A musing on mental balance

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Duncan Hughes
  • 4th Aerospace Medicine Squadron
T.E. Lawrence, more famously known by the moniker 'Lawrence of Arabia,' was a brilliant archaeology student and British Army officer in the early 1900s. His archaeology background was put to use by the British Army in World War I when he was sent to the Negev desert in Israel under the ruse of an archaeological exploration of the region.

I'm sure that a byproduct of such an exploration being an up-to-date, detailed map of the very desert any Ottoman Turk army would have to cross in order to attack Egypt had nothing to do with the venture whatsoever. Nonetheless, Lawrence found himself deployed in the desert with several young servicemen of his day. His assessment of his fellow officers was neither subtle nor complimentary. His observations of the officer corps led him to say, "I feel a fundamental, crippling, incuriousness about our officers. Too much body and too little head."

To state the obvious, it is quite apparent that Lawrence felt there was a profound lack of critical thinkers amongst the officer corps of his day. I would argue that the situation may be far worse today than it was in Lawrence's. A quick word study on the word 'amusement' will serve to illustrate. To 'muse' means to think or to contemplate in silence. When the prefix a- or ab- is put in front of a word it means to take away from or to remove. So to 'a-muse' literally means to take away from thought or to be removed from silent contemplation. It is to be distracted from serious thought and amused or entertained, which requires only that one be awake -- not that any critical thought occur. In today's world of 24/7 amusement and entertainment with TV, movies, gossip magazines, YouTube and all of the pervasive social media, this generation is bombarded by a cavalcade of amusement stimuli and distraction. These serve mostly to provide escapes from purposeful mental exercise; and rather, serve more successfully to breed and cultivate the incurious horde that so worried Lawrence. Are evidences of voracious reading and critical thought readily apparent in your daily observations or are they more easily located in references to the bygone era that existed prior to all of today's technological 'advancements'?

Deresiewicz recently opined that marinating one's mind in social media's banter only serves to inculcate one in popular and conventional wisdom and doesn't cultivate one's own critical thinking skills.

Introspection and solitude are critical to innovative thought and the, new electronic world has disrupted it ... violently. Instead of having one or two true friends that we can sit and talk to for three of four hours at a time, we have 968 'friends' that we never actually talk to; instead we just bounce one-line messages off them a hundred times a day. This is not friendship, this is distraction.

I am not so sure that more interconnectedness via distraction is what will fix suicide rates or poor national academic performance. Faith, core values, meaningful personal relationships, voracious reading and exercised critical thought would reap far greater benefits in this officer's opinion.

While I am sure to have dated myself with such an opinion and, by no means, do I feel that any of the above forms of amusement or entertainment are bad things in and of themselves. However, I do believe the pendulum has swung way too far away from lifelong learning and critical thought toward an extreme of 24/7 entertainment and distraction. For my 2 cents worth, a little more mental balance would serve us all well.