“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
One of my missions in life is to learn as much as I possibly can about everything. I’m not doing it to get rich or powerful, but simply because I believe that in order to live an amazing life, you need to push your understanding of it.
And I think that’s why I like this quote and Socrates in general. He was so devoted to learning and teaching that he was convicted in 399 B.C. on several charges including corruption of youth. Instead of escaping he decided to kill himself by drinking hemlock. I have to admire his passion.
What is Intellectual Inbreeding?
This is a term used by universities when they hire their own graduates on as teachers. It is considered bad since ideas just get recycled and the possibility of new discoveries is decreased. Just as genetic inbreeding reduces the possibility of newer, better genes, intellectual inbreeding reduces the likelihood of creating new ideas.
Many people’s intellectual lives are just like this though. If you get your news source from the same place every day, you’re not exposing yourself to different viewpoints. Imagine someone watching Fox News all day long and going to bed reading Rush Limbaugh’s new book. The same goes for someone who only watches liberal programming and reads Al Gore’s book on the side.
However, intellectual inbreeding isn’t confined to news. Information from books, movies, music, websites and more can potentially be other areas of inbreeding. In these areas it is mostly about variety. Do you frequent the same websites? Read the same kinds of books?
I knew someone who actually refused to watch movies older than 1980 cutting themselves off from almost 100 years of film. Watching an older movie is similar to traveling for me. You get a look into a different way of life, culture and beliefs when you watch older movies.
Understanding Other People Will Become Harder and Harder
Reaching beyond your own point of view is difficult now and may get worse. There are thousands of TV channels, books, movies and news sources in the world. In the past people chose from just three TV channels for their news. This required the channels to tailor their reporting to differing views. Now there are hundreds. And not all are balanced in their reporting.
Worse yet, people can skip TV news and go straight to the internet where extremes on all sides of opinion can skew people’s view of the world. You can filter all your opinions and viewpoints in TV, internet and movies now. A wider variety of media to absorb means more selection, but it also means people can find one area that matches their worldview and stay there.
It’s Easy to Retreat to What’s Familiar
Someone who only takes in a narrow stream of ideas like this isn’t looking for information anymore, they’re looking for comfort. Many people can’t handle exposing themselves to something contrary to what they believe. It’s uncomfortable to be challenged and we fear being wrong. It doesn’t need to be like this.
I read things I don’t necessarily believe in because I know I’m wrong. I have been wrong before about things and I know I’ll be wrong in the future. There is nothing to be ashamed or afraid of in that. What I am afraid of is that some ideas I have about the world are wrong and I don’t know it yet. I challenge those ideas so I can be sure I am right and if I’m not, I change them.
Going Beyond Your Comfort Zone
The times when you grow the most are when you’re doing something beyond your comfort level. The same goes for intellectual growth. When you choose to watch a type of movie you don’t normally watch or read a book you don’t agree with, you’ll grow.
In school, they don’t teach kids fifth grade material three years in a row. They add onto what they know and break down their preconceived notions. Learning sometimes means being uncomfortable because you’re exploring the unknown and you might make mistakes.
Unfortunately for adults, there isn’t anyone pushing books into your lap or asking for papers on an unfamiliar subject. You have to do this on your own. But there are plenty of rewards for doing this.
Benefits of Intellectual Advancement
I think the greatest benefit of challenging yourself intellectually is a clearer view of the world. Just like you can only know the cultures of each country in the world through travel, you can only know the ideas of the world by interacting with them.
If your viewpoints of the world really are correct, you should have no problem exposing yourself to something else. You’ll still benefit from learning about different viewpoints because you’ll be able to understand things from another person’s point of view.
Not only this, but you’ll get a clearer understanding of others and yourself. That’s something I think Socrates would definitely have approved of.
photo credit: Jens U.