Category: religion and belief

29. A walk across the universe

Potter: You Are Here cover“Why is there something rather than nothing?” asked the German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz several centuries ago. It’s one of the main questions animating Christopher Potter‘s first book, You Are Here. And given that there is something, how did it come into being? And how for that matter did we come into being, several billions of years after the universe began?

These are some of the potentially dizzying questions that set Christopher’s investigation of the universe and our place in it in motion. This “portable history of the universe” ranges in its purview from the infinitely large and far away – distances measured in billions of light years – to the infinitely small (which he calls “the realm of tininess”), which is equally important to our understanding of how the universe works. Read More

28. The Life of a Roman Town

Mary Beard: PompeiiHow easy is it to get an insight into the life of the ancient Romans from a visit to the remains of Pompeii today? How much of what we see is even Roman, and how much is recent reconstruction?

What did the Romans really think about sex? And what did they believe in a world on the cusp of embracing Christianity? And did they really eat dormice?

Click on the link above to hear writer, broadcaster, blogger extraordinaire and Cambridge professor of Classics, Mary Beard tackle all these questions and more.

You can also hear Mary talking about the Roman triumph in podcast 15: The Big Parade.

19. Mark Vernon on: What is wellbeing?

Mark Vernon WellbeingMark Vernon has just brought out a book on wellbeing in a new series of which he’s general editor. But this isn’t a run-of-the-mill self-help series. The series is called The Art of Living  and it’s published by independent philosophy specialist, Acumen. Their stated aim is to “open up philosophy’s riches to a wider public once again”. Consequently, authors have been asked to tackle the big question “How should we live?” in relation to a diverse selection of topics, including hunger, illness, work and sex. (You can hear my interview with Raymond Tallis on Hunger in a couple of weeks.) So the books have practical ambitions, but they’re rooted in an understanding of philosophical tradition (though this isn’t limited to the western canon).

In the interview I was keen to get Mark to tease apart wellbeing and happiness. Happiness has been the subject of many books recently, whereas we tend to think of wellbeing as more of a Sunday supplement concept that embraces getting a good night’s sleep and drinking less caffeine. So what exactly is wellbeing? Isn’t it just a low-fat version of happiness? And did writing the book make Mark think about his own life differently? Listen to the podcast and find out.

17. “Unstitching the carefully tailored suit” – among the dead philosophers

Simon Critchley
“The book is written against the view that a philosopher’s biography is of no importance and that philosophy can be reduced to a series of systems of thought. It’s really an attempt to rewrite the history of philosophy as a history of philosophers. That was the way that philosophy was taught until the eighteenth century. So in a way it’s a revival of a rather ancient idea of philosophy being taught through exemplary biography or the idea of philosophy as a way of life.”

In this week’s podcast I talk to Simon Critchley about his recently published Book of Dead Philosophers. The book might at first seem like one of those forgettable book of quirky lists and miscellaneous bizzareries, but in fact it’s much more than that. Critchley Melbourne coverAs Jonathan Derbyshire put it in his Guardian review:
Book of Dead Philosophers UK cover
“These descriptions aren’t just intended to be diverting, however (though they are certainly that); Critchley says that they are also meant to challenge a conception of philosophy which holds that it is a form of abstract, conceptual inquiry that makes no difference to the lives of those who practise it.
For him, philosophy is not so much about learning how to die, as about learning how to live with what he calls our ‘creatureliness’. We are finite, ‘limited’ creatures, and philosophy is, or ought to be, the business of helping human beings to live with the ‘difficulty’ of facing up to that.”

I met up with Simon in the rather noisy cafe of the ICA in London just before he was due to give a talk about the book, and started off by hitting him with a quote from Heidegger. As you do.

Oh, and the title of this post is a quote from Simon’s book; “unstitching the carefully tailored suit of the self” is his description of the effect that grief has on us.

What’s the big idea?

Festival of Ideas logoIn May I made a number of recordings for this year’s Bristol Festival of Ideas, a series of very popular events which brought some high-powered thinkers to the city to stimulate discussion on subjects as diverse as the legacy of ’68 to why the human brain is not quite ‘fit for purpose’.

I’m editing my interviews now for a series of podcasts sponsored by The Philosophers’ Magazine, which will be appearing over the next few months. The first one is downloadable now from iTunes here. Read More