Nous Kairos

In scholastic philosophy habitus is the ‘permanent inborn disposition of the mind to think of general and broad rules’. Typically, habitus relates to moral conduct, executed via praxis ‘acts, or action’. This meaning is equivalent to synderesis, which was regarded among 13th century Franciscan thinkers as the default inclination of human will to embrace goodness. Apparently, the term was first used by Saint Jerome as an equivalent to scintilla conscientiae ‘spark of conscience’.(1)

The Dumb Ox
Thomas of Aquinas was simple, humble, peaceful, and contemplative. He refused to participate in mortification of the flesh, which he was expected to observe. He also refused prestigious positions, such as Archbishop of Naples and Abbot of Monte Cassino, though he did accept an invitation to return to university at the age of 47.
Flagellants (circa 1350 AD)
“Put to death what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” – Good Lord!

Thomas was shoved up the socio-political ladder, from “Dumb Ox”, to “Angelic Doctor”. In 1324 Pope John XXII pronounced him a saint of the Catholic church.

Whatever – my guess is that he cared about his ascension to more or less the same degree as did Paul Dirac of his own. Little wonder that the pair (both intellectuals) remain obscure figures in the shadows of history.

Aquinas had identified two very different modes of thought. He believed that reasoning is the typical human way of knowing, and that we are rational, rather than intellectual animals. He said that, at best, humans share fleeting sparks of angelic intellectus in understanding of prima principia ‘first principles’. Thus intellectus principiorum is the angelic habitus by which we gracefully come to understand ‘first speculative principles’, which lead us to a body of theoretical knowledge, via ratio ‘rational thought’.(2)

Intellectus Principiorum
“Leisure is an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to receive the reality of the world”.(3a)

The words school, scholastic, and scholar have origins in the Latin scola and scholasticus, the Greek scholeion and scholastikos, and the ancient Greek sxolí or skolí, meaning ‘leisure’ or ‘place of leisure’.(4) Scholasticism is a tool and method of learning, which emphasizes dialectical reasoning – the exchange of argument (thesis) and counter argument (antithesis), in pursuit of a conclusion (synthesis) – directed at answering questions or resolving contradictions.(5)
The School of Athens – Raphael

Apparently, in modernity, we have severely distorted the meaning of education, which is no longer understood or conducted as a leisure activity, but as a stressful work-like activity, which is to be achieved and completed as quickly and as successfully as possible in order to gain employment. Students and teachers are scholars, yet both work toward some clearly defined and expected result. The intent of modern scholars is to achieve and produce, academic credit and financial income, respectively. No surprise then, that students work hard and competitively, in order to achieve the highest possible grade of academic credit, which is suggestive of a good future financial income. For this author it is somewhat disheartening to hear scholars complain of their working conditions and incomes, as would any other member of the proletariat, which has come to include salaried professionals as well as wage-earning tradespeople.

In a review of Josef Pieper’s “Leaisure the Basis of Culture”, Michael Naughton succinctly questions the current state of affairs, asking “Have we become so influenced by the world of work that our education has become simply an extension of our economic system, and has lost a sense of its deeper cultural purpose?”. He continues, to say “[Leisure allows us to receive the gifts of wisdom, which no amount of human labor can attain. Leisure is a form of silence, a state of stillness and receptivity, by which one stops and allows reality to present itself. However, leisure is not instrumental, it is a time in which we produce nothing of economic utility. It provides us the time to look beyond our productive, social function, and allows for an intellectual and spiritual orientation toward the whole of realty. Contrast this with the attitude of the careerist, who sees leisure as instrumental to their own personal and economic advancement. For them leisure is a function of work, by which to become refreshed for, rather than from, work”.(3b)
– This last point is so out of focus – so counter to common experience – that it deserves emphasis. Please allow me to repeat: “refreshed from work”.

In an article(6) published at the close of the second world war, Vannevar Bush also identified two distinctly different modes of thought. Mature, creative thought, for which he did not envision a mechanical substitute, and repetitive thought, which he did view as mechanizable.
Vannevar Bush – albeit a striking resemblance between this man an George H.W. Bush, there is apparently no familial connection.

