I read this quote a few days ago somewhere. And it stayed with me. Mostly because of the phrase ‘existentially stupid’. Without getting too philosophical and speaking very generally, existentialism as a school of thought considers the nature of the human condition as a key philosophical problem and believes that this problem is best addressed through a study of the nature of being. In simple words, who or what am I, why am I here, what is this life all about – are all questions that are of interest to an existentially awake person. So, naturally an existentially stupid person is one who doesn’t ask such questions, who is not interested in knowing anything more than the mere surface of life and living.
What makes a person existentially stupid? It occurs to me that perhaps the problem begins with how our minds are trained right from our schooling.
Education today is only a means to learn and develop certain skill sets and gather knowledge of certain content areas that will help children secure their economic and social futures. Preparation for becoming socially smart, in other words!
True education aims to educe, to evoke knowledge from within. But such an ‘evoking’ is not generally encouraged in mainstream schooling. Rather, the emphasis is on imparting information and expecting students to reproduce it for tests and examinations. Such a system only emphasizes the development of our passive mental faculties*, particularly of storage and retention. There is not much encouragement to develop the active mental faculties which could lead to evoking knowledge from within, knowledge that lies within but needs to be evoked through an experience or observation.
It is only through the development of our active mental faculties*, namely, the power of reasoning, the power of comparison and differentiation, and the power of expression that we make sense of our observations and experiences. These faculties work on the sensory-data that is received and create meaning from that data. And it is through these same faculties that we express what we have come to understand, adding another layer to the meaning and our understanding of that meaning.
The more developed these active mental faculties, the more we begin to dig deep for understanding. We think more, question more, seek more, investigate more.
Or in other words, we begin our journey of becoming existentially non-stupid.
The key to India’s awakening lies in learning to think, think deep, think independently**.