(slightly edited transcriptions)
Participants: Bob Lingard, Poonam Batra, Meenakshi Gopinath, Christoph Wulf, Scott Webster, Geshe Lhakdor, John A. Weaver, Krassimir Stoyanov, Renato Huarte , Margarita Kozhevnikova, Andrew Wilkins, Nirmala Rao, Walter Kohan, Randall Curren, Meenakshi Thapan, Timo Airaksinen
Fact about human nature inevitably ground …a number of related ways, what is possible and desirable in education I think as I've thought about the idea of a neoliberal current paradigm in global educational policy something that I think is very important to say is that the neoliberalism does ultimately rest on a conception of human nature and that conception of human nature was traditionally called the economic theory of man. The heart of it is I think a rather bleak picture of human nature. It's the idea that people are rationally calculating to maximize the satisfaction of their desires.
Where it's often assumed that markets play absolutely no role in shaping those desires, You take the desires to be antecedent perhaps fixed and the wonder of markets is that they're supposed to be very efficient in satisfying those antecedent needs. Now we all know that that's false, that markets are vigorously invested in trying to shape people's desires. We also know based on a huge body of evidence that the satisfaction of people's desires that is being able to buy and obtain things they want through markets, that we actually have quite a bit of evidence that that actually makes people less happy most of the time because the purchases are rarely very mindful.
The other aspect that bears very directly on education I believe is that when we think of education conventionally as about knowledge and skills and especially knowledge and skills that will make people employable where the focus in markets is on productive efficiency that is making people more economically productive, we're also in a way that's maybe less obvious reflecting that same theory of human nature, you take the desires, you take the values to be antecedent and something completely independent of education. Hence knowledge and skills. And so then what you get is a thorough instrumentalization of education which leaves out our humanity and leaves out what is absolutely fundamental to leading a meaningful life which is devotion to things of value independent of ourselves.
So what I've tried to bring to this above all is work on human flourishing and well-being that's grounded in the psychology of motivation of agency of well-being. And it's a picture on which people have human beings have certain basic forms of human potential that living well amounts to being able to engage in activities over the course of a life which fulfill those forms of potential well. We have social potential. We have creative potential. We have intellectual potential and so on. So we know psychologically that people have basic psychological needs which are linked to the satisfaction, the satisfaction of those needs is linked to the fulfillment or absence of fulfillment of those forms of potential. So this leads to my own view that the three equally important forms of development that schools have to promote to enable students to live well have to do with our three different forms of potential and forms of excellence essential to fulfilling them well and that's going to be in the realm of value of what we're calling here inner value just as much in developing our understanding of the world, developing our capabilities.
This means my own views for this section particularly related to three of the questions to what it means to be human, to the aims of education pertaining to well-being and flourishing and then to inner values.
I would like to focus the question what does it mean to be human. You know I have been involved in the anthropological research for more than 30 years and my first insight is that there is no education possible without implicit and explicit images of the human being. Whatever we do, we have an implicit, it's sometimes not an explicit one, but an implicit understanding of what the human being is like. If you accept it then the question “Who are we as human beings?” is the central one for education.
And let me start also with an answer. I think this question cannot be answered. I think that the question who we are is broader and then we are is broader than our intellectual capacities are. In the European philosophy we have a concept which expresses that that as the Homo Absconditus that means the human being who cannot be fully understood, who is through it and reflection is only taking a part of the human being. But you can never get the full insight of what the human being is. Starting on this assumption, I still ask what is Anthropology today and how do we understand the human being in the globalized world. And I want to suggest four approaches to know complete answers, but the approach is to find some kind of answers.
The first one relates we have two tendencies in the globalized world and we said that already this morning. One is towards universalization, the other one is towards the specific, particular. And I think anthropology has to take into consideration these two tendencies. We have for example two paradigms of anthropology which deal with the universe. One is the humanization. We are all Homo sapiens sapiens. And that means there's a long history which we have in common and which produced us as Homo sapiens sapiens. I'm not going into details but the ecological changes, the cerebral changes, morphological changes and social changes produced the human beings Homo sapiens sapiens. It's a long process of a few million years which produced that, not just one moment.
So having said that there is a second paradigm which tries to understand what is specific about the human being, that has been created in Germany in the philosophy, philosophical anthropology. And they ask what is the difference between an animal and the human being, in order to understand what is specific for human beings. And I just give you three little answers. One answer is that for example a plant is situated over there and that needs to be there, it cannot move. An animal has its center of his life in his body and can move. The human being has another capacity that is imagination. That means eccentricity. We can move into history, into other cultures, into future and that is very specific for the human being.
The second point which I just want to mention which say focus is the neotony_ the fact that we are born in an embryonic state. That means that for example a horse is able to live after a few minutes whereas in our case it takes years. And this is important because their culture is needed and we need a culturalization of each of us in order to survive. We need also the other the authority in the form of parents and friends and so on in order to bring us up.
So we are social beings to a very high extent. And that is not going into detail but these two paradigms try to understand the universal character of what a human being is. And today our interest is now a little bit more what do we have in common with animals instead of what is the difference. But still the question is not without interest.
