I hope to see introduction of systematic teaching of two important activities in our education system, critical thinking (CT) and meditation. I feel they will be essential in making a generation that is not only rational in its thinking but also calmer in their disposition. Although meditation’s benefits are still not widely known around the world (this is very quickly changing though) and its ineffective teaching can make the whole exercise pointless, a few schools are now trying to fit CT in their curriculum. I will highlight some of the reasons on why child education is incomplete and in most cases shallow without them.
According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, to “educate” someone means to “give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to someone (especially a child)”. One would think that giving intellectual instructions would include instructions on how to think. But of course, this idea is completely lost on educational institutions around the world. Not only do majority of schools lack specific training that would help students to think better, there isn’t even an effort while teaching other subjects to introduce different methods of thinking. This isn’t a surprising outcome once we start unpacking why these schools exist in the first place.
Most of the major economies around the world are capitalistic. The most important resource to run these economies are of coures humans at this point. And to efficiently use this resource, one needs to train them. One needs to train them in the work that would allow them to do that work effeciently. Once we start breaking down the different components of critical thinking, there isn’t much to extract when it comes to the work that these students are destined to engage in future. Moreover, the ability to clearly think among general populace can even be dangerous for politicians and coroporations of a country. For people in power, humans are at their best when they think with herd mentality and constantly distracted with trivial concerns. Once you have different sets of people that enjoy being part of a super set, questioning the majority can be a dangerous and lonely position. Hence, instead of teaching students to become self dependent in their thinking, we have been trying to manufacture dull machines that are “qualified” enough to do particular tasks (albeit not very efficiently) and never bother the powers that be. I doubt there is a conspiracy theory behind all this. It could all very well be a natural outcome of the way we are wired by evolution that gravitates us towards these systems. Once you have a society that is apathetic towards CT, you get to witness a brilliant display of its collective insanity in the functioning of our politics, media outlets and celebrity cultures. With the current education systems, it has always been easy to manipulate millions of people with the tools like overconfidence and glamour (both are used heavily by marketing teams of different coroporations and politicians). And manipulation from different marketing forces can guide humans towards different collective behaviors depending on what happens to be useful for the power seekers. But in the recent decades, these marketing forces have been pushing humans towards the creation of self-obsessed narcissistic behaviors. What I am arguing for in this essay is that our world could do a lot more of altruistic machines with better bullshit detectors.
Once inculcated, thinking rationally has some immediately tangible benefits. Instead of trusting someone’s claim blindly, one can use the tools to deconstruct their argument and uncover the flaws in their reasoning and subsequent conclusions. This helps in escaping the dangerous superstitious assertions claimed by charlatans or defrauders and also decreases the influence from people in power who are either manupulating us for their self interests or simply befooling themselves. As many rationalists would argue from self-experience, it also gives you an ability to think of novel interesting ideas (novel to you at least). Since you start seeing the world with an objective lens, you notice irrationality in inefficient and counterproductive systems like political systems, education systems, media’s knowledge propagation systems. Most importantly though, you start noticing flaws in your own behavior that highlights how your mind is influenced by numerous biases and stereotypes.
Observing the incoherence in these systems is just the beginning. One also starts entertaining the ideas related to alternatives to some of the behaviors in these irrational systems. “Common Sense” can take a whole new meaning because what feels obvious to a critical thinker, isn’t what seems obvious to most of the society. Our tendency to be resistant of change can be a huge obstacle in acceptance of a rationalist’s novel ideas. But this isn’t something to be worried about because for centuries, outliers have succesfully fought this resistance to change from the society. Human progress is a phenomenon which is constantly kindled by a few outliers.
Reflection on deep questions (which arises naturally from critical thinking) can also allow you to contemplate effectively on personal goals. Its astonishing how few adolescents actually think clearly about their own life and the direction in which they want to steer it. The major career decisions are often influenced by close friends or family members or people that are excessively celebrated by media.
For me personally, thinking critically and deeply on a topic brings an intellectual stimulation which can be quite entertaining. It can be frustrating too sometimes because you notice a lot of stupidity in different systems that your life is constantly affected with. But that’s another reason why we need to increase the overall number of critical thinkers, to reduce the overall stupidity. This would eventually reduce the frustration and pessimism that initial crop of critical thinkers may feel.
I have written previously about why teaching Meditation can go terribly wrong so I am aware of the potential ineffectiveness of it’s teaching but I still suggest it as the other powerful influencer in transforming humanity just because of massive amount of research that is shedding light on its usefulness in reducing stress and keeping a better temperament. With the constant production of shiny distracting advances in technological products which is resulting in an increase in the individualistic lifestyle, new breed of humans are inclining towards narcissism. Humans will do much better in creating an empathetic and kind civilization by being less materialistic and more simple in their outlook. Why? Because narcissism tends to increase the amount of emotional suffering in societies. People constantly play the game of comparing their social positions with their peers on an abstract “status ladder” and worry about lagging behind. This increases the instances of emotions like insecurity, jealousy, fear which directly affects the overall suffering. And in relation to the point I made above, the existence of these emotions also contaminates our ability to think critically (if we ever learn to do so), hindering us in finding solutions to our flaws. Flaws that regularly play some role in initiating these negative emotions.
Life is hard. Somehow, even the lives that superficially appear most comfortable, end up being miserable. But the tools that I talk of, can prepare us better to let go of the blue pill and firmly deal with the struggles associated with the red pill. Critical Thinking and Meditation are fundamentally separate activities. But if taught well, they can play a huge role in transforming the shape of future societies and the lives that will inhabit them.