Probably the most common reaction to our book has been people’s curiosity about the title. Who are these “madmen” and “academic scribblers”? What do you mean by intellectuals? That’s why whenever we give a talk on the book, we use this slide to offer up some examples:
“Intellectuals” are middlemen of ideas who influence (deliberately or not) the way large numbers of people view the world around them. These worldviews find their way into individual beliefs about the role of government. And through cultural media these individual beliefs are shared and become collective beliefs about government. Through this flow of ideas, intellectuals play a key role in our framework of political change, and that’s why we call this series of posts “Intellectuals in Action.”
Enter Stephen Colbert, Intellectual. A few days ago Colbert interviewed Francis Collins about the NIH’s BRAIN initiative (which seeks to map the human noodle). It’s Colbert at his finest, and the interview is a fascinating way to spend the next eight minutes.
You can click the image for the video. In particular, cue up to 4:45-5:40 where Colbert initially acknowledges the value of mapping the brain but then points to the obvious yet deep question:
Colbert: Can you map it? Because there’s the structure of the brain, but then there’s the influence upon the brain. As you grow up you’re given these priorities in your thinking. You’re given the decision tree of your life. And all the if-then‘s are different for every single person. How can you map that for one person and have it mean something for everyone else?
Collins: That’s a brilliant question.
Colbert: I’m a brilliant man… [laughter, applause]
Collins: And so are we all. And the fact that we could, in fact, begin to understand those differences is way down the road. But right now we just need kind of a reference of a normal human brain, if there’s one we can can call normal.
Colbert: You looking for volunteers?
Collins: You’re exceptional. I don’t suppose you’d call yourself normal.
Colbert: I’m just an average Joe — who changes the world with thought.
Changing the world with thought. That’s why Stephen Colbert is worthy of the moniker, Intellectual (and that’s why we’ll add him to the next version of our slide).