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On Seminal Thinkers

Dialogue becomes meaningless when people talk about things like change as though it isn’t constant and permanence as if it isn’t eternal. I read this morning that Ficino was among the humanists put in place by the Medici’s in the 15th century and that he had a seminal mind. That got me thinking.

A seminal mind is a mind that opens new pathways for the minds that follow, one that gains unforeseen insights into some area of inquiry, planting seeds that bear abundant fruit in those who follow.

What makes a mind seminal? Escaping from the tradition? The courage of individualistic thinking? Challenging every assumption? In short, radicalism?

I challenge you to find any evidence of such a person being seminal. Focini was a humanist, for goodness’ sake. He was seminal precisely because he led people back to the classical tradition. Individualism is madness. No artist ever achieved greatness without an apprenticeship. Challenging every assumption? That’s what Descartes tried to do. It led him on a fool’s errand and spread bloodshed through Europe.

No, seminal thought doesn’t arise from radicalism.

Then it must arise from conservatism? The seminal thinking tries to perpetuate the way things have always been done and the way people have always thought. That’s absurd on the face of it.

Then where does true genius arise? Where does the great mind come from?

The Idea, put simply.

The seminal thinker does not see anything new. He sees the infinite in a new way that appeals in a particular fashion to the age he reveals it to. Too often we treat learning like something we do and get done. We fill our heads with content and sometimes even expand to include skills. Education, however, is about perception – learning to perceive with the intellect and with the senses.

What does the intellect perceive? Ideas. How? Embodied.

Everything comes back to this simple concept. Everything. This pattern is big enough to contain all that exists and to allow for an eternity of unlimited exploration.

So there will always be seminal thinkers. They’re the people who see what everybody else already sees – but they perceive what others can’t. They aren’t always right, but they’re always necessary.

May God grant us the thinkers we need, the seers, the visionaries. He’ll have to overcome a lot of schooling to do so.

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