The science delusion

(The following is an excerpt from the first part of the talk…)

The science delusion is the belief that science already understands the nature of reality in principle, leaving only the details to be filled in. This is a very widespread belief in our society. It’s the kind of belief system of people who say “I don’t believe in God, I believe in science.” It’s a belief system which has now been spread to the entire world.

But there’s a conflict in the heart of science, between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis and collective investigation, and science as a belief system or a world view. And unfortunately the world view aspect of science has come to inhibit and constrict the free inquiry which is the very lifeblood of the scientific endeavor.

Since the late 19th century, science has been conducted under the aspect of a belief system or a world view which is essentially that of materialism — philosophical materialism. And the sciences are now wholly owned subsidiaries of the materialist worldview. I think that as we break out of it, the sciences will be regenerated.

What I do in my book The Science Delusion is take the ten dogmas, or assumptions of science, and turn them into questions. Seeing how well they stand up if you look at them scientifically. None of them stand up very well.

The ten dogmas, which are the default worldview of most educated people all over the world are:

First, that nature’s mechanical or machine-like. The universe is like a machine, animals and plants are like machines, we’re like machines. In fact, we are machines. We are lumbering robots, in Richard Dawkins’ vivid phrase. With brains that are genetically programmed computers.

Second, matter is unconscious. The whole universe is made up of unconscious matter. There’s no consciousness in stars, in galaxies, in planets, in animals, in plants, and there ought not in any of us either, if this theory’s true.

The laws of nature are fixed. This is dogma three. The laws of nature are the same now as they were at the time of the Big Bang and they’ll be the same forever. Not just the laws; but the constants of nature are fixed, which is why they are called constants.

Dogma four: The total amount of matter and energy is always the same. It never changes in total quantity, except at the moment of the Big Bang when it all sprang into existence from nowhere in a single instant.

The fifth dogma is that nature’s purposeless. There are no purposes in all nature and the evolutionary process has no purpose or direction.

Dogma six, the biological heredity is material. Everything you inherit is in your genes, or in epigenetic modifications of the genes, or in cytoplasmic inheritance. It’s material.

Dogma seven, memories are stored inside your brain as material traces. Somehow everything you remember is in your brain in modified nerve endings, phosphorylated proteins, no one knows how it works. But nevertheless almost everyone in the scientific world believes it must be in the brain.

Dogma eight, your mind is inside your head. All your consciousness is the activity of your brain, and nothing more.

Dogma nine, which follows from dogma eight, psychic phenomena like telepathy are impossible. Your thoughts and intentions cannot have any effect at a distance because your mind’s inside your head. Therefore all the apparent evidence for telepathy and other psychic phenomena is illusory. People believe these things happen, but it’s just because they don’t know enough about statistics, or they’re deceived by coincidences, or it’s wishful thinking.

And dogma ten, mechanistic medicine is the only kind that really works. That’s why governments only fund research into mechanistic medicine and ignore complementary and alternative therapies. Those can’t possibly really work because they’re not mechanistic. They may appear to work because people would have got better anyway, or because of the placebo effect. But the only kind that really works is mechanistic medicine.

Well this is the default worldview which is held by almost all educated people all over the world. It’s the basis of the educational system, the national health service, the medical research council, governments and it’s just the default worldview of educated people.

—–End of excerpt—–

The talk goes on into the details of two of these dogmas and there was such a backlash from the dogmatic end of the scientific establishment that TED had to remove this talk from their site. I think the talk is very interesting and I encourage you to listen to it.

Seeing through the brain fog

Pawanji says that he sometimes wonders how the illiterate see the world, because he finds himself forced to read everything he comes across – Billboards, road signs, shop names, books etc. We appear to largely live in a mental world created by words and images that we confuse with reality.

To see things as they are, we need to come out of the brain fog of manufactured narratives. When our observation or lived experience contradicts a narrative we believe, the result is a cognitive dissonance that can, if we pay attention, lead us towards the truth. Here are some examples to show you what I mean. The first one follows from the previous week’s post.

The narrative: India was a very poor country.
Crack in the narrative: Where did our uneducated, ‘uncivilized’, tribal women get so much silver from? Especially since there are no silver mines here. (Also, what did the colonizers come here for? To improve our lives?)


