Remodelling Education for an Emergent Future
Author: Lalith Ananda Gunaratne, Ottawa.
Our western education system has instituted the deterministic scientific method in our minds as the objective truth. We find a comfortable anchor in that. Yet, as soon as we try to apply a “scientific truth” to real life, we realize there are uncertainties made complex by human behaviour and expectations, which may change from mood to mood. When the human being exercises choice, emotion plays a role and it opens a pandora’s box. This is what causes most of our emotional distress, as we try to hold onto the only anchors we know – matter based on the scientific truths.
My inquiry is then – can we be educated differently to be comfortable participating in an emergent process rather than being a mere observer?.
That would mean becoming comfortable with contradiction and uncertainty. If that is the case, where do we find our anchors?
In this article I am proposing a radical shift in the way we educate, so we can find those anchors within us, rather than only from the outside. This is not so radical as the Ottawa Carleton District School Board presented at a Parents Conference in January 2016, how they introduced Inquiry Based education, to move away from the Newtonian methods (even though the universities are yet in the old paradigm). Inquiry allows the unpredictable to emerge, so children learn about the impermanence of nature from a young age and acquire skills to deal with it.
The school board Superintendent even made a presentation on managing emotions and spoke of introducing self development and contemplative techniques such as meditation and yoga in schools. This may facilitate children to learn about self first – their own nature, interconnectedness with the natural environment and uncertainty of everything, to complement academic learning.
This is relevant in light of the CACOR and USACOR joint Dialogue on the next generation of multidisciplinary, global futures models held in Ottawa on 9th and 10th September, which presented important points on how to effectively use systems modelling of the problems and potential solutions for the “Global Problematique” identified in the Club of Rome’s work and the book Limits to Growth.
The complexity of issues relating to governance, natural resource depletion, economics, industrialization, poverty, health, population, water, pollution, social issues, and food production have one common thread, which is human behaviour. Our behaviour is mostly influenced and shaped by our learning and conditioning.
CACOR member Robert Hoffman in his presentation acknowledged that our biology is well adapted to deal with the immediate, but not the long-term complex, systemic issues. Human mind is not capable of dealing with the chaos of 4-5 variables not linearly linked at the same time.
However, an effective model has to move from being Newtonian to evolutionary or a living system. Hoffman in his paper Systems Modelling: Bridging the Gap Between Science and Policy Analysis suggests that ‘systems simulators’ may be an effective means for communicating the understanding of complex problems.
According to him, simulators are explicit and communicable representations of the mental models that guide our perceptions and actions.
Unlike the deterministic models of classical science, the simulator approach is open to adaptation or learning as we humans have choice and a final outcome is not usually known.
Our choices open us to so many influences, both external and internal. My interest is the internal, as our behaviour depends on so many variables and predicated on emotions. As our quantum self is an integral part of the system, our personal biases and prejudices create inconsistency and disequilibrium, when we leave things open ended. This is because our penchant for the short-term and linear simple process exacerbated by our Newtonian education, which seeks deterministic solutions to our problems. Quantum weirdness is not even touched in our education as it leaves things open, grey and uncertain.
We are uncomfortable with the grey – we seek absolute short-term solutions as they provide us an anchor. Most of our anchors are material, and now based on economics and financial flows. Our consumerist world has evolved on this “instant gratification” premise and Western philosophy’s separation of mind and matter – as Descarte proposed, has been the platform.
That narrows our band-width to solve problems, as information we receive through our 5 senses are external, filtered and limited through our own biases and prejudices, that seek definite objective evidence for most things, when there are many emergent unknown possibilities that could take us on a completely new direction.
In most cases, because of our own biases, without even realizing that we are shutting down a new dimension, we do not even entertain these possibilities.
This unconscious incompetence is described as the Dunning Kruger effect –
Psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University attribute this to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize our own ineptitude and evaluate our own ability accurately. Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing ability to be much higher than it really is.
Their research showed that the scope of our ignorance is often invisible to us. This meta-ignorance (or ignorance of ignorance) arises due to lack of expertise and knowledge, often hiding in the realm of the “unknown unknowns” or disguised by erroneous beliefs and background knowledge that only appear to be sufficient to conclude a right answer.
So, we take hard stands on serious issues without thinking critically to consider the complexities, the web of interconnections and implications on the whole system – often driven by our emotions.
Learning to be Comfortable with Living Systems
A living system, like nature is chaotic and unpredictable. In our discomfort with uncertainty, we seek power to subjugate nature, and the machine has helped the human to do that well – so well that we are beginning to disrupt our natural environment.
