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HuffPost UK Heads To How The Light Gets In Philosophy Festival 2012

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Every summer in Britain we flock in our thousands to outdoor festivals promising music, comedy and theatre, always hoping to experience those sublime moments that occur when strangers are united for a good time.

But what about that other ancient art that once drew a crowd, philosophy?

Can the British, with our famous reserve, our manners and our taboos be truly entertained by questions, ideas and debates? Or even find ourselves coaxed into joining in?

In the strange and wonderful Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, where the streets circle two Norman castles and tourists amble around the biggest concentration of book shops in Britain, an exciting young festival is providing the definitive answer to that question - while leaving hundreds more deliciously unresolved.

How The Light Gets In is a ten day celebration of 'philosophy' in its loosest and most accessible sense, that this year has welcomed 165 prominent writers, poets, musicians, scientists and thinkers to debate a series of topics, from national identity to feminism to the desirability of human immortality.

But unlike the more famous book festival that takes place at the same time over the road, How The Light Gets In isn't about followers queuing to meet their famous heroes. Instead, the emphasis is on 6 intimate venues in which the speakers share the floor with their audience and the conversations take shape organically.

In only its fifth year, it's a festival enjoying that sweet spot in its evolution where the size of its audience, its location and its aims are all working in perfect harmony.

Walking through the maze of bars, open mic spots and remarkably good food offerings, you're reminded of those pockets of Glastonbury you can still stumble over if you wander for long enough, that make you realise how it must have been in the beginning.

35,000 people are due to attend this year's festival. The crowd is a happy mix of the young and old, where late teens and 20-somethings, families and older visitors stroll by in equal numbers, with no one ever needing to feel uncomfortable or out of place.

Groups of friends laugh over bottles of wine before wandering over to a talk on the physical and psychological differences between the sexes. People on their own sit cross-legged with a book, waiting for a session on whether ecocide should be considered a crime against humanity.

Everywhere people - British people - who are supposed to love answers and facts, the cold certainties of engineering and maths and medicine, to luxuriate in the formalities of discussing the weather, instead resemble something almost, well, French.

It's a reminder that our vast summer program of summer festivals can still throw up the odd surprise, and that when done right, sharing ideas can be just as thrilling as any other form of entertainment. It's hard to think of an event in Britain more stimulating or refreshing than How The Light Gets In - though naturally, it's a point we'd be happy to debate.