The above graph is from: Maddison A (2007), Contours of the World Economy 1-2003 AD. Note that from 1 AD to 1700 AD India and China together accounted for over 40% of the world’s GDP. (More information here)

The narrative: India has a largely oral and not a written tradition.
Crack in the narrative: India possesses an estimate of ten million manuscripts, probably the largest collection in the world. (Ref: National mission for manuscripts)

The narrative: For centuries, the Indian social system is primarily defined by an evil caste system.
Crack in the narrative: Would not such an autonomous, decentralized, stable, adaptive, dynamic, self-reproducing social organization, also neutral to all political, economic, and religious doctrines and environments be the most ideal system if one really existed as such? (This is a direct quote from here)

One can go on and on. Science and math and social science will all have many areas that will lend itself to this type of analysis. If our children spent time looking at all their school textbooks with a critical eye, would they have a better education? What do you think?

साधारण ही श्रेष्ठ थे

भारत में कभी साधारण ही श्रेष्ठ हुआ करते थे। आम कारीगर अपना मालिक था, किसी के मातहत काम नहीं करता था और ये कारीगर उन जातियों से होते थे जिन्हें आज हम पिछड़ा और दलित की श्रेणी में डाल दिये हैं। यहाँ की समृद्धि जिसे पश्चिम के अर्थशास्त्र के इतिहासकार ऊंचे दर्जे की बताते हैं, इन साधारण लोगों की वजह से थी न कि यहाँ के राजा महाराजाओं की वजह से। यह भ्रम की यहाँ हज़ारों वर्षों से इन जातियों पर अत्याचार होते रहे हैं, इस तथ्य के साथ मेल नहीं खाते, पर हम इन विरोधाभासों को देख कर अपने पूर्वाग्रहों को फिर से जांचने को और बदलने को तैयार ही नहीं। अगर अपनी इतिहास दृष्टि बदलनी पड़े तो शायद अपनी राजनैतिक दृष्टि भी बदलनी पड़ सकती है। उसका डर, हमें सच्चाई को देखने से रोकता है।

आजकल शशि थरूर अंग्रेज़ों की लूट पर खूब बोलते हैं। अच्छी से ज़्यादा जटिल और अंग्रेजों की नकल वाले उच्चारण में बोलते हैं तो सम्भवतः ‘लिबरल और सेक्युलर’ भी सुन लेते होंगे। उन्हें बहुत अच्छा तो नहीं लगता होगा, ऐसा मेरा अनुमान है। पर थरूर को सुन लेते होंगे। इसके पहले कितने ही लोगों ने यही सब कहा है – पंडित सुंदर लाल, धरमपाल इत्यादि पर उन्हें कौन पढ़ता है? चलो इस बहाने इस पर बात तो सामने आई। पर थरूर भी 2 और 2 नहीं जोड़ कर दिखाते। लूट हुई, भयंकर लूट हुई यह तो बताते हैं पर यह समृद्धि आई कहाँ से उसकी बात नहीं करते। न इसकी की अगर यह समृद्धि उन कारीगर जातियों की वजह से थी जिन्हें हम आज पिछड़ा औऱ दलित कहते हैं तो फिर यह कैसे संभव है कि ये इतनी दयनीय हालत में हों और उनपर इतने ज़ुल्म होते हों।

हमारे सेक्युलरों को हमारे विगत में कुछ भी अच्छा हो ऐसा नहीं लगता। सब कुछ गलत था। औरतों पर अत्याचार, दलितों पर अत्याचार, पिछड़ों पर अत्याचार, समाज अंधविश्वास में डूबा हुआ, ब्राह्मणों का आडंबर और उनकी लूट, मनु स्मृति समाज को अंधकार में डुबोती हुई, और न जाने क्या क्या। अब ऐसे लोगों के पास समाज को लेकर क्या सपने हो सकते हैं? इनकी कल्पना में क्या आ सकता है? जो आता होगा विदेश से ही आता होगा। और कहाँ से आएगा?

इनको कभी रुक कर इस पर विचार करना चाहिए कि हमारे आदिवासियों के पास इतनी चाँदी कहाँ से आई। इतनी खराब हालत में भी एक आदिवासी महिला 2 या 3 किलो चाँदी के गहने अपने बदन पर पहने रखती है। सेक्युलरों को विचार करना चाहिए कि आखिर उस ‘बेचारी’ के पास इतनी चाँदी आई कहाँ से? और ख्याल रहे कि जहाँ तक मेरी समझ है भारत में चाँदी की एक भी खान नहीं है। तो वे विचार करें यह कहाँ से आई होगी? अगर ईमानदार खोज होगी तो शायद उन्हें भारत के समाज और यहाँ की व्यावसथाओं की कुछ समझ मिले। यहाँ के इतिहास और यहाँ की सभ्यता की कुछ अच्छाइयों की समझ बने। शायद…

(I combined two posts written by Pawanji on his blog on January 22, 2020 to get this one. Hope you like the end result. – Arun)

Learning at Bodhshala

This week we look at some excerpts from a SIDH publication, Learning at Bodhshala, that chronicles a unique educational experiment. I think that, in times to come, this book may become required reading for anyone trying to re-imagine a truly Indian education.