The whole reason why you spend time streamlining, automating, and speeding up your workflow isn’t to work more — it’s to make time for important things computers can’t do, like thinking.(7)

Get The Balance Right
“Faith without reason tends toward superstition, fundamentalism, and fatalism. Reason without faith tends toward an inhuman efficiency, instrumentalism, and lack of community. Both distort reality”.(3c)

Ratio, reason, and achievement comprise empirical knowledge via acts of investigation, articulation, synthesis, comparison, abstraction, deduction, mapping, modeling, proof, negation, observation, measurement, quantification, definition, experimentation… Discursive and critical, logical thinking (i.e. leisure apprehension).

Intellectus, faith, and receptivity comprise intuitive knowledge (or perhaps simply understanding) via contemplation, meditation, grace, insight of the whole – of the unity of knowledge (i.e. intellectual work).

Albert Einstein rationalized spacetime and intuited aether. On various occasions he championed balanced knowledge, commenting:
“Science without religion is blind, and religion without science is lame.”
“The person who reads to much and uses his brain too little will fall into lazy habits of thinking.”
“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

No matter how adept one becomes in ones discipline, in ones work, there invariably remains an unsatisfied incompleteness. Ultimately, rational knowledge is limited. A deeper, fuller understanding comes through a purely receptive (intellectual) vision, which is received not acquired.(3d)

“If You’re Not Twitching, You’re Not Working”
“In today’s corporate climate we are told of the strategic advantage of time: the importance of faster cycle times, faster time-to-market, faster customer response. This creates an urge towards furious activity, rushing to solve a customer problem here, charging off to a meeting there. Yet how effective is all this? I seem to be continuously on the receiving end of poor customer service, or trying to contact firms whose key people all seem to be suffering from ‘meetingitis’ – one wonders what all their frenetic activity achieves”.(8)

Information technologies have made it possible for us to communicate with one another and to gain access to information more quickly than ever before. However, it is clear that these same technologies are responsible for information overload, extreme busyness, the fragmentation of attention (known varyingly as Attention Deficit -Hyperactive- Disorder, multitasking, and genius), and accelerated or even frantic modes of working and living. One of the most unfortunate casualties of this trend is the loss of time for reflection and contemplation.(9) – the loss of nous kairos – ‘thinking time’.

“Everything, from quality of life, to work, relationships, and health, are all based on the quality of the ideas you have. Before you can take any action, you first need to think that action [synderesis]. Until you think it, an act doesn’t exist”.(10)
In order to be useful, thinking needs to be:
Directed: Thinking used under the broad topic of “everything” won’t accomplish much.
Recorded: Unless it’s on paper or in bytes, you might as well forget it.
Isolated: You can’t multi-task your thoughts.(11)

A Selection of Thoughts on Proletarian Thinking(12)
“Only work when you’re being paid to work. The rest of the day is yours to do with as you wish – and you may wish to devote it to thought.”

“People don’t take an hour off for lunch any more. But you can eat in a quarter of an hour and then walk somewhere. Churches are great for this.”

“Get off the bus [or park the car] earlier and walk.”

“People you disagree with are what gets you going, rather than idly going through an unchallenged stream of consciousness. I think more clearly when I’m challenged.”

“Your mobile has an “off” switch.”

“There’s a tendency […] to keep us busy, and when we’re not busy, to distract us with a never-ending stream of media.”

“Leonardo Da Vinci had a bed in his studio and when patrons accused him of wasting time, he said ‘If I don’t do this, you don’t get the work.’.”

“You have to disconnect from what stops you thinking – just stop the flow.”

“Thinking is what makes us human.”

“Oases of Thought are not scarce for everyone. If your work and life are in perfect balance, if you think that everyone else should work smarter, not harder, or if you can’t understand why the rest of the world seems to think it’s so busy all the time, you may be one of the lucky ones.”

Open University students use any means necessary to find the time for thought, getting up two hours before the children or forcing themselves not to nod off at the end of the day.”

“If you don’t give the brain breaks, it will take them, in the form of loss of concentration, or what we call a mental breakdown – Think about that.”

A Studious Study
The institution of the university actively separates intellect from ratio, villanising the former and dignifying the latter, while instilling a driving principle of progress for its own sake.