And then we have two paradigms which try to focus on the particular, the special. That is what has been developed in France
the historical anthropology, they call it école …_. They are interested in the very particular historical unique situation. That is a very different focus in comparison to the other two paradigms and I cannot go into details but what is important in this research is first of all the discovery of the importance of women. Because history had historical research in Europe. Focus always on man on Kings and so on. So now it's women and also normal people. That is one point.
The other point is mentality. So U.S. Indian you don't want to be like Chinese. You want to be different. And what does that mean. What is this idea of mentality in humans. It is difficult because it's a very blurry concept but an important concept because it relates to identity, national cultural identity. So having said that I'm not going into detail. This means the diachronic perspective is important to understand ourselves. So that means history, how we developed and to have some kind of a mirror, to mirror ourselves and in historical situations. The second paradigm which is important is ethnography or cultural anthropology. That is as the focus is on the synchronic perspective. So we compare then India and China or Germany and France or whatever and we tried to find things in common and understand ourselves by having the experience of alterity in the other culture.
My suggestion is that for Anthropological Research and also for education and anthropological research these four paradigms play a role. Because they help us to understand on one hand what we have in common, and on the other hand where we are different. What we have in common is the homogenization process is what makes us specific as human being. And the other one, the other two paradigms which help us to understand our particular character and that is history and it is an ethnography.
And I think for education these perspectives are quite fruitful because they help us to understand what the human being is. That would be my little contribution to what does it mean to be human. I'm arguing that anthropology is in this larger sense not in the American sense of the word that is only cultural
There is a rough definition of human being in Buddhism. Human beings are said to possess a very special language skill and cognitive power, which other animals do not have. The sophistication of the language that we use and the capacity of the mind to explore, these are the two important points that human beings have.
In the realm of cognitive understanding of human beings it is primarily understood in terms of human beings capacity to make meaning out of one's own life. That kind of cognitive skill not just knowing everything but the capacity to leadthem and understand the meaning of human life. So I think that point makes it clear what it is or what it means to be a human being. Because technically speaking today any of us are human beings in one sense but not human being in many other senses. Because we did not use our cognitive skill to explore the real meaning of human life. And we are kind of going in the wrong direction an engaging in all these destructive activities that we are seeing on the planet that is not actually a human way of life.
So therefore I think it will be a relevant point to find out how can we use this given cognitive skill to find out the right direction and find out what makes the Dalai Lama as a human being, special human being, versus what makes Mao Zedong a different kind of human being. So I think this point will take us to some of the subsequent points like values and so forth.
I wouldn't try to give a definition of human beings, but I believe that we need to raise a question, what self identity we recognize as humans. And we must try to do this through education.
I also think that at the moment the question arises whether it is necessary to identify this self-identity in comparison with only the animated world, animals, plants or for us it is much more important to recognize our human identity in the face of this artificial world, machines and artificial intelligence that we ourselves created?
My understanding is that this is the real essence of the problem that we face today in the field of education. We do not recognize, do not identify our own nature as humans and we begin to follow all the rules of this artificial world, the machines that we created ourselves, but which we are not.
The way I would look at being human across many of the sub points in this session is: are we looking at being human as an individual or in a global sense. In a sense where we are relating to others or interrelatedness. So if we see ourselves as being human only for an individual sense then education of a particular kind that prevails today is what is important or significant. But if we view the individual in relationship to the social then we are actually talking about being human in a very different sense. The philosopher Krishnamurti always emphasized - you are the world. So what did he mean by you are the world is not that you encompass the world, but that you are in relationship with the world. And I think that includes also a sense of responsibility in relationship. It's not just being related but to take responsibility for nature, to take responsibility for others, well-being of others. As much as my own but not just be concerned with my selfcentered well-being but also with the well-being of others. Which brings in compassion and so on. I would like to raise the question as Margarita said for the forum in the context of being human as an individual and in a global sense. What does it mean to be interrelated.
I just want to pick up on our point that from the neo liberal point of view a certain human nature is acknowledged and desires tend to be selfish and wants to accumulate. And what education doesn't do is educate those desires and leaves the individual in what we could term as an immature state, a selfish state. And I'm reminded of R.S. Peters who said there are two criteria of education. The individual should come to an understanding of why and why in complexity. But also should come to care.
So we could learn about the physiology of a plant, but we don't become probably educated until we actually care about the plant and see ourselves in relation to it and in terms of responsibility. So the notion of desire I think is potentially one of the key points that we might look at. I'm reminded of Socrates, it's the love of wisdom, wisdom is one part, but love is another part. And it's this idea of choosing to care so much that you become committed because you really care. If we can focus on this notion that perhaps we're leaving our school students and possibly university students immature when it comes to desires. And maybe we should talk about notions growing-up-ness or maturity. Do we actually desire the things that we ought to desire? Not to prescribe them but to keep the questions there.
I think the economic theory might lead you to think that children are naturally selfish, and that immaturity and selfishness are related. I think that's not at all true. Children have natural powerful altruistic inclinations just as much as selfish ones.