Excerpt 1: (The eye of commonality, page 1)

I soon realised that, with children, it is not difficult to introduce farming or any useful productive work in the classroom. However, when a child goes through a mainstream school, he emerges 12 or 15 years later as a young adult, who will resist any out-of-the-textbook, real-life learning. This is indeed something amazing about modern schooling – it makes us uniformly useless in a productive environment. Urban society has accomplished this efficiently and the same model is being thrust on rural schools.

Excerpt 2: (The eye of commonality, page 29)

Our reading of Gandhiji and his vision of buniyadi shiksha, i.e., basic education, also provided direction. Soon our farm produce activity grew into a full fledged Production-Integrated Basic Education programme. It ran for three years, during which the learning activities at Bodhshala school resulted in the production of recycled hand-made paper, value-added food items, ayurvedic medicines, soaps and creams, cloth bags, paper bags and envelopes, and learning material such as number rods and the abacus.

Excerpt 3: (Food and health, page 34)

Mandua began to be regularly cooked in our kitchen, and so was jhingora as and when it was available. This had an unexpected effect on both parents and children. Visitors from the community would be pleasantly surprised and were prone to say, ‘oh, so you eat mandua too!’ This went a long way in bridging the gap between home and school.

Our teachers, too, rediscovered the joys of traditional Garhwali cooking, which they remembered from their childhood. Some of them were eating this at home, but joylessly, because schooling and the modern systems made the millets appear inferior. I then realised how detrimental schooling is to health.

Excerpt 4: (Production-integrated basic education, page 83)

The cruelty is now global; governance and science are both subservient to business, there is no ethics. The minimum and adequate response is to take farming back into our own hands. Every family must grow some of its food, not only the village family, which must be encouraged and supported to continue doing so, but the urban family as well, who must be educated about the significance of regaining this lost independence.

In that sense, I believe that natural farming or rishi kheti is the modern-day charkha. I also feel that Gandhiji, if he were here today, would approve of this; he would wholeheartedly encourage the self-production of food in a sustainable way.

Excerpt 5: (Production-integrated basic education, page 93)

The paper industry, in particular, is a double villain because apart from creating pollution at the output end of the process, it is also destroying forests at the input end. Our students were shocked to learn all this, and said that these polluting industries ought to be shut down. ‘What will we do for paper?’ asked a teacher. ‘We will find a way,’ they replied, with the new-found confidence from having made their own paper and notebook. It would be tempting to dismiss this as innocent bravado, but the important point is that these children were willing to face a truth which adult society has been evading.

(The list of SIDH publications is available here. If you want copies of ‘Learning at Bodhshala’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at arun@aslishiksha.com)

Learning to learn

In the accelerated digital world we inhabit today, not many people seem to be doing any serious reading. It is easier to passively watch a YouTube video (at 2x speed) than to read something which forces us to think. The two books on ‘Learning to learn’ try to address this problem by using images and minimal text to convey their message.

Here are some pages from the first book, ‘Learning to learn – An Introduction’.

This introductory book is also available in Hindi as ‘Asli Shiksha – Ek parichay‘.

If you are interested in buying copies or learning more about these books, please write to arun@aslishiksha.com.

Understanding history

This week we take a look at another SIDH publication – ‘Understanding history’. First published in 2003 in Hindi as ‘Itihaas ki samajh‘, this small book looks at the importance of history teaching and provides the teacher some tools to make history relevant and interesting for children. Here are some excerpts to give you an idea of what the book contains.

Excerpt 1: (Preface, page 2)
We decided to challenge the notion that history is only about people, or about wars. Agriculture and technology, rivers and forests, laws and livelihoods; in fact, the way people are related to all else – all this is part of history. Everything evolves over time and hence has a history. Thus the present handbook encompasses Social Science and Geography within the framework of History.

