Vikas Shah, Thought Economics, October 2014
Inside your head is a 1.5-kilogram object, which, as far as we know, is the most complex entity in the known universe. Your brain is a collection of 100 billion nerve cells, intricately wired together with over a million billion connections; creating a system more complex than anything mankind has ever made.
The gestalt nature of our brain is therefore clear. Here is a system capable of delivering the functional aspects of mind, but also attributed to being the centre of consciousness itself. Without the ability to learn however, the system would be useless. From before we are born till the moment we die, our mind is engaged in the process of learning, forming associations that modern science still cannot understand, which allow us to make meaningful perceptions of our place in the world, the contents of that world, and the relevance of our existence within it.
The philosopher Nicola Abbagnano identified that, “…the fundamental revealing fact of the nature of existence is that man should be compelled to ask himself what he is and what he should be (what beingness is). This fact excludes the possibility that existence should be beingness and implies on the contrary that it is a research of beingness. It excludes also the possibility that man should be infinite and shows that man is finite…. Man is finite, not because he excludes other things from himself, things which he may know and understand beyond any fixed limit; he is finite in the sense that his very beingness escapes him and therefore he must strive to attain it with his research. With his thought, man may embrace the entire world and for this reason he does not live in that corporal exteriority in which things exclude each other mutually. But even when his thought extends to the extreme limits of the universe, the question about what he is and what he should be still presents itself to him with the same urgency, and still implies on his part the necessity of a decision and a choice.” (Outline of a Philosophy of Existence, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 9, No. 2 Dec, 1948).
The underlying assertion that Abbagnano makes is that whatever learning we undertake, ultimately tends towards answering those great questions of our existence; and for that reason, we must consider the story of learning and the story of ourselves within the same discourse.
In these exclusive interviews we speak to Marina Abramović (internationally acclaimed performance artist), and Sir Ken Robinson (widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on creativity, innovation and human resources in education and business). We question the fundamental nature of learning and education and discuss the life long journey of understanding our purpose and who we are.
Marina Abramović was born in 1946 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Since the beginning of her career in the early 1970s when she attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Abramović has pioneered the use of performance as a visual art form. The body has been both her subject and medium. Exploring the physical and mental limits of her being, she has withstood pain, exhaustion and danger in the quest for emotional and spiritual transformation. As a vital member of the generation of pioneering performance artists that includes Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci and Chris Burden, Abramović created some of the most historic early performance pieces and continues to make important durational works.
Abramović has presented her work with performances, sound, photography, video and sculpture in solo exhibitions at major institutions in the U.S. and Europe. Her work has also been included in many large-scale international exhibitions including the Venice Biennale (1976 and 1997) and Documenta VI, VII and IX, Kassel, Germany (1977, 1982 and 1992). In 1998, the exhibition Artist Body - Public Body toured extensively, including stops at Kunstmuseum and Grosse Halle, Bern, Switzerland and La Gallera, Valencia, Spain. In 2004, Abramović also exhibited at the Whitney Biennial in New York and had a significant solo show, The Star, at the Marugame Genichiro-Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art, Japan and the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, Japan.
Abramović has taught and lectured extensively in Europe and America. In 1994, she became Professor for Performance Art at the Hochschule für Bildende Künst in Braunschweig, where she taught for seven years. In 2004, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Art Institute in Chicago, The University of Plymouth and Willams College.
She was awarded the Golden Lion for Best Artist at the 1997 Venice Biennale for her extraordinary video installation/performance piece Balkan Baroque and, in 2003, received the New Media Bessie award for The House with the Ocean View‚ a 12-day performance at Sean Kelly Gallery.
In 2005, Abramović presented Balkan Erotic Epic at the Pirelli Foundation in Milan, Italy and at Sean Kelly in New York. That same year, she held a series of performances entitled Seven Easy Pieces at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. She was honored for Seven Easy Pieces by the Guggenheim at their International Gala in 2006 and by the AICA-USA, which awarded her the Best Exhibition of Time Based Art designation in 2007. She was the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Artist is Present, in 2010; the following year, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture in Moscow, Russia also presented a major retrospective of Abramović's oeuvre. Abramović's work is included in numerous major public and private collections worldwide.
In 2011, Abramović participated in visionary director Robert Wilson's, The Life and Death of Marina Abramović, the critically acclaimed re-imagination of Abramović's biography, which continues to tour internationally. The feature length documentary, Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present, premiered in January 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival and has since received widespread critical acclaim.