Well the thing about that question that education is something that could be approached in two different ways. The first one being very obvious because education has been described as the second nature of human beings. So actually that with that sentence everything just comes to an end. … But the important thing I think it comes with a second approach about become like turning the problem of the relationship between being human and education a real problem. And in that sense, I think that what we could do there are many theories. But the thing is we have to think it in another perspective. Like for example what are the limits of education? Could we educate animals? In many languages, dog training is called Dog education. But it's also from philosophers in medieval times, Islamic philosophers that distinguished that birds have names for their little birds. Now we know that dolphins have already names. Because of language according to Aristotle was the defining point of being human and separating from animals. But nowadays we know from the Western tradition that there is a lot of Human non-Human perspectives coming into you raising those divisions. So I think that when you pose the question, what is the difference between human education and non-human education, regardless of what the answer is, it gives you back like what we are. And I just thank Christoph because he tried to just summarize the history of anthropology in three minutes and it is very difficult. Within the Western way of thought like when Martin Buber answered to the anthropological philosophical perspective, saying that it's not the individual that come together and make society but actually that we are a community. That afterwards we think we're individuals that helps us think that in the beginning, as he stated, we are a community, we are a community with the plants, with the animals. So I think that just to pose the question for the forum. I think we have to make this maybe obvious question of what makes human education human and education at the same time. But I think that comparing it with plants and animals and having a new perspective for the third millennium is going to be of utmost importance.
John A. Weaver
When we discuss being human we have to put it in the context of being human in a relationship with other non-human animals. How that impacts us. Renato brought up an issue of “Can we educate other animals?” Indeed we can because other animals educate their young too. I thought of the topic of communication and cognition. Whales communicate from miles apart, they communicate with their species and they don’t need cell phones. We can't do it without our cell phones. We can't shout that loud. I think of beavers too in terms of cognition. Beavers know in advance what their dam is going to look like. That's futuristic, that’s having a sense of time and what the future might look like. That's what we, humans, do. We have plans, this conference is about planning ahead. Beavers do it. So I think it's essential for us to look at what it means to be human in relationship to other non-human animals.
And I think part of… the problem with human education is we've disconnected ourselves from nature and pretended that we're not part of nature, when we always have been part of it. But we convince ourselves that we're not. What we now have to do is to create the rhetorical and empirical arguments to convince ourselves that we are, and always have been, a part of, nature.
I want to bring up a different dimension of being human. That is being technological . And I don't mean the role of data in schools. That's a different issue. I mean the use of data in a different way, the use of technology in a different way that enhances human beings.
To give you two examples. Hopefully you see as I do more and more people with prosthetic limbs. If we were 150 years ago in America after the American Civil War we would have seen prosthetic limbs too. But they would have been crude where you knew that it would be destroying that person. Today the prosthetic limbs enhance that person to the point where they tap into the nerve endings at the end of that limb and sometimes makes them faster if they like to run than they used to be. Remember the blade runner, Oscar Pretorius, from South Africa who was banned from the Olympics because they thought he had an undue advantage because of artificial limbs?
I want to give you another example. Poonam said about biology being the forefront. It is! As we speak what we're seeing here is the creation of a hybrid human in which hyper human is a different human species and better than humans that we are today. How are we in education going to deal with these people who are going to be smarter than anyone who exists today, but yet still are part of the human race or species.
And we're already there. To give you examples Gregory Stock at UCLA is a professor at the medical school. He is already arguing for freeing avenues to create this new human species. And I give you where he is teaching, because he's not at some cyber fly by night for-profit university. He’s at UCLA.
The other person is a guy named Harlan Stevens who's an anthropologist of technology and I think he's at the Nanyang Technological University Singapore. He looks at the bioinformatics industry and how they're already going into humans taking out DNA sequences and putting in supposedly better DNA sequences. It creates a privileged class where the natural human is not seen as a privileged one, but the hybrid human is the privileged one. Are we prepared for these new types of humans?
Something extremely important is about the reality of what people need, which Darcia Narvaez spoke about. Her focus is on what infants need and the way it has a life importance over the lifespan. Whether infants get the care or the nurturing being in need. Another locus of this is in schools. Children do not get their basic needs, by which their basic psychological needs met in schools, things do not go well. And the first of those needs is a social need for a positive social connection. The nature of that is not just having good relationships. It's being in a harmonious, peaceful social world. And now no one is happy anywhere unless this need is met. It's painful to be in a conflicted social world.
I agree that by talking about human nature we are talking about the social conditions of human nature by the social relations is the source of individual identity. But social relatedness is not only about cooperation. It's mainly about wish to be recognized. It's about recognition. And the wish to be recognized turns out very often to be a struggle for recognition. In the sense that the child wanted to be a distinct person, to be distinguished from other children, this is very often a source of educational motivation.
In European philosophy and the European philosophical traditions there are two views towards this wish for recognition or needs to be recognized. The first one is those who insist that this is a false need. The need to be recognized is a source of suffering. And the second one is the answer given by Hegel in the European philosophy. According to Hegel the struggle for recognition is the driving force of human development. It is interesting, what is actually the answer of the Buddhist philosophy to that question.
