Monday, March 7, 2011

Weird connections : Necessity, Evolution and Learning

What did those ancestors of ours thought when they drew bisons on the cave walls, perhaps in the light of a burning wood. Perhaps there were others looking at awe at this unique phenomenon of capturing, in a completely new sense, what they see running and throbbing amidst the landscape. Perhaps they were dumbstruck that something like this can happen. Perhaps the first artists in the history of mankind were shunned from the group. Or, perhaps the artists were hailed as supernatural beings. Perhaps it was at this point of time in human history that the idea of creation most poignantly emerged separately from the history of necessities that made man. Necessity is said to be the father/mother of all inventions. Necessity is also the reason there are discoveries. Had there been no urge to find new sea-routes, the landmass we call America would have never been discovered. (But that is another story altogether). What if we go a step further and say, necessity is also the cause of evolution?

Evolution is cryptically defined as the Darwinian idea of the survival of the fittest. It is not the survival of the strongest. It is not the survival of the most ferocious. It is a poetic truth actually. What can be more poetic than the radical cocktail of the element of chance (not so radical in the post- Quantum era though) and the primal urge of survival? Had the human ancestors not felt the radical urge to continue existing in a world that is naturally more powerful than humans ever thought of being, the history of mankind could have been lost in the voids of time.

As mankind trekked through its own history, Darwin's adage was seen as a scientific truth, detached from the reality of our worlds. Power became the stronghold of survival. And humans believed it; they continue to do so. Histories and myths of once great and thriving, and, now extinct civilisations are not very hard to find: the Harappasn civilisation, the ancient Egyptian, Greek,  Roman civilisations, the native American civilisations. And yet, man believes that, that is different. Humans believe that they exist as a continuity of the past civilizations. In terms of genetics, it may be so. In terms of the basic science of Darwin, may be not. 

In  an Old- English poem, a refrain occurs : "That has passed and so shall this". It was a refrain in an elegy, a poem about loss, a poem of lamentation. In that context, this is a hopeful, stoical view of life. Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest seems to be a variation of this refrain. What has survived in pre-historic eras - the wide variety of dinosaurs, the mammoths, the Archaeopteryx (possibly the first bird)- is lost in this present time. What is in this time, may as well be lost in some future time. And yet, Darwin's theory is but a story in the history of science.  

Does this mean we have a meaningless existence? Existence is the meaning we give to this present moment; what meaning it will have in future times we can only speculate. The most profound quality thatthis rather young species in this world needs is perspective.

Herein, interjects the history of the human civilisation and our ongoing discussion of learning. There are differences between what was done, what can be done and what can't be undone. The human learning process does not initiate the mind in seeing the difference between each of these. Education in this modern world is still largely something like the factory production system. There is no  one better to explain this than Ken Robinson in his admirable light-hearted and yet forceful way. 

(to be contd.)