The word “philosopher” literally means “lover of wisdom.” If this is our working definition, then I am by no means a philosopher. I just don’t love wisdom. I like wisdom, but I don’t want to be tied down to one form of epistemology just yet.
Wisdom means many things to many people, and it is perhaps my perception of what wisdom is which makes it vaguely unappealing. I associate wisdom with the elderly, with tradition, with “common knowledge.” I see wisdom as being what old people believe.
Now, I don’t know if I just live in a particularly unique time (though I doubt it), but I think old people are completely full of shit. I would argue they are the ones whose way of thinking has been compromised by lazy beliefs like pragmatism, gradualism, and customs.
At this point, if any of my older readers are offended, don’t be. I think of “old” in this case as being a completely mental state, not a physical one. You know you are getting old when you cease asking “Why?” and start asking, “Why bother?” This is the point at which one has clearly allowed the world to beat them into submission, and it can happen chronologically early in one’s life, or never at all.
So, if you are in fact “old,” whatever you age, I recommend you go start your car and suck on the exhaust pipe for a few minutes. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Okay, now that those quitters are gone, I can address you, my fellow idealists.
While I’m no philosopher, I love knowledge. I’m sort of a… gnosiophile. That is never going to catch on. I never really liked labels, anyway.
I suppose I have been particularly lucky in my life to be surrounded by very stupid people. This has allowed me to learn volumes about the world that I might have otherwise never known.
“But Bret, shouldn’t you want to be surrounded by intelligent people if you want to gain knowledge?”
I try to surround myself with intelligent people, but it just doesn’t work. I managed to marry one, but for the most part, I don’t find a lot of intelligence in others. Then again, I know now that we don’t choose our friends. Rather, our friends merely got to us first.
However, there is so much to be learned from a fool. For one thing, fools are particularly easy to manipulate. If a fool won’t do what you suggest, you need merely to suggest the opposite of what you would want, and voila: they will do your bidding. And it’s wonderful to have a fool do something which I can observe without consequence to myself.
Arguably the easiest way to learn is to make mistakes, and while I have made more than my share of errors, I have learned even more from the follies of others. For instance, I need never waste the time, money or bodily damage of getting a tattoo or piercing, because I allowed the fools around me to try it out first.
I’m not particularly clever, but since the average person is particularly stupid, I need merely be slightly above average in order to dwarf most people intellectually. Lucky for me, I am also not threatened at all by people who are smarter than myself, though I find that I learn only limited things from truly intelligent people.
I used to wonder why this was the case, why those who make me feel incredibly dumb by comparison never seemed to impart their knowledge to me. Then it struck me that intelligence is not contagious. It cannot be transferred via mental osmosis. It cannot even be taught. In fact, I reject the very idea that anyone can be taught anything.
Teaching never occurs. A good teacher teaches no one, they merely present the information necessary for one to learn. Learning is a completely internal, personal experience. Learning is not listening, it is reflection on what one has heard. A fool could be surrounded by geniuses twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, for every year of their life, and in the end… they would still turn out to be a fool.
Now, you can hang around intelligent people for a long time and come out sounding intelligent, but this is a very different thing altogether.
This is not to say that others cannot aid in the learning process of others, but it does require a fundamental shift in how most people view learning. Personally, I remember mistakes very well. I don’t know why, and I am positive this is not universal for all people, but when I see someone fail at something, I know not to do it. I simply learn best by observing and critiquing the actions of others before trying it myself.
Frankly, I’m glad the world is not full of people like me. I am not a pioneer, and a world full of my clones would advance at a mere crawl, if at all. I rely on bold fools for my continued education, not to mention amusement, while I rely on those smarter than myself to provide me with small, yet vital insights.
In fact, the only people I can’t figure out a use for are people like me: philosophers. Perhaps this is why I loathe the idea of being one…