Black Sheep and a Black Sheep College
October 25, 1986
During my undergraduate years I was uncomfortable in every department where I seriously considered pursuing a Major
When they discovered that I was on major tracks in Physics, Zoology, Chemistry, and Mathematics, the initial reaction of each Department Chair or their principal “recruiter” was to try and rid me of the foolish notion that it was possible—even at the undergraduate level—to pursue composite majors in several fields of Science. Each department assured me that there would be more than enough intellectual activity to last me for the rest of my natural life as I explored in ever greater detail the arcane world of each academic discipline in splendid isolation and removed from contact with the lesser intellects and smaller spirits that inhabited the other academic departments of the University. Their proselytizing efforts reminded me of the Retreats and Spiritual Exercises conducted by the best of the “Hellfire & Brimstone” missionaries who visited the parochial Grammar Schools once a year in search of “vocations.”
The missionary experience
I remember one missionary who singled me out in the Eighth Grade or Freshman year in High School as an ideal candidate for his order. He spent more than an hour with me exploring the possibility of becoming a Missionary Priest or at least a Jesuit and I will never forget the way the discussion ended. He said to me, “Young man I hope you never lose your Faith, because I recognize now that your place is in the world and that if you ever take Holy Orders it will be as you approach the end of your life.” He wished me luck and delivered a lengthy Latin benediction. When I asked him why the lengthy benediction and what it meant, he said it was a special prayer for those souls that were lost to the Priesthood because apparently God had other work for them to do. We talked for a while longer and he explained that it is easier to do God’s work within the structure of a religious order but if anyone chose to be a free spirit and attempt to find their way in the unstructured and disorderly temporal world, there was great danger of being seduced by the hubris that came from secular success. On a more religious and spiritual level it was exactly the same message that permeates the Star Wars trilogy. The shining force of spiritual fervor has a dark side as well, and the Archangel Lucifer led the human parade of lost souls who succumbed to this dark force.
Parables from my experience and those of others
Facts and abstract statements of “principles” do not seem to convey much information without concrete examples drawn from and, most importantly, tempered by, real word experiences. That insight, profound or trivial as it may be, brings us back to conceptual modeling and the Black Sheep College, or more appropriately, a College for Black Sheep.
An anthropologist with Environmental Insight
The sad experience of the anthropologist with environmental insight is a case in point. His insights, though extraordinary, were well outside the mainstream of academic concerns in the Anthropology Department at Yale so there was really no place for him in the academic ghetto of the conventional university Department and he was “excessed”.
A College Without Walls
If they are not to wither and die leading us into the next Dark Ages, each modern University must establish a “College without Walls” which will permit Black Sheep scholars to pursue investigations outside the confines and limits of their Academic Departments, yet within the overall shelter of a major university so that they may draw upon its vast scholarly resources. The focus for such a “College” could very well be a topic of fundamental importance of human civilization, “Agriculture.” The relationship of Agriculture to all of the basic sciences: Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics is obvious, and today the influence of the social sciences such as Anthropology, History, and Economics upon Agriculture is becoming almost as intuitively obvious.
Data, no matter how accurate, is not information, and information is not necessarily knowledge. Certainly knowledge does not become wisdom until it is tempered in the fires of experience. Properly managed and with appropriate administrative support, a College for Black Sheep could, within only one academic generation of four to six years, produce some significant information and might even begin to suggest wise approaches and promising solutions for many of the seemingly intractable problems of modern Agriculture.
Overhead should be minimal since the Black Sheep would not be conducting laboratory research other than computer modeling and information management. If promising experiments in Chemistry or Physics or Biology are suggested, they would be explored by conventional academicians at the appropriate existing laboratory sites, not at the Black Sheep College. The Black Sheep would make use of Einstein’s Gedonken experiments, and leave the verification of theories and the actual hands on lab work to others. What the students and faculty at the Black Sheep college would be expected to do is open lines of communications with, and establish communication networks among and within, traditional academic departments and established scholarly disciplines, abstracting from these traditional sources the information required by themselves and their fellow Black Sheep.
Black Sheep Students and Faculty
The students and faculty of the College for Black Sheep should include
gifted and talented elementary and high school students (whose insights are often as profound as they are refreshing) undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and senior scientists who are tired of the intellectual fetters imposed on them by traditional academic departments. The quintessential “senior” scientist would be someone who brings to work normally conducted by social scientists the talents of the life scientist and the skills of the naturalist field investigator
developed and honed through generations of experience. This is a priceless storehouse of wisdom that must be passed on as quickly as possible to young investigators. It cannot be done in a conventional academic Department or even in a traditional College of a modern university.
What about Lawyers?
My own strange combination of academic and life experience now appears to be truly unique among lawyers. In 28 years of legal practice and litigation I have not met any of my colleagues who share a similar background and, as I note every time I visit a traditional major law school how the faculty work with indefatigable energy to prevent any of the fledgling lawyers from ever acquiring a similar background or even cultivating similar interests.
Regretfully, I have given up attempting to change the system of legal education through the Law Schools because it appears that whenever I make suggestions about restructuring the Law School curriculum toward the end of producing more lawyers sharing my interests in Science and Society, I am made to feel like a modern day Roger Williams preaching freedom of conscience to a staff meeting of the Spanish Inquisition.
The Black Sheep Graduate School
The Doctoral program at the Black Sheep College would be relatively free of conventional constraints. Every student would be working on significant intractable problems. It should be no trouble for a faculty committee to make a list of problems that will excite the curiosity of any investigator from any discipline, young or old, but which have been generally regarded as intractable.
Since all of these problems can be approached from the perspective of any academic discipline, yet any solution proposed must account foreffects and impacts normally the subject matter of study by other disciplines, any student offering a proposed solution or even attempting to identify a potential solution will have to be conversant at the very least with the subject matter and language of a number of established academic disciplines and demonstrate at least an informed acquaintance with many areas of human knowledge.
A degree from the Black Sheep College signifies that the student may assume a leading role in fomenting the next Renaissance.