I just had a few points to highlight. How has it happened that over the centuries we have fixed our human identity. Whether it is homo politicus, now it is homo economicus. We've forgotten about Homo faber. But why is it that homo economicus today has gained so much currency and you know we are looking at progress only through GDP and so on and so forth.
The second is that if we are looking at this whole issue of impermanence then obviously our identities are in constant flux and are determined by all that we encounter of the human world as well as the animal world and the earth around us. Given that fact does it make us less egocentric if we recognize this whole business of impermanence and the fact no one steps into the same river twice. Can that square in with the recent developments in understanding the neuroplasticity of the brain which for us in education is important. It helps us move away from the notion of fixed identities and makes us more appreciative of the possibility of flux and change and consequently more open to the fact that people change and therefore stereotyping can become dangerous in a learning environment.
Renato talked about education as second nature and consequently to focus not just on what we learn but on HOW we both learn and unlearn. The eternal spirit of wonder about our universe.. But here the whole issue of intention and motivation comes into play. And if we were looking, for example, at the policy of the Tibetan schools, one of the first things they foreground is altruism, which is so integral to the Tibetan learning systems. Why has that word completely been blotted out of the larger global learning process?
I am very grateful to Professor Wolf for talking about alterity. Alterity as the moment of becoming. When you encounter the so-called other and the other vanishes. You know it's like an aikido principle. You suddenly kind of make that shift in consciousness. These are the moments of epiphany that education must make space for. .It is also embedded in the notion of UBUNTU from the African traditions and some aspects of Vedanta. So does the idea of interconnectedness and the notion of impermanence and the absence of what they call inherent existence in the Buddhist traditions soften the ego to enable us to embrace other human beings and the larger planet?
What we are as human beings? It's a tricky question because there's always human individuals and societies and most of the time the relationship between society and the individual is quite strained actually and even unhappy. Freud talks about anxious culture and the fact that the culture, at least the Western modern culture, is much too demanding. It's impossible to be happy in this kind of culture. It doesn't really make much sense. Thoreau says that most people live a life of quiet desperation and somebody added that that applies to dogs too. Tolstoy says that most people spend all their time trying to get adjusted. When are you going to start living?
About happiness and peace - it's so easy to say that we aim at peace. But there are many cultures traditionally and still with the warrior ethics. Men and an increasing number of women should be warriors. Warriors kill people. Their happiness and pride comes from killing enemies, terrorists nowadays. They call them terrorists and then you can do anything to them, torture them, dispose on them in any possible means. And revolutionaries again.
But then on a philosophical point think of happiness. This argument goes some way to proving that happiness is not actually important to us. Nietzsche by the way says that if you look at people nothing is more evident that they don't want to be happy.
What about a little argument, sort of exercise. I'm an unhappy person. But I want to be happy. And then I recognize that many people with cancer report very high happiness figures. It's absolutely fantastic. In what kind of conditions people report deep happiness and in what kind of situations people report unhappiness. So everything is fine with me and I report unhappiness. But these people in cancer ward or slums report high happiness. Would I like to switch? No. What is it for? I really don't want to be happy. I want to be me.
This idea of identity is in flux and provisional. I'm going to take that right to its logical end but also this idea of neoliberalism and this model of economic determinism as a guiding principle for human action human identity. This idea of the human as a rational utility maximizer. To quote Foucaultmaybe the task today is not so what we are but to refuse what we are. If we are subjects of these models of economic determinism and these biopolitical processes continually trying to guide and shape how we behave, how we think, how we relate to each other, and what vision might that have for education - I recently read an article by Steven Ball on parent education where he outlines a … vision of education. What would it mean - an emphasis on experimentation? Our relationship to the self which is always defined by culture and history, but encouraging a permanent disposition to curiosity. But that also means denaturalizing all those things that we take to be natural, normal or necessary within our education systems.
Now the problems that arise can be very jarring, very irksome for a lot of people. But on this idea of identity as provisional in flux, I agree. I certainly agree with that. But how do we square that with rational philosophical abstract and even pseudo religious arguments regarding what is human need and human interest. And how do we square the idea that identity is always in flux, identity is unfinished and incomplete and always provisional. Therefore it's encouraging people to engage in an unending relationship with themselves. And that itself becomes a very ethical political practice. But also with those things that are around and that are trying to shape them.
There are assumptions on which we have moved forward whether it's the economist's view of human nature. So these are assumptions. I mean for example the statistical novel probability curve. We assumed but there is obviously no normality in the way distributions of populations happen. Perhaps it's time to call out some of these assumptions if we really want to challenge how we’re viewing education and how we need to look at it in terms of future.
I think this is related to a certain kind of scientism. Prediction and control have been very key aspects of science and its method and we think that that's the only way towards truth for a long time. To the extent that now we are willing to accept that human beings are by nature control freaks. But I'm not really sure. I'm not really sure whether that's naturalisation or that is a social construction.
We need to understand whether this is because there's a lot of social construction around what we call what is natural. The need to nurture controversy may have gone into psychology textbooks for a long time, politics of IQ has been talked about and so on. But the point is we haven't resolved that debate because we are creating more and more nationalizations which are actually social constructions. So perhaps being human we'll have to look at some of these aspects as well. And the fact that there is a politics of knowledge, the fact that there is a dissemination also there which is very consciously done.
