I have no special talent, I am only passionately curiousAlbert Einstein
Is there anything beyond the futility of the external world, governed by fierce competition, ambition and baseless pleasures?
Where does one take refuge from the constant treadmill of busyness that encapsulates our day to day working lives?
One is inclined to ask, is there anything outside of the status games played within our society, trying impress others through fame, fortune or luxury consumer goods. A life of endless striving for misleading pleasures is exhausting. Spending money to buy new things requires one to dedicate more and more of one’s time to work – an endless cycle.
So what can provide us with reprieve from this perpetual restlessness. Religions, philosophers, intellectuals have long praised the benefits of going inwards. Practices such as meditation, prayer, reading and contemplation allow one to connect with themselves more deeply. This distances and shelters us from the noise of the social and political world. It provides us with perspective from the outrage of news headlines and increasingly polarized politics.
Learning for its Own Sake
But what constitutes an inner life, and how can it be cultivated? In Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life, Zena Hitz looks at how intellectual pursuits help us foster inner depth and meaning. Hitz wants to democratize learning and education beyond the proverbial ‘Ivory Tower.’ She wants to recover the joys and pleasure of learning for its own sake.
If an individual is intrinsically motivated, they’ll willingly spend hours upon hours learning about a subject. They will study its nuance and intricacies because this is what genuinely interests them irrespective of any external rewards. Grades, high paying jobs and social status may be a byproduct of their efforts, but it is not their sole focus.
Hitz argues that learning is a noble and worthy goal in and of itself . Wonder and contemplation of life’s central questions is part of our human nature. As Hitz writes,
Education begins from the assumption that students are capable of taking responsibility for their own learning and they are naturally motivated, even if they are driven from within to pursue fundamental questions….If we wish to promote the virtue of seriousness is young people, to pass on free inquiry, to lead students in the depths where real understanding take place, we must first cultivate ourselves.Zena Hitz, Lost in Thought: The Hidden Pleasures of an Intellectual Life
Expanding our Humanity
Education broadens our horizons, and exposes us to different perspectives and ways of being. Great literature informs us of our connection to others regardless of class, race or gender. It demonstrates that at a more fundamental level, we all have the same basic emotions, desires and struggles. Math and science enables us to transcend the trivialities of the day to day to discover fundamental truths about the cosmos.
By reading broadly and widely we become exposed to different ways of life. This provides insight and allows us to engage in self-reflection of both our selves and society as a whole.
Restoring Human Dignity
The value of an inner world and pursuing learning for its own sake is that it offers a source of human dignity. Intellectual life (outside of the academy) demonstrates that our self worth is greater than what is merely instrumental (i.e., social status, political views, cash in a bank account). We can’t simply be reduced by our outward appearance or external achievements.
At its best, education inspires and aspires us towards a higher ideal. It shows us the path towards something greater than our limited self-interest, something beyond ourself.
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This article was orignally posted on my personal blog: A Life of Virtue: Philosophy as a Way of Life – In Search of Inner Freedom