Think Tank: The Classical Mind in The Modern World

 by Sundar J.M. Brown

There is widespread concern, particularly amongst significant portions of the Generation X population with children, that video games, virtual reality, and the information overload, dowloaded so efficiently by the information super highway of the World Wide Web, has made the general society more… well… stupid.

Industrial Revolution landscape, circa 19th c.

To be sure, the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries produced technologies and practices which thoroughly revolutionized the economies and living standards of the Western World.  The inventions and mechanized advances born during that era (particularly in 19th century England) sprang from a highly literate culture, one in which even the common man on the street was able to express himself with a literary and philosophical erudition not as often seen today.  One reader, in comparing the old and the new, described how the previous era allowed for expression through art, allowed for a mind’s greater capacity for memory and tasks, while today, we are encouraged to design only through a digital medium and are dependent on our iPhones to remind us of everything.

A bust of Aristotle

I agree with that premise.  It is certain that the minds of the previous era were far richer in literature, the fine arts, philosophy and the like.  Even the study of the hard sciences of that day took on a classical, humanistic, holistic bent.  Any such person who was an educational product of that era was called a “humanis literatae” (a ‘man of letters’, also called a ‘belletrist); incidentally, one may wish to read John Gross’s, “The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: English Literary Life Since 1800” for a pleasantly enlightening discussion of the same.  (An intriguing counter-point to the triumph of the Classical model, albeit in true pop-culture analysis style, may be found in, Steven Johnson’s, “Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter”.)

Still human?

Many such “men and women of letters”, are extant and available today- Stanley Fish, William Safire, and William Deadwyler come instantly to mind.  Classical education is not entirely dead, though it has taken a far-back seat to contemporary technology’s priority usage.

Here is a list of thoughts and queries I’ve compiled for discussion amongst my students:

  • Is it not the application of knowledge that is truly at issue?  Is not the methodology and end-purpose, by which and for which one employs information the ultimate determinant?  If the final result is that we have progressed as a people, does it matter from where the process was sourced?  (This, of course, begs the idea of what may be truly defined as “progress”).
  • If the classical minds of the previous era were exposed to the technology of today, would they have the intellectual capability, the finesse, the presence of mind, and a developed enough combination of highly efficient physical and mental dexterity necessary to keep up?
  • Does the fact that the classical brain is neuroplasticized by literature and the arts make it an altogether “better” brain than the modern brain, the majority of whose synaptic connections are formed by reading online as opposed to on paper, by watching an educational program shot in HD resolution rather than observing directly in nature, by sharpening the reflexes and problem-solving skills by navigating through the complex world of today’s video games rather than working through a physical puzzle or labyrinth?
  • Is there a problem with the fact that knowledge gleaned from what was once “real world” experience is now knowledge gleaned from a “virtual world”?  Does this “dehumanize”, or perhaps even “roboticize” the learner?  Are we really at risk of building a nation of Borg?
  • For many, brain usage is a matter of intellectual preference, that is, some will naturally move toward the classical model and others toward the technological model.  Is it just, or even useful, to attempt to predispose a person towards one or the other?
  • Can a classically trained mind be an asset to the technologically trained mind?  Does the reverse hold true?  Which of the two is more “adaptable”?
  • Is one type of brain better equipped to deal with the modern world, or, is there truly a place for everyone?
  • Does the argument for one “type” of brain’s superiority over another risk intellectual homogeneity?  Is it possible to cripple the diversity of ideas?

Reader’s thoughts?


About Sundar JM Brown

A University of Pennsylvania-trained South Asianist, Seminary-educated Theologian, and Intelligence Community Professional, Sundar J.M. Brown specializes in analysis of Theoterrorism, Counterterrorism and HUMINT Operations. His regional focuses include terror groups/acts in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, the Middle East and Africa. His primary expertise is Theoterrorism, the intersection of Terrorism and Theology. His present research focuses on apocalyptic themes in terrorist ideologies and on the theological components informing the radicalization and deradicalization of Violent Religious Extremists and Militants. He is the Founder and Director of the IntelliGen Conference on Religion & Violence. *Sundar's Twiter: @SundarJMBrown *Sundar's YouTube Channel: *Sundar's Blog:
This entry was posted in Academia, Analysis, Behavioral Economics, Jnana & Bhakti (Knowledge & Devotion), Language & Philology. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Think Tank: The Classical Mind in The Modern World

  1. samptha says:

    Firstly, our limited memories are God given gifts so we all don’t remember everything that we ever saw or heard or smelled or tasted or touched since we were born. If we remembered all the above, it is easy to see we will all go mad in just a few days.

    Secondly, our memories are extensions of our mind which itself is an extension of our consciousness. This is a deliberate act to cloud our consciousness. In this case clouded consciousness may improve memory in the short run but it will make you a pervert in the long run.

    Thirdly, there are enough scientific evidences (from studies on plants and animals) and experiental anecdotes that show how our thought patterns affect them and that at a subtler level we are all connected. The consequences of this technique in this respect is truly unknown and appalling.

    Finally, eastern wisdom has provided many tools (yoga, meditation, etc) that not only improve one’s overall well being but also memory functions and the best part is they have no negative side effects. These are time tested tools and comes from the wisdom of truly wise men.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s