By Mark Cranny

I want wisdom!  I want to have an informed, nuanced, aware and balanced way of judging situations and contexts for my own decisions and opinions. 

I have looked for wisdom in the man-made world, in the natural world, in the commercial and administrative worlds.  I have studied engineering, finance, science, administration and process improvement.  I have worked in technical and engineering areas, in scientific areas, admin, management and Business Analysis. 

These have been fine, fulfilling and given me opportunities to learn useful things and make positive contributions to the modest benefit of my family and the wider world.  It has been a happy and useful, and quietly honourable life.

But I want more. 

I want to learn and grow and think, to develop a mind and a spirit that others can rely on.  I want to become a more truly learned man, a better, wiser person.  After a disability-enforced, reluctant early-retirement, I figured I could become an expert in daytime TV, or follow my passion for seeking wisdom.  I have looked to what is modern and technical and clever.  I have had significant schooling in Technology and many things scientific and technical, but after 20 years of training at various institutions, it is time to get an education. 

I come to the Humanities belatedly, the long way around.  Perhaps I should have been here decades ago, but I got here eventually.  I am a little more weather-beaten, but come with some skills, some life experience, keen and very excited to have Arts studies as the capstone to a life of curiosity and analysis.

I wanted to know what would be required to earn the right to regard myself a learned person.  What were the things that nourished minds like Roger Bacon, or Thomas Aquinas, or Hildegard of Bingen?  What informed and inspired polymaths like Goethe, Franklin, Descartes and Bertrand Russell?  

I turned to the ancients, to the poets, to the writers, the seers, the women and men of history - great thinkers of Antiquity like Plato, Aristotle and St Augustine.  The starting point for my studies, based on their advice, is the Trivium and the Quadrivium.  Together, these list the seven areas of knowledge that they thought the indispensable platform for understanding the world and becoming learned.  The Trivium comprises Grammar, Rhetoric and Logic.  The Quadrivium is made up of four areas of practical mathematics: Arithmetic, Astronomy, Music, and Geometry. 

Some of these seven I can ‘tick-off’ through my undergrad Humanities studies at St Lucia.  Some require outside help.  For example, I have found a wise and clever music teacher helping me with the theory and skills of the baroque cello.  This is helping get closer to someone whose emotional intelligence and generosity to the world rank him among my favourite characters from history – J.S. Bach.  How wonderful that someone born almost three centuries before me, with whom I share neither a language, nor religion, neither nationality nor history could make my life better almost every day. 

Some of the seven I choose to adjust based on some skills I have already acquired, and to what might be an appropriate and equivalently useful tool to understand and participate as an informed person in the wider world.  For example, I reckon my calculus and arithmetic would compare well with Aristotle’s, but a more useful mathematical skill for a modern citizen is that of advanced statistics.  Being able to ask tough questions and review the evidentiary basis for contemporary research gives an opportunity to look more deeply into the truth or reliability of claims made in our modern world. 

As I write this reflection I am in central Queensland where I’ve come to the Cosmos Centre in Charleville to extend my studies into Astronomy.  I have books from UQ libraries that are guiding me through the geometry of Euclid and other ancients.  In my history studies at UQ, I learnt of the surprisingly accurate estimate of the earth’s circumference made by Eratosthenes 2200 years ago.  This historical fun-fact had me measuring angles and shadows on my clothes-line and attempting to recreate his process.  My revised estimate doesn’t match up exactly with that of NASA, but I remain happy to discuss different techniques with them.  I am satisfied that I understand Eratosthenes’ thinking and that I had a red-hot crack at applying knowledge I acquired in my Humanities studies. 

The majors I have chosen in my BA are English and History.  Doing two majors leaves me with only 8 electives to ‘spend’ on the effectively limitless range of offerings at UQ that would be interesting and satisfying.  I have the delicious problem, like a kid in a lolly shop, of selecting from wonderful choices.  I have much to learn.  I will never be able to learn enough, but I am in the right place in the Humanities faculty at UQ.  I feel genuinely privileged to have the opportunities to learn and grow and think, to follow my passion and become a better, wiser person.