Excerpt 2: (Introduction, page 5)
This handbook has primarily been written to facilitate teachers. It is not a ‘how to do’ book, but is an attempt to explain the concept of History and suggest possible ways of conveying this knowledge. Teachers are requested to understand and assimilate these suggestions before explaining to the students. They can adapt/modify according to the level of the students and their circumstances. There can always be other ways and the teacher must not hesitate in exploring better methods. In the teaching/ learning process the priority has to be of the ‘what’ (content) and ‘why’ (purpose). There needs to be flexibility regarding the how’ (method), which will depend on the environment and circumstances in which the teacher and students are situated.

This book attempts to help the teachers reduce their dependency on textbooks and the learning process more practical and relevant for the students. Projects can be designed for three days to several months. During these projects, students not only learn to read, write, speak and listen (the four aspects of language), but they also learn how to ask questions, how to interpret answers and take notes. By this method we are able to take teaching/ learning closer to reality by integrating different subjects – language, geography, social science, science, environmental science, math, etc. – in a natural manner. This makes learning practical and ensures that the issue/reality (vastu/ vastavikta) takes priority over the subject (vishay). Subjects are ultimately not the goal of education. They are categories – means to understand the existing reality.

Excerpt 3: (Concept of history, page 17)
The identity of a society – with its strengths and weaknesses – can be traced to its history. Traditions and culture, strengths and weaknesses are all part of the history of a society. Culture is always in the making. We did not suddenly begin to start living in the manner we are living today, nor will we always live like this. It happened through a series of small and big changes. So, in order to understand our present situation, we need to explore and understand our history.

Excerpt 4: (History of my village, page 38)
India is a country with a large percentage of cultivable land. Nearly 55-60% of our land mass is cultivable whereas the world average is less than 15%. Our books do not tell us these things and we end up assuming that the situation all over the world is the same.

Excerpt 5: (History of my village, page 62)
Schools can become a rich resource center for our local knowledge systems, where both teachers and students will work together as co-learners. This will certainly enhance the self-confidence of students which ultimately is the main aim of education.

(The list of SIDH publications is available here. If you want copies of ‘Understanding history’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at arun@aslishiksha.com.

‘Understanding history’ is also available for free download at Arvind Gupta’s website here.)

A matter of quality

Over the years, SIDH has published more than 40 books in Hindi and English. This post highlights one such book, first published in 1998, which was based on research done by SIDH on what people from the Tehri-Garhwal area wanted from education.

Here are some excerpts from the book.

Excerpt 1: (Preface to the first edition, page VIII)
This project was a tremendous learning experience for the research team. We examined ourselves as much as we examined India’s education system. During the course of our study, we realized that perhaps our colonial past has caused us to forget how to speak out what we really think or feel. Instead, we speak what we presume others want to hear. Our aspirations are molded by the dominant classes, who we tend to imitate rather than challenge.

Excerpt 2: (Summary, page 11)
Rural parents strongly criticized modern education. They felt it had alienated their children from the community and its belief systems. They felt it had fostered indifference towards land, family, culture, and customs. The disenfranchisement of literate youth from their land, culture, and their feelings of superiority over physical labor seem to be one of the most destructive aspect of the present education system.

Excerpt 3: (Summary, page 12)
Respondents have made it clear that the people want a value-based education system that will help their children become useful, productive members of society. What the education system has done – alienating the child from his own society and encouraging him to be a market-driven consumer – is self defeating. The disappointments and frustrations of the parents in this study are mirrored in the hearts of people throughout our nation. It is abundantly clear that the present system does not serve our children properly.

Excerpt 4: (Discussion, page 25)
During the course of this study, while the urban parents lamented that their children have become spoiled (bigad gaye hain), the rural parents expressed their despair that their children have become ruined (barbaad) by the education system. This is a significant distinction. In urban areas, people have largely accepted the utilitarian role of education. They have no land holdings or an income source of their own, and so no longer expect their children to be self-employed. They are only lamenting that the children have been spoiled, which is manifested in: 1) rude behavior towards their elders, and 2) spending beyond their means. For the rural community, however, the effect of such an education is quite severe because what their children are losing is an already established system of self-sufficiency.

Excerpt 5: (Conclusion, page 42)
SIDH, too, believes that given the right direction, education could turn towards upholding humanitarian values and result in a peaceful and fearless society. Our study proves that, today, public opinion is in favor of such a change in education – may be it always has been, but never listened to.

(The list of publications is available on the SIDH website here. If you want copies of ‘A matter of quality’ or any other publication, please use the contact form on the SIDH site to place your order. If you face any problems, please write to me at arun@aslishiksha.com.

‘A matter of quality’ is also available for free download at Arvind Gupta’s website here.)

