As I contemplate on present day issues, and the general confusion in opinions and arguments, and as many feel debate and discussions falling to lowest levels ever, I realise that it is actually flowing from a lack of a framework, for want of a better term.
The difficulty is that we have no ‘idea’ of what we are talking about. Whether it is ‘good governance’,’ probity in public life’, ‘ fair allocation of public resources’, ‘ justice’, ‘ equity’, ‘ education’, ‘ economic development’ , ‘ free and fair elections’ or whatever complex idea you choose, the fact is we rush to express our action plan without serious thought.
Just as modern science and technology has brought into our hands, homes and lives, technologies that till about 50 years were only the concerns of Scientists and Researchers, so also the challenges to the modern world in terms of terrorism, global warming, environmental pollution, unethical or even criminal behaviour among he highly educated is forcing us to ask the big philosophical questions and see that the insights of these great schools of thought are applied to daily life: of nations, of governments, of businesses and of course of individuals, both adults and children.
Medical graduates in their foundation stage have to first study Anatomy and Physiology before they progress to what may be called really ‘ medical specialisation’. Similarly for a good preparation for the ‘ School of life’ a sound appreciation of Philosophy and a deep understanding ( not mere calculating ability, as in its current teaching) of Mathematics is essential.
And this brings me back to the importance of the idea of an idea. How can you ever deal with something of which you have no idea.
So what we need to explore is how do you describe an idea: with a simile, a metaphor, a diagram like a mind-map or a Greek symbol like theta, psi or phi ?
And the next step is combining ideas; like a mixture where they retain their features or like a chemical compound resulting in completely new properties. A classic example is water. Hydrogen is combustible, Oxygen is a supporter of combustion, but their chemical compound water puts out fire. So we need a Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry of ideas for solving problems of today and tomorrow.
Matt Ridley in a recent book ” The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity evolves” has given to his prologue the title ” when ides have sex” and has a sub-heading in it ‘ mating minds’. We do say that intellectual progress happens through cross-pollination of ideas. And we have an expression ‘ Manas putra’ to describe that.
In a future issue I will draw attention to the significance and importance of Mathematics that goes beyond the computing that may have traumatised you in your School.
Let us work towards developing these as a community.