Why We Need Good Stories

When I was very young, I believed that things and animals were also persons with whom I could talk. Every morning I greeted the table and the chairs, and they greeted me back. At least, that’s how I saw it. I also had conversations with our gray and woolly Keeshond Skippy.

Now that I am much older, I think: how can you lose something that is so dear to you? Is that what growing up means? In many fairy tales, fables and myths around the world, things, plants and animals are depicted as talking and animated beings. Not the same as people – they have their own character; a tree is often slow and old, a fox very fast. But they are intelligent, as we imagine people to be. Those stories are not only very beautiful, but also offer a view of the world that I think still has value. And yet – as an adult you can still find them amusing, but really believing in them is not what we should do.

The reason, it is said, is that it is simply not true. The idea that things and animals can talk is not an accurate description of reality. Somewhere in ancient Greece a distinction arose between logos and mythos – logos refers to science; deduction, empirical observation. And for mythos the rest remains: stories, fabrications.

Yet throughout history there has always been doubt as to whether this distinction is really that simple. Perhaps myths are not strictly true – nevertheless, they have a lot of truth to tell. Ethical insights, for example. The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter – the great myths of our time – never really happened, but tell us a lot about the value of friendship and loyalty.

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle states that good storytellers often reveal reality better than scientists ever can. And anyone who watches a series like The Crown understands what he means. Perhaps this series about the British royal family does not always do justice to the facts, but we do get to the motives and characters of the protagonists – in a way that factual historiography could never do.

After all, life, says Aristotle, is like a story (he actually uses the word mythos). It is full of crazy and unexpected events and twists. A story manages to make a meaningful whole out of it, because life is more than a garbage can of accidental memories. And just like in a story, we empathize with others. Science will never do that. What the science describes may all be true; and of course, science offers an invaluable contribution to society. But you don’t really sympathize, as you would with a life story. Only stories can do that. It is not for nothing that TU Delft uses a myth – the myth of Prometheus – as a symbol. Prometheus stole fire from the gods, to which man was subjected. In other words: technology – such as making fire – is more than just a way to control the world. It is a sign of emancipation, liberation and progress. Now that’s a story you can relate to.

At the same time, we must take seriously that the Promethean myth did not end well. The gods punished mankind by creating the curious Pandora, who could not resist opening a jar containing disease, war and other evils that were spread over the world. Technology comes with a dark side; those who think they can completely control the world, often do more harm than good.

But perhaps there is another story that can counterbalance this. Namely, the story that the world is more than something to bend to your will. It is a special place with animals, plants and things, that also have something to say. This calls for new stories about harmony between technology and the world. I noticed this during a study trip to Japan, where the ancient nature religion of Shintoism has effortlessly transformed into a concern for local trees and parks – but also into a hip ‘techno-animism’ in which technology is represented as spirited (‘kami‘). A good Western example is the sweet and caring robot Wall-E, from the Pixar film of the same name. I was reminded of the bond I had with my old Nokia cell phone, which I always regarded as a feisty little fellow. I still have it, somewhere in a drawer – I just cannot throw it away. And when I see it, I greet it as I used to do with the table and chairs. And I wonder: what would happen – in these days of climate change and consumerism – if we would see the world and technology as spirited, even if it is a myth?

Leon Heuts – Head of Studium Generale

Atomic Reactions 

From unbridled optimism to the public’s skepticism and back again

7 March 2022 – 3 June 2022

Cutting edge new technology, interactive and moving displays, a beautifully designed exhibit and an actual working nuclear reactor, the exhibition Het Atoom in 1957 marveled audiences with its optimistic, future forward approach to the miracle of nuclear energy. Held at Schiphol Airport, it marked an important moment in the propagation of nuclear energy in postwar Netherlands. Over half a century later, only the actual working reactor remains, the very reactor that is still in use today on TU Delft’s campus. Yet the public’s opinion on nuclear energy wavers over the decades. As the reactor is undergoing renovation, we revisit the current state of nuclear science on campus and in the psyche of society.

Nuclear science evokes a mix of images and emotions. You might think of whitecoats harnessing atoms in reactors, radioactive materials being dumped into our oceans or third world wars. Do you see the promise of freedom from fossil fuels or fear the dangers of radiation that remain for centuries? Since its inception roughly 70 years ago, the information and knowledge (made) available about nuclear energy have been manipulated, distorted or simply misinterpreted, and as a result, so have our associations. Society’s opinions are coloured by our educational and cultural backgrounds. Similarly, the framing of nuclear energy in media, politics, or the arts influences our judgment.

