You may think such a thing is self-evident, but I can assure it is not. For all creatures, with a sufficient brain, think in some sense–a dog thinks it’s hungry and walks to its food bowl, much as a fish does. When satiated, they stop.
However, humans, or at least higher life forms have greater capabilities, and can make decisions about events yet to come, assess long term benefits and pitfalls. We have the ability to think critically. And yet, few of us are taught this most important skill. Instead we are relegated, all too often, to the tried and true method of experimentation and learning from “our mistakes.” This is both time consuming and can be costly.
I have been a reader all my life, yet, I feel not particularly well read. I can name dozens of “classical” literature that I have not read. It was not stressed in my youth certainly–books (except for cheap dime store war novels) never graced our coffee table or night stands for that matter. I knew nothing of architecture, anthropology, french literature, or god forbid philosophy.
I did not secure a liberal arts education, where I might have bumped into some of these things. Trying to read, say Spinoza today is a bit like dropping into the middle of War and Peace and explaining the plot. I don’t get the language. A dozen other topics have left me cold in the same way–verbiage that I cannot penetrate no matter how hard I might try.
One is tempted to simply say, that I don’t have the IQ for it. And in fairness, that might be accurate. Maybe I could read Jergen Moltmann for years and never discern what the hell he is trying to tell me, because I just don’t have the brain power for it. I just don’t know, though I’ve devoted some significant thinking to the problem.
It matters. I am not comfortable with being average in intellect, I want to be part of that rarefied 1-2% of superior minds. I suspect I am not, and thus, I am perhaps wasting time.
As I said, part of it may be simply that you have to be in the club. Doctors can read all manner of stuff that we laypersons can’t fathom, because they have a secret language that only they know. Same for lawyers. I suspect the same thing is found in most of our disciplines.
Part is not existing in the social milieu where such material is discussed as a matter of course. We were working class folk, and though I was often teased for having my head in a book all too often, I was not dissuaded from my pursuit often. But then, I had no one to bounce these new ideas off of either.
Some things I read at too early an age, and simply didn’t have the background. Dropping into the middle of War and Peace again. I recall reading Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics in my late teens or very early 20′s and recall nothing memorable. I certainly wouldn’t have grasped much of Simone de Beauvior’s Second Sex I doubt. (Which by the way it is being re-issued in English in its entirety.)
All I know is that when I come upon something that I start to read, and it gets all existential and then tells me about ontological and teleological methodologies, I start to swoon, and not with love, but with nausea. We get to neo-Platonism before I have begun to digest Platonism, and then it goes off to Post-Modernism with hardly a chance to catch my breath. I hear about relativism from people who don’t frankly have a clue what they are talking about, but they have picked it up as a good sound bite from their talking points memo.
It starts to make my head hurt, then starts to make me feel stupid. And if there is one thing I don’t like to be, it is stupid. While it’s far better to know one is stupid and to keep quiet, it is still pretty bad to know that.
Having no really great talent, such as violin playing, or creating exotic desserts, I have to rely on something after all.
Which brings me back to critical thinking. Perhaps I can do that, at least well enough to know that I am not Einstein’s protege′ nor heir. I can’t write prose that draws on seven different disciplines including neuroscience, anthropology, analytical psychology and Elizabethan court literature. Nope, if you expected that, well sorry to say, it ain’t me.
Yet, I look adoringly upon those who can, for they just sound so dang smart. Maybe it’s all pretense. Maybe it’s all an inside joke and they and their peers know it’s all so much blather. But I doubt that. I truly do. And I wanna be part of the club.