On Solitude

When reading Edwards Gibbon’s famous decline and fall of the Roman empire, he repeatedly notes the appeal of solitude, noting advocates that solitude is the domain of genius. Even going so far as to wish that Emperor Julian had pursued the quiet study of philosophy, over the temporal pursuit of worldly power and glory.

Solititude affords the practicioner a clarity of thought, and environemnt for the quiet study of literature. In which one to spend time with intellectual titans of old. While clarity of thought exposes more discrete forms of information.

However, thoughts that come from solitude can often be too far detached from the reality of the surroundings. Most people’s minds, even geniouses are inherently social and desires a myriad of forms of sensory information, and means of outward expression. Solitude will place too much importance on understanding through the use of letters, numbers and symbols. It will fail to teach the mind some of the more difficult lessons in life. I will provide two examples.

The first can be seen with Steve Jobs and his biography by Walter Isaacson. Anyone can read the book and learn the precepts of Steve Jobs, but even with the advantage of a prolonged time in this world, other entrepreneurs struggle to emulate his genius and prowess. The application of ideas are often far more difficult to implement than they are to understand.

The second comes from Edward Gibbon himself:

“His apparent virtues, instead of being the hardy productions of experience and adversity, were the premature and artificial fruits of a royal education. … and the most skilful masters of every science, and of every art, had laboured to form the mind and body of the young prince. … But the influence of this elaborate instruction did not penetrate beyond the surface; and the skilful preceptors, who so accurately guided the steps of their royal pupil, could not infuse into his feeble and indolent character the vigorous and independent principle of action which renders the laborious pursuit of glory essentially necessary to the happiness, and almost to the existence, of the hero.

The quote shows that the collection of opinions found in books and education are not necessarily the best teachers for the more existential demands of life.

Nonetheless, in the modern day, in the connected house, one can achieve enumerable goals from the comfort of their own house. The practice of solitude combined with the power of the internet enables the practitioner with a variety of expressive forms of creative outlet unparalleled in any generation. An example is the creation of a video for YouTube.

Conclusion: To Moat Or Not To Moat

In practice, solitude creates a moat of intellectual thought around one’s endeavours, which can cultivate of variety from curious inventions and captivating creations. While this sounds fantastic, in reality, intellectual moats are a questionable method to rely on. Their problem is of the same nature as seen in warfare, in that they are not an active medium and cultivate idleness and inactivity.

Thus, both the Romans and Spartans would pride themselves on the lack of moats. Specifically, they disdained to erect defensive city walls. They prioritized their ability to act in the world around them over the hopeful chances of defence. The application to the intellectual pursuits is as follows, sometimes the exercise of genius can be done in the world around you and does not need to be reserved for the quiet place of solitude.

Solitude Vs. Seclusion

When monkeys are kept in a cage for a prolonged period, the monkies are usually happy to escape, but they are kept in the cage for long enough and the door is finally opened, he will stay in his cage. Solitude can lead to seclusion, where the monkey feels compelled to stay in the cage. When solitude starts to foster reclusion and anti-social behaviour is time to stop. For each person it will be their own judgement.