Inception, the Constitution, education, and life itself
Interesting intersection this weekend of thoughts from an ongoing summer institute with K12 teachers on Brain, Science, Inquiry, and Education, from seeing Christopher Nolan's new movie Inception, and from a visit to the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
The movie is, for me at least, a visually and psychologically imaginative, rich, and engaging illustration of a way of thinking that we've been exploring in other terms in the summer institute. "Inception" uses dreaming as a metaphor for this way of thinking. In that context, the act of "inception," of one person influencing some one else's dreams, requires some special technology. But one can, if one chooses, decline the metaphor used by the movie and simply take its story at face value. We are all at all times "dreaming," in the particular sense that we always experience our own interpretation of what is out there, rather than what is "actually" out there (or in here). From this perspective, there is no fundamental "reality," no single "real world" that we can use to measure our understanding against. Instead we each live, as the movie illustrates, in a set of multiple interdependent, interactive realities/worlds that we construct and reconstruct ourselves by noticing differences between our expectations and our experiences, as well as differences among our expectations and experiences in the different worlds/realities we inhabit. In so doing, we both are influenced by and influence the worlds/realities of others with whom we interact. That we can influence the worlds/realities of others, and are in turn influenced by them, requires, on this account, no special technology. "Inception" is inherent in the human condition, in life itself.
The National Constitution Center provides a comparable visually and psychologically imaginative, rich, and engaging portrayal of the history and ongoing development of the American Constitution, and of associated American political life. Its a story of checks and balances, and of how we think of ourselves, both individually and collectively. But here too one can, if one chooses, decline the metaphor, and see the exhibit more abstractly as an illustration of a way of thinking not unlike that portrayed in "Inception." That we are all "created equal" can be understood not as we are all "created the same" but rather as an acknowledgment that we each live in our own somewhat different reality/world, and that that diversity is valuable to all of us. And "checks and balances" can be understood as a mechanism to assure it will always be so, that no one world/reality shall ever be allowed to dominate all others. From this perspective, the American experience can be thought of too as life itself, an ongoing process in which negotiations between individual worlds/realities, and between individual worlds/realities and collective worlds/realities, drives an ongoing exploration of new ways of being that derive from those differences.
Suppose we took quite seriously and generally the idea that there is no single world/reality, that we are all engaged in a continuing process of revising worlds/realities, both individually and collectively, and, in the process, of creating new ones. Might such an evolving systems perspective give us a new and useful way to think about a variety of things, education among them? What would an educational system look like if it was grounded in the objective of giving students the wherewithal to participate in the creation of new worlds/realities, instead of giving them what we think is needed to be successful in a particular one? In what ways might other social institutions and cultural systems be altered? In what ways might our own lives be different, if we thought of them not in terms of particular goals and competing with others to achieve them but rather in terms of valuing individual distinctivenesses, our own and that of others, and using those to create worlds/realities, individual and collective, as yet unconceived? Its worth thinking about.
"The universe has lost its centre ... and woken up to find it has countless centres. So that each one can now be seen as the centre, or none at all." ... Bertold Brecht, The Life of Galileo