Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Doing Serious Work Playfully

(Rough notes from a guest lecture)

In a guest lecture organised at Tsukuba University, Prof. Edson Kenji Kondo (Harvard Univ.) made some interesting points about the factors that encourage and sabotage the process of creative, imaginative thinking in a society. The topic of the lecture was "Educational Policy in Brazil and selected efforts to innovate and build a better society", but what is true for Brazil is perhaps just as valid for any other developing country.

Education in most countries is based on a three-tier structure - elementary, middle and high schools - and is usually conducted under a pattern called "Industrial Schooling" (according to Ollich) or Bank Schooling (according to Freire). The system is benchmarked on a "tried and tested" framework adapted from industrialised (read OECD) countries.

Unfortunately, results of PISA tests conducted by OECD countries have been affecting the self-image of many countries like Brazil. They have now shifted emphasis towards reading skills, science and math (left brain activity) in order to obtain better scores for their students in the tests. This is a knee-jerk reaction because education is not just about left-brain thinking. It is also about creativity (right brain thinking) and the fact the Brazil is doing well among nations showing high growth rate in number of scientific articles in the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI) indexed journals proves that ultimately, the system is on the right track in Brazil.

So the first point was that it is necessary to be sekptical about data coming from industrial society -- they are usually tailored to enhance their own self-image.

Future societies have to make creative solutions without conflict, and this can arise only from unconventional, "Out of the Box" thinking. Some instances of such a thinking process --

1. Hiroshi Naruse's company, which manufacturers washing equipment for greasy
suto-parts, which seems to the antithesis of the Japanese Kaisha -- employees
are encouraged to utilize their complete leave without affecting productivity --
choosing humanity over efficiency; humans over machines; trust over control;
distributing over hoarding.
2. Dee Hock's - Creator of Visa Cards: -- making structures infinitely flexible, yet durable. Making property ownership as the 'right to participate'
3. Ricardo Smeler -- flexible seating, no hierarchy, work on what you want policy
4. Daniel Pink - "Right brain apptitudes necessary for the conceptual age" -- not just fuction but also DESIGN, not just argument but also STORY; not just logic but also EMPATHY; not just focus but also SYMPHONY; not just seriousness but also PLAY; not just accumulating but also MEANING.

Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher who researched her own brain functions whilea tumour destroyed her leftbrain. She discovered that as she lost control over her faculty for logical thinking, her notions of "self" weakened and she saw herself as one with the world around - "information from all sensory systems poured in like energy streams and exploded into an enoumous collage where we are all energy beings connected through conciousness of the right hemisphere as one family"

Jill Bolte Taylor's Stroke of Insight: http://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html

Socialism and capitalism are both left-brained activity...only in the market econmy do you find the flexibility of right brained decision-making but it too has evolves into an oligopolistic model where few people exercise control over common resources.

Research that has an immediate impact on people - this can be measured by:

- No of publishers who are eager to publish your reseach dissertation

- Application of games of strategy
- Serious work done playfully - a nun in Costa Rica who got her PhD thesis linking Orgasm to prayer (!)


Monday, June 15, 2009

Interesting Article - Century of Forgetting

Excerpts from an interesting article that appeared in the Indian Express Op-Eds -

Century of forgetting - Bhanu Pratap Mehta, Indian Express, 16 Jun. 2009
...1909 was the year in which the first near complete text of Kautilya’s Arthashastra was published. Four years earlier, Rudrapatnam Shamashastry had discovered the palm leaf manuscript that would define his legacy. But while he recognised the significance of the text, even he could not have anticipated the revolution in Indian self-image his discovery would bring about.

The text became a focal point with which to contest every cliché that had been used to define India. A society that allegedly never had a rational state suddenly acquired one; a society defined by a dreamy moralism suddenly acquired a narrative of steely realism; a society without a history of political thought acquired a master text in political theory; a society without sophisticated economic thinking acquired insight into the foundations of wealth; a society without a strategic culture acquired a veritable theory of international relations; a nation with ostensibly no political identity acquired a prehistory of political unity.

The more serious threat to a broad humanities culture does not come from the market. It comes internally, when scholars no longer believe that the purpose of education is to distinguish the truly valuable from the merely fashionable, the purely instrumental from the genuinely elevating thought. Classicism was not about glorifying the past or scholastic pedantry, it was a fundamental resource to be deployed, reworked, deconstructed, and sometimes even lampooned in the process of a deeper understanding of the Self.