In this exhibition and programme of arts events, lectures, and workshops, TU Delft Library aims to untie the messy knot formed around this topic. Join us in asking the tough questions: What political, ethical, ecological, and mythological frames comprise our perspectives? How informed are we with the current state of atomic science –its history and presence on campus? Can we disconnect from how charged this subject has become in cultural myths?

The exhibition and the complementary programme will run from the beginning of March to early June 2022. The program consists of a building series of events. This programme is a collaboration between the TU Delft Library teams of Studium Generale, Open Spaces, and Academic Heritage and is part of TU Delft’s programme for its 180th lustrum. The theme for this lustrum year is: energy transition.

Programme Atomic Reactions 

Watch the recording of our Filosofisch Café | Radioactieve verhalen

Nuclear Art Festival 

SG Highlights | World at War

Every week until the start of the second semester, we will post a selection of highlights from the past year so you can enjoy our events from home, as on-campus events are currently not possible. Stay safe and healthy and best of luck with your exams!

For our previous highlights, please take a look at our blogs.

World at War

In this series of talks, different thinkers explore the meaning of conflict in our times. No longer a ‘great game’ of nation states declaring war, invading, and taking land, global aggression in our time takes place through trade, hacking, and proxies. Far from home, or hidden online, it remains largely unseen by us in the Netherlands. And yet ‘war’ in the sense of conflict is everywhere. Immigration, natural resource extractivismthe war on terror, the war on corona, the rise of the Chinese economy, climate change, and a multitude of cultural conflicts beg the question: what is war in the 21st century? And why do we fight?

Monday: Conflict Resources

Dutch-Congolese author Alphonse Muambi provides first-hand knowledge and experience of the past and present conflicts in resource rich countries like Congo, Niger, and Mali.

Tuesday: The Future of War

War and technology have always been intertwined. But our high-tech age is drastically changing the landscape and the rules of warfare.

Wednesday: The Rise of China

What are the chances of a war between China and the West? What would such an open conflict look like, and how would it impact us in Europe, sandwiched as we are between the two global superpowers of China and the US?

Thursday: Capitalism, Racism, and Fascism: The Roots of Violence

Our society seems trapped in a system that on the one hand builds fantastic new technologies, and on the other hand destroys its own environment with great violence. Why do we thrive in so much conflict and not in peace? Are these conflicts somehow linked, and is there a way out?

Friday: Prometheus’ Problems | Should an engineer work for the military?

Can an algorithm be racist? If a self-driving car causes an accident, who is responsible? These are the kinds of questions that are discussed at our brand new philosophical café Prometheus’ Problems! At this event, students, professors and external experts will exchange thoughts about philosophical and ethical themes related to engineering, modern technology and its impact on society.


SG Highlights | Decolonising Knowledge

Every week until the start of the second semester, we will post a selection of highlights from the past year so you can enjoy our events from home, as on-campus events are currently not possible. Stay safe and healthy and best of luck with your exam preparations!

For our previous highlights, please take a look at our blogs.

Decolonising Knowledge

This series of events explores the legacy of colonial power structures in society.  Decolonisation, roughly put, is a social movement and academic project that seeks to empower knowledge, cultures, and peoples marginalized by the  legacy of colonialism and its power structures. This movement also reflects critically on the historical role of universities and Western knowledge production in relation to colonialism. It encompasses issues of race, gender, land ownership, ways of knowing, reparations, resource extraction, rights and representation, and more. 

Monday: What is decolonisation?

For better or worse, Western European culture has managed to impact and dominate much of the world for centuries. In this introductory lecture, learn about the decolonisation movement and the peoples and cultures it seeks to empower.

Tuesday: Decolonising Design & Engineering

Applying the perspective of decoloniality to design and engineering provides a way to rethink the Western model of how we shape and give meaning to our world.

Wednesday: TU Delft and the Colonial History of the Dutch East Indies

At the turn of the 20th century approximately one-third of all engineers that finished their studies in Delft went to the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) to pursue a career in the Dutch colony. In this way they became part of the Dutch colonial context. Why were these engineers so well-fitted to the Dutch colonial project?

Thursday: How To Combine Ancient and Modern Wisdom

Humans have survived and thrived around the world for tens of thousands of years, using various ingenious technologies suited to their environment. What sort of traditional knowledge is still available to us?

Friday: (De)kolonisatie en de universiteit

Welke rol speelden universiteiten in de koloniale maatschappij? Wat is daar nu de erfenis van, en hoe gaan universiteiten om met de roep om dekolonisatie?

