The new holy grail of intellect seems to be the ability to make sense of things that are far too complex for one field of study. The modern intellectual goes beyond being someone who is well educated in only one area, but is able to integrate information and knowledge from a variety of fields into a cohesive set of explanations for the stuff of life.
But, one characteristic of the modern "intellectual" is that there is a tendency to go for comprehensive study of issues that should be broken down into smaller areas and patiently studied in detail before they are related to larger, interrelated issues.
Of the social scientists, Lawyers can be the most intellectual of the modern intellectuals. If not overly specialized, the attorney encounters more cases involving more concepts and people than most individuals. This conceptual exposure goes along with a requirement to understand a wild variety of facts and concepts that are relevant to a legal case.
However, the lawyer must gain comprehension under the restrictions of pure, sheer consideration of relevance to the law, so curiosity can end before any broader understandings of disparate factual material can be gained.
A military officer who commands a resource management directorate must understand hundreds of people and their personal lives, the rules, the mission, budget, and individual physical, social, environmental, legal, and scientific characteristics of enough topics to choke a genius. That same officer must be able to demonstrate some sophistication in social and diplomatic settings in many countries, and also how to be the head of a family.
Some of today's military officers, where there is not over specialization, can be a model of a modern intellectual, because of the need for understanding of a wide variety of complex scientific, political, military, legal, public administration and human social issues.
"Intellectuals" today, can include high school educated talk show hosts who have huge audiences for their ideas and opinions about a wide array of topics. To the audience, the host is a highly respected and trusted intellectual. It is all in the mind of the beholder.
And many who consider themselves and others to be true modern "intellectuals" fail to understand that it is important to have the ability to engage and communicate with people who just want their desired "facts" presented in plain language that they are capable of accepting and understanding.
Another modern intellectual can be a brilliant social scientist who is functionally illiterate. This is a common hazard of becoming so immersed in creating "better and new" terminology for what are truly simple concepts that a new language has to be learned. In far too many cases, the person's work is abandoned and is never truly appreciated by those who simply are not interested in learning the incomprehensible new language.
Other modern intellectuals have incredibly brilliant ideas in very focused areas, but cannot communicate well, or even socialize with other human beings. This is a hazard of overspecialization and social isolation during the formative years of thought and in learning.
The best modern brains have been worked hard in all of their capacities: social, musical, artistic, scientific, gaming, physical and literary, among other areas. More Doctors, dentists, and psychologists love to play jazz during their off hours than most people know. And computer gaming is a brilliant tool for activating parts of the brain, such as reflex, memory, spatial recognition, and vocabulary.
But memorizing the latest industry buzz words, being able to summarize the hottest new polemic, or knowing the qualities of wines of the Mosel region in Germany does not an intellectual make. Inventing "new and improved" words without actually improving the body of knowledge, is just another cheap trick.
Creating weak thought , programs, or material in order to "publish or perish" does nothing to add to the body of knowledge. It is as terrible for students today to be forced to read and remember the stuff of educational career politics as it was thirty years ago.
Being able to take in information from disparate areas, integrate that information into unified arrangements of understanding, and being able to communicate the resulting ideas effectively are far more important resources and abilities for a modern intellectual to have.
Modern intellectuals do not need to "think outside of the box". They need to find out what is wrong with the existing box and try to fix it. If there is no repair, then modern intellectuals need to build a new box that will last for a long time. Creative, on the spot thinking solves only one immediate and limited problem. But creating quality ideas that work well and last for a while is a far superior goal for the modern intellectual.