SIDH Vision

Note: This is the modified SIDH vision statement. The earlier version is available as the first post on this blog.

Introduction:

When we look around, we see that modern systems – economic, social, technological, educational etc. – appear to be aligned against the fundamental human need for peace and happiness. They seem to inexorably lead towards crises in individual lives and in society at large. The rise of individualism, which is central to modernity along with associated “ideas” like freedom, rights and equality, pushes us towards comparison and competition and towards converting every want into a need. The cost we pay for this is visible in our broken, unhappy relationships at personal, familial and societal levels. Despoliation and degradation of our life-supporting natural world and strife at the global level also seems to be built into modernity. Our modern lives are lived out in a bleak, unhappy, faithless landscape with no apparent avenue of living a happy life.

The problems of modernity which are faced by everyone across the uni-polar world of western liberalism that we all unfortunately find ourselves in, are compounded in India by the still festering wounds inflicted by the brutal Islamic and British rule we endured over the last 1000 years or so. As a people we, perhaps, need to derive strength and wisdom from our still surviving civilizational roots and to heal our wounded collective psyche. At SIDH-Asli Shiksha we want to continue and grow our work of research, publishing and running workshops/ courses, with an objective of creating strong, grounded, confident Indians.

Direction:

We believe that the fundamentals of Indian traditions are based on eternal, existential Truth (the Sanaatan), therefore it is in harmony with the way the world IS. Modernity imposes its own unnatural order on this existential order causing conflict at the individual and societal levels.

Our endeavor is to work in this area to:

  1. Expose the myths and falsehoods of modernity.
  2. Bring out and establish the eternal, the Sanaatan.
  3. Correct the narrative of India, its civilization, culture and belief systems.

Work done:

Since 1989:

  • Running 35 rural schools and an experimental nai-taleem based school in rural Uttarakhand.
  • Workshops, seminars and residential programs at SIDH Kempty campus (1 year long programs for youth, for example).
  • 40 plus books in Hindi and English published since 1989.
  • A quarterly journal, Raibar.

More recently:

  • Online courses on education and modernity (8-hour long, 1-month long and 2-month long with various levels of participant interaction).
  • A weekly blog on education and modernity for our course/ workshop alumni.

Way forward:

  • Forming partnerships with aligned people and organizations.
  • Creating online and offline courses and workshops for looking at various aspects of modernity with reference to our civilization.
  • Researching our traditional knowledge systems about various aspects of life (food, health, behaviors, weather, agriculture, forest, flora, fauna, soil, water, air etc.).
  • Looking into our Itihaas – scriptures, literature, folk stories, idioms/ phrases, songs/ legends etc. – in different Indian languages/ dialects to cull out the essence, the fundamental premises, the knowledge about different aspects of life embedded therein.

If you are interested in joining our journey in any way (funding it, working with us etc.), please write to arun@aslishiksha.com to start a conversation.

Namaste!

Physics for entertainment

This is an article about my favorite books on physics that I wrote for TeacherPlus magazine. The original article is available here. I think that it points to something more than just Physics education. Take a look and see!

The mainstream educational discourse stridently insists that science and mathematics are the most important and also the most difficult subjects that children need to learn. Here are some contrary expert opinions:

Opinion 1
“If people do not believe that mathematics is simple, it is only because they do not realize how complicated life is.” – John von Neumann
(About John von Neumann, the Wikipedia says: Hungarian and later American pure and applied mathematician, physicist, inventor, polymath, and polyglot. As a 6-year-old, he could divide two 8-digit numbers in his head. By the age of 8, he was familiar with differential and integral calculus. Von Neumann’s reputed powers of speedy, massive memorization and recall allowed him to recite volumes of information, and even entire directories, with ease. It has been said that von Neumann’s intellect was absolutely unmatched.” I have sometimes wondered whether a brain like von Neumann’s does not indicate a species superior to that of man,” said Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe of Cornell University.)

Opinion 2
“GNM Tyrell has put forward the terms ‘divergent’ and ‘convergent’ to distinguish problems which cannot be solved by logical reasoning from those that can. Life is being kept going by divergent problems which have to be ‘lived’ and are solved only in death. Convergent problems on the other hand are man’s most useful invention; they do not, as such, exist in reality, but are created by a process of abstraction. When they have been solved, the solution can be written down and passed on to others who can apply it without needing to reproduce the mental effort necessary to find it. If this were the case with human relations – in family life, economics, politics, education, and so forth… – well, I am at a loss how to finish the sentence, there would be no more human relations but only mechanical reactions; life would be a living death. Divergent problems, as it were, force man to strain himself to a level above himself; they demand and thus provoke the supply of, forces from a higher level, thus bringing love, beauty, goodness, and truth into our lives. It is only with the help of these higher forces that the opposites can be reconciled in the living situation.