Abramović is currently developing the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI) in Hudson, New York, an interdisciplinary performance and education center dedicated to the presentation and preservation of long durational work and the fostering of collaborations between art, science, technology and spirituality. Special thanks to Giuliano Argenziano, Allison Brainard and Sidney Russell at ABRAMOVIC LLC
Sir Ken Robinson, PhD is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources in education and in business. He is also one of the world’s leading speakers on these topics, with a profound impact on audiences everywhere. The videos of his famous 2006 and 2010 talks to the prestigious TED Conference have been viewed more than 25 million times and seen by an estimated 250 million people in over 150 countries. His 2006 talk is the most viewed in TED’s history. In 2011 he was listed as “one of the world’s elite thinkers on creativity and innovation” by Fast Company magazine, and was ranked among the Thinkers50 list of the world’s top business thought leaders.
Sir Ken works with governments and educations systems in Europe, Asia and the USA, with international agencies, Fortune 500 companies and some of the world’s leading cultural organizations. In 1998, he led a national commission on creativity, education and the economy for the UK Government. All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education (The Robinson Report) was published to wide acclaim in 1999. He was the central figure in developing a strategy for creative and economic development as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, working with the ministers for training, education enterprise and culture. The resulting blueprint for change, Unlocking Creativity, was adopted by politicians of all parties and by business, education and cultural leaders across the Province. He was one of four international advisors to the Singapore Government for its strategy to become the creative hub of South East Asia.
For twelve years, he was professor of education at the University of Warwick in the UK and is now professor emeritus. He has received honorary degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design, the Open University and the Central School of Speech and Drama; Birmingham City University, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts and Oklahoma State University. He was been honored with the Athena Award of the Rhode Island School of Design for services to the arts and education; the Peabody Medal for contributions to the arts and culture in the United States, the Arthur C. Clarke Imagination Award, the Gordon Parks Award for achievements in education and the Benjamin Franklin Medal of the Royal Society of Arts for outstanding contributions to cultural relations between the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2005, he was named as one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s ‘Principal Voices’. In 2003, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the arts.
His 2009 book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything is a New York Times best seller and has been translated into twenty-one languages. A 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative was published in 2011. His latest book, Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life, will be published by Viking in May 2013. Sir Ken was born in Liverpool, UK. He is married to Therese (Lady) Robinson. They have two children, James and Kate, and now live in Los Angeles, California.
Q: What is the relationship of our body to our environment?
[Marina Abramovic] We treat our body like a rubbish-can, and it's become worse and worse... I always ask myself the same question; why do we like junk food more than good food? why do we not like to exercise and instead sit in front of the television? why are we not good to ourselves? It's like we try to make the wrong choices!. If we treat our body in the right way, our consciousness will change.
Q: What is the relationship between our minds and our bodies?
[Marina Abramovic] There are so many different philosophies and cultures, and every one of them answers this question differently. The most important thing is balance between mind and body. In western culture, people live for the mind and neglect the body completely. See how philosophers look, with their big fat bellies? and scientists... they look like their bodies have been neglected, but they have an incredible brain...
For most of my life, I thought the mind ruled the body. Only in my later years, when I was introduced to Brazilian Shamanism; I changed the relationship and realised we have to listen to our bodies. Our bodies create certain rules which the mind must obey. The mind always moves-off with willpower, and we just push ourselves. The body is an incredibly precise machine, and it gives us specific and clear signs. It tells us when we need to rest, when we are overworked, when we are stressed, when we are about to have a heart attack... If we listened to our body, our relationship to everything would be different. We are talking of a microcosm that reflects a macrocosm.
Q: What is the role of education in society?
[Sir Ken Robinson] Education has four key roles in society, each of which is connected.
Firstly; education serves an economic purpose, something which is often disputed. In the history of the philosophy of education, there have been many discourses and arguments about whether education should have any extrinsic purposes or whether it is an inherent good and should be done for its own sake. At every level, people do consider- however- that becoming educated will bring economic advantages to them personally- and that if their kids go to school and do well, they will be in a better economic position than they would have been otherwise. This is one of the reasons why governments invest so much money in education, they (correctly) assume that a well-educated population will be in a better position to contribute to economic prosperity. The big issue of course is to understand what kind of education we need to meet economic purposes these days.
