Readers Write In #213: The real purpose of education is the joy of discovery

Posted on June 25, 2020

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(by G Waugh)

Virtually every single thing in the universe – trees, bikes, nails, eyes, watches, paints, planes, fishes are all essentially made up of the same constituents. You can theoretically, get almost all elements occurring in nature if you are given with a sufficient supply of protons, electrons and neutrons. And breaking down of the entire universe into its most final, basic constituents is possible and that is what is notoriously known as chemistry. Open your periodic table and kindly go through it.

Your testicles are located outside your warming body so that they don’t reach temperatures that might not be suitable for the production of your sperm cells. Nature has sculpted your body in such a way as to encourage, abet and prioritize reproduction and survival above all else. The human body with every passing generation, in spite of phenomenal advances in recent times, keeps unravelling on and on and on almost endlessly and biologists and scientists are simply short of hands to collect what keeps falling on the floor. Individual neurons in your brain have fully been studied as to their structure and function but what operates humans is a network of millions and millions of them whose complexity cannot be replicated even by the fastest supercomputers in the world. Just like studying one individual in a society cannot help us predict behaviors and attitudes of the entire human society, the widening web of inter-connected neurons opens up billions and billions of possibilities of human behavior which cannot be documented sufficiently. However to his credit, man has not been stunned into submission in the face of such overwhelming difficulty to know himself and keeps soldiering on and on accumulating clues and directions calmly and meticulously with hope and determination towards the final purpose.

This wonderful journey to know oneself, his environment and its origins is what one is introduced to through schools in the form of formal education. But was anyone of us for at least an instant during our schooling allowed to stare and wonder at the magnificence of the mysteries of life and its origins that were taught to us through books and sessions? Or did anyone of us come across teachers who really looked inspired by the revelatory inscriptions in their bounden volumes they held in their hands for most part of the day?

A casual survey across people both aged and middle-young about the state of our educational system will get answers of a very similar variety- ‘Our educational system makes only clerks and slaves out of us. It doesn’t make them entrepreneurs. It teaches nothing that we directly apply in life’.

I am not sure that I agree sufficiently with this one-dimensional criticism of our academic system. I agree to the extent that it drills into us a kind of subtle slavery, which in fact is a quality of immense value for one to make a living in an increasingly competitive economy that thrives on more and more humans scrambling for a rapidly shrinking number of jobs. But this is not a place where I want to launch into a scathing tirade on the state of our education from an economic standpoint powered by radical political ideas.

In a book Cosmos written by Carl Sagan, he introduces us into a partially accepted theory on the constitution of the human brain. He calls it the triune brain concept where he states that the human brain is the most advanced of brains right now on account of its superior construction mounted upon useful layers formed by previous cycles of evolution. As it is widely known, the reptiles whose chances of survival were purely dependent upon ruthless killing and uninhibited sexual reproduction were the first to inhabit this planet. The reptilian brain as a result was wired towards meeting these needs and functioned optimally towards making these organisms sufficiently aggressive and competitive to ensure survival in all conditions.

The mammals which came later were a major improvement on the reptilian subset whose survival was premised on care for their younger ones and co-operation with peers. The mammalian brain, as a result was constructed to enable the animals co-exist with their species, care for one another while also retaining reptilian characteristics which made sense during hunting and mating.

As you may observe, the mammalian brain functioned on the basis of equilibrium among divergent tendencies – to know how to care deeply for its little ones while also being able to attack aggressively in times of adversity, to tolerate hardships and starve for one’s own while practicing belligerence to survive sexual competition. The arrival of man on the scene and his meteoric rise to the top of the food chain was facilitated by a crucial improvement on the merits of the pre-existing mammalian brain. The ability to think, which hitherto was literally absent in the previous flavors of brain development was integrated successfully into the mammalian and reptilian layers to form the greatest and the most sophisticated tool ever made on earth- the human brain.

As Sagan points out, nature in its relentless search for creative perfection has succeeded right now in giving rise to its latest offering – the human being. His reptilian instinct for revenge and murder is tempered by his mammalian capacity for sympathy and forgiveness but in the event of a conflict between the two, the human organism summons his faculties quickly for an emergency discussion, weighs his options calmly, analyses each one of them on its merits and chooses a suitable course to follow.

This model of man’s brain that operates in harmony with its three internal components each of which is capable of a different, yet crucial function is called the triune brain concept. Though this theory is not in vogue among medical circles presently, it is a very useful model to understand the mystery of the human brain. People who have undergone bouts of paranoid depression would have had uncontrollable fits of anger, periods of intense suspicion on the motives of their family members and friends and most importantly, an irrepressible urge for sex and carnal satisfaction. Psychiatrists often argue that people suffering from mental disorders such as these have the reptilian component of their brain working overtime with their mammalian and cerebral components reeling under a temporary breakdown. The triune concept can also be validated through positive test cases such as intellectuals, social workers and saints, most of whom possess a vast capacity for suffering and cherish tender feelings even towards their opponents.

My intention behind writing this essay is not only to document the finer aspects of the human brain but also to share with my readers, my intense fascination for nature and its mysteries. Even if a few specks of my fascination spills over into you, you would be doing a great service for yourself by beginning to wonder at the universe and its curious workings. But as you may see all of my arguments are directed towards one important destination – to define the many purposes of human education.

The grievous failure of an ‘educated’ society like ours to identify academics with the joys of discovering ourselves and our own environment has led to terrible and pitiful consequences. Our association of education with the pursuits of material accumulation and economic one-upmanship has led to student suicides, teacher deskilling and commercialization of both academic and professional education. An education that creates entrepreneurs or facilitates filling up of official forms and applications may of course serve our immediate cause of survival, which I am sure can in no way be belittled. But an education that lures man into the journey of uncovering locked secrets and hidden treasures that nature is so full of, serves something even more basic and primal – to do what education is actually supposed to.