Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Aphorisms on Intellect (continued)

What is the difference between being intelligent, and being wise? Can a wise person be stupid? Can an intelligent person be unwise?

Wisdom is about ends, intelligence is about means.

"Wisdom is a deep understanding of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time and energy. Wisdom is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) apply perceptions and knowledge and so produce the desired results. Wisdom is comprehension of what is true or right coupled with optimum judgment as to action. Synonyms include: sagacity, discernment, or insight. Wisdom often requires control of one's emotional reactions (the "passions") so that one's principles, reason and knowledge prevail to determine one's actions." (Wikipedia)

"Intelligence is an umbrella term describing a property of the mind including related abilities, such as the capacities for abstract thought, reasoning, planning, problem solving, speech, and learning." (Wikipedia)

The modern world is without a doubt more intelligent than ever before, but what about its wisdom? That is the big question, isn't it?

The growth of intellect has exposed the conventional wisdom as historically evolved pragmatism, unworthy of the awe that it was receiving for having "divine" origins.

Disrespect for tradition (or at least a neutrality towards it) is essential for research into its hallowed claims. But then, you start by destroying the hallowed nature of the claim, and the importance of the claim was not in its substance, but in its holiness.

One can worship a stone, if enough mystique is built around it.

When an intellectual says that nothing should be off-limits for examination, you might want to run for your life. He is after your soul, the devil!

An intellectual loves to demolish belief, and while this is a pleasant distraction for him, it is life-threatening to others.

But you may ask, aren't some beliefs harmful? Weren't slavery, limited suffrage, untouchability, young female circumcision, worthy of being discarded? If you censor inquiry, how does humankind progress?

You are right. Those beliefs truly deserve to be discarded. Evolution of the intellect, which is progress, is indeed important. But once you are a questioning being, you have taken the first step to autonomy, whose logical end-result (if you are brave enough) is meaninglessness and alienation.

"Haller’s sickness of soul, as I now know, is not the eccentricity of a single individual, but the sickness of the times themselves, the neurosis of that generation to which Haller belongs, a sickness, it seems, that by no means attacks the weak and worthless only but rather those who are strongest in spirit and richest in gifts." (Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf)

Can a highly developed intellect be loving? It can pretend to, if the situation so demands, but it is beyond feeling. A feeling state encumbers intelligence and judgment.

Have you noticed psychopaths are highly intelligent? You might want to read this question and its answers.

Altruism is a communal passion. Tradition gets its force from the community. Modernity is against community. And therefore, altruism is on the way out. People love their dogs more than they love their neighbors.

Meuersault began his discourse: "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure." (Albert Camus, The Outsider) This is the modern, autonomous man.

Huxley, in Brave New World, was prescient about the horror of the family:
And home was as squalid psychically as physically. Psychically, it was a rabbit hole, a midden, hot with the frictions of tightly packed life, reeking with emotion. What suffocating intimacies, what dangerous, insane, obscene relationships between the members of the family group! Maniacally, the mother brooded over her children (her children) … brooded over them like a cat over its kittens; but a cat that could talk, a cat that could say, "My baby, my baby," over and over again. "My baby, and oh, oh, at my breast, the little hands, the hunger, and that unspeakable agonizing pleasure! Till at last my baby sleeps, my baby sleeps with a bubble of white milk at the corner of his mouth. My little baby sleeps …" "Yes," said Mustapha Mond, nodding his head, "you may well shudder."

(to be continued)

1 comment:

Modern Man said...

Harman,

It seems your arguments on the intellect revolve around the premise that the endgame of thought is meaninglessness. This is controversial among many who respond to your posts, but I agree with you here. This premise explains the human condition.

From here, you then make a value judgment on the actual experience of meaninglessness. You rightly claim that it has the qualities of a tragedy, and that it can have detrimental emotional/intellectual effects for the individual. Arising from these effects are the ills of modern society, which appear to exacerbate the fundamental problem for those who reject religious faith, but are also not able, or refuse to keep up with modernity's high-speed progress, endless distraction, and rampant narcissism. It's a cycle of increasing alienation.

This creates a problem for the alienated intellectual who is concerned with the problems of the modern age he is a part of. He realizes now that he can't attempt to tear down the beliefs of the masses because doing so will only lead to the horrible experience of meaninglessness mentioned above. You wrote: "An intellectual loves to demolish belief, and while this is a pleasant distraction for him, it is life-threatening to others." I'm not so sure that it's merely a "pleasant distraction" that he "loves" to take part in. It leaves no room for the tormented intellectual who is wondering why nobody else sees or understands the great tragedy we're all currently a part of. Perhaps one of the greatest moral goods an intellectual can aspire to is to keep his mouth shut.

Of course, you know what kind of thinking that sounds like. :)

Or, maybe we're defining "intellectual" differently.

-MM