Higher education in India is failing. Overhauling the system can salvage it

Today, I came across an elegantly written, highly analytical excellent keynote address by Pranab Bardhan, who is a Professor of Graduate School at the Department of Economics, at the University of California, Berkeley.

It elucidates, discusses and evaluates an excellent prescription for India’s ailing higher education sector.Hence, I decided to share it on my blog.

India’s higher education is, in general, a decrepit, dilapidated system, it’s afflicted by a deep malaise.

The National Knowledge Commission—Report to the Nation (2006-9) put it only a bit more mildly:“There is a quiet crisis in higher education in India which runs deep”. Three widely acknowledged criteria for judging an education system:

  1. Access,
  2. Equity, and
  3. Quality.

We have failed our young people by all three criteria.

On account of financial hardship, inferior schools, lack of remedial education and social compulsions for an early marriage for girls, the majority of young people from poor families drop out of school, at or before completing secondary education. So they have no access to higher education. In addition, for socially disadvantaged groups, discrimination at the workplace and occupational segregation lower the rate of return from (and hence the demand for) higher education for them compared to other groups.

Even for those who complete secondary education and are willing to enter, entry into premier higher education institutions is riddled with various kinds of inequity (only marginally relieved for some people by lower-caste reservations). For example, the currently almost indispensable intensive entry examination preparation in coaching classes (or private tuition) with high fees is often out of reach for poor students. (NSS; National Sample Survey data suggests that in 2014 nearly 60% of male students in the 18-24 age group cite financial constraints or engagement in economic activities as the reason for discontinuing higher education).

The quality of most higher education institutions in India is abysmal. Let me elaborate on this.

In terms of quantity, the expansion of higher education has been impressive. At the time of independence, we had about 20 universities and fewer than 500 colleges in the whole country. In 2014-15 there were 760 universities and more than 38,000 colleges, catering to about 34 million students. But the expansion in quantity has often been at the expense of quality.

There is extreme faculty shortage, apart from stark deficiencies in the matters of library books, laboratory facilities, computer and broadband internet, classrooms and buildings, etc. As much as 30 to 50% of faculty positions are vacant in many institutions. Many faculty posts are filled by under-qualified “temporary” recruits.

Two-thirds of enrolment in higher education are in private institutions (the majority of them, according to NSS data, say that there were not enough government institutions nearby or where they could get admission). Fees at private institutions are more than double of that charged in government institutions. In parts of western and southern India, with a large expansion of for-profit private colleges with ‘capitation fees’ and politically managed loans from public banks, politicians have entered into the business of higher education in a big way, turning colleges into lucrative degree-giving factories.

There were many familiar accounts of rote-learning, outdated curriculum, and just cramming for exams. There are severe learning deficits in our institutions of higher education. Just to give one example: in a recent survey of M.A. 2nd year students in Economics in a reputed state university in Maharashtra, reported in the Economic and Political Weekly, students were asked 6 simple questions from the basic class VI school textbook in Mathematics; only 11 out of 200 students could answer all of them correctly.

The (erstwhile) Planning Commission (now NITI aayog) the graduates lack even the basic language and cognitive skills. In the Technology sector, the main chamber of commerce, NASSCOM, estimates that even for engineering graduates of engineering colleges in  India are employable in IT companies.

In terms of quality of post-graduate research, while some of it is no doubt significant, overall our research quality is much below the world average. It has been widely noted that India does not have a single university in the top 200 in the world rankings (China has about 10 universities in that list).

The international rankings are far from perfect, but many of the Indian complaints against them sound like ‘sour grapes’. There is no doubt that India lags behind (compared to even some developing countries) in most metrics, particularly in terms of population or GDP– full-time researchers, papers published, scholarly citation impact, no. of patents taken out, and so on.

So, if most of our graduates learn very little and are not employable, and the very poor drop out anyway, and there is meagre world-class research going on, what is the point of this higher education system?

Reformers, like many in the past, have tried to tweak the system here and there, with very little effect. One has to think in terms of quantum leap.

I know in today’s circumstances thinking of a complete overhaul over the next 20 years or so may be recklessly utopian, but not completely useless if we want to think big and draw up a plan for fundamental changes. I am obviously skipping the formidable (though not insuperable) problems of transition and for now mainly concentrating on the major goals. Below is my suggested plan in broad contours. On account of constraints of time and space, I am leaving out many of the nuances and qualifications which should be part of a fuller treatment. The financial requirements of the whole plan also need to be worked out.

higher-education-system

With this structure in mind, I shall now have some remarks on the functioning and administration, faculty recruitment and promotion, etc. in these higher education institutions, particularly in streams (d), (e), and (f).

  • No involvement by politicians, administrators or regulators (like UGC) in personnel selection, particularly in any of those three streams, neither in the selection of officials like a college principal or Vice-Chancellor, nor in the appointment or promotion of faculty, nor in the conduct of the examination system. This is, of course, most difficult to achieve in India, and quite contrary to the persistent Government initiatives (including the new Education Bill with the Lok Sabha– Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy 2016). Every education minister, either at the state or central level, believes that as the government provides the money, he or she (and the associated bureaucrats) have the right to interfere in the running of the college or the university. This is a curse of the Indian higher education system that must be exorcised. Every three years or so a public college or university should, after an independent audit, be accountable to the legislature on explaining how the total budget assigned has been spent, but the latter should have no say on personnel selection or internal governance matters. The best public universities in the world are mainly free of outside involvement.



Report of the Committee for Evolution of the New Education Policy 2016 



  • Faculty selection and promotion should be entirely the responsibility of the faculty in consultation with outside (both outside the department and outside the university) faculty members in peer review. In (a) and (b) institutions the main criterion for judging faculty will be teaching quality (partly depending on serious and anonymous student evaluations for each course). In (d), (e), and (f) institutions, of course, along with teaching, quality of research will be evaluated by peers inside and outside departments and impact of publications, including in recognised international outlets. In new appointments, instead of interviews by closed-door selection committees, the candidates on a short list should be invited to present a research paper in an open seminar, where the candidates should be answerable to questions and criticisms by anyone present. After the appointment, every three years, each faculty member, junior or senior, should have a merit review by a departmental and university committee (with some outside referees). No seniority-based promotion is to be allowed.
  • With a positive merit, review salaries should be adjusted upwards. The salary structure should be sufficiently flexible, within some well-defined general parameters, so that exceptional merit judged by peer review can be rewarded. The current system of academic salary structure linked to civil service rules and scales, periodically revised by the Pay Commission, should be discarded.
  • The new technology of distance learning should be fully utilised in upgrading the teaching and knowledge standards. Particularly in streams (b), (d) and (e) we should take advantage of the basic courses currently being offered in the international Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) system, expanding on a big scale the current Indianised version being tried out in some of the IIT’s and IIM’s. These courses should be aligned with associated topic-wise tutorials by the current faculty. Apart from quality upgrading, this can also partly relieve our acute shortage of qualified faculty. Of course, the constraints of the inadequate facility of students in English medium of international teaching and dearth of internet access will continue to limit this for quite some time.
  • Our higher academic institutions remain in splendid Brahminical isolation from the surrounding economy and society in their locations, though, alas, not from the local sectarian and party politics. In the US the connection between the ongoing research in universities and the innovations in the local industrial and commercial economy is quite impressive. The Indian experience is often dismal in this respect.
    Just to give an example from a locality nearby: I have heard stories that Howrah, which used to be a major centre for light engineering products, declined over time throwing off thousands of jobs, partly because it failed to carry out some simple technical innovations (which its competitors around the world managed). Yet in Howrah, there was a thriving engineering college nearby (BE college, now a university), which was a potential source of collaboration in these innovations, and but there was no established forum or mechanism for any connection or interaction.
    Similarly, in social sciences, there is ample scope for our Economics and Sociology students to carry out their honours and post-graduate research projects using field survey data from the local bazaars and neighbourhoods (including slums where our maidservants and cobblers live).
  • Let me now discuss an important downside to the principle of non-interference by administrators and politicians that I have advocated. With full autonomy, some colleges and universities can degenerate into cosy, nepotistic clubs of rampant mediocrity. Sociologist Diego Gambetta has described such a system of collusive mediocrity in Italian universities, which will not be unfamiliar in some Indian universities—a culture of mediocrity where mediocre people get other mediocre people around them and thrive in a cocoon of comfortable cronyism. Autonomy vs. cronyism is the inexorable (when a person is inexorable, they’re stubborn. When a thing or process is inexorable, it can’t be stopped) dilemma of a higher education system. In the US this problem has been mostly averted by a culture of constant competition among the better universities—they raid one another for the best faculty, and try to generate a critical mass of good faculty and students. Students also gravitate to where the best faculty are. When professors move from one university to another they move with the whole paraphernalia (paraphernalia – equipment consisting of miscellaneous articles needed for a particular operation or sport etc.) of funded research projects, labs and affiliated students. So, it’ll be costly for a university to lose its good faculty members if it fails to provide a stimulating environment.
    It is, of course, not easy to reproduce this culture of competition and mobility everywhere, but one can try, with some external monitoring mechanisms in place.
  • Periodic reviews of a whole department by outside professional peer groups (of academics, not bureaucrats), particularly if the review report is taken seriously by the external financial authorities in the allocation of faculty slots to the department, can be a significant deterrent to indulgence in mediocrity. In many fields, research grants from external funding agencies are an important source of finance for a US university (in the form of overhead costs charged to the grant), and mediocre people failing to get such grants can become financially costly for a university. For this to work the Indian research funding agencies (like UGC, ICSSR, ICHR, CSIR, etc.) themselves need to be shorn (shorn – having the hair or wool cut or clipped off as if with shears or clippers; syn.- sheared) of the current overload of bureaucratic control.
  • Apart from mediocre faculty, the other problem of autonomy may be in encouraging low-quality degree giving. The solution to this is not state or regulatory interference (we are familiar, for example, with many scandals in the examination system under such interference). The ultimate solution will have to be the market test. Job-givers will not value such degrees given by colleges or universities that abuse their autonomy, and students will soon find this out.
  • Finally, a word or two on the acute and potentially overwhelming political and sociological issues. The vested interests in the current stagnation are quite powerful—politicians, bureaucrats, mediocre faculty, etc.
    As Machiavelli had observed five centuries back:
    “The reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new”.
    Nothing will happen unless the potential beneficiaries of change get organised. It is easy to run down any substantial proposal to improve quality as elitist. When it comes to academic excellence, I am unashamedly an elitist. Even in Communist countries, say in the erstwhile Soviet Union (or China today), the Academy of the various Sciences, for example, were (are) highly elitist. What is important to me is ensuring equality of opportunity for everybody. But that does not mean equality of outcome.
  • In India, the default redistributive option for politicians has been caste reservations in admissions to higher education institutions for the disadvantaged. But when these institutions keep on churning out graduates who are mostly unemployable, I believe the consciousness will rise among our poor and middle classes and castes that the way forward is to fight the vested interests and move in the direction of improving education quality, along with access and equity.