Being human for me includes the entire planet. I mean why would I look at human and non-human education. No. I think for me human would mean my connections. Today science is telling us that biological sciences are the forefront to all sciences and they're telling us that the body is an ecosystem. That we are surviving not because of our organs but because of the bacteria inside us that is creating that ecosystem to survive.
I think that connection that we have as human beings to the entire environment: the physical, the psychological, the social - all of that is part of being human. So when you say that we are social beings, it's not just in terms of societies and whether communities were first or the individual, but I it's a question of seeing these connections.
What I would say actually education has done so far is to completely disconnect us from not only each other but from our natural environment. Children have to be in natural environment. There are several other philosophers and pedagogues who talked about this. What really distinguishes the human being from perhaps other beings could be the ability not just to reflect to become conscious, because I think there is consciousness in a lot of matter. But I think it's what the Mother calls (the Mother who was with Shri Aurobindo), she calls it ‘witness consciousness’. The ability of us to be able to look at ourselves. That is true reflection, true self-reflection which I think is not happening because all the literature on reflective teaching and learning and all of that is only at the overt level. So we come to also a fundamental question of whether education is only about the overt or is it about the covert. I don't want to polarize this, but the traditions in our country and several other parts of the world is about drawing the inner out, which our education at the moment is not doing. So if we want to do something being human then we will have to see this dialectic as one.
I want to draw on some of the previous interventions. Observation about the importance of dealing with the assumptions and seeing what our assumptions are in answering this question. About what does it mean to be human. Also Andrew's comments of the importance of fostering nurturing curiosity and denaturalization. Also principal of impermanence and changing. Also the comment that this issue is impossible to answer to get unique or definite answers. From all these I think that the main task of education related to this issue “what does it mean to be human” is to help us realize of the importance of maintaining open this question. At the same time given the conditions so that we think about this question, we consider the assumptions, the alternative possibilities how this question is treated differently according to a culture, to a period etc. But also and mainly given us the opportunity of realizing of the importance of maintaining open this question. That it's better to maintain the question open than to close it with one answer. This is I think an educational task to relate with humanity or to human, to what does it mean to be human, in always an open way. Not trying to close it.
Let me share with you some thoughts about what it means to be a human, that comes from my work on the theory of subjectness and which you may remember as the theses of my abstract .… I develop this theory through dialectical analysis on a base of phenomenological observation of experiences. …
We have something in common with other things, and this is our state of the system. There are many consequences of this fact for our life and for education, in particular...
As such, we raise the question: "Who are we humans, given the entire system context, that is, the world taken with its various interconnections?" …
But this is not enough. In addition, we are something special in comparison with things, even with “smart things”, that is, machines, our creations, endowed with artificial intelligence. In the cases where it is not admitted there are the current dangerous trends to develop and introduce in the spheres of politics, commerce and social engineering new methods of direct or indirect control or manipulation of people who, together with their desires and expectations ("desiring-machineы") are taken for definite. So, our other property becomes even more important, this is an inherent property of life, which should be called "subjectivity" - the ability to be a subject. And this is a state of endless unfolding. From this point of view, the place for the “indefinite” as the very source of subjectness’ unfolding should be reserved and specifically offered …
There are many consequences… In particular, understanding of happiness…
Another level is that we are animals, which means for us that our subjectness becomes open, visible for ourselves and others. … As animals, we interact and communicate with each other, and also fight for recognition … There are certain consequences…
And, finally, we are humans-as-such, who are endowered with a subjectness of an open and embracing type (we can embrace, incorporate Others’ subjectness, directivity into out own subjectness and directionality) and with essential characteristics, such as a special vision, that is, thinking; a self-expression and a self-transendence. Obviously, there are a lots of consequences for education, particularly, for the motivational sphere in education (education of the will, values, life meanings), because it is our motivational sphere that determines our deliberate responsibility and decision making.
The dialectic ‘self – other’ (opposition, transition), defining the whole development of the living, especially is crucial for the development of humans which occurs during the life to the state of maturity. Therefore, as I wrote, assistance to students (of all ages) in progressing towards acquiring the causes of the state of cognitive, personal, social maturity should be the main agenda of education.
So, if an education does not recognize our subjectness, then we are taken as the same young computers and there could be an example of a very good but non-human education.
Then, of course, we will not be able to fulfill our mission of human beings, since this is our responsibility and decision making, that distinguishes us from artificial intelligence and cannot be transferred into its work. If we cannot reach a mature state, which we must achieve as humans at all our levels (starting from the system and ending with humans-as-such), we cannot assume and bear our responsibility.
It will not be fruitful even for the economy, not to mention the inner world of people and the social world, not to mention our responsibility to the earth.
I'm thinking of the nature of being human and in particular being an educated human. And in … I was arguing that there's relational being, we don't accumulate things even including values, they're not things that we accumulate, but we come to relate to value as a way of being. So constantly our identity is in flux …is born, as Zygmunt Bauman would say.
