Words can bore us or they can carry us away; words can push and pull our minds and it’s up to us to decide how we feel about them. Our university education teaches us to think beyond the boundaries of our predilections. There’s no prevarication when it comes to learning. We either feel it or we don’t. Behind our reactions to course material fundamental truths would seem to lurk, like the Moon inexorably pulling tides to and fro. We may be caught in the wash of life and culture daily but, out there, reality waits to be seen, felt, and acquired. It follows, then, that some sort of inoculation against ignorance might be possible.
Enter AU: hallowed dorm of learning, invisible to the naked eye, yet ennobling pulsating synapses of thought round thousands of brain pathways around our interior world that we experience. Academic learning, be it brick and mortar in a cult-like re-education camp or digitally through a vast net casting us headlong through aspersions and potentials, enables us to really think. We arrive with beliefs, hard and fast truths that tether us to certainty and moor us in safe harbours of epistemological quietude.
It’s Not an Implant
Back in the fifth grade I read a disturbing science fiction library book by Monica Hughes. It was titled Devil on My Back and centred on a boy’s escape from a techno-dystopic civilization characterized by brain implants that would provide, ever so helpfully in theory, data and analysis and answers to any independent thought the user might think or imagine. Fed up with basically Googling for truth, the boy escapes down the sewage chute and discovers a lush outside world full of fellow humans living simply while the rest of nature simply lives. The protagonist’s education proceeds from there and we might all recall that, when we are older and pondering our studies, the things we’ve learned will be less technocratic or trivial and more about life’s themes and of new ways of seeing the world. Max Weber called this verstehen, the acquisition of meaning and the apparatuses to understand the world. And, unlike brain implants (or Siri or Alexa), there’s no app for putting on the good ol’ thinking cap provided through an academic discipline like sociology or psychology.
Becoming a Newt
Hermeneutics, the art of interpretation and critical evaluation, is about realizing that there are many views on a single concept. No brain implant could provide new ways of thinking outside of the paradigmatic enclosure of the dominant ideology of its programmer. There’s no algorithm for your mind. Witness, then, a core conception of science and, indeed, philosophy: there are many possible truths if we open our minds.
Consider how easy it seems to think that the world seems simple. Education gives us a shot, at least, at thinking beyond simple answers.
“Quietists say there is no such thing as the nature of the world. Science doesn’t tell it to us. Nothing tells it to us. The whole question is a bad question. You can ask about a real Rolex and a fake Rolex, or real cream and a non-dairy creamer, but you can’t ask about reality in general. ‘Real’ only has a sense when it’s applied to something specific” (Rorty, online).
Getting to the Acts, Lest We Forget
Truth is, life is more about thinking than folks might realize. Beliefs guide our actions.
Life is full of acts that carry gravitational importance; aren’t we at AU because of a snail trail embodying out life journeys? Take Paul Gauguin, for instance. Before his famous artistic journey in Tahiti he was relegated to Denmark by his chosen life circumstances. Alone in icy Copenhagen, following his wife who had left him, he was relegated to the lowly status of tarpaulin salesman. Need not we recall that our lives could go south in any moment or in any direction.
Waldemer Januszczack describes the scene:
“Her family threw him out because he could no longer keep them in the manner to which they had grown accustomed. His Danish wife, Mette, was actually the one who did the deserting when she jumped aboard a passing boat in Normandy and returned to her family in Copenhagen without telling him. A distraught Gauguin followed her to Denmark in 1884 and took a ridiculous job as a tarpaulin salesman. He was good at most things in life, but not at selling unwanted French tarpaulins to the Danes. Mette’s posh family was embarrassed by him.” (Januszczak, online).
Let’s act like we are fortunate to possess the opportunity to study at AU; who wants to sell tarps for a living! When we feel our learning with our hearts and our minds that’s when we get somewhere.
Januszczak, W. (2021). ‘Within This Thicket There Lurks A Name – Ian Hamilton Finlay’. Retrieved from https://waldemar.tv/2010/09/naked-prejudice/
Rorty, R. (2017). ‘Richard Rorty on the Future of Philosophy’. Entitled Opinions With Robert Harrison. https://entitledopinions.stanford.edu/richard-rorty-future-philosophy-0