getting out of the intellectual desert
I just wanted here to write anything after a long time. I am confessing an inner dilemma and sickness related to producing intellectual stuff. I have always felt that I have unique things to share with the world, but then when I wanted to sit and write an article something inner in my mind drags me back and says, “Wait, you need to research the topic more”. Similar problem I face when I read books. While in the middle of a book, I hear the author referencing another book. So, I stop there and go to the other book, and maybe from that to a third book. The result is that I never finish a topic and perpetually hang somewhere in the middle. The ultimate outcome is that I know nothing.
When I was approaching 40 years of my life, I made an inner plan that beginning from 40 I will start transforming from a mere consumer of knowledge to a producer of knowledge. Now I am 47 and still moving into vicious circles having achieved nothing of significance. I am prisoned in an intellectual desert and am unable to get out of it.
But then why not think about the very topic together and see if we can devise a way out.
First, let me ask the question: What could be the reason for this phenomenon? Partly, it could be the internet. In the age of online knowledge repositories, it is very easy to get overloaded with a vast amount of information. It is always a few clicks away from getting softcopy of a book from amazon, or PDF versions of older books from achive.org, or watching lectures by book authors on youtube, or moving from one scholarly article to another through google scholar, etc. It is like a thirsty person drinking from seawater and never feeling satisfied.
I have always tried to find guidance on any topic in the Quran. I found valuable hints on this particular topic as well. The fact that the Quran itself is around 600 pages and promises to have solutions to all mankind’s problems itself is the biggest hint for seekers of knowledge. The Quran comes to teach us that what matters most is not quantity, rather it is quality. One book when well written by a knowledgeable person is worth more than 100 books that have little meat and full of fats and filth.
Also, the fact that this 600 paged book is brought down to mankind bits and pieces over 23 years is another lesson for the seekers of knowledge. It tells us to make a small chunk of knowledge and then practice that knowledge well before moving to the next chunk. This -I could realize- is very hard in the age of the internet and information overload. How could you resist the temptation of satisfying with a small chunk of knowledge while you have at your disposal tons of PDFs and Kindle books and youtube videos?
I think what I should do is to contextualize that small chunk with my personality and establish novel links with other bits of knowledge and with that marriage between these two pieces of knowledge should yield something that could be published and would benefit others.
But how would one judge if that unique knowledge that I intend to make public would be beneficial? Am I not falling into a conflict of interest? Can I judge the quality of information by the appetite of the recipient of that information? In other words, if a video goes viral on social media, does the topic of that video should be considered a good knowledge? Obviously from the very way that I put up the question, you already knew the answer: NO. From this, I can design a guiding principle: never judge the quality of knowledge by getting that knowledge viral or not on social media. No doubt, the consumer-based capitalist system that governs our lives today makes this guiding principle very unpopular and hard to believe. You would be tempted to buy a book that says “New York Times Bestseller”. You would only like to open a YouTube link only if it has millions of viewers and subscribers. You would very seldom be bothered to visit the 10th page of a google search, trusting that the first few entries of google algorithms are the most popular answers to your query.
Yet a third thing I benefitted from the Quran in my epistemological journey is to have insights on the deeply hardwired human nature. I learn from the Quran that Man is ever haste. He wants to get things fast and quick. He has little patience. These traits surely will help me understand myself better and have in place strategies to overcome these hardwired hurdles.
Our hastiness, lack of patients, and the quest to fame make us rush towards publishing intellectual stuff which is nothing but garbage. Easy cost-free publishing channels in the age of social media made the matter worse.
Given all the above, I think I will force myself out of my intellectual desert. I will not be the easy prey of the Hegelian wolf: a person tries to think a lot and reach paralysis by analysis. I will make my own small stories synthesizing small chunks of knowledge from seemingly distant and different fields and spicing them up with personal contextualized anecdotes. Publishing such small stories might attract a little audience and would never go viral on social media. That is perfectly fine and even good immediate signs that I am on the right path. My KPI is not how many views or likes on social media. My KPI is that I exercise efforts to construct a novel bit of knowledge that I think would benefit mankind and then post it somewhere. I will leave the rest for time and Allah’s will.