Secondly; education plays an important cultural role. One of the reasons that we educate people- particularly our young people- is to initiate them into the cultural values, traditions and ways of thinking that characterise our communities. This is one of the reasons why there's such a heated contest over the content of a curriculum. Whenever people try to create divisive standards or curricula, it quickly becomes a very heated discussion. I remember when the national curriculum was introduced in the UK, there was a lot of debate not about whether Shakespeare should be included; but which play. Education is a high-stakes cultural process, and this is something we have to recognise given how important cultural identity is in a precarious world; indeed many of the major conflicts that continue to plague humanity have cultural origins rather than economic.
Thirdly; education plays an important social role. We expect education to play a role in helping students understand how their societies work and how they can play a part in them. Particularly within democratic societies, as John Dewey once said, "every generation has to rediscover democracy." I live in Los Angeles, we recently had a mayoral election- millions of dollars were spent, and we only had a 15% voter turnout. Many people are losing confidence and interest in democratic institutions given how easy it is to take for granted the rights that we've inherited from previous generations that they fought, and even died for. Education has to pass on the knowledge, understanding and willingness to participate in social institutions, that's not to say that people must accept the status-quo, but more that they must understand the principles upon which our society operates.
The fourth area is personal. Education should be about helping individuals discover their talents, their purpose in life, their sensibilities, their interests and to enable them to live a life that's purposeful and fulfilling in its own right. In America just now, there's been a problem where kids have not been completing high-school- I hesitate to use the word drop-out as this implies they've failed the system where, in fact, it's often the other way round- kids are just disengaging. As soon as we treat education as an impersonal process... a mechanistic and data driven process... as soon as we lose sight of the fact that we're dealing with living, breathing human-beings then education ceases to be anything worthwhile.
Q: Is there a unique relationship that we have with other individuals?
[Marina Abramovic] All human beings are different, but this in itself is a contradiction. In one way, we are all different- we have different DNA, different social backgrounds, different religions, different beliefs, races and so on. Yet... we are all connected by the very fact we are human beings. In that diversity, we have to find a way to communicate and live together.
Q: What is the real role of the teacher and the student?
[Sir Ken Robinson] There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes around teaching. For quite some time for example, I've been hugely interested in having creativity at the centre of education. I often hear people assert that you can't teach creativity; the truth is that you can! Understanding that you can and how you can relies on having a proper understanding of what creativity is and how it works, but also relies on a proper understanding of what teaching is and how it works. People can often slate teaching with instruction- feeling that it's simply a matter of telling people what you know, so that they know those things as a result.
Instruction is part of the repertory of any great-teacher, sometimes things do need to be set out and explained by someone who understands the issue better than the learner... but teaching is much more. Really good teachers insight curiosity, provoke, set puzzles, stir the imagination and excite people so that they will learn. Learning is a hugely personal process... you can't make people learn... you can threaten them with the consequences of not learning, but if you really want people to flourish as learners, enjoy learning and feel they can carry on being independent and creative thinkers... then you have to excite them in the process of learning.
There was a recent book called "The Empty Space" published by Theatre Director, Peter Brook. In this book he describes how his commitment is to make theatre the most powerful experience it can be, rather than a passive evening. This starts with understanding what theatre is, and breaking it down into a thought experiment. If you take an average theatre performance, what can you remove from it and still have theatre? You can get rid of the costumes, script, director, stage-crew, the building and more. All you need is an actor in a space, and someone watching. The actor performs a drama, and theatre essentially describes the relationship between the performance and the audience. That relationship is the one we have to focus on, and we shouldn't add anything to it unless it improves it; we should keep it away. There's a very clear analogy there with education. The ultimate purpose of education is to help people learn; and there's a difference between learning and education. People are always learning, and we learn things everyday without being taught them. Children are born with a voracious appetite to learn which begins even before they're born, they are constantly absorbing information and putting things together. Most of the really remarkable things kids achieve, they achieve with no instruction. Imagine how hard it is to learn how to speak? You encourage them, mentor them, but you don't teach them. Children also pick up all the cultural nuances, patterns and relationships in their world without being told. Education is simply an organised version of this; an organised programme of learning underpinned by the belief that there things students should learn that they may not ordinarily come across and that we can help them to learn more effectively than they would be able to do so on their own. What always interests me is that very often, kids who go to school with a huge appetite for learning, lose that appetite by the time they get a few years into their journey. They become bored and disaffected.
