Friday, 17 April 2015

How our education blinds us

Again, I think I’m setting myself up as a target for much anger and derision, though that is not the effect I wish to have on people. What I state here is an honest opinion… please believe that much at least! I grew up studying in a convent school, and I have no saffron agenda. I am not a Shiv Sena or BJP supporter.

Our current situation — a sort of unbridled quest of modernity, never mind the past and the experiences of the past — is brought about by a system of education that was largely evolved by Christian missionaries living in the colonies.  While the stated objective was to bring the “ignorant savages” to the light of reason by teaching them “reading writing and arithmetic.”, the underlying objective was to distance them from their own culture, and render their minds ripe for proselytizing.  Even if unproselytised, they deeply embraced the white Christian worldview, which was nine tenths of their faith.  Our children continued to be bred in the care of the same entity, which has rendered itself  “secular” and therefore inconspicuous and above controversy.  But its agenda remains the same: to proselytize people of every race and culture to an essentially Caucasian worldview.
 
One of the most visible results of being subjected to such an education is the deep and lifelong conviction that “scientific knowledge”  is the only true knowledge.  Science (as it has grown for the past few centuries) proceeds in a reductionist manner, to build a pyramid of “established facts”. It arrives at a worldview that is characterized by a series of “nothing buts”.
 
For instance, let’s see how a scientific person approaches a question like “What is a man?”
Answers [from the top of the pyramid]:
a) A man is nothing but a male human being.  So, what is a human being?
b) A human being is nothing but a primate with exceptional skills such as reasoning, communication, tool making, bipedal locomotion etc. What is a primate? 
c) A primate is nothing but a genus of mammals, like rodents, ungulates etc. to which man’s closest relatives/ancestors belong.  What is a mammal?
d) A mammal is nothing but a group of warm-blooded animals that gave birth and suckle the young.  What are animals? 
e) Animals, as opposed to plants are nothing but multicellular organisms that move to find food, shelter, etc. and are not primary producers of food. Unlike plants, they do not make their own food from inorganic sources sunlight, atmospheric carbon dioxide etc.
 
… and so on, by defining its made on the pyramid, one can answer questions like, what is a multicellular organism, what are cells made of… and so on until one reaches the levels of compounds, elements, subatomic particles, quanta etc.  It ends up with a definition that does not address the heart of the matter, viz. what is it about a man that makes him a man?

The end result of this process is that as you subject each layer to the white light of reason, there are no dark areas left for cultural entities, faiths, beliefs, God, spirits etc. to inhabit.  Through the process of reading, writing and arithmetic, not to mention geography, history, physics, chemistry and biology, a world that is full of certitude is established. 

Deceitful certitudes, and how to transcend them

One is in effect saying to the student, “This is the age of reason.  If you have any questions, the place to turn for answers is not to holy books, wise men or family elders, or even within yourselves.  Turn to the large body of science and knowledge to which you are hereby given a key; there you will find all the answers.”
 
But that is a lie.  This body of knowledge does not anticipate having to address questions like “What is truth?”  Or “What is the purpose of living?”  To the scientific ear, these are silly questions of a fanciful mind clutching at straws.  “What higher purpose does one need than the hourly, daily, lifelong pursuit of satisfaction?”  replies the modern man.  “Satisfaction of the various appetites — job satisfaction, career satisfaction, satisfaction in relationships, and the satisfaction that comes from giving back to society.  What more to do any person want or need?”
 
What indeed?  The trouble is that the scientific approach is so difficult to fault using scientific methods or scientific dialectics!  And nonscientific dialectics have no credibility whatsoever, thanks to our rigorously scientific education!  “Science never claims there’s anything ‘out there’ unless it can support it with evidence.  So why do you take that liberty?”, it asks.  The principle of scientific inquiry is, “if it cannot be established by scientific reductionism, it must be presumed not to exist.  Otherwise there would be no end to superstition and mumbo-jumbo.” 

The truth, or rather the incontrovertibility, of this statement, hides the major lie: that all things are amenable to the scientific reductionist approach.  They are not. In fact, most aspects of existence are barely amenable to this approach. One misses the  trees for the wood unless one is willing to go beyond the purely scientific and seemingly rational, venturing into territory that our scientific education has firmly taught us to hold in contempt.

Sometimes, one must project the truth or deduce the truth from meta-phenomena — the phenomena that occur when a lot of other phenomena are happening simultaneously — where the whole (ie. the metaphenomenon) is much greater then the sum-total of its parts.

After all, life is but a meta phenomenon, and so is intellect.  We are meta-phenomena, because our ability to blog cannot be explained in terms of respiration, heart-pumping, fight-or-flee impulses, chemistry, biology, physics or any of the other -ologies that go into explaining what I am.

The ability to reflect on oneself, and to say “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”) is a meta phenomenon.

I’m not a scientist, but I like to believe I have a fairly scientific (as against superstitious) approach to things. I think of myself as a philosopher. And I think there is need for philosophers to yet explain what life and existence is all about, because that is the one thing that the ever-growing scientific community may not be able to do.

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