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Intellectual Imagination: Shaping the Future of Learning

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

"The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have, but slight experience and those who are experienced have feeble imaginations." – Alfred N. Whitehead.

We are living in a binary world. We choose between becoming an engineer or an artist, a business person or a psychologist, an apprentice or a dreamer. We either use power-point to death or do free-of-all thinking in the clouds to grab the next best ideas. In this binary world, we choose our sides between reality and imagination.

Intellectual Imagination: Shaping the Future of Learning | MQ Learning
Intellectual Imagination: Shaping the Future of Learning | MQ Learning

In a classic, "The Aims of Education.", Whitehead, a Harvard professor of philosophy of the early 20th century, made a strong case of moving away from the binary model of education, which prepares us for our future choices. He demanded changing our learning systems towards the imaginative acquisition of knowledge. We miss a walk in the school of life, where Learning imparts an intimate sense of the power, beauty, and structure of ideas. The power of imagination grounded by subjective human experience should be intertwined with the objective universe of facts, to cultivate intellectual imagination.

The future of Learning lies in driving the intellectual imagination of the learner. We can further this through designing courses and programs considering three essential components:

1. Subjective Inquiry

2. Moonshot Thinking

3. Arts & Culture

Subjective Inquiry: Know Thyself

"I thought the purpose of education was to learn to think for yourself," questioned John Keating in 'Dead Poets Society.'

We are intrinsically curious beings; however, our current education system forces us on the path of specialized knowledge, many times in isolation, to make us capable of earning a living. The innocent curiosity of the child as they take their first step somehow morphs into the study of established structures in later life. While we study the subjects, we forget to accept ourselves as subjective beings. Whitehead said, "there is only one subject-matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations.".

The premise of Learning should be self-inquiry. Who am I? How does this knowledge help me in becoming a better person? What do I believe in? Our subjectivity is embedded in the objective world, and if education does not enable us to find ourselves, there is no need for such knowledge. The education divorced from Self Inquiry is like a well without water; we can admire the structures but cannot drink from the source of life.

In the 5th century BCE, when Socrates roamed the streets of Athens, questioning the young minds, he was also bringing a new consciousness to the world. The need for self-inquiry on why we are doing what we are doing. Through his famous words, "I know that I know nothing," he pushed us to probe deeper with questioning rather than getting easily satisfied with society's answers.

"Know Thyself," an inscription at the ancient temples of Delphi, was also the underlying philosophy of "Akademia," the school formed by Plato, a student of Socrates. Even though we conveniently carried the word "Academy" to refer to our learning institutions, we somehow left behind the underlying philosophy. Plato's teachings were not direct but left to students' interpretation, each according to their own unaided ability and subjective viewpoints on life.

In the Postmodern era of today, we are standing at a threshold. Technological innovations are taking us in virtual reality realms, and our own atmosphere is under threat. In the 21st century, as we have attained physical progress, somewhere the more profound questions of life like meaning and aesthetics are leaving behind, leading to an increasing number of depression and suicides. Our Learning systems need to be appended by subjective inquiry to prepare us for making decisions that resonate best with us, our values, and our principles.

Moonshot Thinking: Big Ideas