The heart of education is learning, it's not warehousing, discipline or supervision- it's learning. If you think of medicine, that is about helping people be well and get well. If hospitals ended up as centres for disease themselves and contributed to high mortality rates, they would not be doing what they were designed to do in the first place. Schools should be there to help people learn, and at the heart of this is the relationship between the teacher and a learner. The conceit of teaching is that we can help people learn; and we have to focus on the relationship. Much of what has happened in education in recent years has distracted from this relationship and focussed on testing, data-driven outcomes and so forth. The consequence has been that the relationship between teachers and learners has become impoverished; this has disaffected teachers and students alike.
Teaching and learning are not two hermetically sealed processes. The great teachers learn from their students, the great students also learn from each other. It's a multi-faceted relationship. Several years ago, I did an event with the Dalai Lama- one of the world's great teachers. He was asked a question in a room with around 2,000 people; followed by which there was a very long pause. We were all sat there expecting a fantastic insight, but in the end he said, "I don't know.." People were shocked and many commented, "what do you mean you don't know!? you're the Dalai Lama" but he responded to the audience, "I've never thought of that, what do you think?" The great teachers know they don't have to know everything, they are there to guide learning; often their students know more- or know better. I'm not a religious person, but I'm told that in some religious services, the priest or officiator faces towards the congregation. In some religions, the priest faces forward in the same direction as the congregation; the premise being that they are all learning together.
Q: What are the consequences of a dysfunctional education system?
[Sir Ken Robinson] If you go to either end of the system, you will find an increasing problem of graduate under-employment (people who are doing work for which they are overqualified, or for which their qualification is not relevant). That is very significant. The current system of education is based on a very linear view of the relationship between education and the economy. The origins of mass public education lie in the industrial revolution; it was designed with explicit economic purposes in mind. This is why we have a broad base of elementary education, a narrower base of secondary education and so on. It was originally that a very narrow apex of university education existed because the vast-majority of people were destined to a life of overalls or factory work. A smaller group of people were needed for clerical roles, and an even smaller group for professional roles... Education was designed with this economic model in mind and for the most part, it worked well; albeit many people who were perfectly capable of achieving great things in education were never given the chance. In the post-industrial era however, it doesn't work at all. In the industrial era, 1:20 people went to university now it's nearer 1:3. Politicians opened the sluice gates to university as we now live in a knowledge economy. President Obama recently made a speech where he pointed out that many of the most 'basic' jobs in manufacturing now require quite substantial amounts of IT literacy.
When I was at college, the idea that you would not be able to find work with a college degree was preposterous; the reason? relatively few had a degree. Now every other person has a degree and so it's not as valuable as it used to be as a currency. Most countries have focussed on pumping out more and more graduates, and this has had big consequences. China has far too many graduates now; many who have worked hard to get advanced degrees are returning to their villages unable to find work, or are doing jobs they are far too qualified to do.
Unless you work on the supply and demand mismatch in education, you will have problems. The world moves far more quickly than you can adjust the system to cope with.
The people who don't go through college or higher education are finding themselves in a skills-gap where jobs exist, but they simply don't have the skills to do the work. You also have an achievement gap which shows how these factors play out across different cultures and communities. It's often the case for example, that African American's are not graduating from school at the same rate as White kids and so forth. This all contributes to the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor.
In the USA 1.2 million kids leave high-school before they graduate each and every year; many go into education later in life, or may choose another path. What is true however, is that a significantly high proportion of people on social welfare programmes did not graduate from high-school and a very-high percentage of people in the correctional system did not graduate from high-school. If you add up the savings in social programmes and add the increased taxation income from people in work, if we could halve the non-graduation rate in US high-schools, it would create a net gain to the US economy of over U$90 billion a year; or around U$ 1 trillion over a decade. That's worth paying for.
Education is based too much on standardisation, and is not allowing people to adapt and have a sense of purpose, direction, and a life that has meaning for them and their communities.
Q: What do we- as human beings- strive for?
[Marina Abramovic] The most important thing to develop in human beings is a sense of love, and an understanding of unconditional love. I'm not talking about the love towards a specific person, but love in a general sense; for life, for the planet, for purely existing. We completely forget how temporary we are. From the moment we are born, we are closer to death- and death can happen anytime, anywhere, unexpectedly; you don't need to die from sickness, you could just go- that's it... This uncertainty should make our lives more beautiful, appreciated and rich, but we forget this- and instead, we spend our time on bullshit. We spend our time wasting time instead of understanding our purpose on the planet.
