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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dumb to Smarter

As an undergraduate student at the University of Newcastle in Australia, way back in the age of mullet haircuts (when Duran Duran was cool and Madonna was hot) I wasn't such a great student.  I found study to be a real struggle. Much of the time I just couldn't get into it. I hadn’t found what I was passionate about.

The other problem was that I believed that I was stupid. Well, that’s not entirely true. Part of me believed that I was smart. There were conflicting belief structures held within different parts of the mind. It was a bit like having your car in 4th gear and reverse at the same time. The beliefs canceled each other out. How did this happen?

As a kid growing up I was convinced that I was stupid, which was probably due to the fact that people said so. Quite literally. In fact my older brother Jeffery used to call me "Dope", and there was always a vicious sneer when he used the term (in his defense, he was just passing the "shit" down one level of the system - he had been dumped on by others further up the line). 

In fact I was quite literally developmentally delayed.

They held me back in first class at the age of 5. Yes, I was a "repeater". Mind you, I was a little young for first class, having entered school before the age of 5. Of course I was too young to really care, but somehow the idea that I was a bit daft got imprinted into my mind. I still remember my teacher in second class bawling out another kid after he got a bad test result saying, “Even Marcus beat you!”

Then, at the age of ten something wonderful happened. My fourth class teacher, Mr Vandenburg, started saying good things about me. It was just about the first time anyone had ever actually said something nice to me. I blossomed academically, and suddenly I was considered the smartest kid in the class. This was not so much because of great grades, but mostly because I had a voracious appetite for reading, developed a broad general knowledge, and answered just about every damned question the teacher asked. I recall that at a school camp in grade 6, the camp master asked the students who was the smartest kid (for a particular puzzle he was about to give), and the other kids chose me. That was something of a turn-around for "Dope".

This is why I grew up with those conflicting belief structures. There was the formative belief that I was "stupid", and another belief that I was smart. The stupid one mostly won out, although I did manage to become the first and only person in my family to complete secondary school. I then entered university to study an arts degree at the University of Newcastle. I didn’t do too badly academically, but nothing special. Again there was the problem of boredom. I studied History, Geography and English Literature not because I was passionate about them, but because they were part of the curriculum. 

There arrived a pivotal moment in third year when the "smart" belief structure suddenly kicked in. I realised that by putting myself into an excitable state that I could write passionate and very good history papers. Although I had never heard of the “flow” state (as popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi), but that’s pretty much what happened when I set about writing papers. In Modern History I got high distinctions for every paper I wrote that year. That was why I was accepted into the History honours programme the following year.

But things didn't quite go to plan. I found that I lacked any genuine passion for History, and I didn’t have the capacity to create an ‘artificial’ flow state regularly. When it came to submit my first honours paper (on Marx's theory of History) I was so demotivated, I just couldn't start it. So it came to pass that the day before the paper was due for submission, I knocked on the door of Professor Henry Chan's office. He opened the door and gave me a dirty look. He'd already taken something of a disliking to me, as I was mostly a passenger in his tutorials.

"Sorry Henry", I stammered. "But I have been very busy lately, and I won't be able to get the Marx essay in on time. Can you give me a week's extension?"

Henry's brow suddenly became as furrowed as the Yellow River on a stormy day. "No, you certainly may not! If you do not hand in that paper by 9.00am tomorrow, I am going to recommend that you be excluded from the honours programme."

He closed the door rather abruptly.

I muttered something about his lack of parentage, and stumbled back to my dorm to slave the entire night away on the paper. The result was that the following day I did indeed manage to submit the essay. It was undoubtedly the greatest load of utter nonsense ever submitted as part of an honours programme anywhere in the history of academia. They duly awarded the essay a 3rd class grade. For those unfamiliar with the Oxbridge grading system, that means it was crap.

I decided to quit the honours programme. Then I changed my mind and fumbled my way though a few more months of the programme. Then I quit again, then unquit, and began again. I was depressed. I did not know why I was even there. Emotionally speaking, I was all over the place. I had more ups and downs than a porn movie.

It came a month before the end of the programme, and I had to submit a minor thesis. This was worth a great deal of the final honours grade, so there was some chance I could partially redeem myself  for the academic travesties I had committed till that point in the programme. So all I had to do was write the thesis.

Only I didn't have one. I’d been slack all year and hadn’t done the work I was supposed to have done on it till that point.

Yet somehow, that certain spark of intelligence rekindled within me. I did nothing but read, research and write for a month, often staying up through the night till daylight, as I worked feverishly. It was as if I was possessed by a greater spirit. I would read, then ideas would come to me. There were connections, distinctions, insights, and they all seem to appear from nowhere. I was inspired.