At the same time we have to understand that equity is not ensured simply by ensuring free and universal access, as we have proposed for our streams (a) and (b).

It is also not just a matter of arranging for enough scholarships and remedial courses for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, many of whom are first-generation entrants to the higher education system. In the social churning that India is going through, many of our colleges and universities have become sites of contestation for our larger social conflicts.

Given this context, we have to nurture an enabling and empowering atmosphere, and institutional culture for these new entrants in an alien environment of long domination by upper classes and castes. Rohith Vemula’s tragic suicide and last letter at the Central University of Hyderabad last year point to the many challenges we face in our long road to equity in the field of education.

But equity and quality need not work at cross purposes, and it is our duty to convince the political leaders of all groups about the importance and feasibility of these two goals working together.

Source:

A new class act
Higher education in India is failing. Overhauling the system can salvage it
Written by Pranab Bardhan | Published:January 20, 2017 12:24 am

A new class act

 

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Sir C.V Raman – The First Indian Scientist to Win a Nobel Prize

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Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman Image source

” We Indians (authorities and intelligence agencies) are suffering from moral anaemia & spiritual cancer. The honest, kind and upright man/woman is ridiculed in the midst of corrupt & spiritually malnourished ones.”
Did the same happen to Sir C.V. Raman?

“He was in a jolly mood and in the course of conversation told her with a loud laugh that he had got his first sliver of platinum when he smashed his Bharat Ratna medal with a hammer. This story is also said to have been used in one of his lectures where he talked about a series of experiments that required platinum; that in a rage at the government for their ill-conceived policies on science, he had taken a hammer to his Bharat Ratna medal, and when it broke, he had found the platinum.” Source Original source is the newsletter from Sidin Sunny Vadukut. He sent this in his recent newsletter.

Sir C. V. Raman (7 November 1888 – 21 November 1970) worked at Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) during 1907 to 1933 on various topics of Physics making discovery of the celebrated effect on scattering of light in 1928, which bears his name, and that brought many accolades including the Nobel Prize (Nobel Lecture by Sir C V Raman and Presentation Speech  by Professor H. Pleijel, Chairman of the Nobel Committee) in 1930.

The American Chemical Society designated the Raman Effect as an International Historic Chemical Landmark in 1998.

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1930 was awarded to Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman “for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him”.


The Raman Effect

Raman and his students continued researching light scattering in gases, liquids and solids.

They used monochromatic (single wavelength) light – sunlight that had been filtered to leave only a single colour – and found that a variety of different liquids – sixty of them – did indeed change the colour of the light. They first observed this in April 1923, but very weakly.

In 1927, they found a particularly strong colour change in light scattered by glycerol (then called glycerine):

100-c-v-raman“…the highly interesting result that the colour of sunlight scattered in a highly purified sample of glycerine was a brilliant green instead of the usual blue.”

C. V. RAMAN: PHYSICIST
Nobel Lecture, 1930

Raman’s team observed the effect, in gases, crystals and glass. The effect might have been mistaken for fluorescence, another phenomenon in which light has its colour changed, but in Raman’s work, the light scattered by liquids was polarized, which ruled out fluorescence.

raman-effect

Approximate Representation of the Raman Effect  (A) Blue light approaches a molecule, and then (B) Lower energy green light leaves the molecule. This is inelastic scattering: the light has given some of its energy to the molecule, causing it to vibrate more strongly.

What came to be known as the Raman effect – a colour change accompanied by polarization – had never been seen before. The inelastic scattering at its heart was a further, very strong confirmation, of quantum theory.

rayleigh-scattering

An approximate representation of Rayleigh scattering in Earth’s atmosphere.  Rayleigh scattering is elastic. This means that photons of light lose no energy when they interact with gas molecules. The light, therefore, stays the same colour.

The Raman effect is a very small effect compared with Rayleigh scattering. Only about 1 in ten million photons undergo inelastic scattering.

Raman and his colleague K.S. Krishnan reported their discovery in March, 1928 in the journal Nature.

Raman was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics for “work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him.”

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman showed that the energy of photons scattered inelastically serves as a ‘fingerprint’ for the substance the light is scattered from. As a result of this, Raman spectroscopy is now commonly used in chemical laboratories all over the world to identify substances. It is also used in medicine to investigate living cells and tissues – even detecting cancers – without causing harm. Laser light rather than sunlight is used as the source of photons.

Source: C.V. Raman (Famous Scientists – The Art of Genius)


The Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS), founded on July 29, 1876, by Dr. Mahendra Lal Sircar, is an autonomous Institute. It is the oldest research institute in India. The institute is devoted to the pursuit of fundamental research in the frontier areas of  Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Energy, Polymer and Materials. In each field, IACS nurtures young and innovative research fellows in their doctoral programs.

image13

Niels Bohr and C.V. Raman Image source

He was the first Indian to become Director of Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore (now Bengaluru), India. Raman succeeded Sir Martin Forster, FRS. He served IISc, both, as its Director (1933-1937), and as a head of the Physics Department (1933-1948).

Image source

For achieving academic excellence he himself gathered a team of talented students and started doing high-quality research in many fields of physics. Raman also wanted to initiate basic research in fields like quantum mechanics, crystal chemistry and vitamins and enzyme chemistry by recruiting outstanding faculty. At that point in time, many reputed scientists were forced to leave Germany because of Hitler’s racist policy. Raman wanted to bring some of these scientists to I.I.Sc. Raman had many names on his list, both foreign and Indian. However, he was only successful in bringing Max Born, that too for a short time.

After retirement from the Institute, he concentrated his attention in building an institute of his own – the Raman Research Institute (RRI) [Wikipedia]. Even before his retirement Raman had started to build an institute where he could retire and enjoy science.

To quote Raman :

“You know, I was to retire at 60. So, two years before my retirement, I started building this institute, so that on the day I retired, I took my bag, and walked right into this institute. I can not remain idle for a single day”.

Raman had to gather money for building the Institute. Raman had lost most of his life’s savings including his Nobel Prize money in an investment. The Institute was built on a ten-acre plot of land gifted by the Maharajah of Mysore way back in 1934, the land was given to the Indian Academy of Sciences, and for its related activities. Raman travelled extensively for raising donation for constructing the building for housing the institute. When Raman moved to the institute the facilities were far from complete.

  • Raman was opposed to the idea of taking grants from the government for running the institute. To earn money for the institute, he started a few chemical industries (in association with one of his former students). The dividends from these industries were sufficient to support the institute to start with. He gifted away most of his personal properties to the Academy for the benefit of the institute, as also the Lenin Peace Prize money. A museum was built to house Raman’s collection of crystals, gems, minerals, rock specimens, shells, stuffed birds, butterflies and so on. Raman had a fascination for colours and so he collected everything that had colours.