And so we're in a state of not Hegelian dialectics but existential dialectics. This is why I really like the notion of we need to live the questions rather than just simply reach the answers. Because it's through living the questions that our identity constantly changes and adjusts every time we meet a new person, a new idea. And so thinking through the process of education how are we enabling people to engage as we mentioned before with diversity etc. in such a way that we ourselves grow through these experiences rather than resisting them. And so a question I'd like to ask from a Buddhist perspective, as I try to grapple with the English term happiness as our main motivator
I'm thinking of Abraham Maslow who came up with this hierarchy of needs and flagged physiological needs et cetera all the way up to self-actualization. Then I think it was an article in 1957 that pyramid was challenged by Viktor Frankl who turned upside down and said even as a prisoner in a labor camp having nothing we could still have a valuable life in terms of meaningfulness. So I've often grappled with this sense of happiness and meaningfulness. If we were to ask a woman giving birth at that particular moment is she happy at that moment. No. But she finds it very meaningful in a longer term as she's going through this process.
So I'm thinking about happiness where it might be a limitation of English language et cetera, but in education this relationship between meaningfulness and happiness is a purpose of human being as living an open questioning of making sense, might be a main aspect of education.
I want to bring up a different dimension of being human it's technological . And I don't mean the role of data in schools. That's a different issue. I mean the use of data in a different way, the use of technology in a different way that enhances human beings.
To give you two examples. Hopefully you see as I do more and more people with prosthetic limbs. If we were 150 years ago in America after the American Civil War we would have seen prosthetic limbs too. But they would have been crude where you knew that it would be destroying that person. Today the prosthetic limbs enhance that person to the point where they tap into the nerve endings at the end of that limb and sometimes makes them faster if they like to run than they used to be. Remember the blade runner from South Africa that he was banned from the Olympics because they thought he was too fast because of artificial limbs.
Then I want to give you another example. Poonam said about biology being the forefront. It is! As we speak what we're seeing here is the creation of a hybrid human in which hyper human is a different human species and better than humans that we are today. How are we in education going to deal with these people who are going to be smarter than anyone that exist today, but yet still be part of the human race or species.
And we're already there. Give you examples Gregory Stock at UCLA is a medical professor at the medical school. He is already arguing for freeing avenues to create this new human species. And I give you where he is teaching, because he's not at some cyber fly by night for profit universities, he’s at UCLA.
The other person is a guy named Harlan Stevens who's an anthropologist of technology and I think he's at the university of Singapore. He looks at the bioinformatics industry and how they're already going into humans taking out DNA sequences and putting in supposedly better DNA sequences, making them different and supposedly better. It creates a privileged class where the natural human is not seen as a privileged one, but the hybrid human is the privileged one.
I'll go to the example of a Tibetan scholar who said, “This crazy mind not being able to recognize itself, trying to measure the length and breadth of politics and religion. And you forever take refuge in that! You are indeed a brave person”.
So this is a sarcastic remark that is really saying that if you want that long lasting peace or happiness, the first thing needed is that you should be a human being, you should recognize yourself. So that's what we are talking about - recognizing oneself means being a human recognizing your identities, recognizing your happiness, flourishment, inner values, and so forth.
At the same time it is also important we live within a context. This is why we have this very well-known debate ‘nature versus nurture’. So now it is found that we are very much dependent on the environment, nature, but also nurture makes a lot of difference. And it is good news that scientists today say that if you make the effort you can change. Somebody mentioned neuroplasticity. These are really the good signs, when it comes to nurturing and changing.
And I think it is in this context we can talk about conventional identity and ultimate identity. When I talk about conventional identity, it is about the social and everything. When I speak about the ultimate identity, it looks like talking about Buddhist concept of emptiness but my motivation is to say that we need a way much deeper than what we ordinarily identify.
Even if we take suffering. Nobody wants suffering but normally we understand obvious suffering and not the subtle suffering. So if we are able to see the sameness of suffering regarding all human beings, the sameness of impermanence and transient nature...
One of my favorite talk is finding happiness in a changing world. Changing world means impermanent world when everything is in a flux. Your relatives and friends are going to die tomorrow or whatever. How are you going to deal with these things? We need to find the inner kind of perspective, outlook and stability, so that we are not easily daunted by ups and downs in our life when external situations and so forth changes because that will forever change. So therefore we need to develop this inner perspective where you understand when things change. Yes, something that is changeable is changing. It's nothing strange. If you have that recognition right in the beginning then you can be happy.
Happiness, as His Holiness describes, means satisfaction, which means if you live your life in such a way that there's no duplicity, when you don't say one thing and do another thing, or you show something and hide something. When you lead a sincere and genuine life, nothing to hide, you do your job and nothing to regret, you didn't do anything bad, you could go to bed happily. You will immediately fall asleep like a baby. Because there's genuine deep down satisfaction.
When that deep down satisfaction is not there, when you're showing something, hiding something, then inside there is a crack. People may or may not know it. Somebody said that one should be the witness to oneself. And this topic is very much taught in Buddhism. There are two witnesses: other people as a witness and yourself as a witness. Out of these two oneself as the witness is the most important thing in your life. You do something so that you don't have to regret.
There's a large school of philosophers, psychologists whose main point is that human beings are never satisfied. That is the essential property of human being. Especially if you live a life of desire. I mean somehow you just need to bypass as a life of desire in order to be, that’s Buddhist too, right?
