Inquiry: Intellectual Adultery ~ Sleeping with Another Person’s Idea

by LJ Frank


The oxygen of the mind is thought. The breath of thought can be a mere gasp or passionately deep, seeking to inhale the uplifting and the exhilarating, to quench the mind’s profound thirst!  

Reminiscing about the history of thought one might ask, what ideas about human relationships haven’t been spoken or written about?  Or, as the author of Ecclesiastes writes, there’s nothing new under the sun. And regardless in how disinclined we might be with the subject matter, opinions, beliefs, and judgments arise when the issue of intellectual adultery is broached.

Nothing is new, just different contexts. The challenge might be – is there room for improvisation beyond the theologies and philosophies of our academic, socialized, and politicized machinations and traditions to explore things from a contrasting light?

Adultery was an improvised word, invented by insecure Man seeking to define that which allegedly “corrupted” (adulterated) rather than “enlightened”. Or more specifically, it is rooted in the demand for control. To corrupt meant things were “out of” control, that is corrupted by another force whether visually, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially and intellectually and was accordingly considered unsustainable (by men) and profane – to be dealt with harshly and without compassion.  It was then linked to ethics, warranted or not, for purposes of social, political, and religious restrictions (control).

The fact that humans make ideas sacred, the opposition to the sacred implies blasphemy, doesn’t denigrate those ideas, spoken or written, but rather positions them into teaching and learning modes – those modes may be in part humane, but they also encourage unnecessary guilt, suffering, trauma, sadistic torture and closes the mind to that which contextually provided inspiration, and in some cases, survival.

When an idea was placed within a religious, cultural, ethical context that had little to do with God (a word invented by Man for approachability, see Martin Buber’s I and Thou), it was because Man said so, based on the wish for “control” and the idea of “possession” and utilizing coercion.

Yet amid it all, the act of adultery, initially in its intellectual format, was and is natural and common. For adultery, intellectual or otherwise, implies the uncontrollable. But do people own people or their ideas? Human insecurity leads to laws based on mistrust, ambiguously stitched together with polluted downstream effects.

Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales exposes the nature of human relationships from which the word adultery was further promulgated, and the intellect appears to arrive at a situational dilemma whether in Latin or English or other language, romantic reasoning notwithstanding. Chaucer appreciated that humor was and is a method of entertaining different ideas and informing us about the foibles of humanity and that the intellect at any time could be cuckold.

You and I are complicated. Sleeping around with another’s conceptual titillation or indulging in the phantasm of corporeal intercourse is not limited to the prurience associated with thy neighbor’s flesh regardless of one’s mindful gyrations. Intellectual adultery was and is a ticklish affair, especially, if it wasn’t within the definitions of local custom, culture, fashion, breeding or class. Yet for certain tribes, local practices encouraged sharing as it was considered a gift and courtesy – emotionally, spiritually, and socially.

The idea was/is not to covet thy neighbor’s ideas for demeaning purposes, though abuse has and does occur when the mind is out of touch with the heart. The unreason and unthinking associated with abusive thought are not pure Intellectual Adultery which involves admiration and imagination. Where would the heights of reason be today without sleeping with another person’s idea?

And with that thought in mind, there were/are experiences of intellectual adultery that seek to balance the inequities between partners, namely in the shape of the consensual. For if there were no economic and political philosophies of “possession” what would happen to the materialism perpetuated by greed – to know more than another? What is the purpose of placing a price tag on knowledge and its accumulation? Isn’t consensual intellectual adultery an opportunity to level the knowledge playing field?

Stamina was always an ancient concern, especially among public intellectuals.  And oral traditions are another matter altogether and certainly open ended so to speak. And sleeping with another person’s idea is as primitive as the nomads contemplating the heavens under the night skies hundreds of thousands of years ago with the haunting Milky Way galaxy being an inspiration to an evolving brain.

An interesting query is whether the first humans slept with another’s idea was in fact a linkage between the lust for something more profound than knowing the flesh or the flesh of knowing. To know is a precarious enterprise. In an earthy sense it is the search for an awakening. The real battles have always been within. At what point did humans ponder how intellectual adultery really evolved into a matter of a “copyright infringement” for the cuneiform tablets mostly are inscribed with numbers related to money, though the pre-Pharaonic Egyptian hieroglyphics allude to another story when speaking of the pen being mightier than the sword.

Further, isn’t sleeping with another person’s idea justified if we are to progress to another level of evolution, accepting human nature for what it is? Isn’t life more in balance when we accept the gift of the mind, rather than invent names for what we deem supernatural and a “God” that no one has ever seen according to writings made sacred by the very people who developed the phrase “for the sake of redemption”?

A person can lose or gain their soul while seeking an oasis of clear thought in the aloneness of their mind.

Does the human brain have the capability to touch the face of the transcendent, arriving at an exhaustive awareness of self and others and if fortunate, culminating in an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual climax of “shared perfect thought”?