Hey, what’s the big idea? | AspenTimes.com

Hey, what’s the big idea?

Paul Andersen

If passive entertainment isn’t cutting it anymore, if you need a jolt to the old cranium, a kick start to the noggin, a transfusion to your anemic gray matter, then try something bold, exciting and different.You don’t need to be a college graduate, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t know Descartes from de horse. If you think there is more to life than the watching the game on TV or zoning out on sitcom reruns, then it’s time to enter the world of ideas.Ideas are open to everyone – high school students and gray-hairs, working stiffs and retirees, men and women, Christians and Muslims, Republicans and Democrats. Ideas provide a common thread to your fellow man – the thread of humanity.If you’re interested in defining “The Good Life and The Good Society,” then sign up for The Aspen Institute’s Great Ideas Seminar. After looking into the deep recesses of human thought and contrasting them with current events and your own life choices, the Great Ideas Seminar may stand as the most important five days of your life.After last year’s seminar, one participant said: “Not only did I benefit from thinking about Great Ideas, but from the pure act of thinking. After many years of being tempted by intellectual laziness, it is just nice to think deeply again!”Following World War II, specialization threatened to reduce American business executives to one focus and function – the company bottom line. The Aspen Institute was established in 1950 to counter that trend by providing depth through immersion in ideas that have stood the test of time for 2,500 years.Education in America in the 1950s often failed to address what philosopher Mortimer Adler termed “the whole man.” The Executive Seminar, created by Adler, has since honed innovative leaders by rebuilding the human being with three main parts – body, mind and spirit – the tripod on which the “Aspen Idea” stands.The Great Ideas Seminar is not a lecture, and there are no grades. The moderator is a learned guide, not a task master. What unfolds during the seminar is up to participants who create the synergy latent in a mind-expanding selection of readings.Machiavelli describes ruthless, calculated leadership. Martin Luther King Jr. explains why he went to jail in his fight for social injustice. Vaclav Havel explores his search for meaning. Rachael Carson paints a picture of a silent spring.The foundation for these ideas and many others is laid out by Plato and Aristotle. These early Greeks dissected the human experience and examined its constituent parts, unraveling the intricacies of existence and behavior, of individuals and society.”Since we came together so miraculously,” said Johann von Goethe, “let us not lead trivial lives.” Goethe, on whose 200th birthday Aspen’s cultural renaissance began in 1949, urges us to seize the day. Goethe challenges us to become more than passive observers, content to let others do the thinking. He wants us to become engaged – deeply, personally and intellectually.The Great Ideas seminar is a wake-up call, a spur for the kind of reflective contemplation that lies at the heart of Socratic teaching. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, who intoned the philosophical mantra: “Know thyself.”Education doesn’t need to end with formal schooling. Studies have shown that active minds are more likely to remain that way if they are used; that thinking prevents senility. The mind is like a muscle that needs exercise or it atrophies.The Great Ideas Seminar begins on Oct. 17. Sign up and flex your mind with the Great Ideas. Leave the trivial stuff behind for five days and jump into the rabbit hole of conscious thought. You might just come out a philosopher.Paul Andersen suggests registering with Cristal Logan at The Aspen Institute (544-7929). His column appears on Mondays.


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