A joint study conducted by the Department of Chemical Engineering, University of Cape Town, and the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Australia, has concluded that pressure to perform within a tight time frame has deleterious effects on learning outcomes and in the metacognitive development of university students.

Students with a perception of control over how they chose to allocate time tended to prioritize, investing time in understanding. Students with little or no control over time allocation, felt that there was not enough time available for the time-consuming activity of thinking.

“University teaching contexts may discourage students from developing an understanding of the fundamentals of their subject, and instead encourage the use of tricks and stratagems to pass examinations”. Even though deep approaches to study, in which students intend to understand the study material, have been shown to lead to more sophisticated learning outcomes than surface approaches, which are associated with the absence of an intention to understand.

Although many lecturers aspire to develop critical thinking in students, what is generally taught and assessed is conformity in ideas and detailed factual knowledge.

Student inadequacies, such as intellectual inabilities or laziness, easily explain disappointing learning outcomes. This is an attractive argument, which protects the status quo, while excusing teachers from the sharp end of critical thought. Teaching involves helping students to learn. A radical reappraisal of the prominence of time pressure in courses, is suggested.(13)

Fast Time & Slow Time
“When fast time and slow time meet, fast time wins”.(14)
It is incredibly difficult to complete important tasks. It’s often a struggle simply to begin them, as there seems always to be something more urgent to accomplish. Arguably, urgent and important are different categories.

In our current culture, the distinction between work and leisure is blurred by efficiency, which seems to be the only thing of value in economics, politics, research… even in personal relationships. As a result, thorough, far-sighted work is nearly impossible to accomplish, and when it is accomplished few people have the time to read it, even less to understand it. Long-term love relationships are perceived as the stuff of historical, or fictitious, romances. Play and playfulness are seen as wasteful, childish activities. All three of these phenomena are shameful, though the latter alone, has potential to inflict chronic damage to Homo sapiens. Let us then make a quick exploration of playfulness.

Imaginary Worldplay in Childhood and Maturity
“The invention of imaginary worlds is not some obscure form of make-believe, but rather a phenomenon of wider cognitive import. In fact, childhood worldplay does appear to provide an early apprenticeship in absorption and persistence, discovery, synthesis, and modeling. Indeed, we suggest that early immersion in worldplay may achieve five outcomes of relevance to mature creativity.

First, worldplay may exercise imaginative capacities including imaging, empathizing, and modeling.

Second, worldplay may exercise the capacity for continued imaginative play, especially in older children and teens, well after the intense exploration of make-believe in early childhood typically fades.

Third, worldplay may exercise the capacity for problem solving within a self-consistent, alternate, modeled system regardless of that system’s fantastical or realistic make-believe context.

Fourth, because worldplay ties the daring, rule-breaking/rule-making effervescence of play to the exigencies of convergent problem solving, it may nurture both the ability and the audacity to imagine potentially new and effective solutions to perennial human challenges.

Fifth, worldplay may provide early training in the invention of culture by bridging the gap Igor Stravinsky (1942/1970) once posed between a virtual imagination and a creative one.

Implicit in this framework of outcomes is the sense that imagination and make-believe exercise general, not specialized, skills that are relevant to pursuits across the arts, humanities, social sciences, and sciences”.(15)

1) D. Runes et al, “Dictionary of Philosophy”, (1942), Synderesis (definition),

2) S. Pope, “The ethics of Aquinas”, (2002), page 185, Georgetown University Press,

3 a,b,c,d) M. Naughton, “Note on Josef Pieper’s Leisure the Basis of Culture – An Integration of the Contemplative and Active Life”, (circa 2000), page 4,



6) V. Bush, “As We May Think”, (1945), The Atlantic Monthly,







13) J. Case & R. Gunstone, “‘No time to think’ – Interactions between students’ perceptions of time and approaches to learning”, (2001),

14) T. Eriksen, “Tyranny of the Moment – Fast and Slow Time in the Information Age”, (2001),

15) M. and R. Root-Bernstein, “Imaginary Worldplay in Childhood and Maturity and Its Impact on Adult Creativity”, (2006), Creativity Research Journal, Vol. 18, No. 4, pages 405–425, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s