getty images (Diogenes of Sinope) / iStock (sun/glasses/suntan lotion)
getty images (Diogenes of Sinope) / iStock (sun/glasses/suntan lotion)

The Secret Pastimes of 7 Famous Philosophers

getty images (Diogenes of Sinope) / iStock (sun/glasses/suntan lotion)
getty images (Diogenes of Sinope) / iStock (sun/glasses/suntan lotion)

By Jared McSwain

Philosophers are often depicted as calculated and cerebral, lost in thought, meditating on the deeper meaning of life with head resting on hand. And while this depiction holds true for some of philosophy’s greatest minds, those same minds weren't always focused on such noble pursuits. Here are the ways seven of history's greatest philosophers would let loose. 

1. Socrates: Dancing

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The man who originated such notable things as the Socratic Method and the famous line “I know that I know nothing”  and is heralded as one of the greatest thinkers in ancient western civilization also knew how to cut a rug. French Renaissance philosopher Montaigne even made the bold claim that Socrates had done “nothing more notable … than that he found time, when he was an old man, to learn music and dancing.” 

Xenophon, a student of Socrates, recounted his mentor's unrestrained admiration of a lithe young Syracusan who performed for him at a dinner party circa 360 BCE :

“While he danced no portion of his body remained idle; neck and legs and hands together, one and all were exercised. That is how a man should dance, who wants to keep his body light and healthy. I cannot say how much obliged I should be to you, O man of Syracuse, for lessons in deportment. Pray teach me my steps.” 

2. Diogenes of Sinope: Sunbathing

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Diogenes, the Cynic who lived shortly after Socrates, vouched for a life of sleeping in the gutters of Athens, lapping up water from streams, and making a public spectacle of masturbating in the streets. When he wasn’t convincing the locals he was insane, he could be found lounging in the sun.

The thinker enjoyed sunbathing so much that one day, when Alexander the Great instructed him to “ask any favor you choose of me,” the philosopher simply replied, “Cease to shade me from the sun.”   

3. René Descartes: Optics

In typical Cartesian style, the French mathematician and so-called "Father of Modern Philosophy" could not be bothered with any simple hobby. Rather, he had to exert the full scope of his scientific prowess into everything he did. In his spare time while he lived in Paris, Descartes began inventing optical devices to help him better understand how light can be refracted. Eventually, he came up with a lens design called the Cartesian Oval

4. Immanuel Kant: Smoking

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Known primarily for composing his wide body of groundbreaking work on metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and epistemology while lecturing at the University of Konigsberg in Prussia, Kant was also known to start his morning with a smoke from his pipe. Supposedly, a nice fat bowl of tobacco and one cup of weak tea were just what the philosopher needed to meditate in the mornings. The more he became absorbed in thought, however, the colder his tea became, so he frequently refilled it for warming purposes (but according to his long-time secretary, it still only counted as "one cup.") Similarly, as he grew older and his self-imposed limit of one pipe-full of tobacco per day didn't quite suffice, Kant simply chose larger bowls from which to smoke.

5. Friedrich Nietzsche: Walking in the Woods

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While staying in the Nietzsche-Haus in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, during the summers, Nietzsche would take a break from his nihilistic writings on such matters as the “Übermensch” and the “Will to Power” to take a daily two-hour walk in the nearby forests. One can understand why such an otherwise introverted, usually bedridden man would be inclined to take such a hike: Close by were the breathtaking Lake Silvaplana and Lake Sils, surrounded by the snowy Swiss Alps. 

6. Ludwig Wittgenstein: Music

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Respected as the “Modern Socrates” and primary logician of the 21st century, Ludwig Wittgenstein was born into one of the wealthiest families in Europe. This allowed for a flourishing cultivation of music within the Wittgenstein family. Wittgenstein’s boyhood home in Vienna played host to such regular musical geniuses as Gustav Mahler and Johannes Brahms, who performed concerts for the family and in turn inspired the young philosopher. Ludwig took piano lessons at a very early age, but he soon became frustrated and gave up the instrument. It wasn't until he enrolled in Vienna's Teacher's College (which required a proficiency in a musical instrument) that he taught himself to play the clarinet. Wittgenstein was also an accomplished whistler—an acquaintance remembered Ludwig whistling the viola line in the third movement of a Beethoven quintet to perfection.

7. Albert Camus: Soccer

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The Nobel Prize-winning French novelist and absurdist thinker was an avid lover of all things football (the European variety, of course). At the University of Algiers, Camus played goalkeeper until he suffered a serious bout of tuberculosis that spelled the end of his football career. However, he maintained his love for the game for the remainder of his life, going so far as to claim, "What I know most surely about morality and the duty of man I owe to sport and learned it in the RUA [Racing Universitaire Algerios junior football team]."

