The Ideas That Make Us

‘The Ideas That Make Us’ is a Radio 4 series which reveals the history of the most influential ideas in the story of civilisation, ideas which continue to affect us all today.

‘In this ‘archaeology of philosophy’, the award-winning historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes begins each programme with the first, extant evidence of a single word-idea in Ancient Greek culture and travels both forwards and backwards in time, investigating how these ideas have been moulded by history and have impacted on history and the human experience. In this, the first programme of the series, Bettany investigates the idea of ‘idea’ with neuroscientist Professor Faraneh Vargha-Khadem, classicist Professor Paul Cartledge, historian Dr. Stephen Pigney and specialist in intellectual property law, Professor Tanya Aplin.’

Hughes takes an MRI scan, and imagines herself in Ancient Greece, Olympia. Hinder composes an Olympian Ode Ten and invents the word ‘Idea’. They use language to generate images in the MRI scanner. A visualisation of an idea. This is a physical search, starting inside the head. Tracking brain activity, monitoring chemical interactions inside the brain. An idea is generated by a network and thoughts are fleeting, the only way to capture an idea is to sign them into physical reality, and it is this expression makes us human. We can imagine as humans that ideas are allowed to move and mutate. Around the 5th century BC, thinkers flow across the Mediterranian, where philosophy becomes business . Plato makes a theory of forms which is a philosophy of good, just pious, abstract, metaphysical, ideas, the goal which is to understand the form of good, or perfection in this life. Ideas develop a life of their own, even though they may come from within us. We understand that they can be shared and that they have divine inspiration. Descartes set out to prove that God does exist but comes to prove a mechanistic understanding of the universe instead, something that can be measured as meditations. Ideas make history and are generated by it. Piccadilly Circus advertising is visual branding, as an idea relating to an individual. Through time the ownership of ideas has been resisted. Why should someone have exclusive rights? If we ‘moneytize’ ideas are we steralising what is human? Pinder said ‘Idea Tec Alon’: ‘Beautiful in Form’.  Ideas are born of synaptic connections. Ideas survive thanks to genetic evolution that allows us to communicate, like creatures of movement and exchange, so whatever synthetic restraints we impose, they have to morph and mutate, travel, socialise and run free.

‘Other ideas examined in The Ideas that Make Us are desire, agony, fame, justice, wisdom, comedy, liberty, hospitality and peace.’ For further ‘The Ideas that Make Us’:

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