Self’s Search for Meaning

In a three-part series on Radio 4, Will Self asks some of Britain’s key opinion makers to share their conclusions about the nature – and meaning – of our existence. In the absence of certainty, what is it exactly that strengthens their convictions, and how do these inform their everyday actions? How do we live well, in service to a higher purpose – and can we find meaning without one?

Listen to the first part (Science) here and the second part (Philosophy) here. The third part, Faith, will be broadcast on 20 June.

Real meals: Joe Allen in Covent Garden

I once ate three meals in an evening – and how real is that? It was in Portugal, on the Algarve, and I was travelling alone, aged 20. At a beachfront café, I fell in with some German women who were a little older than me. One of them, who was horse-faced in an attractive, three-times-around-the-paddock-cantering-vigorously sort of way, took a shine to me – and took a shine in particular to the way that I demolished my steak and chips. “Mein Gott!” (or some other stereotypical German exclamation) she cried, “You are having the most impressive appetite – this is very sexy in a man!”

Real meals: cheese sandwiches

Scientists examining a chicken nugget have discovered DNA from over a hundred individuals mixed into a fowl mush. It makes you think, doesn’t it? I mean, I always used to say to my kids when they ordered nuggets, “You realise that’s made of crushed-up chicken eyelids and testicles,” but I still imagined these were the parts of at most two or three bodies. And while no one with eyes (lidded or otherwise) could fail to see how disgusting the battery farming industry is, this new intelligence gives it a truly diabolic cast: what we’re participating in here is a sort of chicken holocaust.

Madness of crowds: shirt tails

In his history Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (the work that lends its title to this column), Charles Mackay disdains the matter of fashion, regarding it as such a transparently crazy and bewilderingly evanescent phenomenon, that to discuss this or that rage for apparel would be quite de trop.