Saturday: Decolonising Sustainability: When Engineering Meets Indigenous Philosophies and Resistance

Indigenous protectors and decolonial researchers present important arguments on the shortcomings of sustainability as it is practiced today.

Sunday: Non-Western Narratives and Experiences with Climate Change

On the experiences of indigenous peoples and cultures around the world who face the worst consequences of climate change and environmental racism.

SG Highlights | Slavernijgeschiedenis van Nederland

This week’s Highlights cover our series of lectures on the history of Dutch slavery, which was offered in Dutch only. Next week we will be back with our English series on Decolonising Knowledge, exploring the legacy of colonial power structures in society. 

For our previous highlights, please take a look at our blogs.

Slavernijgeschiedenis van Nederland

Na een eeuw van relatieve stilte rondom de slavernijgeschiedenis van Nederland, is er met name in het afgelopen decennium een enorme groei in aandacht voor het onderwerp gekomen. Studium Generale brengt in samenwerking met Theater de Veste een serie van vijf lezingen over het slavernij- en koloniaal verleden van Nederland.

In 2002 vindt de installatie van een nationaal monument voor het slavernijverleden plaats en in 2007 wordt het onderwerp in de Nederlandse canon opgenomen. In de afgelopen jaren is het werk van onderzoekers, activisten en kunstenaars die hier al jaren aandacht aan besteden, meer gemeengoed aan het worden. Toch blijft de algemene kennis op dit gebied achter, mede door de gebrekkige aandacht in het onderwijs voor deze verhalen.

Maandag: Historisch overzicht, incl. 400 jaar WIC

De eerste lezing is van Karwan Fatah-Black (1981), hij trapt deze reeks af met een historisch overzicht van 400 jaar slavernijgeschiedenis en de West Indische Compagnie. Fatah-Black is universitair docent Sociale en Economische Geschiedenis aan de Universiteit Leiden. Hij is lid van De Jonge Akademie van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen en betrokken bij het wetenschapsnetwerk Landelijke Onderzoeksagenda Slavernijverleden.

Dinsdag: Economische belangen en gevolgen van de slavernij

De tweede lezing in deze reeks is van Pepijn Brandon (1980) over de Economische belangen en gevolgen van de slavernij. Plantageslavernij was een economisch systeem. De koffie, suiker, tabak, indigo en specerijen die slaafgemaakte mensen in de Amerika’s en Azië produceerden, waren bedoeld voor Europese markten waar zij inkomsten opleverden voor een lange reeks economische spelers. Ook de mensenhandel zelf was ingericht op winst. Welke erfenissen liet slavernij na aan het Nederland van vandaag?

Woensdag: Slavernij in de Oost, incl. 400 jaar Banda

De derde lezing in deze reeks is van Matthias van Rossum (1984) over de Slavernij in de Oost, inclusief 400 jaar Banda. Van Rossum is senior onderzoeker bij het Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis. Hij schreef veelvuldig over het Nederlands-Aziatische slavernijverleden.

Donderdag: Slavernijverleden in het Rijksmuseum

De vierde lezing in deze reeks is van Eveline Sint Nicolaas (1971) over het Slavernijverleden in het Rijksmuseum. De tentoonstelling Slavernij die tot eind augustus 2021 in het Rijksmuseum was te zien, nam de bezoeker aan de hand van tien persoonlijke verhalen mee door ruim 250 jaar Nederlandse koloniale geschiedenis. Eveline vertelt in haar lezing over de totstandkoming van deze tentoonstelling, de reacties op de tentoonstelling en wat er op de langere termijn zal worden gedaan met de verworven kennis en contacten.

Vrijdag: Herinneringscultuur & hedendaagse impact

De vijfde en laatste lezing in deze reeks is van Nancy Jouwe (1967) over de Herinneringscultuur & Hedendaagse impact van de slavernij. Jouwe is cultuurhistoricus en werkt als freelance onderzoeker, publiek spreker, publicist en docent. Ze doceert bij de Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht en doet onderzoek voor het publieksgeschiedenisproject Mapping Slavery.

Zaterdag: Herinneringen van oud Suriname | Kolonialisme toen en nu

Keti Koti, ofwel ‘gebroken ketenen’. Dat is de viering van de Surinaamse afschaffing van de slavernij. In deze lezing leer je meer over de koloniale geschiedenis van het land en de blijvende effecten ervan op de hedendaagse maatschappij. De lezing werd verzorgd door Tessa Leuwsha, rechtstreeks uit Suriname.