Raman loved children and he derived immense pleasure in showing them his museum and the laboratories of the Raman Research Institute.

He believed that,

“The true wealth of a Nation consists not in the stored-up gold in its coffers and banks, not in the factories, but in the intellectual and physical strength of its men, women and children.”


On a personal note, throughout my life, after having studied at various Indian institutions including the ones being administered directly or indirectly by Indian Armed Forces, I can summarise a fact, that Indians are first class people being governed/administered by third class administrators and intelligence officials (irresponsible and insensitive), who have a destructive mindset with a complete lack of, or very little, compassion and empathy. Though, it is balanced somewhat by powers unknown. I feel, keeping a wise [wisdom – ability to apply knowledge, experience, understanding or common sense and insight; the quality of being prudent and sensible], honest, kind, sincere, upright, and an intelligent human being amongst individuals who are rude, arrogant, overconfident, selfish, and stupid, is a worst kind of torture. The insult and humiliation are further compounded when the latter  (corrupt/stupid individuals) are given an authority to exercise power over the former (wise). 

The biggest attitude of Indian authorities that has become a nemesis for innocent Indian citizens, is their intolerance. The moment one points out their blunders and mistakes, they try to bring harm to the complainant in the name of training or maintaining discipline.

Honour and insult differ from person to person, an honour for one constitutes an insult and humiliation for the other, under almost similar circumstances. The problem with Indian authorities is, they lack empathy and compassion, and tend to treat every human being as one and the same. For some, money, rewards and awards can soothe the pain of insult and humiliation, whereas, for others, it is like adding salt to a burned wound. It also constitutes an insult and humiliation, if a gullible/innocent person is awarded a position, an award or honour which s/he is not worthy of, moreover s/he doesn’t have ability or skill to have an inkling about it, making a fool of himself/herself in front of the whole world.

Sadly, our authorities/institutions try to hide behind the veil of nationalism and socialism to hide their ineptitude, incompetence, lack of empathy and compassion, and lack of resources, and great people like Nobel Laureate Sir Professor C.V. Raman and many other innocent individuals had to bear the brunt.


The traits of a Nobel mind

  • When I am in the midst of great teachers, I thought of sharing with you an incident about Sir CV Raman, a Nobel Laureate in Physics for discovering Raman Effect. Sir Raman gives the view that the colour of sky is blue due to molecular diffraction which determines the observed luminosity and in great measures also its colour. This led to the birth of the Raman Effect. Sir Raman was in the first batch of Bharat Ratna Award winners. Bharat Ratna is the highest civilian honour, conferred for exceptional service towards advancement of Art, Literature and Science, and in recognition of public service of the highest order by the Government of India. The award ceremony was to take place in the last week of January, soon after the Republic Day celebrations of 1954. The then President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad wrote to C. V. Raman inviting him to be the personal guest in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when C. V Raman comes to New Delhi, India for the award ceremony. Sir CV Raman wrote a polite letter, regretting his inability to go. Sir C. V Raman had a noble reason for his inability to attend the investiture ceremony. He explained to the President that he was guiding a Ph.D. student and that thesis was positively due by the last day of January. The student was valiantly trying to wrap it all up and C. V. Raman felt, he had to be by the side of the research student, see that the thesis was finished, sign the thesis as the guide, and then have it submitted.
  • Here was a scientist who gave up the pomp of a glittering ceremony associated with the highest honour, because he felt that his duty required him to be by the side of the student. It is this unique trait of giving value to science that builds science.

From “Great Teachers Inspire the Youth” a speech by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam.

raman-effect

Professor C.V Raman used this simple innovative instrument which led to the discovery of RAMAN EFFECT Image source

Sir Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan, FRS, (4 December 1898 – 14 June 1961) was an Indian physicist. He was a co-discoverer of Raman scattering, for which his mentor C. V. Raman was awarded the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physics. Kariamanickam Srinivasa Krishnan

It was speculated that Sir C. V Raman did not give due credit to his student K.S Krishan for his discovery, but as per my observation, analyses and reasoning, this assumption is false. One can read his Nobel Lecture for more insight.

“Krishnan, who very materially assisted me in these investigations, found at the same time that the phenomenon could be observed in several organic vapours, and even succeeded in visually determining the state of polarization of the modified radiations from them. Compressed gases such as CO, and N₂O, crystalline ice, and optical glasses also were found to exhibit the modified radiations. These observations left little doubt that the phenomenon was really a species of light-scattering analogous to the Compton effect.”

Source: SIR CHANDRASEKHARA V. RAMAN- “The molecular scattering of light”

Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1930 http://www.iacs.res.in/noble lecture_sir_cv_raman.pdf

Many people know Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman (more popularly known as C.V. Raman) because he was the first Indian Nobel Laureate in science. Till date, Raman remains the only Indian to receive a Nobel Prize in science. There are two Indian-born scientists viz., Har Gobind Khorana and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (who became US citizens) got Nobel Prizes in science. Raman was also the first Asian to get Nobel Prize in science.

Towards the end of his life, Raman chose to make himself a recluse. He not only built high walls around the Raman Research Institute but also put up a prominent signboard announcing that visitors were not welcome. He was not at all happy the way the Government was trying to build up science and technology in the country.

At the end of October 1970, he collapsed in his laboratory, the valves of his heart had given way. He was moved to the hospital and the doctors gave him four hours to live. He survived and after a few days refused to stay in the hospital as he preferred to die in the gardens of his Institute surrounded by his flowers. Two days before Raman died, he told one of his former students,

“Do not allow the journals of the Academy to die, for they are the sensitive indicators of the quality of science being done in the country and whether science is taking root in it or not.”

That same evening, Raman met with the Board of Management of his Institute and discussed (from his bed) with them any proceedings with regards to the Institute’s management. Raman died from natural causes early next morning on 21 November 1970. C. V. Raman

[this is the only account I could get from govt. sources, regarding final days of Sir C.V. Raman]

[It is said that the authorities (the government; bureaucracy; executive), because of their ineptitude, incompetence, and lackadaisical attitude, are in a habit of degrading, insulting and humiliating, genius and ingenious minds; also they cannot differentiate, what constitutes an insult, what constitutes humiliation, and what constitutes an honour, that thereafter, every genius Indian who had the capability of winning a Nobel Prize in Sciences were sent to the U.S.A. Brain drain is better than brain in drain. It is only now that India (govt. and executive; bureaucrats; judiciary) have woken up to their importance and the advantages that such individuals can provide.]

It also came to my notice that the government sends people of certain personality traits to study and work outside of their home country. Details are not known to me.

Kindly read the following quote for further information.

“When the Nobel award was announced, I saw it as a personal triumph, an achievement for me and my collaborators — a recognition for a very remarkable discovery, for reaching the goal I had pursued for 7 years. But when I sat in that crowded hall, and I saw the sea of western faces surrounding me, and I, the only Indian, in my turban and closed coat, it dawned on me, that I was really representing my people and my country. I felt truly humble when I received the Prize from King Gustav; it was a moment of great emotion but I could restrain myself. Then I turned round and saw the British Union Jack under which I had been sitting and it was then that I realised that my poor country, India, did not even have a flag of her own – and it was this that triggered off my complete breakdown.” C.V. Raman [Source: Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman]

“I have never seen anyone who enjoyed science so much. The sheer joy of seeing things and doing science filled him with exuberance and excitement. He had an incredible zest for life. He enjoyed his food, his jokes, his fights and quarrels. Yet, the enjoyment he had for his science was something apart. In this pursuit it was as if his ego disappeared completely in the presence of effulgent Nature. Yes, he was truly lost in the wonder and beauty of what he was trying to comprehend.”——- S. Ramaseshan on C.V. Raman (quoted from C.V. Raman : A Pictorial Biography, Indian Academy of Sciences Bangalore)

Raman’s celebrated discovery, the Raman Effect, experimentally demonstrated that the light-quanta and molecules do exchange energy which manifests itself as a change in the colour of the scattered light. However, this phenomenon was earlier predicted theoretically by Hendrik Anthony Kramers (1894-1952) and Werner Heisenberg (1901-76). It was the most convincing proof of the quantum theory of light. This does not diminish the importance of Raman’s discovery.

As Albert Einstein (1879-1955) wrote:

“C.V. Raman was the first to recognize and demonstrate that the energy of a photon can undergo partial transformation within matter. I still recall vividly, the deep impression that this discovery made on all of us….”

Raman loved children and he derived immense pleasure in showing them his museum and the laboratories of the Raman Research Institute.

