Cambridge trip could help raise IQ

MARTIN VAN BEYNEN
Last updated 09:29 26/04/2014

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Martin van Beynen

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OPINION: I am going to devote the next two months to trying to become more intelligent.

I don't mean more knowledgeable or better educated. I mean raising my IQ.

This, I hope, will be achieved during (the earlier the better) my sojourn at Cambridge University where I am currently ensconced as a Press fellow at Wolfson College (motto, Ring True).

If you have read Flowers for Algernon you will have an idea of what I'm talking about. In his book Daniel Keyes tells the convincing story of an intellectually disabled man who, in a university experiment, has an operation which raises his IQ to genius level.

I haven't come to Cambridge for an operation but I'm hoping it does a similar thing to my IQ. The idea is that the ambient IQ of this great university, which can boast Sir Isaac Newton, Erasmus and Charles Darwin among its past scholars, will somehow infect my brain and boost my IQ.

If atmosphere can be intelligent, Cambridge is probably the place to find it. A friend of a friend who lives here has three Nobel Laureates living in his street. I heard a boast this week that Trinity College, one of Cambridge University's richest, has produced many more Nobel Laureates than France.

So although I may currently be the dumbest guy in Cambridge, I am hoping to see improvements.

They need to come quickly. Our eminent programme leader and vice-president of the college, John Naughton wants us to consciously take time during our stay just to think, a practice which most of us have given up.

The professor also wants to see some physical evidence of our thinking. I worry he is expecting musing of a higher order than pondering what's for lunch or which pub offers the cheapest beer.

It's all a bit scary. I am now in the world of the intellect and there are no excuses. Meals and accommodation are provided. Our college is a bit like a big monastery where distractions are removed and you better get on with some brain work.

Over the years this column has not been particularly flattering about the academic life but I am prepared to make an exception while I'm here in Cambridge. Naughton admits the university exists in a bubble but what a bubble it is.

I won't try to describe the grand ancient stone and brick buildings which line the Cam River in the City Centre or the gardens, parks, turrets and the greenest green you will see anywhere.

All things old have been maintained and if possible kept functional and useful. Here the heritage campaigners have won.

Suffice to say it is a beautiful backdrop to my quest to become more intelligent.

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And I have been thinking because the high-brow issue of the moment in the UK is whether the Prime Minister, David Cameron, should be talking about a Christian Britain and his own suddenly strong Christian faith.

The thing that screams out as you walk past the colleges in Cambridge is not so much the life of the mind but rather the power of belief in God, more precisely the Christian variety. Christianity clearly has been the impetus behind the development of these illustrious institutions.

Cambridge looks very much like Christian Britain but - divorced, almost sealed off, from the real Britain - it is hardly typical.

The debate arose from a letter to the Telegraph, signed by public figures, comedians, writers and scholars, protesting about Cameron's new penchant for pushing Britain as a Christian nation.

The impossible demands of true Christianity have made Cameron an easy target for accusations of hypocrisy.

The letter accuses Cameron of fostering alienation and division and urges him to stop talking about religion.

It is an interesting debate. It's hard to imagine it occurring in New Zealand and such an issue getting much media coverage.

Is New Zealand a Christian nation? Would we get upset if John Key started declaring an allegiance to a particular religion?

I suspect we wouldn't dispute we are still a Christian country but not in the same way Turkey and Pakistan describe themselves as Islamic countries.

Active practise of religion in NZ is rapidly fading and if we still regard NZ as a Christian country it is only in the sense it is built on Christian traditions and culture.

Although countries like Saudi Arabia and Malaysia identify themselves as exclusively Muslim states, it seems a retrograde step to define your country in religious terms even if citizens are particularly devout.

A mosque does exist in Cambridge but everywhere is a powerful reminder of what H G Wells said about Christianity.

"I am a historian, I am not a believer but I must confess … Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history."

And I can see how in these times Cameron wants a bit of that.

- The Press

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