Intellectual Masturbation Will Make You Blind
by Ruwan Meepagala Oct 5, 2014
I clutch the mic and dodge a paper airplane hurled at my head. They told me that would happen when I was invited.
I'm one of the two speakers at an event called The Spoken Nerd, a monthly discussion event celebrating education, art, and culture, which would be similar to TED save a few quirks. One is that the host is dressed in burlesque pajamas. The second is that questions are asked by writing them on a piece of paper, folding it into a paper airplane and aiming it directly at the speakers head.
"We want to test the speakers unflappability" the host said.
The first speaker, a sex therapist and neuroscientist researching orgasm and the brain, shared her research in a presentation titled "Orgasm and Neuroscience." I was billed as a contrasting speaker with a talk titled "Sex and Enlightenment."
I prefer to avoid spiritual language when possible, not because spirituality isn't an important model, but because it can get very quickly ungrounded and out of touch with practical experience. I come from a long line of professors. I prefer concrete facts that can be supported by reality, so I tied it into orgasm by explaining an expanded definition of orgasm:
The state of high sensation where the involuntary impulses can override deductive thought."In this state," I was saying, "one's impulses are loud enough that one can move moment to moment without having to think and instead following feeling with near perfect decision making and optimal expression. Some might call that experience enlightenment..." but before I can elaborate I see the airplane coming at me.
I pick up the paper airplane that interrupted me. It reads "isn't that what Masters and Johnson called SENSATE FOCUS?"
I say "I haven't heard that term, so..."
"Well it is!" says the woman who sent the airplane. It's the neuroscientist who spoke before me. She turns and addresses the crowd. "Yes you ought to know the history of what you're talking about." She turns to the rest of the audience. "This orgasm thing isn't a new concept. Masters and Johnson named this in the..." she turns back to me "well before you were born."
I have sympathy for academics.
There is so much pressure to get credit, so much focus on citation and organization of facts that often the point gets missed. Sure, Orgasm, as we use the word here isn't by any means a new concept. It's a new model for looking at an eternal concept, the flow of nature. Freud called it the libido, John Maynard Keynes call it animal spirits, actors call impulse, Taoists call it the Tao, others would call is soul, or flow, or the zone.
I'm less interested on the many names for it than how to get there. That's the great divide between explicit and implicit understanding. Academia stays on the layer of explicit understanding, information that can be recorded in text books; knowing about something which is far different than knowing something. It looks the same, but lacks the actual experience.
Theorizing is like masturbating. And as the old wives' tale, it does make you go blind.When one focuses on the intellectual level of abstraction, names of concepts, histories and citations, one tends to completely miss it's practical usage.
I often laugh at ongoing battle of Evolution and Creationism. When you look past the semantics, they are not exclusive of each other. Both refer to an unseen force that forms all living things. I saw Richard Dawkins, the world's premier atheist, speak last year on why he's so adamant about not reading fairy tales to children. He said how when children grow up believing in the imaginary, they are eventually disappointed by the truth. They should behold biology because it shows the real magic, evolution, the wonder of nature.
Well, that wonder of nature I would call God. If that's what Richard reveres, I don't even consider him to be a real atheist. I think he's is just stilld about Father Christmas.
Staying on the theoretical level of abstraction causes people to argue over what to call the same idea. Intellectuals miss the point of the idea because they don't tie them to experience.
Instead, "read between the lines." Beneath the words is the essence of an idea, it's meaning, it's feeling. We experience life at the visceral level. Behavior is only learned implicitly through such experience. What we decide to call an experience is secondary to that.