People, especially the younger generation, are losing purpose. They don't see clearly. Everybody is here for a reason- and sooner or later, we will find that reason. If someone was born to be a great baker and make the best bread in the world, that is purpose! If someone was born to be a mother, that was purpose! same for someone who was born to be a politician, gardener or artist. The Dalai Lama once summed up the problems of the western world to me... He described how we go to the supermarket to buy toothpaste, and we are confronted with hundreds of choices; and we can spend our whole lives trying different brands... It's the same with religion... Right now, there are hundreds of spiritual and personal-development agendas, and you will constantly lose your time trying to find the right way. Whatever you find though, you have to go for it...
Anyone can find their purpose in life, you just have to look deeply inside yourself. We don't look deeply enough because we are so overwhelmed with our culture. The world turns us into consumer junkies, we consume too much of everything... too much television, too much internet, too much phone and text, too many goods we don't want or need. This gives us such little space to be with ourselves, that it's hard to find purpose.
Q: Why does art exist?
[Marina Abramovic] It's interesting to find the reason why cavemen had to make drawings in the middle of caves inside deep mountains... It looks like human beings, from the start of our existence, had to be expressive. The need to create is in our DNA... Hundreds and millions of people without art, but I believe it's the oxygen of society. Good art has many layers of meaning... It can predict the future, it can ask the right questions (though it may not answer them), it can be disturbing, it can open your consciousness and really lift your spirits. Good art is a generator of energy, it's beautiful. People need to share this beauty with each other. Life can be so grey, and art gives it a touch of something else. If the artist is connected with divine energy, then the spiritual element can create immense power.
For me as an artist, I see the public as an engine. I provide the key for the motor, but the audience become the work; and function without me. I create without even being aware of the consequences and possibilities. We are so lost right now, we have lost our spiritual centres. Just looking at art is not enough anymore, we have to be part of it.
Q: Is there any aesthetic in dark experiences?
[Marina Abramovic] To look at someone being decapitated on the internet for example, is hugely disturbing- there is no aesthetic. I simply feel incredible sadness that here- in the 21st century- human beings still need to kill each other and commit these terrible acts. We have so much pain expressed in the world through the hell of war, and I am much more interested in changing the human spirit.
The Dalai Lama once observed that only when human beings learn to forgive, can they learn to stop killing. This is what we have to do... we have to learn to forgive and stop these messes. Look at our politicians? We don't have figures like Gandhi or Mandela anymore; we are voting for terrible people and reflecting our imperfections into them. Why can't we create something else?
Only individually, if every human being can change their consciousness, can we change the world.
Q: What is the role of sex and love in human experience?
[Marina Abramovic] I'm tired of looking at art as only being a reflection of reality. Our reality today is fucked up, I don't need to reflect it; I can see it on television and in the papers. I'm only interested in what I can change and what I can bring that's different.
Human life always has the same themes: First, we are temporary- and afraid of dying, we are scared of pain, we fall in love, we have melancholy, and we seek out sex. If you look at art from beginning to end, you find that many artists find their own way to express these same subjects.
Q: Can every life have meaning?
[Marina Abramovic] I hope that everyone could wake up in the morning and wonder what their purpose is. This is the main question of our existence! So many people are lost, taking anti-depressants and drinking, and often because they don't want to face this fundamental question, or because they don't have time to face this question. It's often easier to take anti-depressants and become a zombie instead of posing this question to yourself. Life is a miracle, it's the most beautiful gift in the world, we're temporary visitors to this planet and we have to be happy... And to be happy, you have to understand that death can come at any moment, at anytime. Once you accept that, you see that every moment is precious.
Q: What are the roles of intelligence, success and failure in education?
