This is one of the most motivational stories I have read in a long time and I wish everyone reads it. I still can’t get over as to how a 61-year old farmer, in 1983, ran 875km of ultramarathon race and won it while competing with scores of professionally trained runners. But that’s not all – the man ran for 5 days, 15 hours and 4 minutes non-stop to win the race and in the process broke the record for that race by 9 hours. This man was Cliff Young. For the next few days I just can’t get Young out of my mind. I just can’t make out as to if he was human being or something else. However, as I pondered over his story again and again, I learnt a number of lessons but let me share one very important lesson. Let me first quote one line from the Mumbai Mirror article,
“Everyone knew it took about 7
days to finish this race, and competitors had worked out the best way to do
this was to run for 18 hours and sleep for six. The thing is, Young did not know
Now, I do a small course where I teach the participants the rational thinking methodology. One of the things that I always tell the participants is that when one creates alternate solutions to a problem one must always do it without any constraints or in other words, one must do it with complete ignorance of so-called practical requirements and existing knowledge. However, as countless times I have seen, it’s very easy to say this but extremely difficult to practice this because eventually we all are an outcome of our environment and our experiences and therefore our worldviews and approaches are colored by them. Now, learning from experience is a good survival tool but this tool also sometimes blocks us from exploring our full potential. History is full of examples of how path breaking discoveries and inventions are done by passionate amateurs who tried something which professionally trained experts could not imagine in their wildest dreams. Young was that passionate amateur and therein lies a very important key to his success. He went by what made sense to him and not what the world said based on existing knowledge.
This is where our modern education system also falters. When it teaches children, it teaches them existing knowledge with an aura of control born out of experience (and experiments). The end point is that though a teacher is teaching a “theory” but the way it’s taught it appears as a “law” to a young mind. And what’s the difference between a theory and a law? Well, the best way to answer this question is to share the following small anecdote that I read in this book “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson.
The physicist Leo Szilard once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary: “I don’t intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.”
“Don’t you think God knows the facts?” Bethe asked.
“Yes,” said Szilard. “He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.”
– Hans Christian von Baeyer, Taming the Atom
Very simply put, theories are mankind’s version of facts.
Given this challenge in the way we teach our kids, our kids grow up thinking that all that is worthy of being discovered has already being discovered. When that happens, exploration of nature, comes down from discovering/experiencing magic to a mundane process of apparently understanding reality. The end point – we produce too many experts and rarely any Youngs. And as they say “An expert is one who know more and more about less and less”.
It’s time to rethink education. The end purpose of education cannot be one more expert but one more Young. As idealistic as it may sound, it’s completely a realistic possibility for this is exactly what my last 4 years of closely engaging with children has taught me. We are squandering away infinite potential mindlessly.