My city hosts the Olympics today, and I feel a bit anxious – like when you hear guests buzzing on the door bell, the house is a mess, and you’ve just had a raging argument with your wife. Well, I am very proud to be British, and proud to be a Londoner. I hope the games go really well and my fellow Londoners aren’t too grumpy to the tourists.
This evening, bicycling gold medalist Chris Hoy will carry out the UK flag in the opening ceremony. He said: ‘I never dreamed I would carry the British flag…so this is a dream come true’, which is a nice if illogical way of putting it. Earlier this week, meanwhile, Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the Tour de France. Why are the British so good at cycling at the moment? One answer might be the sports psychologist that Bradley, Chris and fellow gold medalist Victoria Pendleton all work with: Dr Steve Peters.
Steve teaches sportsmen and sportswomen how to ‘keep the chimp in the cage’ as Wiggins put it after winning the Tour. In other words, how to use your logic and reason to keep your emotions in check, not get overwhelmed, and be icy cool both in triumph and defeat. Stoicism, basically! Here’s an interview with Steve from Cycling Magazine. His book, The Chimp Paradox, is published by my publisher – I’m going to try and get him to talk to the London Philosophy Club.
Philosophy Now magazine has a cover story by Julian Savulescu and Ingmar Persson, Oxford University’s two mad philosophers, on the need for humans to use drugs and technology to ‘morally enhance’ ourselves and save ourselves from extinction. It’s an excerpt from their upcoming book, Unfit for the Future: The Urgent Need for Moral Enhancement. Do they really think that giving an entire country (or even the entire world) a daily dose of smart-drug Modafinil is (a) practical and (b) going to help prevent climate change? Apparently they do. They must be on some excellent drugs themselves. Meanwhile, Nature magazine wonders how much we could actually enhance human physical performance if we didn’t care about the ethics of doping.
Talking of superhumans, check out this wonderful short video from Channel 4 promoting the Paralympics, called ‘Meet the Superhumans’. Now that is what I call moral enhancement.
My favourite superhuman is David Lynch. Here, he talks about how meditation helps enhance his imagination and creativity, how it helped him unlock the secret to Mulholland Drive..and there’s also a wonderful story about how he uses random accidents to unlock creativity.
Two stories showing how humans copy ‘cultural scripts’ which they find in the arts, and how this can lead them to the most altruistic and the most destructive behaviour. Firstly, philosopher and social historian Roman Krznaric writes about the extraordinary influence of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and how it helped expand the sympathetic imagination of white Americans. Secondly, Australian psychologist Paul Mullen talks about how the phenomenon of the ‘lone gunman’ is a recent cultural invention which has fed off cinematic portrayals of itself like, alas, the Dark Knight.
A rabbi and a philosopher walk into a lift. OK, not really. But I did get into a sort of debate with the Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, about Stoicism as a way of life. He wrote this column in the Huff Post about my book and why he was never attracted to Stoicism. And I responded in this column.
Finally, here’s culture MP Jeremy Hunt celebrating the start of the Olympics by hitting a woman with his bell-end.
See you next week,
PS Thanks to everyone who has bought and helped to promote the book – it’s done really well so far, the second edition has gone to print in the UK, and we’re now preparing the third edition. So far there are 15 reviews on Amazon, and it’s got an average rating of 4.8 stars. If anyone else wants to leave a review, it really helps.