[Sir Ken Robinson] Intelligence is obviously a central concept for education, however most education systems perpetuate a very narrow conception of it. There are two western derived systems that dominate the cultural ideas of intelligence; the first is IQ and the other is academic ability. Both of these are important and interesting. IQ was an idea developed in the early 19th century, building on the work of Sir Francis Galton (a cousin of Charles Darwin) who was accounting for a way of accounting for the different circumstances of the wealthy and the poor. He observed that wealthier people seemed to be more intelligent than poor people and wondered if there was some causal relationship between these two things; and looked for a way of measuring intelligence. What he overlooked of course was that wealthy people could afford to educate themselves! Separately work was being undertaken by Binet in Paris who was looking to help kids who weren't doing well in education because of special needs of various sorts; he was looking for ways of commenting objectively on different levels of ability. Historically, this idea of an intelligent quotient was picked up by other people (and institutions) very quickly and became a measure for social-processing, coinciding with the growth of mass public education. Versions of IQ tests were used as screening tools for people that wanted to migrate to America at Ellis Island; and also for the military. Because IQ has become part of the public-conversation on intelligence, people tend to think it's an unproblematic idea and feel that if you take the test, and answer a set of questions over half-an-hour, that you can determine how much intelligence you have, and give it a number! Well of course, this idea is absurd... there are all kinds of ways that intelligence can manifest, quite apart from those measured by IQ tests. I know all kinds of wonderfully smart people who don't do terribly well on these tests, and others who do very well in these tests but who aren't very smart in other ways. IQ is a measure of something but people do treat it like a blood-test; which (unlike IQ) gives you biological facts.
The idea of academic ability is also important. People, often in America but also in Europe, use the word academic as if it were a synonym for intelligence. Academic ability is very important... I taught in universities for years, and I'm not here to say it's not... however- it is very particular. Academic intelligence refers to the capacity for certain types of deductive reasoning, and is rooted in propositional knowledge, analysis and certain types of discourse. It's mostly conducted in words and numbers; and that's important. If all we had as human beings was academic intelligence, then most of human culture would never have happened.
Intelligence is wonderfully diverse, we think about the world in all kinds of different ways. There are some things we can only think about in words and numbers; it's a point Richard Feynman made when he noted that you need mathematics to understand quantum physics- you can't get to it in blank verse. If you want to tell someone how much you love them, for example; write them a poem! don't give them an equation! We think in sounds, images, movement and in all the ways our senses and mind allow us to conceive.
I was at a meeting with a senior education official in Austria, and was talking with him about the diversity of intelligence. He asked for the evidence of this diversity! I told him to look around him! We were sat in a beautiful 17th century building, in a room that was ornately panelled with Oak and adorned with fantastic paintings with Mozart playing in the background. Our meeting took place around an intricately designed Mahogany desk, sat on a beautiful woven carpet... and on this desk was an iMac, we also had a multi-channel high-definition television on the wall and I said to the man, "...where do you think all this came from? this isn't the result of essays! these are things people have conceived of, made, designed and brought to together with a tremendous array of intellectual capacities, aesthetic judgements, skills and traditions..."
We have ended up dividing the world into academics and non-academics, and this means that people who feel disengaged with academia are classed as 'non-academic' which is often used as a synonym for not being very 'bright.' This is why so many people go through education thinking they're not very bright after being stigmatised at school for not being good at the things that schools have come to prioritise.
Success and failure are important concepts. I'm not living in some wacky romantic commune here in Los Angeles where failure doesn't exist, there are of course things that don't go very well! There are catastrophes, problems and allsorts. In most processes however, and in most practical purposes, having a harsh distinction between success and failure often isn't terribly helpful. I chaired a national commission in the UK on creativity and education. One of the people on the panel was Professor Sir Harry Kroto, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on nano-chemistry. I asked him once how many of his experiments failed, and he reckoned around 90%! He said that failure wasn't the right word, what you are in fact doing is discovering what doesn't work. All scientific processes involve trial and error, nobody gets it right the first time unless you're lucky. It's a recursive incremental process led by hypotheses, it's what Karl Popper described as being a process of conjecture and reputation, what Thomas Kuhn described as shifting scientific paradigms; we don't always move in a straight line, but convulsively from one way of seeing things to another in heuristic leaps. Michael Polanyi talked a lot about how the heart of science is a leap across a heuristic gap which you don't cross logically, but jump across with intuitive acts of imagination which are then back-filled with experiments and testing. 'Failure' is an inherent part of this. Have a look at the manuscripts of musicians, they're laden with crossing-out and reworking, this is why they invented the cut and paste feature in Microsoft Word. Trial and error is a good way to think about thinking. Thinking in terms of success and failure misrepresents the real way that people think, work and the way that progress always comes about.
Q: What would be your advice for the next generation?