He believed that

“The true wealth of a Nation consists not in the stored-up gold in its coffers and banks, not in the factories, but in the intellectual and physical strength of its men, women and children.”

“To Raman, scientific activity was the fulfilment of an inner need. His approach to science was one of passion, curiosity and simplicity. It was an attempt to understand. To him, science was based on independent thought. Combined with hard work, science was a personal endeavour, an aesthetic pursuit and above all a joyous experience.”

Raman believed that science can be promoted only by doing it. He did not see any role for professional organizers of science. “For such people,” Raman thought “The So-called organization of science becomes more important than science itself or its values”.

Raman died on November 21, 1970. As per his desire, he was cremated in the gardens of his institute.

raman_tree

The tree planted on the site at the campus of Raman Research Institue where Raman was cremated; Tabebuia donnell-smithii, this tree is located in the lawn of Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru (previously Bangalore), India. This tree is a memorial to Sir C V Raman. Image source

Source:

  1. The Raman Effect http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/dream/feb2002/article2.htm
  2. Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman: A Legend of Modern Indian Science http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/scientists/cvraman/raman1.htm
  3. Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (IACS) http://www.iacs.res.in
  4. Wikipedia – various articles.

Abled Differently….

h3

Srikanth Bolla — a 19-year-old sophomore  [In the United States, a sophomore is a student in the second year of study at high school or college] who is blind — recently realised a dream when he travelled to Hyderabad, India, to develop a computer-training centre for visually challenged students.

“If we train the blind to get computer skills, they will excel independently and be able to get good jobs,” he says.

Last year, Bolla shared his dream to create the centre with staff at MIT’s Public Service Center, which provided Bolla with a fellowship and the know-how to make his dream come true. http://spectrum.mit.edu/articles/living-his-dream/

Srikanth Bolla ’13 proves that anyone can learn how to swim

First, he created a curriculum, then with additional grants, he bought five computers, rented a building, hired a faculty member, and began 10-week computer classes. The centre now trains 30 blind high school students each year, but with more funding, he hopes to add more computers and more students.

“The best way to narrow the gap between the visually-challenged and others is education,” says this management student, who plans one day to launch a company that develops advanced technologies for multi-disabled people. (He has already launched a company

BOLLANT- Where Everyone Counts“)

(These excerpts are from an old article.)

Blind since birth, Bolla was raised in a tiny Indian village, where illiteracy is rampant. “Villagers told my parents: ‘He cannot see. Let him die.’; My grandmother said, ‘No. One day he may be useful to our family.’”

“I spent my childhood in loneliness,” he says, adding that he wanted to play sports and games with other children, but they gave him no attention. At age seven, an uncle urged him to enrol in a school for the blind in Hyderabad, a city 250 miles away. Homesick and unhappy, he tried to run away. His uncle asked him gently: “What kind of life will you have at home?”

Soon after, Bolla made a commitment to excel. “I worked hard, and I never looked back.”  First, he learned Braille, then English, then how to use a computer. He won awards in debating, creative writing, chess, and blind cricket. He became the school’s top student.

Bolla loved science, but blind students in India were allowed to study only the arts.

He and a teacher fought his case before the school board and won. Now, thanks to his efforts, all blind students in India can study science beyond grade 10. “I refused to let my disability interfere with my dreams,” he says.

Bolla, who now stars on a blind baseball team in Cambridge, is working with the Board of Education in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh to get his computer-training course accredited. His other goals include expanding the computer centre to several locations in India, finding jobs for trained students, and raising money to educate more young people.

“My lifetime ambition is to become the President of India,” says Bolla, who was a member of Lead India 2020, a national movement to train youth in leadership, human values, and employment skills. The idea is that the transformed 540 million youth would lead India to become a developed nation by 2020. In 2010, Bolla received an excellence award from that organisation from the former President of India.

“I want to dedicate my life to community and social service,” he says.

“I want a place in society where people look up to me as a role model and great leader.”

Srikanth became the first visually challenged student in the country permitted to study science beyond grade 10, after a lot of struggle with the authorities. He went on to start Bollant Industries, an organisation that employs uneducated disabled employees to manufacture eco-friendly disposable consumer products and packaging solutions.

BOLLANT INDUSTRIES PVT LTD.
CORPORATE OFFICE :
FLAT NO. 203, NORTH BLOCK,
VAMSI APARTMENTS, MAYURI MARG,
BEGUMPET, HYDERABAD – 500 016,
TELANGANA STATE, INDIA.

MANUFACTURING UNIT :
PLAT NO. A/28/1/1,
NACHARAM IDA, ROAD NO. 14,
HYDERABAD – 500 076,
TELANGANA STATE, INDIA.

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Children born with congenital disabilities caused due to the exposure of their parents to gas leakage in Union Carbide gas leak disaster, light candles to pay homage to the people killed in the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in Bhopal.

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Arbena, 14, a physically disabled child jumps on a trampoline on her birthday at the Association of People with Disability run school on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, in Bangalore. According to the United Nations, over one billion people, or approximately 15 percent of the world’s population, live with some form of disability.

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Singer Shaan with a differently abled woman during an event to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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Bollywood actress Kalki Koechlin interacts with a physically challenged woman during an event to mark International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan attends a sports event on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities

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(L) The Role Model Mental Retardation/Mental Illness of Autism (Female) award was presented to Rini Das of West Bengal  while (R) President Pranab Mukherjee presented Best Creative Child with Disabilities (Boy) to Master Tuhin Dey of West Bengal during the National Awards for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities-2013 function in New Delhi

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President Pranab Mukherjee along with Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Kumari Selja, Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy Farooq Abdullah and awardees posing for photographs during the National Awards for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2013, at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi

I sincerely wish and hope, individuals who are differently abled (especially those with a high degree of disability), and those who are visually impaired, should be given employment on a permanent basis in departments and wards of hospitals and offices, especially the ones that deal with children and adults who are terminally ill, and patients with chronic debilitating diseases.

It would serve many purposes.

  1.  These individuals would act as a source of inspiration and motivation for patients and other employees.
  2. As per my experience and close observation, differently-abled are extremely diligent and hard working.
  3. It would make hospitals friendlier and happier.
  4. It would provide employment to the differently abled.

National Policy for Persons with Disability:

The National Policy recognises that  Persons with Disabilities as a valuable human resource for the country and seeks to create an environment that country and seeks to create an environment that provides them equal opportunities, protection of their rights and full participation in society.

The focus of the policy is on (a) Prevention of Disabilities and (b) Rehabilitation Measures.

The salient features of the National Policy are:

  • Physical Rehabilitation, which includes early detection and intervention, which includes early detection and intervention,  counselling & medical interventions and provision of aids & appliances.
  • Education Rehabilitation including vocational training and
  • Economic Rehabilitation for a dignified life in society.

Source: Service To Humanity is Service to God

founder

Mr.S.M.A.Jinnah– founder of Indian Association for the Blind (IAB)

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Employment Government Sector Image source

Realising the importance of education in empowering the visually challenged, Indian Association for the Blind (IAB) provides free education to students from low socio-economic groups. The students at IAB prove the fact that they have skills and capabilities that are at par with sighted students. Since 1995, the school has achieved almost 100 % results in the class X and XII board exams.

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Education – Higher Secondary School Image source

The implementation of Persons with Disability Act 1995 which mandates 1 percent of jobs for people with visual disability in government and public sectors has paved the way for the visually challenged. With its specialised training initiatives that back the visually challenged with skills, several Indian Association for the Blind (IAB)  alumni is gainfully employed in the government sector in sectors like teaching, railways and banking. Since 1991 several IAB alumni are employed in the government sector. The implementation of Persons with Disability Act 1995 which mandates 1 percent of jobs for people with visual disability has boosted employment opportunity for visually challenged in government and public sectors.

This farsighted intervention has enabled several thousands of visually challenged people to be employed in services like teaching, railways and banks.

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Career Skills Image source

“People were more likely to give alms to a blind person. There was no awareness of the potentialities of such people and their need to be treated with dignity and respect.”

—-  Mr.S.M.A.Jinnah Source

“My goal has always been equality of opportunities and experience for people with visual disabilities. People need to be sensitised to the potentials and problems of the visually impaired. They are no different from others. Typically society tends to overestimate the disability and underestimate the potentials of people with disabilities.”

 —Mr.S.M.A.Jinnah Source

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Employment Image source

Don’t be a Dupe. Be a Critical and Creative Thinker!

George Kneller quoted, “Creativity, it has been said, consists largely of rearranging what we know in order to find out what we don’t know. Hence, to think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted.” Critical thinking is a very important tool in any creative endeavour. Critical thinking is a friend of creativity, not a foe! CREATIVITY AND CRITICAL THINKING: FRIENDS, NOT FOES!

