Looking for the Intellectual

I’m currently taking a cultural formations class entitled, “The Intellectual and Social History of Europe from 1780 to Present”. We mainly discuss the role intellectuals have played in society. Topics have ranged from coal miners strikes to the development of the atomic bomb. Despite the insane amount of reading required for this class (we have 15 assigned texts and you are expected to know/read them all), I’m throughly enjoying the course. What has stood out for me the most from all of our readings is the central theme of the importance of learning, whether is be through literature, science, politics, or another means. As an ashamed member of the “millennial” generation, I’ve realized that my peers and those younger than me no longer value intellectual pursuits. Simply put, they have lost the love of learning. We no longer gather in living rooms to discuss the intricacies of Poe or Newton. We no longer participate in friendly banter over innovative ideas and solutions to society’s problems. Intellectual topics are ‘taboo’ in culture today. We don’t dare discuss our opinion on stem cell research at the dinner table and we haven’t read enough classic literature to discuss their applications in our current society.

I had an interview for an internship last week at which I was asked the simple question, “Who is your favorite author?” Our conversation changed from my resume’ to our favorite books, authors, and the socialist theories proclaimed in Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”. I came out of this interview with an unfamiliar excitement. At first I thought is was due to the fact it went well and I’m excited about the company, but after more reflection I realized that half of my joy came from the stimulation of an intellectual conversation. I hadn’t really realized how much the books I’ve read have affected my academic experience. I also realized that my intellectual environment didn’t only consist of literature. Many plays and classic movies (yes, even media can play a positive role in your intellectual development) have made an impact on my perspective on politics, religion, and life in general. Whether we know it or not, the things we read help shape the people we become. However, literature, philosophy, performing arts, and history are not the only means to broadening your intellectual horizons. The world of science can offer fascinating conversations as well.

In my class we learned about C.P. Snow, a novelist and physicist who wrote an essay on the importance of bridging the gap between the world of literature and the world of science. He points out that many people feel that their is an intrinsic intellectual difference between the two. He explained that people are drawn to one side or the other and rarely dabble in the middle. He pointed out that you would get the same response by asking one person, “Have you read Shakespeare?” as asking another, “Have you read Darwin?”. Literary folk place more value on Shakespeare and scientists on Darwin, but very rarely will you find someone who can have a lively discussion on both. We often don’t encourage interdisciplinary learning. Just imagine how much we could accomplish if we took the genius minds from both end of the spectrum and had them work together!

So why am I rambling on about all this intellectual nonsense? I want to challenge you to embark on an intellectual journey. Read a book, play, or scientific journal. I’m a firm believer that the written word is arguably the most powerful tool on the planet. However, media can also engender intellectual conversations. Watch a classic movie, documentary, or foreign film. Do something to broaden your horizons, but the one thing you must do is find someone to discuss these things with. So I begin with a simple question: “What is your favorite book and why?”

Good luck!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. r. motley says:

    ali, you read and were read to quite a bit while in my womb and up to your “highschool and college” years. don’t forget the importance of the earliest years as well.

    1. agatewood says:

      You’re right. I thought I mentioned that. I’ll change it. Thanks for instilling the love of learning in me! Love you mommy!

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