Additional Sources: Friedrich Nietzsche by Curtis Cate, Introducing Wittgenstein by John Heaton, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius by Ray Monk

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Where Does the Word 'Meme' Come From?
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group
Steve Jennings/Getty Images for Civic Entertainment Group

By Jenna Scarbrough

Certain fads, catchphrases, dances, and songs bombard our society—nowadays, almost all of these are either born on or popularized through the Internet. Grumpy Cat, Rickrolling, Left Shark, the optical illusion dress—all of these ubiquitous cultural sensations have this in common. Some of these stick for a while, some don’t. Those that stick are branded as memes. But what exactly is a meme?

In 1976, Richard Dawkins, the English evolutionary biologist, proposed an idea in his book, The Selfish Gene: What if ideas were like organisms, where they could breed and mutate? These ideas, he claimed, are actually the basis for human culture, and they are born in the brain.

Dawkins’s research is primarily in genetics. He has argued that all life relies on replication. But unlike cells, ideas do not rely on a chemical basis for survival. They begin from a single location—the brain—and spread outward, jumping from one vessel to another, battling for attention. Some ideas are more successful, which may be due to an element of truth they carry, while others slowly die out. Some may not be accurate, but society has accepted these ideas for so long that they are just accepted (think about pictures of Jesus or George Washington; while these may not be what they actually looked like, almost all art now portrays these men in the same way).

Dawkins needed a name for this concept. He proposed calling it mimeme, from the Greek word meaning “that which is replicated.” He wrote in his book, “I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme.” He felt the monosyllabic word would be more fitting because it sounds similar to "gene." “If it is any consolation,” he continued, “it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory,’ or to the French word même. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream.’”

Although he probably couldn’t imagine the possibility of Internet memes during his initial research in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Dawkins has now accepted the appropriation. Because it’s still viral, he said in an interview with WIRED, this popularity increase goes right along with his theory that ideas are similar to living things.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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25 Awesome Australian Slang Terms
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by Helena Hedegaard Holmgren 

Australian English is more than just an accent, and the Aussie vernacular can easily leave both English speakers and foreigners perplexed. Australian English is similar to British English, but many common words differ from American English—and there are many unique Aussie idiosyncrasies, slang terms, and expressions.

The term for Aussie slang and pronunciation is strine, and it is often characterized by making words as short as possible; the story goes it developed by speaking through clenched teeth to avoid blowies (blow flies) from getting into the mouth. So if you plan to visit the world’s smallest continent, this list of some of the most commonly used slang expressions is for you.

1. Arvo: afternoon

2. Barbie: barbeque

3. Bogan: redneck, an uncultured person. According to the Australian show Bogan Hunters, a real bogan sports a flanno (flannel shirt), a mullet, missing teeth, homemade tattoos (preferably of the Australian Flag or the Southern Cross), and has an excess of Australia paraphernalia. This "species of local wildlife" can be found by following their easily distinguishable tracks from burnouts or the smell of marijuana.

4. Bottle-O: bottle shop, liquor store

5. Chockers: very full

6. Esky: cooler, insulated food and drink container

7. Fair Dinkum: true, real, genuine

8. Grommet: young surfer

9. Mozzie: mosquito

10. Pash: a long passionate kiss. A pash rash is red irritated skin as the result of a heavy make-out session with someone with a beard.

11. Ripper: really great

12. Roo: kangaroo. A baby roo, still in the pouch, is known as a Joey

13. Root: sexual intercourse. This one can get really get foreigners in trouble. There are numerous stories about Americans coming to Australia telling people how they love to "root for their team." If you come to Australia, you would want to use the word "barrack" instead. On the same note, a "wombat" is someone who eats roots and leaves.

14. Servo: gas station. In Australia, a gas station is called a petrol station. If you ask for gas, don’t be surprised if someone farts.

15. She’ll be right: everything will be all right

16. Sickie: sick day. If you take a day off work when you are not actually sick it’s called chucking a sickie.

17. Slab: 24-pack of beer

18. Sook: to sulk. If someone calls you a sook, it is because they think you are whinging

19. Stubbie holder: koozie or cooler. A stubbie holder is a polystyrene insulated holder for a stubbie, which is a 375ml bottle of beer.

20. Sweet as: sweet, awesome. Aussies will often put ‘as’ at the end of adjectives to give it emphasis. Other examples include lazy as, lovely as, fast as and common as.

21. Ta: thank you

22. Togs: swim suit

23. Tradie: a tradesman. Most of the tradies have nicknames too, including brickie (bricklayer), truckie (truckdriver), sparky (electrician), garbo (garbage collector) and chippie (carpenter).

24. Ute: Utility vehicle, pickup truck

25. Whinge: whine

Good onya, mate! Understanding the Aussies should be easy as now.

Additional Sources: Urban Attitude; All Down Under - Slang Dictionary; Australian Words - Meanings and Origins; Australian Dictionary; Koala Net; Australian Explorer; Up from Australia; YouTube, 2; McDonalds.

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