[Marina Abramovic] Everyone has their own path and their own truth to follow, and we become the product of many things- our parents, our environment, and so on. It's very important to make sure that you understand, as early as you can, who you really are- and what you want to do in life.
You can't follow the wish of your family, or fashion. A young kid came to me and said he wanted to become an artist, I told him you are not an artist... You cannot 'want' to become an artist, you either are- or you are not- it's part of your DNA. There are so many professions where you feel that way, and you have to be in touch with yourself to find it.
I would very much like to introduce meditation into the school curriculum, and to engage this whole different way of study. I want to show people the truth about society, how perverse our advertising is... I want to show children the truth about life, which is often masked by the kaleidoscope of their existence.
You have to be a very strong character to survive life. How can a child, with such little strength, fight a world that is so fucked up? We can't change the child, we have to change the world and realise that we're born alone, and we die alone.
[Sir Ken Robinson] There are very few things that set us apart from other forms of life on Earth. Other creatures are not on telephone calls like this, surrounded by technology and speaking in articulate languages. These are things that human beings get up-to...
Human beings have very powerful imaginations; and we don't live in the world in the same way that other creatures seem to. We don't live in the world quite so directly, we live in the world of ideas... we have concepts, artefacts, languages, music, images, theories, philosophies, faiths and values which we work-on, inherit, construct, challenge, change and form. We end up living in the world virtually through the ideas that we conceive. These powers of imagination manifest in all kinds of creative outcomes. Creativity is applied imagination, it is the process of putting your imagination to work. Every human being has creativity, it comes with the kit! It does however, need to be worked on.
Every single human being on the planet, since the first emergence of man, has a unique biography. We all create our own lives which, in turn, are the most important act of creativity we ever undertake. We create our lives through the judgements we make on the world around us, we constantly reframe and remake our lives and we can recreate too. The Psychologist George Kelly once said that nobody need ever be painted into a corner by their own history, nobody needs to be a victim of their own biography. The great march of human history has been the development of new ideas and seeing things in a fresh light. Our species is now more connected than ever before, this brings benefits but also fragility; there are countless examples of how much more interdependent we have become, and how fragile our civilisation now is- these are challenges we have never faced before. We are 7 billion people, heading for maybe 12 billion by the end of the century. We will meet or not meet these challenges by the power of our imagination, courage and insights.
We create our lives, and we can recreate them too. Your biography is not your destiny.
The disconnect between education and self-discovery came largely as a result of socio-economic pressures that required the world to produce a population with the prerequisite knowledge to function productively, as a collective. Deep thinking and self-discovery were tasks largely left to the intelligentsia and societal leaders in the spheres of religion, politics and nobility.
As our species has progressed technologically, it has also become protean in nature. A citizen is no longer defined by ‘what’ they do; but rather exists as an individual who is able to learn, to question and to grow. Our new diffuse culture has also created the opportunity for humanity to innovate; we can explore who we are and what we are capable of in more dramatic ways than could ever be imagined. In the 1950’s for example, it would have been impossible to conceive the total sum of human knowledge being contained within a man-made computer network, that we would have the technology to decode our very DNA, or that billions could be educated digitally in communities that still lack basic access to food and water; but less than half a century later, those things are taken for granted. The pace of change socially, culturally and technologically in our world is increasing rapidly, meaning that the shape of humanity even a decade from now will be significantly different to today; and invariably will require a different set of cognitive, emotional and spiritual apparatus to that which we wield today.
Even the fundamental question of what we are when we refer to ‘I,’ is fraught with doubt. Every day our body is changing and regenerating (physically) and developing (mentally); it’s unlikely for example that you have many cells in your body now which were present at your birth, and the connections in your brain will be vastly different now than even a decade ago. When you refer to the self, you are really talking of the experiential continuity that has brought you to this present moment; you are in effect the result of your own idiosyncratic path through the gamut of reality, and the fact that those experiences are unique to you creates the self as an individual- the you- that exists as a phenomenon in time irrespective and apart from any other individual. “We are born, we die, and our lives are constituted by what we do and experience in the time between these two termini.” (Self: Philosophy in Transit, Barry Dainton – 2014)
Understanding the self in this way is important. You are a unique and beautiful living experiment that is conscious enough to observe itself. The experiment of you is informed by a constant process of learning, given context by our education.
To put it another way: we live, we learn
Click to read full article...