the evolutionary controversies in the 19th century. Finally travelling first to Scotland and then to Cambridge they discover that a desire to integrate the scientific and the spiritual life (and to prevent their confusion) was a central motivation of the physicist whose most important discovery has been described as ‘the most significant event of the 19th century’.

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