Pursuing Intelligence

I think Christmas affords a splendid opportunity for a person to ask himself what he pursues in life. Not in the sense of Charlie Brown desperately trying to get away from commercialism or Linus on the auditorium stage reciting portions from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Something else.

I’m in a weird state of flux. I’m simultaneously trying to downsize my life materially while filling it up intellectually. I don’t really view it as a paradox; they go together quite nicely, actually. But I wonder how ardent my pursuit of knowledge should be. There’s much to take into consideration.

Probably the first thing that comes to my mind is the fragility of knowledge. Nothing’s standing in the way of blunt force trauma coming to my cranium today or tomorrow, and with a stiff enough blow I could forget everything. Or fast forward fifty years, and I could have Alzheimer’s. Everything I’ve worked to build up could crumble in seemingly one breath. Destruction is always quicker than construction.

The second thought that plagues me is how intelligence—possibly more than anything—is so singularly and situationally subjective. My desire and/or ability to dissect literature and dig into literary criticism mean utterly nothing in the physical realm. The man who can farm, who can fix machinery, who can survive in the wilderness, who can carve wood, who can build houses—he is intelligent. Some of those things I used to know how to do. Modernity’s version of intelligence, though, has slowly, but surely, brought about their atrophy. Put that man in a classroom with me, and he may seem suddenly dumb, but put me in his workshop, and I am at once the helpless soul. He has practical, life-sustaining skill. If anything, his intelligence, at the root of it all, aids in sustaining mine by taking care of my basic needs so I can then focus on studying.

I have always thought blue a more noble color than white.

My final rumination on knowledge usually comes down to its inconsequentiality. The realization of this came during a conversation with a friend, who I’ll call Stefan, and we were talking about a mutual acquaintance of ours who has started making rather idiotic decisions with his life. And Stefan said, “It just really surprises me. I mean he was an honor student and everything. He’s extremely intelligent.” But wisdom and intelligence are two very different things, and just because someone has the latter doesn’t mean he possesses the former.

And it’s at this point I don’t know where to go with my pursuit of intelligence. I know I want to study more—if nothing else, for personal edification. But I can’t bring myself to view it as some existential end goal. There are deeper matters in life: issues of the body, heart, soul. The mind is important, no doubt, but the issue of its precedence continues to confound me. Many people want to exalt the mind of man, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. Perhaps I just see our collective intellectual limitations as too real a thing. The brain will always hit a wall at some point, and when it does, if a person doesn’t have something else to revert to, mental chaos may very well ensue.

These are my thoughts, not yours. But this place often where I come to sort them out. I don’t know what you pursue this holiday, but I hope it sings an eloquent phrase of permanence and not temporality. Such longing is foundationally worthwhile.

Merry Christmas.

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2 comments
  1. Roscoe said:

    God created mankind to subdue and bring forth fruit from an extravagantly designed world. In exercising this mandate, all of the natural endowments with which we have been bestowed are called into play. No single person is equal task; thus we have natural gifts that are specific – and each is important. Our design makes interdependence mandatory.

    That said, intellect is truly unique among these gifts. Thought is the genesis of action, and the quantum of human ability. The builder doesn’t build without architecture; the farmer does not farm without agriculture. It is intellect that enables us to reach out into the expanse of God’s extravagant creation and lay hold of that which does not exist – and bring it into existence. Intellect frees us from the bounds of what we can see and opens our minds to all that there is.

    I would say that intellect is as noble as any other ability when we share what we have without greed or intent to harm. Intellect is kept honest by the very real existence of the unknowable – and in the face of this terminal limitation our eyes are lifted to the heavens, and we compelled to seek the Great One by who the unknowable is known. In this we come full circle; body, heart, and soul come along for the ride. Distilled to its essence, intellectual inquiry only knows one question: what is the Truth? That Truth is the reason we exist.

    • Nelson Shake said:

      I appreciate your words, Roscoe, and I think you highlighted the root good of any endeavor when you emphasized interdependence and the free giving of what we have. Knowledge must be shared; otherwise, education is pointless and community shatters. When not transmitted and harbored for oneself, intellect may be one of the most volatile weapons of greed around.

      Or, it’s given too freely and enters the realm of pomposity. I’ve met too many people whose intellect is not kept honest because of their willful denial of their own mind’s limitations. I think this is when one’s intelligence can become a tool of oppression and domination. Violence is sure to follow before long.

      Thank you for lending your insight. Your wisdom challenges me, my friend.

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