The physical sciences and mathematics are concerned exclusively with convergent problems. That is why they can progress cumulatively, and each new generation can begin just where their forbears left off. The price, however, is a heavy one. Dealing exclusively with convergent problems does not lead into life but away from it.” – EF Schumacher
(The internationally influential economic thinker, writing in 1973, in his wonderful and extremely influential book ‘Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered’)

Opinion 3
“You do not really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother.” – Albert Einstein

That, I think, nicely sets the context for this article.

When I was in secondary school, a decade before the collapse of the Soviet Union, I used to frequent a well-stocked Russian library, where I discovered the most beautiful books on science and maths. They had intriguing names like: ‘Experiments without explosions’, ‘This chancy, chancy, chancy world’, ‘Physics in your kitchen lab’, etc.; but the most enchanting ones I found were two books called ‘Physics for Entertainment’ written by Yakov Perelman.

Ya. Perelman, writing in the preface to the 13th edition of the book in 1936, estimated that during the 25 years of its existence, millions of people had read these books in the USSR alone. The idea behind the books and the unique presentation that converts dry theoretical knowledge into ‘entertainment’, is nicely summed up in the first paragraph of this preface. Ya. Perelman writes:

“The aim of this book is not so much to give you some fresh knowledge, as to help you learn what you already know’. In other words, my idea is to brush up and liven your basic knowledge of physics, and to teach you how to apply it in various ways. To achieve this purpose conundrums, brain-teasers, entertaining anecdotes and stories, amusing experiments, paradoxes and unexpected comparisons all dealing with physics and based on our everyday world and science-fiction are used.

I have tried my best both to arouse interest and to amuse, as I believe that the greater the interest one shows, the closer the heed one pays and the easier it is to grasp the meaning thus making for better knowledge.”

I have had the two volumes of ‘Physics for Entertainment’ for so long that I cannot now remember where I picked them up. You see, the problem is that Mir, the publishing company that brought out these popular science books, shut shop when the Soviet Union collapsed. So the only way to get the books was at old book shops or on the pavements of Daryaganj in New Delhi, or its equivalent in the other big cities. Also, it was pretty obvious that people who had these books in their collections would let go of them only when they were senile or dead.

I had not looked at the ones at home for a long time, when recently, a chance conversation put them firmly back in my mind. I was talking to some people from an NGO that works on school improvement and they had just got somebody to do an interactive physics workshop for a middle school. The people from the NGO were very sure that the workshop had been inspirational for the attending children but they were wondering how the model could be scaled up given its cost and the logistical impossibility of getting these inspiring science educators to all the schools that need them. And I got thinking of how I had been inspired to learn physics not from inspiring educators, but from inspiring books like ‘Physics for Entertainment’. That, like probably only books can do for most of us, opened my mind and sparked my imagination.

(‘Physics for Entertainment’ can be downloaded from here)

The pond and the swimming pool

Some years ago, we lived in a house with a pond and our two boys spent long hours swimming and lounging around in the water. It was like having a private swimming pool of our own. However, there is a fundamental difference between a pond and a swimming pool, and in this post I would like to talk about it.

What you notice about a pond is that it is alive – its an ecosystem, a self-contained world in itself. The plants and insects and animals that live in it appear to all be components of an ‘alive’ pond. The distinction will become clear when you see that swimming pools have energy-guzzling aeration, filtration and circulation systems that work hard to keep the water clean. Like a person on life support with a machine doing what occurs naturally and effortlessly in healthy people. In other words, a pond is a self-sustaining, effortless, natural system and the swimming pool, in contrast, is an energy-draining, effort-full, artificial system.

We can think of other natural/ artificial pairs like pond/ pool – for example, meadow/ lawn, forest/ plantation etc. An ecologist friend used to say that all of Kerala is one giant plantation. I point this out so that you are not deceived by the greenery in the photo above. It may look natural and forest-like but it is the greenery of an artificial plantation.

The pond/ pool idea serves as a good metaphor when applied to education. We can see that modern education is artificial and effort-full and pool-like. We need to move it in the direction of becoming natural and effortless and pond-like. I like to think that if we succeed, what has happened is Asli Shiksha.

What do you think?