Radio 4: The Cathedral Thinkers

24 March 2020
by Ian Sansom

Dr Simon Beard was interviewed by Ian Samson on longtermist, cathedral thinking and cathedral projects.

The concept of cathedral thinking can be traced back to medieval times. Architects and stone-masons would begin construction on great cathedrals and places of worship, knowing they would never see work completed within their own lifetimes.

In our uncertain age of pandemic, global warming and exponentially accelerating technology, a new kind of cathedral thinking may be required to find solutions to some of our greatest challenges. Days after the 2019 fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, Greta Thunberg made an impassioned speech to the European Parliament where she implored leaders to tackle climate change by adopting the same long-term planning which had underpinned the original construction of Notre Dame. But in our quick-fix, sugar-rush world of market-driven economics, short-term election cycles and quarterly performance reviews, the idea of taking the long view and planning centuries - even millennia head - can seem deeply counter-cultural.

Ian Sansom meets the people daring to dream beyond their own lifespans and wonders how he might go about doing so himself. As he explores contemporary cathedral projects with the potential to shape the future of science, technology and environmental protection, Ian asks what we can learn from the original medieval cathedral thinkers and if cathedral projects are all voyages of discovery into uncharted territory.

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