111 - On Clever People - Moral Letters for Modern Times
The world does not lack for clever people, Deuteros. What we lack are wise people. It is a bit like the wealth-happiness dilemma we were discussing recently. “How so,” you ask? In the sense that, like wealth, cleverness is easy to display while wisdom is something you have to seek out and discover. Most people reach for the first (wealth/cleverness), because there are many paths to obtain them, and assume it will automatically deliver the second (happiness/wisdom). I observe that many find upon having attained the first they no longer feel the urge to pursue the second with the same vigor.
So it is with the study of philosophy. You yourself have been tempted by the quickness of sayings. They are brief, witty, and undeniably contain kernels of wisdom. To memorize them and repeat them at appropriate moments makes one seem clever. To the uniformed a well-placed saying can even seem profound. But you might as well call your trained parrot a philosopher if you think repeating sayings makes you wise.
The purpose of finding meaning and bringing reason to your well-ordered mind is not found in words, no matter how well you string them together. Your goal is to bring your actions in line with your reasoning. You can learn more by observing a quiet and thoughtful person than you can listening to the most voluble of speakers. We are distracted by surface appearances because they are the first things we see. You should seek to understand the deeper meaning, and to be aware that in the wrong hands words can hide as much as they reveal.
The more physicists study smaller and smaller distances, the more they learn there are worlds within the tiniest particles. Everything we see and touch with our senses appears to be just the top layer of many more dimensions, compactified away from our current ability to perceive. I find it fascinating how many truly staggering developments in science happened as a result of one person thinking. The mind creates and the experiment merely provides evidence in support or disproves. So it is with your own thoughts and actions.
This is not to say that you should avoid the pleasure of words, my dear Deuteros. I too would rather read an author who knows how to write well, not least because it is at least a hint they have learned to think well. So long as you remember that wordplay is just that, play, you will give your other studies and your other teachers the attention they deserve.