Therefore, in the long run, if we are to become comfortable and learn to work with a modelling process that is evolutionary, we have to be educated to accept uncertainty and chaos as a part of the process.
In the Quantum world, where we influence an outcome, we are integrated into the system and it focuses attention on us. We are forced to look inward, to our thoughts, emotions and influences that require personal responsibility.
This can be possible, if we are educated differently from the start through a contemplative, 1st person inquiry and action research based education, which includes mindfulness and yoga training to complement arts, sports and academics.
Organizations like Google have realized this secret as their emotional intelligence expert and engineer, Chade-Meng Tan articulates in his talk at the UN in 2012. Google is among many of the new generation of companies who thrive in uncertainty. They may be doing something right to become a $ 600 billion company in such a short space of time.
Google’s goal of creating a happy and compassionate workplace has paid dividends in innovation, productivity and profits. Their signature program Search Inside Yourself has three steps;
- Attention Training
- Self Knowledge and Self Mastery
- Creating Useful Mental Habits
Tan states; “attention is the basis of all higher cognitive and emotional abilities. Attention training creates a quality of mind that is calm and clear – the foundation for emotional intelligence.”
Their attention training is meditation which eventually provides self knowledge and mastery enabling them to create useful mental habits – in Google’s case to create an organizational culture of compassion.
Tan says, a culture of compassion leads to people wanting to help each other and collaborate, rather than compete, which he says, leads to the company’s success.
This is extremely important for a company like Google which has no idea where their next innovation will come from or what their next business will be. Many of their business ideas come from their own people, evolving out of the chaos of their interactions and processes. In developing their ventures they have to forge new paths as even the technology platforms may not exist today.
Then the point is – if we cannot predict the future, we have to stay grounded as things unfold. Being mindful, present and aware help us to find anchors within us to skilfully adapt to the emergent.
Mindfulness training provides insights into our oneness with nature and its uncertainty. The wisdom and insights enable us to let go of our superficial anchors and move out of our comfort zones – whether they are physical, places or ideas, worldviews, biases, and prejudices. That can be scary and messy, yet personal growth and innovation only arises from the edge of chaos.
We learn best, when we are under threat, when we lose, when we are ill, as our own survival mechanism helps reach into our deeper core to find strength and resilience. Being aware, present and patient through trying times trains the mind to be graceful through the disruption of pain, loss or uncertainty.
It is the part of letting go and to let go we must have the courage to face the unknown. Training in mindfulness gives us the self-mastery and courage, as we are able to control our emotions, especially fear that arises with the unknown.
Our emotions consist of feelings and needs. When a need is not met, a feeling arises. This is a part of our survival mechanism. However, at times our perception of a need and the feeling that arises may not correspond to reality.
A regular practice of quiet time, contemplation and meditation enables us to differentiate, for instance – real from perceived threats – as we gain the space to critically analyse situations rationally, rather than being emotionally driven.
This is essentially self knowledge, as we learn what our emotional hot buttons are and mastery is the ability to deal with and control the emotion to take skilful rational action.
Working with Evolutionary Living Systems
To work with a simulation model that is evolutionary then requires us to control our emotions – especially when we seek comfort in certainty, but in reality the model is not able to provide clear answers and a definite path. Models enable us to look at a system, the linkages, influences and figure out possible scenarios, but we will not be surprised if we end up on a path completely unanticipated and even discover something new.
The complex problems and potential solutions to problems set out in Limits to Growth as “The Problematique” requires such an approach. Complex problems require radical action, and as Einstein said, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is called Insanity.
Training our mind to focus is the first step to break away from this insanity. Taking a deep breath, then focussing on subsequent breaths to stop our many fleeting thoughts enables the space to open our minds to the emergent.
That space will enable us to think critically – first analyse the facts and then check our own needs, interests, positions and biases, which impacts our approach towards the issue. Finding this balance mindfully can enable us the courage to seek radical solutions to our seemingly unsolvable “Problematique” of this earth.
 Inaugural OCDSB Parent Conference: Bridging Home and School
 THE LIMITS TO GROWTH
 Systems Modeling: Bridging the Gap between Science and Policy Analysis
 Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments.
Bio: Lalith Ananda Gunaratne is a parent, renewable energy entrepreneur and organizational coach/facilitator. He established a pioneering solar energy venture in Sri Lanka in1980s. He co-owns a solar energy venture, oursun Canada Inc. and promotes low head hydro technology for Alfa Star Hydro. He also facilitates mindfulness programs for organizations.