- Mind Sports Olympiad
The first "Mind Olympiad" took place in London recently, attracting 2000 competitors from 58 countries. But how would present Olympians compete with the greats of the past? According to Tony Buzan and Raymond Keene, the organisers, the most intelligent person who ever lived was Leonardo da Vinci, with a storming IQ of 220, with Goethe (215) and Shakespeare (210) in silver and bronze positions. The best Greeks are Archimedes and Aristotle, in equal 8th position on 190. No Romans get as far as 180, which is the score of the top-rated woman (George Eliot). [New Statesman 29 August 1997]
- Pythagoras' Chums
The Ancient World mocked the philosopher Pythagoras, because he (allegedly) believed that the humble bean had a soul, and was thus, like himself, eligible for reincarnation. Obviously this was because beans seem, when hosted by a human, to produce their own breath, wind, flatulence - very much a life of their own. Now a British Scientist at Cambridge has genetically engineered the world's first fart-free bean. It has been christened the "prim" bean in token of its guarantee not to cause social embarrassment. Pythagoreans are aghast. Mr Bean intends to sue.[Guardian August 5 1997]
Plato's Socialist Republic?
Revelations about attempts to purify the race by enforced sterilisations in Scandinavia - a program that endured in Sweden until as recently as 1976 - have prompted research into British socialist thinkers' ideas on Eugenics. Many make Plato's proposals look extremely tame: Shaw favored "selective breeding"; Bertrand Russell suggested the issue of color-coded "procreation tickets" to avoid contamination of the race - anyone breeding with a holder of the wrong-color ticket would face a hefty fine; HG Wells was enthusiastic about the removal of "detrimental types and characteristics". Even many reformers were motivated by Eugenic rather than humanitarian motives: the Webbs wanted free milk for the future working class because of the kicking it had received in the Boer War. Marie Stopes' birth-control was not about female emancipation, but to reduce the numbers of the proletariat. JM Keynes was keen to enforce it on the workers who were "too drunken and ignorant" to control their own numbers. [Guardian 30 August 1997]
Cicero was right about old age!
Cicero's recomendations for a long and healthy life have been confirmed in a book published in UK this week. American doctor Dharma Singh Khalsa - without admitting any debt to the first century BC pop philosopher - claims that a simple diet, mental activity (reasoning and memory exercises and no TV), plus regular reading or writing will stave off the dreaded Alzheimer's disease. Cicero in De Senectute recommends mental activity (learn something new - like Greek!), exercise, moderation in diet. In fact his work seems very much in tune with the modern idea of "dying young as late as possible". [Brain Longevity published by Century]