SG Highlights | Week 1

Every week until the start of the second semester, we will post a selection of highlights from the past year so you can enjoy our events from home, as on-campus events are currently not possible. Stay safe and healthy and have a wonderful new year!

For previous weeks, please take a look at our blogs.

Monday: Van Leeuwenhoeklezing | Onder de huid van schilderijen

Vlak onder het zichtbare oppervlak van een schilderij, letterlijk enkele micrometers, ligt een schat aan informatie over de kunstenaar. Denk aan de onderschildering, de eerste opzet van het schilderij, maar ook veranderingen van de compositie tijdens het schilderproces. In sommige gevallen gaat onder het oppervlak zelfs een tweede, geheel andere compositie schuil.

Tuesday: The Future of Universities | The International Campus

Dutch universities are attracting more and more international students. The growing international economy and information-based society is here to stay, and so is internationalisation of university students. What should this look like in the future?

Wednesday: Prometheus’ Problems | What if technology decides for us?

Technology taking over control is not new. But what if we lose autonomy to these machines? Can machines make moral decisions? Is this acceptable? And where do we draw the line?

Thursday: De Groene Live Delft | Een ander internet

Tijdens deze editie van De Groene Live heroverwegen we de emanciperende potentie van het internet, op zoek naar een egalitaire digitale samenleving.

Friday: Global Philosophies and the SDGs | Ubuntu, Buen Vivir, and Gross National Happiness

Three continents, three different philosophies: Ubuntu, Buen Vivir, and Gross National Happiness. How do they look at sustainability, inequality, and the other challenges of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

Saturday: Environmental Crises | Crossing Policy Domains and Communicating the Urgency

We are racing towards a radically different future. One way or another, the environmental crises we face will increasingly impact every facet of life from jobs to food, energy to equality. We discuss what policies are needed for a safer future and roadmaps for how they may come about.

SG Highlights | Week 52

Every week during the Holidays we will post a selection of highlights from the past year so you can enjoy our events from home, since we are currently unable to offer you these in person. Stay safe and healthy and have a wonderful new year!

Monday: Van Leeuwenhoeklezing | De energietransitie in de woonomgeving

Rondom 1960 hadden we in Nederland een energietransitie: de overgang van kolen naar aardgas. Je hoefde niemand van de voordelen te overtuigen. Nu hebben we weer een energietransitie: we moeten van het aardgas af. Daarom verschijnen er windmolens in onze achtertuin, veranderen weilanden in zonnecelvelden en moeten we onze huizen voor 50.000 euro isoleren anders werkt die warmtepomp niet.

Tuesday: The Future of Universities | The Digital Campus

What is or should a university be in the 21st century? Is it just a factory of knowledge, delivering professionals to the market? Or is it an institution of social and cultural value with a responsibility towards its students and society?

Wednesday: Prometheus’ Problems | Neurotypical or Neurodiverse?

For this special edition during the first TU Delft Diversity Week, we have teamed up with the Diversity Office to bring you a panel discussion on moral questions related to ‘neurodiversity’, a term that refers to the variety that exists in the ways our brains work.

Thursday: De Groene Live Delft | Jouw data als verdienmodel

De invloed van Big Tech op ons dagelijkse leven merken we misschien niet direct, maar die is gigantisch. Onze digitale gegevens die we deels vrijwillig afstaan worden gebruikt voor algoritmische sturing en manipulatie van ons koopgedrag, wat we lezen of  hoe we gaan stemmen bij verkiezingen. In het surveillancekapitalisme zijn big data de grondstof geworden van een verdienmodel.

Friday: Filosofisch Café | Het Taoïsme en Confucianisme uit China

De twee grootste en meest invloedrijke filosofische stromingen uit China zijn het taoïsme en confucianisme. Ze ontstonden ongeveer gelijktijdig een paar eeuwen voor onze jaartelling, en hebben nog altijd veel invloed op het denken over het leven in China.

Saturday: Christiaan Huygens | The Father of Modern Science

Christiaan Huygens (1629-1695) is one of the greats in the history of physics. Find out about his life, work, and times in this biographical lecture and interview.

SG’s Global Philosophies Lecture Series

Who am I? What is a good life? And how do you build a just society? Philosophy asks the big questions in life, but the answers of course are diverse. In the West we look to different thinkers and theories than in the East or the South. What else is there beyond Plato and Nietzsche? In this lecture series, Studium Generale will introduce you to a series of different philosophical traditions from China, India, Africa and the Americas. An acquaintance with other ways of thinking, but also with believing, seeing and feeling, though philosophy, poetry, theatre, music and other forms of art.

