Monday, February 4, 2013

Is man going to evolve better?



Courtesy the Internet

Dr Gerald Crabtree of Stanford University has hypothesised that the human mind has begun to lose its intellectual and emotional abilities.  Since Dr Crabtree’s essays are only available online for a price that I cannot now afford, I’ve decided to be content with this little information handed out by Manoj Das in his article, Are we facing an evolutionary crisis? in the Sunday magazine of The Hindu [3 Feb 2013]. 

I’m particularly fascinated by the scientist’s hypothesis that deep within man a hitherto ignored constituent of consciousness is demanding recognition.

As a teacher and a voracious reader of serious books (boastfulness not intended), I’m slightly scandalised by what I see around in relation to man’s apparently declining “intellectual and emotional abilities.”  If I ask my students to read a book for a project, they go online and get a summary of the book instead of reading the book itself.  I tried a variation.  I asked them to read one particular chapter of a book.  I chose the book for each student from the school’s library.  While most students were willing to read the chapter (aha, after all only one chapter – that was the feeling), some complained that it was too difficult a job reading things like a chapter from Freedom at Midnight or Nehru’s Glimpses of World History.  The boy who was asked to read the initial parable in Richard Bach’s Illusions was annoyed by the apparent mysteriousness of the story.  It is students who are going to enter class 12 soon who are making such complaints. 

When I tell the students that reading is the most important source of knowledge and wisdom, they frown conspicuously.  The fact is 90% of my students don’t want to read anything beyond what will fetch them a few more marks in exams.  That gives me no right to conclude that people are losing their intellectual abilities.  But the scientist’s hypothesis prodded me on to this reflection.

About emotional qualities, I need say nothing.  We only have to look at the rising crime graphs.

So, are some mutations going to take place in the human species?  Are we going to evolve in a tangential direction? In other words – what matters more, according to me – are we going to rediscover that ignored constituent of our consciousness?


18 comments:

  1. Nice method to check both the qualities.

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  2. Tom, often I share your doubts. However, sometimes I feel that each age requires its own instruments and skills. Human beings developed writing and books in an era 5000 years ago when this was the only way to express oneself and keep record of what one thought, did, happened etc. May be at that time they also lost skills and knowledge that human beings had for thousands of years.

    Today's world with internet, images and videos is changing so rapidly. Meaning of communication is changing. We are still in transition, but world can be a very different place in 100-200 years and perhaps young people of today are getting ready for that new world.

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    1. Yes, Sunil ji. I belong to a generation that is likely to become extinct soon ;) That's what the scientist is saying also, it seems.

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  3. Could it be the case that the pendulum is about to turn to the other extreme? Another 25 years and human race would have forgotten the art of writing. Technology is a double edged sword and strangely, we seem to be cutting ourselves with both the edges.

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    1. Or could it be that a mutation is really under way? This is what really fascinates me. The scientist is implying that the evolutionary mutation may create a better creature out of the present man, a man who will understand his world and other creatures better so that there will be more "peace and harmony".

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  4. I do understand your frustration, but please do not think that intellectual abilities are only gauged by the ability to read the book you prescribed... Should you try asking them to read any book of their choice (from the library) and talk to you about the ideas in it - not the events or the plot, but the influencing ideas... Yes, what they read is possibly more varied and less deep than you would have them, but it should add up to something...
    As for the emotional decline, I do not subscribe to the view that there is growing crime. I would like to think that in a more aware society, the crimes are reported more often than they happened in the past. Of course, the sensationalizing media influences the young, and certain crimes may have risen in number, but I would request you to be more optimistic than you are in this post... :-)

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    1. I did give that option first, you know. I told them to read any book of their choice. They resorted to materials available online!

      I'm thinking of more ingenious possibilities. Suggestions are welcome.

      Perhaps, you are right about the crime thing. Awareness may be making the real difference rather than the crime rate itself. People were violent in the past too and perhaps even more than today since there was no other entertainment in those days!

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  5. Your article and the scholar's hypothesis surely touch a chord, even if not proven true. My own daughter has thwarting all my attempts to drill book reading into her mind. She finds watching TV, playing electronic games are far easy, effortless and interesting option. Now brain muscles are like any other muscles, you use it or lose it.

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    1. Meenakshi, if what the scientist is saying is true, the new mankind will not need the brain muscles much!

      But I understand your concern for your daughter. Since evolution is a long-term project (of nature) it'd be better to have her doing some reading now.

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  6. I completely accede with your article, students these days are losing interest in reading and in all the activities that can help in their personal and mental growth, direction and intellect both being swallowed by the so called effects of modernity, by social websites and so much more. I opine that we have learned to kill time because of internet also, I wish it could just be used for our growth and knowledge, instead of all other useless sites which are making the sight of growth invisible to the younger generation.

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    1. Perhaps, Geeta, what Sunil Deepak says above is right: the time is changing and we shouldn't expect the present generation and the coming ones as well to read books. They will stick to the electronic media and the internet.

      And, going by that logic, the scientist may be right too: the species is evolving!

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  7. I am happy that you have deliberated on a very important subject. What actually happening is not the losing of intellectual and emotional abilities. It is very much there. But the definition of 'intellectual abilities' as we perceived in the recent past either from our own experiences or readings have been changed. Younger generation have several routes to make them feel that they are intellectually and emotionally able. But such 'ability' is gained not through self discovery or creativity but through ready made and easily comprehensible handbooks. Afterall, they say, why should one be master of something if they can be smarter by being jack of all trades. Believe me, some of your students are really expert in content analysis. They can comprehend the leading themes in a book in a few minutes. But some of us may devote several hours and days for a book and then at the end would feel that the book was not that worth to spent so much of our time!

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    1. Thanks, Sibi. That's a consoling thought. Perhaps, you have an important point here: about the smartness of the students. When you mention the lack of self-discovery that may accompany it, I can understand it better.

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  8. Reading books online is not bad on its own. But reading only what is available online is positively bad, at least until such time EVERYTHING will be available at cost and no more.

    I have three books I am reading on my iPad and four books on paper. It is only because I am not quite accustomed to the kind of marginalia that books on kindle, iPad demand, I find the going a little tough. But, this is not the fault of the substratum of knowledge.

    For whatever it is worth.

    RE

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    1. But, Raghuram, they don't read the books, they just read the reviews! That's my problem. If they were indeed reading the books - whether online or anywhere - I wouldn't have had any problem.

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  9. A very interesting article and I agree with you. Being a trainer for a long time and now managing people as a part of my Job, i understand and can tell you that we are in transition...

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  10. I agree with you. It is just that if you are a reader you will read the review AND the book. Yes, I agree that the Net gives a false sense of fulsome knowledge. In my case I read neither books nor book reviews when I was young. Later my reading followed the trajectory of reading of my friends. I was about 25 years when I found my own likes and dislikes. So, your students are perhaps tracking me! You can feel hopeful about them, after all.

    RE

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    1. Yes, Raghuram, I'm a shameless optimist. Thank you for consoling me, however.

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