Blog 5 – The Future of the University

The purpose of this blog post is to state one thing I believe should change in higher education. That is an interesting topic. While in general I feel there is much that could be improved there is also much that is positive. However, the single most obvious aspect of my experience here at Virginia Tech that has bothered me is a philosophical one. Though challenging to describe fully in this forum I will give it a try.

Simply put, I feel that students should be taught not to believe in their thoughts. At the university, regardless of discipline, we are taught to believe in and to develop beliefs in our thoughts. I see nothing wrong with learning to develop ways to think, especially on technical matters. However, ultimately, it can be observed that we can think anything we want and call it true. We can see this in the myriad social, political, and religious groups… each so powerfully tied to their own versions of the truth. Deep inside, we realize that thoughts are only thoughts. They are subject to change at a whim. The thought we feel so powerfully about one day can be nearly forgotten the next. It is this fleeting nature of thinking that reveals its importance. Given the nature of thoughts we expend great energy defending them.

Learning to set our minds on a certain perspective, which is a violence we do to ourselves, is a form of conditioning. I feel this is very dangerous on a personal as well a societal collective level. Since any thought is temporary… momentary… it requires great energy to maintain any given perspective long after it has diminished. The words “life” and “change” are truly synonymous. If one is open to the current moment, then to land on a set of thoughts distances us from the changes within us and outside us as they occur. Thoughts by their very nature are extremely seductive. They usually dominate our lives. But thoughts are also only symbols based upon accumulated past experiences. In being dominated by our thoughts we lose our connection with each unique present moment.

It seems that to teach young people how to use their thoughts for the tools they are and yet not to be dominated by them… fixated upon them… would dynamically change the face of the university and our society in general. Instead of producing graduates with highly conditioned minds the university could be producing young people who are extraordinarily aware of the present moment… ones who might break free of their conditioning. I feel this would produce a very different and improved world… as opposed to one that is currently primarily based upon thought, which is the past… which is violent.

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8 Responses to Blog 5 – The Future of the University

  1. Allison says:

    This is a really interesting post that prompted a lot of questions and …thoughts.
    First, I have to agree with you when you say we expend a great deal of energy defending thoughts given their fleeting nature. The emotional repercussions that come with spending too much time on certain thoughts can be absolutely draining and depleting.
    However, I suppose I would like more clarification on your definition/perception of thoughts. A lot of my thoughts related to higher ed revolve around systemic abuses. For some, thoughts are directly related/prompted to experiences such as racism and I do not think we could or should teach students to not believe in this.
    I also think thoughts are more than symbols based upon accumulated past experiences. I am reminded of an article I read called “How race becomes biology” (1) which essentially goes into how racism impacts the biology of those who experience it. Health impacts have far more reaching consequences than something symbolic.
    My last question is how do you propose something like this be taught to students?

    1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19226645

    • mrhoades says:

      Thoughts are symbolic representations of spatiotemporal perceptions. As such they require time between perception and assimilation… this makes them past tense if for no other reason than because in the mean time things have moved on. Rather than hard and fast knowledge, they are generalizations that appear to be true from a given spatiotemporal perspective. When thoughts are held static in the mind over time they become beliefs and when beliefs are commonly held they become cultural manifestations and can effect and permeate the body on a systemic level. If held long enough, over generations, they can become genetically engrained.

      Knowledge is an idea… a thought. Is it possible to ever truly know anything? Or can we only have perceptions that are interpreted based upon present understandings? We do not have enough information to truly know anything. We perceive a minuscule percentage of all that exists. We do not have enough data to get the whole picture and if we did I am not convinced we could interpret it given our current biological processors.

      I feel that in the university, knowledge should be portrayed as such. This is a hard sell because of the ego investment in academia in general being the “holders and disseminators of knowledge”.

    • mrhoades says:

      To comment on the excellent link… thought is by its nature divisive. It naturally organizes perceptions into categories. I believe that is the issue with all of the apparent categories to which we each belong. In truth we are all the same… human beings living life… each in our own unique way.

  2. Ruoding Shi says:

    I like your idea that “In being dominated by our thoughts we lose our connection with each unique present moment”. Sometimes we are so dominated by our thoughts and we even cannot realize they are just thoughts. Instead, we think we have the truth and others do not know. Perhaps going to different places and meeting different people may help to realize the limitations of our thoughts.

  3. Khanh says:

    I have never thought of university and my academic journey like this before and thank you for presenting it. A lot of students that I know now including myself picked up other activities throughout the years because we need to literally clear our mind since our projects and research invade all corners of our thoughts. Many of us have to make an effort to break away from our thoughts to clear our head and I think didn’t realize how much I was disconnected to the present. One of the thing that we lose here in academia is our ability to hold social conversation with people outside of academia. I find myself drifting towards my project in the conversation because it’s a safe spot.

    • Khanh says:

      To finish my comment above, I don’t think it is purely the university’s fault either. Being aware of what is going on with your own thoughts is needed to address these situations and your post is a fantastic start.

      • mrhoades says:

        Thank you for your comments… Yes, it is not the fault of the university. It is a widespread humanistic perspective that has existed for a very long time. In hopes that we are beginning to see it and perhaps have the potential to evolve beyond it I think the university an ideal setting to catalyze the change… dreaming I know… :)

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