The opening lecture on Ubuntu, Buen Vivir, and Gross National Happiness already took place back in September, but you can watch it here on YouTube.

Still to come in this series:

POSTPONED |Tuesday, November 9th: Indigenous Philosophy  
Monday, November 15th: Chinese filosofie – het taoisme en confucianisme (in Dutch)
Tuesday, November 23rd: Indian Philosophy
Monday, December 6th: Colonialism & African Philosophy
Tuesday, December 14th: Winti: An Ancient Surinamese Religion for Modern Times
Tuesday, December 21st: Sufism: Following the Footsteps of Mystic Poet Rumi
2022: African Philosophy, pt 2



Diversity and Inclusion Week | 4-8 October 2021

The most interesting conversations and the best ideas are born when people of different backgrounds,
with different points of view and opinions, get together.

A precondition for this, though, is that everyone can be themselves and feel free and safe enough to express their thoughts. TU Delft strives to be such a safe, inclusive environment, where we cherish diversity and in so doing encourage creativity, well-being and innovation. This ambition requires courage and participation from everyone, including you. It starts with being able to talk to each other about diversity and inclusion freely, and really listening to each other. Imagine a TU Delft where you can reach your full potential, professionally as well as personally, regardless of sexual orientation, colour, way of thinking, gender, appearance, physical or mental capacity or your socio-economic background.

During this first Diversity & Inclusion Week at TU Delft, held to coincide with Diversity Day on 5 October, you can join a variation of events. Listen to specialists and people with personal experience of these issues and join in debating various themes within this topic. Panellists will discuss which opportunities they see in the area of D&I specifically at TU Delft, and you will get to hear what other organisations are doing to promote diversity and inclusivity and what challenges they encounter. Or you might become aware of your own prejudices during a non-bias training session.

We warmly invite students and staff to join the various online and hybrid events. Please visit www.tudelft.nl/diweek to register!

Diversity & Inclusion Week is being organised by the Diversity & Inclusion Office in conjunction with Studium Generale. Contributors include True-U, DEWIS, Student Onbeperkt and Outsite.

Studium Generale (SG) opent het nieuwe seizoen met een volle agenda met veel mooie programma’s op de rol. En met de opening van het Academisch jaar 2021-2022 TU Delft mogen wij jullie gelukkig weer ontvangen!
Nog wel in beperkte capaciteit, maar ook via livestream blijft het mogelijk om onze activiteiten te volgen.  Een kleine greep uit het aanbod van komend najaar:

Slavernijgeschiedenis van Nederland
Studium Generale brengt in samenwerking met Theater de Veste een serie van vijf lezingen met een mooie line-up aan sprekers. Met o.a. aandacht voor het 400-jarig bestaan van de West Indische Compagnie en de relatie van de stad Delft met slavernij.

The Lipkens Lectures
In deze nieuwe lezingenreeks duiken we samen met het Erfgoedteam van de TU Delft Library in de geschiedenis van het ingenieurschap. Wat betekende het vroeger om ingenieur te zijn? Hoe ontwikkelde de rol van technologie zich in de maatschappij, en hoe plukken we daar vandaag de dag nog steeds de vruchten van? En wat kunnen ingenieurs leren van de geschiedenis van wetenschap en technologie?

Global Philosophies
Een reeks waarin we naar de wereldproblematiek kijken door een andere bril, van filosofie en denkwijzen wereldwijd. Doel is kennismaken met andere manieren van denken van over de hele wereld en onze kennis te verbreden door middel van filosofie, poëzie, theater, muziek, en andere kunst- en cultuurvormen.

Bekijk het hele programma voor het najaar hier!

Onze activiteiten worden op diverse locaties op de campus en in de stad Delft georganiseerd, zijn vrij toegankelijk en meestal gratis. Wij nodigen studenten en geïnteresseerden van harte uit om onze lezingen, debatten, workshops bij te wonen.

Wil je onze nieuwsbrief met ons actuele programma ontvangen? Geef je mailadres dan door aan sg@tudelft.nl of kijk op:

Heb je een vraag, opmerking of idee? Schroom dan niet contact met ons op te nemen. Toch een lezing gemist?
Een groot deel van de lezingen wordt opgenomen en is beschikbaar op onze website, zodat je deze nog eens rustig kunt bekijken.

Graag tot ziens bij een van onze activiteiten!
Team SG: Yannick, Sanne, Lester, Klaas Pieter, Brigitte en Yolanda