But what I really wanted to talk about little is Maslow. You probably don't know that the Finnish social policy system that has been very successful. Finland is the happiest nation in the world and also the most paternalistic. I realized that Finland is number one in the paternalism statistics and also the happiest! So I infer that paternalism make people happy. Not really, but it's all good anyway.
Maslow has been my main enemy for a long time because Maslow have said there is a hierarchy of needs. You satisfy the needs from bottom up but that's absolute nonsense. Because people act on their desires not on their needs. There are countless examples I give only one. Rubbish collectors in the States say that it's just unbelievable, what kind of cardboard boxes they find in poor people's compounds, namely TV sets. When poor people get allowance, what do they get? New TV set, a larger than the next one. That's certainly against Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It may be a hierarchy of needs but it's not the hierarchy of desires. You’ll rather starve than live without a good TV set.
We were talking about what are some of the concepts and ideas from the Global South or let's say from a place like India we could actually contribute to the evolving discourse on education. I think one of the ideas that has disappeared from the Indian consciousness on education is the concept of sadhana. I cannot translate it adequately into English but it actually means the ability to push the boundaries of your learning, both bearing witness to your own inner world and that outside, a complete suspension of the ego, refining every moment of what you are learning, and in some ways a surrender to a larger universe of energy that is propelling you in a direction of self-fulfillment and a universe of unknown possibilities..
I think that was what informed the traditions of learning in India, be it music, be it poetry, be it art, be it the whole guru – shishya tradition. It also meant that you gave to the guru your fidelity to his processes of instruction while claiming a certain space of autonomy to develop your own arithmetic your own vocabulary. So it was a very creative interplay between received knowledge and knowledge production. But without the imprimatur of your self being the ultimate arbiter and creator.
I think this notion went out of our education system primarily on account of colonization and the imposition of Colonial methods of education that sought to civilize the heathens and subsequently our own experimentation with “modern” Western education and our hesitation to include anything that was not considered “secular”. In this way we erased a large chunk of our understanding of our spiritual traditions by confusing them with religious instruction.,.
The idea that the best music is created in the silence between notes, which is so much a part of the meditative tradition has just disappeared from our learning spaces. They have yielded to the clamor and clangor of a different kind of aspiration..
We were talking about Maslow. But even beyond Maslow, our traditions of learning would do well to explore the difference between fulfillment and “success”. There is not much of that nuance as we prepare young people to be futures ready or worlds ready. We focus perhaps a little too much on making them “work” ready. We need to examine what our spiritual traditions can offer us to craft a world waiting to be born. We need to give it some kind of presence in what we draft for the millennium.
I wanted to take up what John was saying. I think that it's a challenge to our understanding as human being which was produced by three movements. They talked today about the super-human and so on. I think in education we have to take a position in that discourse.
And one is so-called artificial intelligence which is more machine intelligent. But the problem related to that is an ethical one because even machines with big data can produce a lot of knowledge for vending machines. Amazon does that for also health business, for law business.
But the important point is that the machine produces results, but is not able to repeat that result, is not able to explain it. So there is some recommendations some effects coming out of a program, but nobody knows how and why. And that is the danger.
Then human being … We have to take position in that point. And related to that I think also the artificial intelligence doesn't help us at all with reflective thinking. It doesn't help us with empathy and compassion. These are areas which are not really involved in it.
And I think today there is some kind of mythology about artificial intelligence although we have to take it as a challenge to our understanding of the human being. I mean it's serious.
Second point is the gene manipulation. I mean if you think of Dolly, the sheep produced, or even that all these tends to go ahead, what is our view? Can the human being be manipulated? I mean physically it's possible, technically it's possible. Would we accept that from our understanding of what is human?
And the third challenge is cyborg kind of thing - the relationship between machine and human beings. Our learning is conceptualized today according to the model of a computer, which is completely stupid! But it is still reality. The influence that machines have on our self, our self concept is very interesting and very ambivalent also.
But I think these are three challenges to our understanding of human, which we have at least to confront in one way or the other.
I think the fourth one is what we might learn from epigenetics and neuroplasticity and so on. The argument that ‘nature – nurture’ isn't a divide. An actual fact is that changing the context were incomplete back into the constitution of essence of humans. And I think that's a fourth challenge that adds to yours.
I know His Holiness wants us to go beyond religion and that's why he talks about universal ethics or secular ethics. But sadhana and the meditative traditions urged me to express why are we shying away from the sacred. By the sacred I don't mean a particular religion. So there is a sense in which the sacred is not in a narrow ritualistic sense, not in a sense of being a particular religion, not in a sense of one's own self-fulfillment or attaining nirvana for one's own self-interests, but in a global context.
Why are we not viewing this as an exercise of seeing education as emanating from some kind of a sacred tradition, whether we call it meditative tradition … This mindfulness is now a buzz word. And in educational practice as well around the world mindfulness is present. We are teaching children about mindfulness in different contexts.
