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A Few Thoughts On “Superman”

06 Nov 2013, Posted by Steven Kotler in Rise
travis

Sure, this book is called THE RISE OF SUPERMAN, but I’m not talking about a guy in a cape who’s allergic to kryptonite.

The idea here is much older.

Throughout history, we have caught glimpses of other versions of ourselves. Better, stronger, smarter versions. And we have long used versions of the word “superman” to describe such possibilities.

In the second century, for example, Lucian of Samosata created what many consider the term’s first iteration, coining hyperanthropos to mean “more than man.”

Surfing hundred foot waves, back-flipping off hundred foot cliffs, shredding 60 degree steep spine lines—these are all mind-blowing examples of paradigm shifts in human possibility.

Lucian uses hyperanthropos in a discussion of Prometheus, the Titan god who first gave humans fire and thus taught us to live independently of the gods.

In 1664, Heinrich Muller created the more modern variation “ubermensch” or “the overman” or “the superior man,” which was later borrowed by both Byron and Goethe.

In the 1880s, in his classic Thus Spoke Zarathustra, German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche made “ubermensch” globally famous—but not as a crime-fighting hero.

Nietzsche’s overman was someone willing to risk everything for the enhancement of humanity and—equally important—someone capable of producing a paradigm-shift in society without need of force or tyranny.

In Nietzsche, we find a superman who leads not with muscle, rather by mind-blowing example.

And this is exactly what we’re seeing with today’s extreme athletes. Surfing hundred foot waves, back-flipping off hundred foot cliffs, shredding 60 degree steep spine lines—these are all mind-blowing examples of paradigm shifts in human possibility.

Superman, in this case, doesn’t represent the fantastical—no capes, costumes or comincs required. Here, we’re talking about a deeply human pursuit of the extraordinary. Thus, by Rise of Superman, we really mean the Rise of Everyone!

*On a final note, as far as the actual term “superman” is concerned, we can thank playwright George Bernard Shaw for that. In 1904, inspired by Nietzsche’s ideas, he translated “ubermensch” into English when he wrote Man and Superman.