Monday, December 05, 2005

Nobility of Thought

Somebody has been keeping an eye on me.

No, I'm not paranoid. I have proof.

The editors of Granite Tower, Korea University's student magazine, recently asked me to write a short article for their final issue this semester.

What -- you ask -- does this have to do with my claim that I am being watched?


They noticed that I attended each lecture in Korea University's Hyundai-Kia Motors Nobel Laureate Lecture Series this past year.

Not wanting to attract even more undue attention, I went along with their request and penned the following partly tongue-in-cheek article expressing my view on what Korean students might best have learned from the advice of Nobel Laureates:

Nobility of Thought: The Hyundai-Kia Nobel Laureate Lecture Series at Korea University

Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges

(Department of English Language and Literature)

If I might, I'd like to preface my words on the Nobel Laureates with some pretermissible advice from that ancient authority, Paul of Tarsus:
"Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things." - Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
For moral development, Paul advises well, but for intellectual aspirations, we might instead need to borrow other advice relayed by the poet John Milton from a rather different source, an expert on knowledge who informs us that "Who aspires must down as low / As high he soared" -- or hopes to soar (Paradise Lost 9.169f).

The Nobel Laureates have soared high, but they began low, down here among the rest of us, so perhaps they likewise have some advice for us on how to think. As a matter of fact, I asked several of them for advice to Korea University students on how to become keen, creative thinkers. All of them had interesting things to say on this, but perhaps the words of Steven Chu (Physics, 1997) offer the best advice for young Korean students:
"Talk to people outside your own specialty. Don't be afraid to ask questions. One problem that we have in Asian culture is that we are afraid to ask questions for fear of looking stupid. Well, don't be afraid to be stupid. I encourage my students to ask questions and to propose solutions. Nine times out of ten, the answers will be silly, but that one time out of ten, the answer might be useful."
In short, be willing to descend low enough to ask stupid questions if you want to ascend high enough to find smart answers. All of the Nobel Laureates seem to have been willing to risk looking foolish, for they were all willing to pose questions leading them into areas outside of their expertise.

To do this, however, they also prepared themselves well in a couple of ways:
1. They concentrated on a few areas of intense interest for their specialization, thus requiring close attention to a great many particular details.

2. They ranged widely even in fields somewhat distantly related to their primary interests, thereby acquiring broad awareness of more general issues.
Learn from the example set by these Nobel Laureates. Focus on a problem, but don’t wear blinders. If you take long, sideways glances, you’ll see analogies and learn to think outside of the box.

In other words, while you may have to start low, don’t remain the proverbial frog in a well. Climb out. Gain a broader perspective. Rise to global standards. I think that this is what President Euh Yoon-Dae wants Korea University to aim for. The process requires hard work, but its reward is nobility of thought.

The Granite Tower staff assured me that this article would be published today, so I expect that early this morning, the Korea University folk will encounter it and a photo of my ugly mug.

That ought to wake them up faster than a mug of strong coffee.


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