Critical thinking Critical Thinking, also called critical analysis, is clear, rational thinking involving critique. Its details vary amongst those who define it. According to Barry K. Beyer (1995), critical thinking means making clear, reasoned judgments.

During the process of critical thinking, ideas should be reasoned, well thought out, and judged.[1] The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking[2] defines critical thinking as the ‘intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.’[3]

One of the main purposes of a good education is to learn to think critically. Critical thinking leads to one of the highest forms of human knowing.

Creative thinking is divergent, critical thinking is convergent; whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity in something that exists; whereas creative thinking is carried on by violating accepted principles, critical thinking is carried on by applying accepted principles.

Although creative and critical thinking may very well be different sides of the same coin they are not identical (Beyer, 1987, p.35). Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking




If you want to save democracy, learn to think like a scientist

Fake news is running rampant on the internet, but blaming social media sites like Facebook for not filtering it out doesn’t address the larger issue at hand. Bogus news isn’t the real problem: The problem is that we undervalue the type of critical thinking needed to spot it. 

We shouldn’t expect a social media site to tell us what is and is not real. We are bombarded with nonsense on a daily basis, and navigating through it is a life skill we must learn. We can’t expect others to do it for us.

A lack of critical thinking and scepticism creates problems beyond politics. It makes us vulnerable to scams and pyramid schemes as well as phoney products like weight-loss drugs and “miracle cures” that are really only as effective as placebos. It leads us to ignore existential threats like global warming and perpetuates harmful conspiracy theories such as the idea that vaccines cause autism.

If there’s overwhelming evidence for something—like man-made climate change—and you don’t believe it, you aren’t being a sceptic, you are in denial. Being sceptical means demanding evidence, not ignoring it.

In this new age of social media, our news is no longer being filtered through major media outlets that have teams of meticulous and principled fact checkers. As a result, empiricism is more important than ever. We all must be trained to navigate through the false information, and we can do that by thinking like scientists.

  • What is empiricism? — Empiricism means a method of study relying on empirical evidence, which includes things you’ve experienced: stuff you can see and touch. Empiricism is based on facts, evidence, and research. Scholars and researchers deal in empiricism. If you believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, or Santa Claus, you’re out of the realm of empiricism — there are no facts to support those myths. If you want to get something practical done, or to really know what the deal is with something, empiricism is the way to go.https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/empiricism
We must be empiricists, not ideologues
Ideologue —-an advocate of some ideology.
  • What is ‘Ideology’?—-  An ideology is a set of opinions or beliefs of a group or an individual. Very often ideology refers to a set of political beliefs or a set of ideas that characterise a particular culture. Capitalism, communism, socialism, and Marxism are ideologies. But not all -ism words are. Think: cronyism (a system of graft whereby friends unfairly help each other make money.) Our English noun is from French idéologie. The suffix –logy, used with many English words describing theories or doctrines, is from Greek logos “word, reason, speech, account.” https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/ideology

Our ideologies blind us and bias our behaviour. For that reason, we should all be empiricists, not ideologues. Empiricists form their beliefs and opinions about the world based on facts and observation; ideologues, by definition, are uncompromising, dogmatic, and committed to specific principles. They are therefore unlikely to change their views based on new evidence. By self-identifying first and foremost as empiricists, we commit ourselves to a worldview that is shaped by reality.

Unfortunately, we often don’t feel compelled to check the accuracy of something that already aligns with our ideals and worldview. This is bad practice. We must continue to demand evidence—even when the claims in question come from the side that shares our beliefs and values.

A recent Buzzfeed News analysis of Facebook activity found that while 38% of news shared on popular right-leaning Facebook pages was false, so was 19% of the news shared on popular liberal Facebook pages. Given that liberals have also been known to peddle pseudoscience and ignore facts, as can be seen by the anti-vaxxer movement, this should be no surprise.

But how do we all become empiricists without training?

Scientists and researchers are trained to sniff out untruths, but you don’t need to be a scientist to do what scientists do.

We must create tests

When scientists want to understand how reality works, they devise experiments to test their questions. If they want to know if a specific treatment works—for example, if a certain diet makes people healthier, or if a particular medicine is effective—they design a study that will determine whether or not a hypothesis is true. If the hypothesis is supported, it becomes the reigning explanation while it continues to be tested further. This is an ongoing process that should continue until almost no uncertainty remains.

Derren Brown, a famous British magician and mentalist (think David Blaine, but more focused on mental tricks) is an expert at appearing to have psychic abilities. He is also a sceptic who exposes those who try to claim they have them for real. In an interview with prominent evolutionary biologist and outspoken sceptic Richard Dawkins, Brown describes a simple test that he has suggested to non-empiricists in the past.

“I think it feels unfashionable to talk to people about the importance of evidence, of testing things,” Derren said to Dawkins. “A friend of mine, who’s a psychic, told me she puts crystals in her plants and they grow better. So I said, well you’ve got loads of plants—have you ever put two in the same window? Maybe just put crystals in one and not the other?”

This anecdote illustrates just how easy it can be to start testing your beliefs.

It is also important to teach children to demand evidence and think critically from an early age. A few months ago on the Late Late Show with James Corden, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told a wonderful story about the way he and his wife gave their child a lesson in critical thinking.

After their daughter lost a tooth, they told her that they heard if you put a tooth under your pillow, the tooth fairy visits. That night the little girl did just that, and Tyson swapped the tooth for money while she slept. The next morning, after their daughter had shown them her gift, they asked her a question that prompted her to think sceptically. “How do you know it was the tooth fairy?” they asked, to which the daughter replied, “Oh no, I don’t know, I just know that there’s money here.”

With her curiosity stirred, their daughter began setting traps for the fairy—for example, foil on the floor to hear when it arrived—and when those didn’t work, she and her equally suspicious schoolmates thought of a test. The next one to lose a tooth would put it under their pillow—without telling their parents.

The next day, when the tooth did not turn into money, the children worked out that their parents were the perpetrators of the hoax. This doesn’t mean that you should crush all the magical beliefs that children have—it only means that you should teach them to question. As adults, we must do the same to set a good example. When something sounds outlandish or simply incredible, we must investigate. Without conducting our tests in controlled settings, it can be difficult to make any definite conclusions. But these steps will still likely help us identify many bogus claims without stepping foot inside a lab.

We must encourage others to be empiricists

It is often said that we should let people believe whatever they want as long as they aren’t hurting others. “Ignorance is bliss,” as some say. However, we can no longer ignore the fact that when people don’t think critically, it actually harms others. When candidates who peddle false information get elected into office, they are more likely to also ignore crucial evidence when making decisions or policy. Do we want the person making decisions concerning climate change to be someone who ignores all the data that’s been carefully collected by scientists? That’s a recipe for catastrophe.

We must, therefore, encourage our friends to think critically and to test things. When they make claims or decisions that ignore the evidence, they should be confronted. We speak up when someone we love has an addiction or some chronic bad habit. We should feel a similar moral obligation.

Lastly, we all must all demand that our celebrities, influencers, and politicians also think critically and refrain from making claims that ignore evidence. Spreading lies and misinformation to millions of people can have some serious real world effects. Conservative or liberal, there’s just no excuse for it. Consistency is crucial.

Scientific advances come from critical thinking and curiosity. Science is also successful because it is self-correcting. When new evidence doesn’t support our previous conclusions, they must be abandoned and replaced by evidence-based assertions. Good science is also consistent in its methods; so that opinions and biases do not get in the way of logic and measurement. We do not get to pick and choose which rules to follow. Instilling these principles in society will bring about progress.

Source: https://qz.com/858887/how-to-know-if-fake-news-is-fake-learn-to-think-like-a-scientist/




Critical thinkers:

  • Try to understand and then describe what someone claims;
  • Determine the merit of those claims by applying criteria; and
  • Rationally justify their criteria (explain their reasoning process).

If the criteria are good ones, then a critical thinker can discriminate mere opinions and false beliefs from true facts and verifiable knowledge. Critical thinkers can determine false or unverifiable claims and can tell you why. Just because someone else writes something or says something does not mean it is true or has merit.

To be a good writer, critical thinking is essential. If you need some help with your writing, here’s an inexpensive and excellent resource:

Booth, W. C., Colomb, G. G., & Williams, J. M. (2008). The craft of research (3rd. Ed.). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Turabian, K. L. (2013). A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, And Dissertations (8th. Ed.). The University of Chicago Press.

