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Play now 55 mins


55 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 10 October 2010

A fresh look at human nature when compared with our nearest cousins in the animal kingdom. The eminent Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal describes new research into chimpanzees and other primates that suggests consolation and empathy are not purely human virtues.

More virtue, this time going back two and a half thousand years. British historian Bettany Hughes transports us back to ancient Greece for a reassessment of the great philosopher Socrates and his ideas on what makes life worth living.

And a plea from the best selling Turkish writer Elif Shafak to let a novelist’s imagination run free, unconstrained by the pressures of national and identity politics.

Creating empathy across time, continents and species. Illustration by Emily Kasriel.


4 items
  • Frans de Waal

    Frans de Waal

    One of the world's leading primatologists, Frans de Waal, argues that the case for competition amongst higher mammals, including humans, has been overstated and that we should pay equally close attention to empathy. But he also cautions that empathy is essentially value-neutral and can be used for good or ill.

  • Bettany Hughes

    Bettany Hughes

    Historian Bettany Hughes says that despite the paucity of textual evidence, we can still learn a lot about the life of Socrates and his time in ancient Athens from recent archaeological discoveries. She also reminds us that Socrates was one of the first philosophers to ask what makes “a good life”.

  • Elif Shafak

    Elif Shafak

    Turkish novelist Elif Shafak challenges those who seek to pigeonhole writers as representing only particular countries or cultures.



    Our Sixty Second Idea to Change the World comes this week from acclaimed writer, Elif Shafak who thinks we should ’taste death’ while we’re still alive. This would make us take an honest look at our egos with all its prejudices and arrogance, help us to live life better and be more loving toward other beings.


    The Forum looks at another thinker whose ideas still resonate today – what impact would a new Machiavelli have on 21st century politics? We’ll hear from the man who was closest to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair during 10 years in power, former Chief of Staff, Jonathan Powell, as well as Haitian writer, Edwidge Danticat and acclaimed physician Olufunmilayo (Funmi) Olopade.



  1. Image for Forum - A World of Ideas

    Forum - A World of Ideas

    The world's most remarkable minds tackle a big idea. Podcast weekly on Saturdays.

  2. Image for Forum - Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

    Forum - Sixty Second Idea to Improve the World

    An imaginative, quirky solution to a challenge of our age. Podcast weekly on Saturdays.

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