Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Value Intellectual Curiosity

"The man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind." – William Blake (1757-1827)

In general we learn, and even recognize at the perceptual level, what has value or significance to us. As used here, intellectual curiosity refers to a healthy, insatiable appetite for purposeful knowledge by inquiring minds. An individual with such a mind will not say “I don’t need to know that.” How does one know when some specific knowledge will be useful? No, the inquiring mind asks: "Why is this knowledge valued and what meaning does it have for me, for my community?" It is only through intimacy that one knows something whether it is knowledge or another human being. Get intimate with learning as one would any other natural thing. For all learning is organic and needs to be cultivated as a farmer does his crops. The better the care given the crops, the greater the harvests.

Yet, one should not study just for self – which is important, for knowledge takes on a greater importance when we look at it not only in terms of how it can enrich one's own life, but in how one can use that knowledge to enrich one's community. This is the difference between information and knowledge. One is passing and the other is lasting, shared by generations into the future. Gossip is information, but its life cycle usually is finite. Knowlege has universal application, gossip is situational and does not.

One exemplary example of an inquiring mind is that of W.E.B. (William Edward Burghardt) DuBois (1868-1963), a graduate of Harvard University in the late 19th century and one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century, and a man who made purposeful learning his life-long mission:

Night – grand and wonderful. I am glad I am living. I rejoice as a strong man to win a race, and I am strong – is it egotism – is it assurance – or is it the silent call of the world spirit that makes me feel that I am and that beneath my scepter a world of kings shall bow[?] The hot dark blood of a black forefather is beating at my heart, and I know that I am either a genius or a fool. O, I wander what I am – I wonder what the world is – I wonder if life is worth the Strum. I do not know – perhaps I shall never know: But this I do know: be the truth what it may I will seek it on the pure assumption that it is worth seeking – and Heaven nor hell, God nor Devil shall turn me from my purpose till I die . . . I therefore take the world that the unknown lay in my hands and work for the rise of the [African-American], taking for granted that their best development means the best development of the world . . . .[1]

1. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Autobiography of W. E. B. Dubois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century. International Publishers, 1968. p. 171.

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