Take advantage of your education and learn something. Be a critical thinker. Don’t be a dupe. Source

Reference and note for above:

Jeff Foxworthy. (2015). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 9:48 a.m. EST, April 8, 2015, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeff_Foxworthy

Leaders are expected to take right decisions after considering various facets of a given problem – just like an expert jeweller looks at a diamond. Logic looks at problems as a coin with just two sides whereas critical thinking is all about looking at the same problem as a diamond with multiple facets. Source

The fact is that a leader needs a fine balance of emotion and rationality to succeed. They need to connect with their people using emotion and decide what is best for them using rational thought. Critical Thinking is the connecting link between emotions and intelligence.  Source

Critical thinking is an antidote to cognitive biases. When we think critically, we recognise our own assumptions, evaluate arguments and draw conclusions. Source

The truth is that conflicts if managed well, are an opportunity to understand better, get to the root causes, introspect, improve and learn. A well-managed conflict often leads to improved clarity, better relationships and win-win situations.  Source

There is a difference between creative thinking and creativity. Creative thinking is the process of ideation (thinking). Creativity is about bringing that idea to life (execution). Source

If communication is defined as a meaningful exchange of information, thoughts and feelings between two living creatures, critical thinking is the engine that provides this meaning. Source

Employers look for employees who reinforce their creativity by showing certain characteristics in the selection process:

  1. Able to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question (78 percent).
  2. Respond well to hypothetical scenarios (70 percent).
  3. Able to identify new patterns of behaviour or new combination of actions.
  4. Integrate knowledge across different disciplines.
  5. Show ability to originate new ideas.
  6. Comfortable with the notion of “no right answer”.
  7. Fundamentally curious.
  8. Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work.
  9. Show ability to take risks.
  10. Tolerant of ambiguity.
  11. Show ability to communicate new ideas to others.

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Standards should serve as a flexible framework to meet the academic, social, emotional, and vocational needs of diverse learners and NOT a forced march to meet the data-driven demands of standardised tests.

Rather than rating and sorting students according to a common and narrow set of testable academic skills, we should be celebrating and cultivating uncommon talents and divergent thinking in our classrooms.

As Arnold Dodge explains, schools should be honouring and uplifting the creative “characters” in their classrooms…

Many of our schools have become dry, lifeless places. Joy and spirited emotions have been replaced by fear, generated by masters from afar. These remote overseers — politicians, policy-makers, test prep executives — have decided that tests and numbers and drills and worksheets and threats and ultimatums will somehow improve the learning process…

When a student does well on a reading test, the results tell us nothing about how well s/he will use reading as a tool to learn larger topics, nor does it tell us that s/he will be interested in reading at all. What it tells us is that s/he is good at taking a reading test…

With the battle cry “College and Career Ready,” the champions of standardisation are determined to drum out every last bit of creativity, unpredictability, humour, improvisation and genuine emotion from the education process in the name of useful “outcomes.”

The self-righteous and powerful, if they have their way, will eliminate from schools kids who have character — or kids who are characters, for that matter…

But there is another way. If we believe that children are imaginative creatures by nature with vast amounts of talent waiting to be mined, and if we believe that opening children’s minds and hearts to the thrill of learning — without competition and ranking — is a healthy approach to child development, then we are off to a good start…

William Glasser, M.D., studied schools for over 30 years and in his seminal work, The Quality School, he outlines five basic needs that all human beings are born with: survival, love, power, fun and freedom.

How many policymakers today would subscribe to having fun or experiencing freedom as a goal of our educational system?

Just think of the possibilities if they did. Kids actually laughing in school and not being punished for it.

Students feeling strong enough to talk truth to power and not being silenced. Youngsters feeling free to write with creativity and originality without being ridiculed for deviating from state test guidelines.

And that’s before we even get to love.

Think of the characters that would emerge from such an environment.

Comedians, orators, raconteurs, revolutionaries, magicians, clowns, young people with agency and drive, having fun, not afraid to take risks or make mistakes. Not afraid to be children…

Reference: Critical Thinking vs. Creative Thinking

The Road Less Travelled…..

Morgan Scott Peck (May 22, 1936 – September 25, 2005) was an American psychiatrist and best-selling author, best known for his first book, The Road Less Travelled, published in 1978.

 

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The Road Less Travelled Image source

 

In

“The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth”,

Morgan Scott Peck M. Scott Peck talked about the importance of discipline. Peck argues that these are techniques of suffering, that enable the pain of problems to be worked through and systematically solved, producing growth. He argues that most people avoid the pain of dealing with their problems, and suggests that it is through facing the pain of problem-solving that life becomes more meaningful.

The book consists of four parts.
In the first part, Morgan Scott Peck examines the notion of discipline, which he considers essential for emotional, spiritual, and psychological health, and which he describes as “the means of spiritual evolution”.
The elements of discipline that make for such health include the ability to delay gratification, accepting responsibility for oneself and one’s actions, a dedication to truth, and “balancing”.
“Balancing” refers to the problem of reconciling multiple, complex, possibly conflicting factors that impact on an important decision—on one’s own behalf or on behalf of another.
In the second part, Morgan Scott Peck addresses the nature of love, which he considers the driving force behind spiritual growth. He contrasts his own views on the nature of love against a number of common misconceptions about love, including:
  • that love is identified with romantic love (he considers it a very destructive myth when it is solely relying on “feeling in love”),
  • that love is related to dependency,
  • that true love is linked with the feeling of “falling in love”.

Morgan Scott Peck argues that “true” love is rather an action that one undertakes consciously in order to extend one’s ego boundaries by including others or humanity and is therefore, the spiritual nurturing—which can be directed toward oneself, as well as toward one’s beloved.

In the third part, Morgan Scott Peck deals with religion, and the commonly accepted views and misconceptions concerning religion. He recounts experiences from several patient case histories, and the evolution of the patients’ notion of God, religion, atheism—especially of their own “religiosity” or atheism—as their therapy with Morgan Scott Peck progressed.

The fourth and final part concerns “grace”, the powerful force originating outside human consciousness that nurtures spiritual growth in human beings. In order to focus on the topic, he describes the miracles of health, the unconscious, and serendipity—phenomena which Morgan Scott Peck says:

  • nurture human life and spiritual growth,
  • are incompletely understood by scientific thinking,
  • are commonplace among humanity,
  • originate outside the conscious human will.

He concludes that “the miracles described indicate that our growth as human beings is being assisted by a force other than our conscious will” (Peck, 1978/1992, p 281).

He described four aspects of discipline:

Delaying gratification:
Sacrificing present comfort for future gains.
Delaying gratification is the process by which pain is chosen to be experienced before pleasure. Most learn this activity by the age of five. For example, a six-year-old child will prefer eating the cake first and the frosting last. Problematic students are totally controlled by their impulses. Such youngsters indulge in drugs, get into frequent fights, and often find themselves in the confrontation with authority.
Acceptance of responsibility: Accepting responsibility for one’s own decisions. Morgan Scott Peck states that it is only through taking responsibility and accepting the fact that life has problems, that these problems can then be solved.
He argues that Neurosis and character disorder people represent two opposite disorders of responsibility. Neurotics assume too much responsibility and feel responsible for everything that goes wrong in their life, while character disordered people deny responsibility, blaming others for their problems. Peck writes in the Road Less Traveled that “It is said ‘neurotics make themselves miserable; those with character disorders make everyone else miserable’” (Peck, 1978/1992, p38). Peck argues that everyone is neurotic or character-disordered at some time in their life, and the balance is to avoid both extremes.
Dedication to truth: Honesty, both in word and deed.
Dedication to the truth represents the capacity of an individual to modify and update their world view when exposed to new information discordant with the old view. For example, a bitter childhood can leave a person with the false idea that the world is a hostile and inhuman place. However, with continued exposure to more positive aspects of the world, this existing worldview is challenged and needs to be modified to integrate the new experiences. Peck also argues that dedication to truth implies a life of genuine self-examination, a willingness to be personally challenged by others, and honesty to oneself and others.
Balancing: Handling conflicting requirements. Morgan Scott Peck talks of an important skill to prioritise between different requirements – bracketing. Morgan Scott Peck considers the use of these interrelated techniques of discipline as paramount if the difficulties and conflicting requirements of life are to be dealt with and balanced successfully.
According to Morgan Scott Peck an evil person:
  • Is consistently self-deceiving, with the intent of avoiding guilt and maintaining a self-image of perfection.
  • Deceives others as a consequence of their own self-deception.
  • Projects his or her evils and sins onto very specific targets (scapegoats) while being apparently normal with everyone else (“their insensitivity toward him was selective” (Peck, 1983/1988, p 105)).
  • Commonly hates with the pretence of love, for the purposes of self-deception as much as deception of others.
  • Abuses political (emotional) power (“the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion” (Peck, 1978/1992, p298)).
  • Maintains a high level of respectability, and lies incessantly in order to do so.
  • Is consistent in his or her sins. Evil persons are characterised not so much by the magnitude of their sins, but by their consistency (of destructiveness).
  • Is unable to think from the viewpoint of their victim (scapegoat).
  • Has a covert intolerance to criticism and other forms of narcissistic injury.
Most evil people realise the evil deep within themselves but are unable to tolerate the pain of introspection or admit to themselves that they are evil. Thus, they constantly run away from their evil by putting themselves in a position of moral superiority and putting the focus of evil on others. Evil is an extreme form of what Morgan Scott Peck, in The Road Less Travelled, calls a character and personality disorder.

