Intellectual Loneliness: A Firsthand Insight

Intellectual loneliness is a disease silently plaguing the modern world. Having meaningful and insightful conversations with others has never been harder. What can we do to remedy this?

Intellectual Loneliness: A Firsthand Insight

I recently came across David Perell’s article on intellectual loneliness and the challenges of connecting with others who failed to understand his continuous thirst for knowledge. His honest confession struck me.  

‘I leave most parties early because I’d rather read a book.’

And I could not agree more.

Being an introvert with a lousy repertoire of witty jokes usually means I am not one for the spotlight at social gatherings. Endless small talk? I'll give it a miss.

My mentor once commented that he never ceased to be surprised by my insatiable thirst for challenging myself and my expansive horizons. It was a very heart-warming compliment indeed. However, it made me think. Is this part of who I really am and if it's insatiable, what will ultimately quench my thirst?

So I began to observe myself meticulously. Every action. Every interaction.

Until I noticed a pattern.  

Every time I had an insightful conversation with someone, there were visceral reactions and changes in my mood. Almost always, I came away from them feeling highly invigorated. A deep sense of fulfilment which passionately embraced my soul.

When do you feel most invigorated and fulfilled? Photo by Jonatan Pie.

However, I found it extremely difficult to have enough of these moments in everyday life. As teachers, we are constantly rushing up and down school corridors trying to do some last-minute photocopying, fit in a bathroom break or make a quick parent phone call. Here is where small talk commonly dwells.

Some people thrive off it. Others don’t. I am one of those who fit into the latter. My soul craves meaningful interactions, healthy debate and insightful discussions. Alas, the school corridor is not often fertile soil for these to sprout.

Here is where philosophy may provide us with some answers.

Philosophy came from the Greek word philosophia, meaning ‘love of wisdom’. It is the discipline that was known as the ‘science of the soul’ (Holowchak, 2007, p. 172) amongst the Ancient Greeks. For many centuries, different philosophers pondered on a vast array of ideas, from the nature of knowledge to ethics in politics. As an individual, philosophy has allowed me to pursue the scholarship that quenches my thirst for knowledge. As a teacher, I have found that having an interest in this discipline has benefitted my teaching and relationships with students. Through an understanding of Stoic philosophy, Holowchak (2007) highlights the notion of the teacher as a physician, in which there needs to be a ‘correct diagnosis of a student’s psychical illness [to] help him be a better educator of that student’ (p. 172). I recognise the importance of not just imparting knowledge, but also guiding students in the art of living, where their character is enriched with courage, kindness and wisdom. Guenther (2018) has also used concepts from Stoicism to help both students and teachers ‘become more rational and tranquil in the classroom’ (p. 209) by understanding what is within their control, learning to think objectively and practicing the art of reflection daily. These are precepts which I endeavour to explicitly break down with my class at an age-appropriate level and over the year, continuously demonstrate in the classroom. My intellectual loneliness often is replaced with sizzling enthusiasm when I am implementing these abstract notions into real life and seeing positive changes around me.

For teachers, reflect on whether you help your students be cognisant in how to live a good life. Do you provide them with personalised attention to their souls and who they really are as people? Holowchak (2007) emphasises how education should aim to provide ‘instruction in correct thinking, knowing as preparation for living, and integration in private, local, and global affairs with the aims of shaping personhood and citizenship’ (p. 182), something which can often be forgotten in a crowded curriculum and increasingly chaotic profession filled with small talk amongst the hallowed corridors.

For those in other professions, reflect on how many insightful interactions that you have had in the past few days. Would you like to see more meaningful conversations with colleagues, family and friends and feel that sense of fulfilment? Think about how you can incorporate discussions that tap into their thoughts, feelings and emotions through opening up. By being vulnerable in this way, you can help others feel invigorated, make them feel whole by sharing wisdom.

The challenges of intellectual loneliness are real and often ignored in society. Residing in isolation is paralysing and often leaves those feeling misunderstood. Aside from my newfound perspectives mentioned above, The Philosopher Teacher has helped diminish the frequency of this feeling. Sharing ideas in this digital space has facilitated more insightful conversations with like-minded people and brought tranquillity to my soul. I invite to own this space with me and take a step forward in eliminating intellectual loneliness in the modern world.


Guenther, L. (2018). “I Must Be Emerald and Keep My Color”: Ancient Roman Stoicism in the Middle School Classroom. Harvard Educational Review, 88(2), 209-226. DOI:

Holowchak, M. A. (2009). Education as Training for Life: Stoic teachers as physicians of the soul. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 41(2), 166-184. DOI:

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