So I think when we talk about the inner life, when we are expressing our sense so much about how we need to have this witness, we talked about the ‘mother's witness consciousness’. About the inner life, look self-awareness was crucial because being attentive to oneself in every context being really mindful. Is this not part of what we mean by human or of human nature?
We don't want to put the label of religion because of all the connotations it has. Especially today. But I think we have to work our way around it to come to an understanding of how we're going to otherwise how would we talk about meditative practices. The Delhi government schools have what they call ‘a happiness curriculum’. And in that happiness curriculum meditative practice is part of it. So they don't call it a part of religion. But they put it into their happiness curriculum and every morning each classroom, each child is undergoing this for one hour or 45 minutes. Other schools also have this. Some way we have to be able to express this. I don't know how we want to do it. How would you like to do it. But I think it's integral to this approach. And I don't think we should shy away from it.
I'm just thinking about how we can articulate it. And it could be the case that Margarita’s concept of self-transcendence could be fitting very well to what you are saying. Or the concept of ultimate identity in the sense that every human being need the kind of spiritual experience not necessarily in terms of religion, not necessarily in terms even of a sacred, but in terms of facing something which one cannot describe. What it means of simple language which is bigger than oneself. Something like that. It could be the term of self-transcendence.
I wouldn’t call it a ‘sacred knowledge’, not as a knowledgebecause knowledge is acquired as a result of the process of cognition. But that is more about the process, about inner experience.
It is the attention towards inner experience, more attention towards the process, not to the result, not to the knowledge which was gained and then can be alienated from oneself. But this is the process itself. This means that it is a person oneself who finds himself or herself in this experience.
So we are talking about inner experience which we actually miss as a direction of modern education. Perhaps in history there was a place for this in education, which was combined with some religion education. That there was time and place for prayer and so on. But at the moment we do not have it in modern education. However, this does not mean that a human being doesn't have this need for such attention towards inner processes and for the existential ‘experience to be’.
I think some principle that ought to be recognizing the central role of the needs of children, of students to have anything that could be called human centered education. That just something about promotion of their flourishing and the way succeeding that depends on sensitivity to what they need to develop well.
As far as I understand we are talking about the importance of overcoming the instrumentalization of education and of human beings. So, we need a better understanding of human beings and particularly what they need to live well, how they're motivated, and then the economic model of people as ‘rational calculators from self-interest’ (so it's typically understood)
Yes, this model is something that we are sort of arrived at our understanding, but it is still something we are grappling with, as even now, the major discourse of education is driven by the economic discourse. The whole language is that. In fact, what we are talking about today, all this discourse is no longer in mainstream educational discourse, and not only at the international level, but at each nation level. I'm not sure whether the individual countries even understand what they're saying, but they are speaking this discourse.
I think that we have certainly some consensus on the idea that there are certain requirements for people to be able to live well and that among those are the developmental ones that have to be pursued through education, and that those certainly include not just capabilities, not just knowledge or understanding of the world, but has to be leading people, enabling people to value things that are truly valuable.
A few points. One was that we said that there is no education without concept of the human being, implicit or explicit. Whenever you get into education, you have some kind of antropological understanding. One point.
The second point was that we were in favor of a complex understanding of education and were against the reduction on the what is measurable in terms of education.
Third point that it is impossible to have an adequate concept of the human being, the human being is always more complex than we can imagine it and conceptualize it. It depends on historical cultural differences and on the whole role intellectual cognitive insights can play. So it's a limited understanding which is only possible. And this leads to tolerance and also modesty.
Forth point – well, that would be already discussed it, was the implication of what is anthropology and the necessity of continuing anthropological research, because the question who we are as human beings is today the most difficult one to answer, more difficult than in societies which had a close concept of the human being, given the openness of the discourses today. This is no longer an easy question, and it needs research along these lines.
Next point is this search for what does it mean being human?
What does it mean - Meaningfulness. Happiness. Satisfaction.
And as something which exploring in character and blurring is not negative because these things are that complex and change from context to context. And that is another point.
Then we had a point that we have to reconsider the human being today in reference to the machine model , a computer and whatever. It is that the human being is conceptualized today often in terms of machine. And also the living together with machines is an important point in terms of proteases and so on.
Another point was the gene manipulation and the what that means for the human being that this is possible today. The sheep Dolly was an example, but we can go even further today. There had been attempts already to create the human beings out of genes, which has been then interrupted for ethical reasons because of a lot of parties. But that is a possibility.
And the next point is the role of artificial intelligence and then this big data. What does that mean? How is our individual decision making field limited? It's going to be limited through big data. For example, if you take Amazon and you order a book, they tell you right away what other books are you are interested .
And all this means that there's a new concept of the human being at stake or in the making. And we have to somehow find our way and not to refuse everything, but to be critical of it, and to see also what cannot be replaced.
Empathy was my example or reflective thinking. And then the next point was the question of spirituality, something which transcends the functionalism and the instrumentalism of education. Making clear that due to imagination and due to the anthropological being or character of the human being, there is a need for some kind of spiritual dimension.
And we need that as in terms of self relatedness and self transformation. So the self and the ego cannot be the goal of education alone. It has to be a self, a self transformation. That means a transformation towards others, towards obligations we have as human beings for other people, towards care of human beings.