Monday, 22 June 2015

The Side Effects of Knowledge on Human Mind

Ever wondered in life, ‘I shouldn’t have known this’? Well, if you haven’t,  you certainly will, at some point in your life.

As the title say, this article is about the side effects of gathering too much knowledge on an individual’s psychology and does not talk about the side effects arising from the misuse of knowledge (e. g. One can argue about invention of nuclear bombs).

I assume that we all agree on the very basic nature of knowledge that it is a driving force behind our actions and a tool we apply in different ways in our life to achieve our goals. To consider one aspect of knowledge on human behavior, let’s take a simple example:

Assume that you are attending a seminar on applications of physics in daily life phenomena, and a professor of physics and a student in commerce are sitting beside you. The speaker of the seminar is mistaken on certain critical aspects in the lecture. What do you reckon would be the response of the two guys sitting beside you on those mistakes made by the speaker? If I present the most common scenario, the professor would stand up and correct the speaker.

Now, add to it a common classroom scenario. Suppose, right before the seminar, you were having a discussion on similar topics with the professor and the commerce student. Now, would it be the commerce student or the professor who stands up and tells the speaker of the seminar about his mistakes. If I apply common experience here, it will still be the professor, not just because he was the first to catch the mistake; but also he had more confidence and more urge to correct that mistake.

Let’s take another example. Take the process of human growth starting from when we are children. A baby has very little gathered knowledge and has no business with the outside world. As we grow up, until around the age of 10, we are just gathering as much knowledge as fast as we can and accept everything around us to be the way the world has to be. As we grow, collect experiences and reach youth, we start learning from our and others’ experiences that there are many problems existing around us in the society. As we grow more and learn more, we reach a point where frustration starts creeping in, because we know things could be better around us, in our family, in our society.  This frustration, this sense of urgency continues until we reach a point of achievement (that we have solved or contributed towards solving some problem around us) or saturation (we agonize so much on our society’s conditions that finally we adjust, giving up trying to change it).  Now compare it to the mindset of a person who is born in the hills far from the hassles of a society, with knowledge just enough to survive.

Let’s take another example. It is related to psychology of slaves during the period of slavery in America in 17th and 18th centuries. There are numerous citations about how continuous slavery had changed the mindset of people who were born in slave families. Two such articles are The Mask of Obedience and The Psychological Effects of Slavery and Colonization on the Negro. The basic idea is that the slaves went into a phase of self-loathing and depression that they were good for nothing other than being slaves until there was a propagation of ideas of freedom by pioneers like Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. The article The Mask of Obedience also talks about the misery and depression among slaves. They had an idea of freedom and they did nothing to rise against their masters. What’s worse is that just the idea of freedom kept them in agony and still they didn’t gather the courage to fight for their freedom until they were led by abolitionists.  From the same article, I quote “Oppression driveth the wise man mad.”  meaning  “A person of intellect would go mad by such an oppression.”

What do all the above examples have in common?

The sense of Urgency

What the above examples have in common is a need for change, an urgency to make things right. It is as simple as that – unless you have an idea that something better exists, you are happy (or live with) what you have. Once you know, you can get something better, you start craving, agonizing yourself to achieve/ acquire that something.  If you are unable to achieve it, you keep yourself in a state of craving, a state of misery until you finally give up.

Knowledge is the driving force behind your senses towards a better life. In other word, knowledge shows you that something better exists; and if your are unable to harness your knowledge towards achieving it, you stay in a state of agony.
Essentially, the more knowledge you gather, the more comes the realization of what is wrong in the world and what needs to be corrected.  For many people, an excessive amount of knowledge becomes difficult to handle. People often forget that when we know something can be improved, we have two choices

1.    Let’s do something about it.
2.    Let it be the way it is and move on.

But, the important thing to note is that “Keep agonizing yourself and keep craving about it without taking any action” is not one of the choices.  However, people often choose it, and that is when knowledge becomes difficult to handle i.e. In the absence of action or the ability to let go.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The other Generation Gap

India is a predominantly young nation with the majority of population being under 25 years of age. This means that the majority of Indian population belongs to the newest generation. According to Wikipedia, the term generation means, “all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively.” However, in our society, the word generation has acquired different meanings. We will look into the concept of generation in a more general sense and how the idea of generation gap varies based on our perspective in the Indian context.

What’s your age?
It’s a pretty simple question to ask someone, which usually has one true answer: “The number of years, months and days that have passed since you were born.” However, a curious person might argue that: Since we live not just to die, but also to contribute to the society, interact with people and help in overall evolution of the society, why does the number of years that have passed since our birth determine which generation we belong to. We should be able to be called as belonging to a modern generation if we change with the changing society.
No matter how we argue about this, this observation holds a lot of substance, especially when the concept of generation is used to argue about if something is outdated or not.
Taking this idea as the basis, let’s define the concept of age (as has already been done by many intellectuals) in a more general sense i.e. a person can have different kinds of ages likeBiological, Mental, Cultural etc. Applying the conventional concept of age here, we can say that a person belongs to an older generation culturally if (s)he is not able to adapt to the new customs and ideologies in the society.

The other generation gap
Now that we have given a generalized notion of age (and generation of a person), we can draw some interesting conclusions.  This concept of age (and generations) gives the flexibility of categorizing someone as belonging to an older generation physically (biologically), but to the modern generation mentally or culturally, which was not possible with the conventional concept of age.

I will give an example where it becomes evident that the physical age is not a measure of the cultural age. The notion of status of women in Indian villages is still generations old i.e. they still have to sit on the floor in front of men, have to cover their face, not allowed to present their opinions etc. However, the scenario in Indian cities is radically different, especially in metropolitan cities. Why is it that Indian villages are stuck with a, maybe, 100s of years old notion of women as compared to urban India?

Why is this happening?
Its not too difficult to understand the cause behind different perspectives and behaviors exhibited by different human beings in similar circumstances because it is nothing special given the fact that all human beings are different and these different behaviors are signs of individuality.
However, the degree of difference is sometimes astonishing not just in the behaviors but also in thinking processes of people in the same biological generations.  The reason is the difference in the kinds of situations they have faced in their lives. Some of the factors that cause these radical differences are:
1.    Inequality: The skewed societal structure is responsible to a large part for this. When people are underprivileged, their goal in life is survival as compared to goals of intellectuality, money and impact, which are the luxury of privileged section only. Exposure to suppression for a long time harms the creative portion of the brain and trains it to treat every situation as imposed rather than opportunity. 

2.    Lack of connectivity: According to me, this is the most important reason for propagation of phenomena of cultural and mental generation gap. When people are pushed to the back seat of progress, they start getting left behind from the latest advances in technology and methods of communication. This leads to a divide where they interact mostly with like-minded people who have also been victims of this process. This further compounds the effect and leads to a huge gap between them and the progressive society.

3.    Competition: The competition is no longer always a good thing, because it has not just grown to a severe level but also has become ruthless. Competing survival interests cause people to forget about humanity for personal interests.

4.    Politics: Politics nowadays not only promotes inequality but also victimizes people with less powerful status in the society in return for monetary as well as power benefits.

The basic idea is that various factors, especially like lack of connectivity and privileges, is transforming our society in ways such that it is being divided into sections where some elite sections are reaching pinnacles of progress while others can’t even think what progress is. It is our responsibility not to look down upon them and say, “Its not our fault if they don’t want to learn” but to show them the paths we have taken by helping them climb the ladder of mental and cultural advancements.

(Don’t) Waste the Thunder, Recycle

6:30 PM, I pressed the doorbell of my flat. As I was waiting for my brother to open the door, my eyes fell on a dozen cold drink bottles ...