Finally, right at the deadline, I submitted the thesis, and waited for the result. When I rang the Dean three weeks later to inquire about my final honours grade, I could hear him down the end of the line speaking with gritted teeth (he didn’t like me either).

“You have been been awarded a class 2A honours degree – by the skin of your teeth!”, he hissed like a venomous reptile. After the heavy breathing stopped, I said thank you and hung up.

I was elated. It was a great result for someone who had been looking at a humiliating result just months before. The final thesis had received a very high grade, which compensated for the prior crappish results in certain components of the programme (such as Marxian theory). It was a best case scenario. While it wasn't a first class degree (the highest possible), it was next best, and given the circumstances, I was overjoyed. I had gotten out of jail.

I didn't realise it then, but my inspired writings in those last two years of my initial stint at university (amidst the aforementioned crap), were the beginnings of my understandings of what I now call Integrated Inquiry (IIQ). When I enrolled in my doctoral thesis some 14 years after my honours programme was completed, I had crystalised the processes. I found myself deeply inspired, and was able to compete the thesis in less than four years while working full time. When I finally received reports from the thesis examiners, I was delighted to find that they were effusively positive. One, which I later found out was  from a former tenured professor at one of the world's top 5 ranking universities, had this to say:

This doctoral thesis is an exceptional document. I am hard put to adequately express all the thoughts it brings to mind. I am first most impressed by the fact that, based on where I see the hopeful discourse for our time headed, this thesis seems to have leaped ahead and got to where the discourse will, if we are lucky, arrive in maybe another decade or more.

I see his thesis as being the sort of island or rock upon which one can build a very significant career either as an educator or as a writer, or as both. Again, I must stress I see Marcus Anthony as having reached where others will arrive, and most not so well, some years yet ahead in time.

His marshalling of references is very impressive. Rather than simply tie his presentation to one or more powerful established positions, he has fought his way clear to achieve what seems to me a rare independence and maturity of mind.

Not bad for a “Dope.”

Perhaps though, I should point out that in the 14 year period  prior to my enrollment in the doctoral programme, where I was not studying, I spent an inordinate amount of time doing emotional healing work, and also developing my own Integrated Intelligence. In short, the "Dope" story had lost all its power, and I was able to express a greater degree of my innate intelligence. Although it is not yet well appreciated in mainstream psychology, healing work can actually open up greater portions of the brain, thus making you effectively smarter.

So, why think of yourself as smart or stupid, when there is a vast intelligence which you can tap into as you go about exploring knowledge? We are all much smarter than we realise.

Below, you will find a link to a recent article I wrote, which I think you may find very interesting. It details the five methods behind IIQ. It also contains some direct quotations from my study diary of the time, and these detail the way that inspirational knowledge came to me, often without my even trying. Whether you are a formal researcher or merely someone using the internet to inquire into something important to you, you should find these tools very useful. The article is coming out next year in Science and Information journal.

Here’s the abstract:

This easy-to-read paper summarises the process of Integrated Inquiry (IIQ) - or how to use spiritual intuition during research. The purpose is to initiate a broader discussion on the use of integrated intelligence (or INI) in research. The application of INI in research is referred to as Integrated Inquiry. The first part of this paper briefly defines important terms and situates the idea of integrated intelligence within a historical and civilisational perspective. Yet the most important section of this paper outlines specific and practical ways that INI can be used by the modern researcher. The five INI tools described are the Intuitive Diary, Free-form Writing, Meditative States, The Feeling Sense, and Embracing Synchronicity. The essential argument of this paper is that integrated inquiry can greatly enhance research.

The link to the article is here:  

Here’s to the passion of learning!



  1. What years were you there Marcus? I worked there for 3 years in the Auchmuty Library.

  2. Hi Natalie. Good to see you again! I did my B/A Hons from 1985 to 1988, had a year off, then did a dip. ed. in 1990.

  3. I was in the Law and Interlibrary loans section from 1987 -1990. Mostly downstairs during 1989. I probably served you at some point. :)

  4. Great story, Marcus, and very inspiring. How many talented people with something important to say/sing/paint/dance have been put off by the so- called education system? In the end, the moral is that we have to be true to our own self-purpose - but of course traditional education does nothing to help us find it!

  5. That's right Simon. In the current system knowledge is commodified at any rate, and only knowledge with a brand name counts - and even then only if it fits into prevailing knowledge structures. The irony is that my examiner's review of my thesis doesn't count, even though he was tenured at Princeton - because the institution name on my degree is not Ivy league. But as my doctoral supervisor Sohail Inayatullah says, it may be more valued in a decade, if things change. Till then I'll keep following my bliss..