Love

His perspective on love (in The Road Less Travelled) is that love is not a feeling, it is an activity and an investment. He defines love as, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth” (Peck, 1978/1992, p85). Love is primarily actions towards nurturing the spiritual growth of another.
Peck seeks to differentiate between love and cathexis ((psychoanalysis) the libidinal energy invested in some idea, person or object). Cathexis is what explains the sexual attraction, the instinct for cuddling pets and pinching babies cheeks. However, ‘cathexis’ is not love. All the same, true love cannot begin in isolation, a certain amount of cathexis is necessary to get sufficiently close to be able to truly love.
Once through the cathexis stage, the work of love begins. It is not a feeling. It consists of what you do for another person. As Morgan Scott Peck says in “The Road Less Travelled”, “Love is as love does.” It is about giving yourself and the other person what they need to grow. It is about truly knowing and understanding them.

The four stages of spiritual development

Morgan Scott Peck postulates that there are four stages of human spiritual development:
Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
Stage III is the stage of scientific scepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs, move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining scepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labelled as Mystics.
Morgan Scott Peck argues that while transitions from Stage I to Stage II are sharp, transitions from Stage III to Stage IV are gradual.
Nonetheless, these changes are very noticeable and mark a significant difference in the personality of the individual.

Community building

In his book “The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace“, Morgan Scott Peck says that community has three essential ingredients:

  1. Inclusivity
  2. Commitment
  3. Consensus

Based on his experience with community building workshops, Morgan Scott Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:

  1. Pseudocommunity: In the first stage, well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other’s ideas or emotions. They use obvious generalities and mutually established stereotypes in speech. Instead of conflict resolution, pseudocommunity involves conflict avoidance, which maintains the appearance or facade of true community. It also serves only to maintain positive emotions, instead of creating a safe space for honesty and love through bad emotions as well. While they still remain in this phase, members will never really obtain evolution or change, as individuals or as a bunch.
  2. Chaos: The first step towards real positivity is, paradoxically, a period of negativity. Once the mutually sustained facade of bonhomie is shed, negative emotions flood through: Members start to vent their mutual frustrations, annoyances, and differences. It is a chaotic stage, but Peck describes it as a “beautiful chaos” because it is a sign of healthy growth. (This relates closely to Dabrowski’s concept of disintegration). This stage is often a time of unconstructive bickering and struggle. And it is no fun at all. Yet it is crucial to move through this stage if we are ever to find the kind of community connectedness we long for.

  3. Emptiness: In order to transcend the stage of “Chaos”, members are forced to shed that which prevents real communication. Biases and prejudices need for power and control, self-superiority, and other similar motives which are only mechanisms of self-validation and/or ego-protection must yield to empathy, openness to vulnerability, attention, and trust. Hence this stage does not mean people should be “empty” of thoughts, desires, ideas or opinions. Rather, it refers to emptiness of all mental and emotional distortions which reduce one’s ability to really share, listen to, and build on those thoughts, ideas, etc. It is often the hardest step in the four-level process, as it necessitates the release of patterns which people develop over time in a subconscious attempt to maintain self-worth and positive emotion. While this is, therefore, a stage of “Fana (Sufism)” in a certain sense, it should be viewed not merely as a “death” but as a rebirth—of one’s true self at the individual level, and at the social level of the genuine and true Community.

  4. True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in the community enter a place of complete empathy with one another. There is a great level of tacit understanding. People are able to relate to each other’s feelings. Discussions, even when heated, never get sour, and motives are not questioned. A deeper and more sustainable level of happiness obtains between the members, which does not have to be forced. Even and perhaps especially when conflicts arise, it is understood that they are part of positive change. According to Morgan Scott Peck, true community emerges as the group chooses to embrace not only the light but also the darkness and brokenness in each other’s lives. We are accepted for who we truly are – who God sees us as – not who we pretend to be. It is at this point of radical acceptance, that an extraordinary amount of healing begins to occur.

    Cartoon Crowd, Doors in Emptiness : Stock Illustration

    True Community

The four stages of community formation are somewhat related to a model in organisation theory for the five stages that a team goes through during development. These five stages are:
  1. Forming where the team members have some initial discomfort with each other, but nothing comes out in the open. They are insecure about their role and position with respect to the team. This corresponds to the initial stage of pseudocommunity.
  2. Storming where the team members start arguing heatedly, and differences and insecurities come out in the open. This corresponds to the second stage given by Morgan Scott Peck, namely chaos.
  3. Norming where the team members lay out rules and guidelines for interaction that help define the roles and responsibilities of each person. This corresponds to emptiness, where the community members think within, and empty themselves of their obsessions in order to be able to accept and listen to others.
  4. Performing where the team finally starts working as a cohesive whole, and to effectively achieve the tasks set off themselves. In this stage, individuals are aided by the group as a whole, where necessary, in order to move further collectively than they could achieve as a group of separated individuals.
  5. Transforming This corresponds to the stage of true community. This represents the stage of celebration, and when individuals leave, as they invariably must, there is a genuine feeling of grief, and a desire to meet again. Traditionally, this stage was often called “Mourning”.

It is in this third stage that Morgan Scott Peck’s community-building methods differ in principle from team development. While teams in business organisations need to develop explicit rules, guidelines and protocols during the norming stage, the emptiness stage of community building is characterised, not by laying down the rules explicitly, but by shedding the resistance within the minds of the individuals.

 


Managers are people who do things right, while leaders are people who do the right thing. — Warren Bennis, Ph.D. On Becoming a Leader


Characteristics of true community

Morgan Scott Peck describes what he considers to be the most salient characteristics of a true community:
  1. Inclusivity, commitment and consensus: Members accept and embrace each other, celebrating their individuality and transcending their differences. They commit themselves to the effort and the people involved. They make decisions and reconcile their differences through consensus.
  2. Realism: Members bring together multiple perspectives to better understand the whole context of the situation. Decisions are more well-rounded and humble, rather than one-sided and arrogant.
  3. Contemplation: Members examine themselves. They are individually and collectively self-aware of the world outside themselves, the world inside themselves, and the relationship between the two.
  4. A safe place: Members allow others to share their vulnerability, heal themselves, and express who they truly are.
  5. A laboratory for personal disarmament: Members experientially discover the rules for peacemaking and embrace its virtues. They feel and express compassion and respect for each other as fellow human beings.
  6. A group that can fight gracefully: Members resolve conflicts with wisdom and grace. They listen and understand, respect each other’s gifts, accept each other’s limitations, celebrate their differences, bind each other’s wounds, and commit to a struggle together rather than against each other.
  7. A group of all leaders: Members harness the “flow of leadership” to make decisions and set a course of action. It is the spirit of community itself that leads, and not any single individual.
  8. A spirit: The true spirit of community is the spirit of peace, love, wisdom and power. Members may view the source of this spirit as an outgrowth of the collective self or as the manifestation of a Higher Will.

Source: Wikipedia articles.

Why Do Not Nerve Cells Regenerate?

Why Aren’t We More Like Fish and Frogs?

The question of why the mammalian central nervous system does not regenerate after injury is of extra-ordinary interest at many levels. In terms of descriptive biology, it is remarkable how great the discrepancy is between nerve cells that can, and cannot repair their connections after their axons have been lesioned.

In an invertebrate such as the leech, in fishes and in frogs the central nervous system does show effective regeneration and restoration of function after complete transection. Thus, a leech can swim again after it’s nervous system has regenerated after being cut in two, and a frog can catch flies with it’s tongue after it’s optic nerve has grown back to the tectum(the dorsal portion of the midbrain, containing the superior colliculus and inferior colliculus).

In these “simple” animals the wiring is far more complex than in any man-made circuit, yet somehow fibres grow to find their targets and form effective synapses upon them. In this they resemble their counterparts in the mammalian peripheral nervous system.

What makes the mammalian central nervous system so different in this regard?

At the cellular and molecular level, differences between non-regenerating and regenerating neurons and the satellite cells that surround them are the focus of intense research. Detailed information is accumulating about molecules that enhance or inhibit growth, as well their receptors. And at the level of clinical medicine, there is the essential question about whether and when treatments can be devised for patients with central nervous system injuries so that functions can be restored.

Recent experiments at all of these levels have provided unexpected new findings and insights. Yet one of the most striking features of the field of regeneration today is how many key questions remain. For example, while we have clues, the mechanisms that prevent regeneration in mammalian CNS are still not fully known.

