Guest Speakers

Professor A C Grayling

On Friday 5th December, Professor A C Grayling of philosophy fame visited Tonbridge Grammar School to question ‘What is Knowledge’ with year 12 students- all of whom are taking Theory of Knowledge as part of the international Baccalaureate- and Year 13 philosophy students.

Grayling explored his question with reference to the senses, looking at the lectern in the hall, and asking rhetorically how we can know that it is there. The lecture tackled the age old question of ‘if a tree falls down in the woods, but there is nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?’ Rather controversially, Grayling stated that no, it doesn’t make a sound as it is humans and other animals that actually create and hear the sound through the vibrations. Sounds don’t exist unless there is something there to hear them- but sound waves do. Essentially, the way that we perceive reality is different from how the world actually is, so how can we be certain that what we gain from the senses is true? Also, when we look at something, all the information we receive through our eyes is processed in our brains, meaning that we actually see things from inside our heads, not with our eyes. This created quite a stir within the students.

In his talk, Grayling also mentioned René Descartes, who is studied in the philosophy course at TGS. Descartes tried to find a foundation for certainty in attempting to set aside his former beliefs. He did this by casting doubt upon them with the use of a thought experiment, where he imagined an evil demon to be deceiving him in everything. Descartes came to the conclusion that the only thing that he could be certain of was that he existed given that he was thinking (Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I am). Due to his expertise in Descartes having written “Descartes: The life and times of a genius”, Grayling explored this thinking.

Another question raised during Grayling’s lecture was how we can be certain of anything happening in the past. An example given was that of Elizabeth I having had an affair with Sir Walter Raleigh. However as there is no evidence in letters or other documents to support this claim, one cannot know that this is true, although one may strongly believe it. This leads to the question: Can we ever be sure of things that happened in the past? If there is nothing to prove that something happened and everyone has forgotten about it, did it truly happen?

This was all very interesting and thought provoking, raising many questions- just as any good philosophy lecture should. Personally, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and so had a quick chat with Professor Grayling afterwards, as well as asking for a cheeky autograph. It was also an eye-opener hearing about the New College of Humanities, as its curriculum is quite similar to that of the iB. The university was founded by Grayling in 2011.

Suzy Palmer


Atia Abawi

On Monday 3rd November, Atia Abawi, experienced Foreign Correspondent and recently published novelist, attended TGS to speak to students in years 10-13. Atia explained her ambition and career progression in journalism, as part of which she spent 4 years living and working in Afghanistan for CNN.  Atia shared moving stories of her encounters with US Marines and local people there, and the impact working in a war zone had on her personally.  During this time she met her husband, and they both now live in Jerusalem, where they continue to work as international journalists for US news stations.  Atia signed a copy of her book, Secret Sky, which is a love story set in Afghanistan, which will soon be available in the school library.

Atia gave an inspirational seminar which encouraged students to aim high, never give up in pursuing their dreams and to question everything!  Three students from the Scripted team interviewed Atia, so look out for more information in the school magazine. 

Atia Abawi is an international news correspondent and author. Currently based in the Middle East, Atia was born in Germany, soon after which she moved to U.S. where she was raised in Virginia.

Following work for local television channels Atia moved to CNN in 2004, working on numerous events of international significance including Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in Pakistan and the war in Iraq. In 2006, Atia covered the Israel, Lebanon conflict. During this period she also spent five weeks making an independent documentary in a remote Taliban controlled village in Central Afghanistan. In 2008 Atia was appointed to set up and take charge of the CNN Kabul Bureau.

Whilst in Afghanistan, Atia spent time embedded with U.S., NATO and Afghan forces during major military operations. Throughout this period she interviewed numerous Afghan, International, and American political and military leaders.
Beyond Afghanistan, whilst still at CNN Atia reported on a wide range of international events, including the Aung San Suu Kyi trial – where she gained entry to Myanmar’s secretive military state in order to film covertly. She also reported on the Israeli Security Forces attack on Gaza in 2010.
In 2010, Atia moved to NBC in order to report and manage its operations in Afghanistan.  Whilst at NBC she reported from London on the Royal wedding. In total contrast Atia also provided analysis and commentary for an NBC News special report following the US raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In 2012 Atia obtained an exclusive interview with the then President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.

After 5-years of living and working in Afghanistan, Atia moved to Jerusalem in January 2013.  She has since covered President Barack Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Palestine, the military coup in Egypt, and the Kenyan mall siege by Al-Shabab militants.

Atia’s first book, ‘The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan’, written for young adults was published by Penguin Group, in September 2014.

Atia currently lives in Jerusalem with her husband. They are expecting their first child in January 2015.