Thursday, May 26, 2011


A phrase like that—“making up one’s mind”—suggests many activities, from the cosmetic (putting on make-up) to the structural (building it tall), as well as the fictive (something made up, contrived, imagined).  But it also suggests deliberation and deciding among alternative possibilities.

We use the word mind in many ways, such as:

•    “I’m of a mind to go to the bookstore” (intention)
•    “Do you mind if I go along with you?” (objection)
•    “Why don’t you mind your own business?” (attention)
•    “Oh, never mind!” (consternation)

What, then, is this mind that can be depicted so variously?

Let’s look at it this way: the human mind, or human mentality, is unique to our species and is our most distinguishing feature: our kind and degree of consciousness and self-consciousness.  No other earthly creature shares our scope and facility of thought, and our collective mental capacities have evolved throughout our history enhanced by our technologies, from languages to implements, including mathematics and computers.

Since growing mentally seems to be our destiny, how then should we go about that business most effectively?  How do we make our minds, individually and generically, into all that they might become?  As the slogan goes: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” 

Implicitly, schools, colleges and universities are devised to develop growing minds by imparting knowledge, developing skills and refining mental functionality.  Ideally, at the end of such a process one will have developed a beautiful mind: capacious, varied, flexible, discerning, nimble and noble, among other excellent qualities—and one will be set upon a life-long course of mental self-enhancement, since the refinement of mind never ends, and nothing is more important.

Perhaps a capstone course for college undergraduates should be called “Great Minds.”  It would present a gallery of exemplars of the most refined mental accomplishments of all kinds, taught with particular emphasis on discerning what new mental functioning or capacity each of these Greats has introduced into the world.  The main aim of such a course would be to urge students to recognize that they have malleable minds of their own, which it will be their life-long duty to continue developing and refining, an obligation entailed by the privilege they’ve enjoyed of pursuing a liberal education—one meant to liberate their minds to become the most they can make of them.