Why is the proportion of axons, that actually elongate, so small, even when the application of suitable techniques does give rise to successful growth across a lesion?

What changes in molecular mechanisms of growth occur in immature mammals during development, that later prevent regeneration in the adult?

While it seems reasonable to guess that understanding of growth promoting and inhibiting mechanisms will continue to proceed rapidly, a baffling question remains. It arises from our ignorance about normal development of the nervous system.

 

 

At present it is not known how specific synapses form, so that one type of cell is selected as a target while another one sitting just next door is ignored. 

If hope is to be offered to patients with spinal cord lesions, axons must not only grow (obviously a prerequisite for repair) but they must reform useful connections with the appropriate targets. In the best of all possible worlds no errors would be made. One also can imagine a scenario in which incorrect connections are formed and subsequently tuned by use; pain fibres would, one hopes, not re-form connections in patients.

All the neuroscientists who work on these problems have to face inevitable and quite natural questions about prospects for therapy.

A convenient analogy seems to me to be the repair of a watch. A desirable requirement would surely be to have an understanding of how the watch works and what the various components are doing. Without that knowledge one can still hope for some new insight or fluke that will allow the repair to be made. It would, however, be dangerous to promise how soon the watch will work again until the failure has been diagnosed and only one or two parts remain to be replaced. Because we are not even remotely at this stage in our knowledge of the nervous system, predictions about how and when seem unrealistic. (This analogy is of course flawed: the nervous system has to do the job on it’s own once one has provided the appropriate conditions).

In contrast to the plasticity of the brain, in the spinal cord the degree of plasticity is much less, although perhaps currently underestimated. Once the long tracts are severed or compressed to the point of axotomy, they will not recover and there is usually insufficient overlap in function in the spinal cord for the missing functions to be taken over by surviving tracts, should there indeed be any. The spinal cord is such a narrow structure, normally well protected by the bone forming the spinal canal, that any injury sufficient to damage it in part, may well be severe enough to damage it completely.

In the general strategy of devising spinal repair procedures that could eventually be applied in patients, there are at least four problems to be overcome:

  1. Central nervous system neurons show a variable response in their ability to produce neurites in response to injury, in contrast to peripheral nervous system, which show a consistent ability to do this.
  2. Following damage to the CNS, as for example in a spinal cord injury, any neurites that do appear at the site of injury are unable to cross it, which in patients may involve a substantial length of spinal cord.
  3. Once methods for promotion of growth of axons across the site of injury are available in a clinically applicable form, the axons may have to grow considerable distances to reach appropriate targets and may require specific guidance cues to direct them to functionally appropriate targets.
  4. Having reached appropriate targets, effective functional re-innervation of the targets should occur.

It is not entirely clear how separable are these four components of successful repair. There is increasing evidence that they may indeed be substantially separate processes and that achievement of one will not automatically lead to success with the others.

Thus the work described by Beazley & Dunlop on regeneration in the lizard shows clearly that while axotomised fibres can regrow to the appropriate targets in the visual systems in this species, no functionally effective innervation occurs.

Beazley and Dunlop describe different features of a wide range of species from cold-blooded vertebrates to mammals. Particularly with respect to effectiveness of target re-innervation, there appears to be a spectrum of regeneration. This goes from amphibia and lampreys (with particular respect to the underlying subcellular structures that may be responsible for regenerative outgrowth of injured axons) which can regenerate not only new axons but also functional connections with appropriate targets, through lizards that show excellent axonal growth, but inappropriate target innervation, to mammals in which neither regenerative axon growth nor appropriate target innervation normally occur. The evolutionary significance of this progressive loss of regenerative  ability (an ability which is even more marked in invertebrates) through the animal kingdom is unclear.

The central nervous system of adult mammals, including humans, recovers only poorly from injury. Once severed, major axon tracts (such as those in the spinal cord) never regenerate. The devastating consequences of these injuries—e.g., loss of movement and the inability to control basic bodily functions—has led many neuroscientists to seek ways of restoring the connections of severed axons. There is no a priori reason for this biological failure, since “lower” vertebrates—e.g., lampreys, fish, and frogs—can regenerate a severed spinal cord or optic nerve.

Even in mammals, the inability to regenerate axonal tracts is a special failing of the central nervous system; peripheral nerves can and do regenerate in adult animals, including humans.

Why, then, not the central nervous system?

Neuron injury

At least a part of the answer to this puzzle apparently lies in the molecular cues that promote and inhibit axon outgrowth.

In mammalian peripheral nerves, axons are surrounded by a basement membrane (a proteinaceous extracellular layer composed of collagens, glycoproteins, and proteoglycans) secreted in part by Schwann cells, the glial cells associated with peripheral axons. After a peripheral nerve is crushed, the axons within it degenerate; the basement membrane around each axon, however, persists for months.

One of the major components of the basement membrane is laminin, which (along with other growth promoting molecules in the basement membrane) forms a hospitable environment for regenerating growth cones. The surrounding Schwann cells also react by releasing neurotrophic factors, which further promote axon elongation.

This peripheral environment is so favourable to regrowth that even neurons from the central nervous system can be induced to extend into transplanted segments of peripheral nerve.

implantation

Albert Aguayo and his colleagues at the Montreal General Hospital found that grafts derived from peripheral nerves can act as “bridges” for central nervous system neurons (in this case, retinal ganglion cells), allowing them to grow for over a centimeter (Figure
A); they even form a few functional synapses in their target tissues (Figure B).

These several observations suggest that the failure of central neurons to regenerate is not due to an intrinsic inability to sprout new axons, but rather to something in the local environment that prevents growth cones from extending.

This impediment could be the absence of growth-promoting factors— such as the neurotrophins—or the presence of molecules that actively prevent axon outgrowth.

Studies by Martin Schwab and his colleagues point to the latter possibility. Schwab found that central nervous system myelin contains an inhibitory component that causes growth cone collapse in vitro and prevents axon growth in vivo. This component, recognized by a monoclonal antibody called IN-1, is found in the myelinated portions of the central nervous system but is absent from peripheral nerves.

IN-1 also recognizes molecules in the optic nerve and spinal cord of mammals, but is missing in the same sites in fish, which do regenerate these central tracts.

Nogo-A, the primary antigen recognized by the IN-1 antibody, is secreted by oligodendrocytes(they are present in central nervous system), but not by Schwann cells in the peripheral nervous system. Most dramatically, the IN-1 antibody increases the extent of spinal cord regeneration when provided at the site of injury in rats with spinal cord damage. All this implies that the human central nervous system differs from that of many “lower” vertebrates in that humans and other mammals present an unfavourable molecular environment for regrowth after injury.

Why this state of affairs occurs is not known.

One speculation is that the extraordinary amount of information stored in mammalian brains puts a premium on a stable pattern of adult connectivity.

At present there is only one modestly helpful treatment for CNS injuries such as spinal cord transection. High doses of a steroid, methylprednisolone, immediately after the injury prevents some of the secondary damage to neurons resulting from the initial trauma.

Although it may never be possible to fully restore function after such injuries, enhancing axon regeneration, blocking inhibitory molecules and providing additional trophic support to surviving neurons could in principle allow sufficient recovery of motor control to give afflicted individuals a better quality of life than they now enjoy. The best “treatment,” however, is to prevent such injuries from occurring, since there is now very little that can be done after the fact.

Reference:

  1. Degeneration and Regeneration in the Nervous System  edited by Norman Saunders, Katarzyna Dziegielewska; Anatomy and Physiology, The University of Tasmania, Australia©2000, OPA (Overseas Publishers Association)
  2. Neuroscience, 3rd edition. Editors: Dale Purves, George J Augustine, David Fitzpatrick, Lawrence C Katz, Anthony-Samuel LaMantia, James O McNamara, and S Mark Williams. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2004. ISBN 0-87893-725-0

  3. BRAY, G. M., M. P. VILLEGAS-PEREZ, M. VIDALSANZ AND A. J. AGUAYO (1987) The use of peripheral nerve grafts to enhance neuronal survival, promote growth and permit terminal reconnections in the central nervous system of adult rats. J. Exp. Biol. 132: 5–19.
  4. SCHNELL, L. AND M. E. SCHWAB (1990) Axonal regeneration in the rat spinal cord produced by an antibody against myelin-associated neurite growth inhibitors. Nature 343:269–272.
  5. SO, K. F. AND A. J. AGUAYO (1985) Lengthy regrowth of cut axons from ganglion cells after peripheral nerve transplantation into the retina of adult rats. Brain Res. 359: 402–406.
  6. VIDAL-SANZ, M., G. M. BRAY, M. P. VILLEGASPEREZ, S. THANOS AND A. J. AGUAYO (1987) Axonal regeneration and synapse formation in the superior colliculus by retinal ganglion cells in the adult rat. J. Neurosci. 7: 2894–2909.