Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intellectual curiosity.....


A long, long, lonnnnnggggg time ago, when your correspondent was applying to colleges, we remember being asked to write an essay describing our ‘intellectual curiosity’ as part of our submission.  We suspect it was by the Ivy League college we had the audacity to apply to.

We didn’t have paid coaches helping us through the process back then; things were pretty basic.  Having no clue what the term meant, we faked our way through something, and apparently it was enough to make the admissions team happy, because we got accepted.  Lucky for us, we think, we chose another school to attend; one my parents could afford.

Lo these many years later, we’ve come to think of ‘intellectual curiosity’ as an affliction of old age; a bad way to ruin a good night’s sleep, or vice versa, depending on your outlook.  Perhaps even a bit karmic; a payoff for indulging in too much ‘party curiosity’ during our four undergraduate years.  We’ve come to believe, though, that such experiences ended up positively influencing who we were to become.  Self-delusion, thy name is Poppycock.

Figuratively speaking, today we’re sending a microbe or two of our old age affliction your way.  Maybe it will take, maybe it won’t.  Who knows; perhaps you long ago built up strong immunity to the syndrome.  If so, we’re not sure whether to feel glad for you, or sad.


So if you’re so inclined, now’s the time to put on your facemask.

Our first item is this:  How facts backfire - The Boston Globe
And we’re not going to tell you how we came across it.  The money passage is this:
In the end, truth will out. Won’t it?
Maybe not. Recently, a few political scientists have begun to discover a human tendency deeply discouraging to anyone with faith in the power of information. It’s this: Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs. Facts, they found, were not curing misinformation. Like an underpowered antibiotic, facts could actually make misinformation even stronger.

While the passage says a great deal about how things work in our perfect little town, it argues as well that we should shut down Other Side.

We’ll submit that notion to our Editorial Board and ask them to take it under advisement.
Our other item is this; a book review:

We apologize for the exact reference link.  We read the item of our interest in a print journal, but couldn’t find the same exact column on the web, as the journal suggested we would.  No matter; this link contains the base premise:
In this case he reduces the overgrown jungle of debate about academic freedom in America’s colleges and universities to a lucid list of five alternative positions:
1. The “It’s just a job” school
2. The “For the common good” school
3. The “Academic exceptionalism or uncommon beings” school
4. The “Academic freedom as critique” school
5. The “Academic freedom as revolution” school
These are “ideal types” in Max Weber’s phrase.  Fish no sooner names them than he admits that in the real world the lines blur and people are inconsistent.  Nonetheless, the five-fold typology provides both a map of the larger territory and a path to specific destinations.
 It could use up the better part of a review just to explain the five alternatives, so at the risk of further compressing Fish’s compressions, I will leave it at this.  “It’s just a job” treats academic scholars as professional workers who, because they are hired to advance knowledge, need a certain amount of workplace latitude to do their jobs. This is the form of “academic freedom” that Fish says he upholds.  His position on this is consistent with his 2008 book, Save the World on Your Own Time, which I reviewed on my own time as “Night Makes Right.”
“For the Common Good” refers to arguments that granting academic freedom to professors within their disciplines contributes to self-government by militating against facile enthusiasms that can lead to the tyranny of public opinion.  “Academic exceptionalism” extols academic freedom by treating professors as people set apart from everyone else by their unusual talents and therefore deserving of privileges that are denied to ordinary people.  “Academic freedom as critique” projects the freedom of the professors beyond their disciplines to the rest of the social order.  “Academic freedom” in this view is almost synonymous with dissent.  “Academic freedom as revolution” holds that the whole purpose of education is to advance radical reform of society.

Given that we live in the presence of one branch of the Ivory Tower, we thought pondering the various interpretations might provide some diversion and amusement for you.

Or even help you sleep better.


1 comment:

  1. "The fundamental cause of trouble in the world today is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt."

    Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) British philosopher, logician & essayist