It starts thus: you walk into the classroom expecting nothing. And it ends like this: you leave with everything: with heads doing hoopla, smiles skewered and brains beguiled. Breathe in the air. Don’t be afraid to care.
How can we encourage critical thinking in our classrooms when those classrooms are located in parts of the world where thinking critically is effectively discouraged? So we stay off the private property and we dare to voice doubts on what they all know they know. Or they think they know.
Theology – perhaps the founding father of post-enlightenment critical thinking is strictly off-limits. Epistemology – the ‘what’ of knowledge – is just too damn recondite for a target audience more accustomed to casting a critical eye not on a thought but on a thing, a thing usually purchased at a shopping mall. Logic appeals because we are dealing with a people who snatched Greek equations from the anti-intellectual clutches of dark age Christendom. They then translated them and even improved upon them in some cases. So logic is in, but it’s also out on account of being a head-wringer for all but the most logical of logicians. La suite, we have the scientific method, which might have worked if there hadn’t been no method in the madness of teaching critical thinking in a society where thinking has not yet reached critical levels. The logical fallacies stand a fighting chance if we can only separate our slippery slopes from our straw men, our ad hominem from our no true Scotsman.
So the teacher quickly dispenses with formality, preferring to jump right in with both feet first: ‘what is reality?’ he asks. Hitherto disinterested faces turn like sunflowers, each as beautiful in its reaction as the other. ‘What do you mean by that?’ one asks.
‘What does it look like?’ To which most blush, remorseful not to know perhaps the most unanswerable question in cosmology. ‘Does it consist in waves of differing length? Does it shift according to the observer? Is it apparent in little pixels of differing colour or is reality a film in B&W?’
‘Are you for real, Sir?’ is the question on everyone’s eyes.
Just then a member of the unkindness of ravens fed faithfully each and every day comes tapping on the window, looking for its benefactor.
‘I mean is what we are seeing the same as what that bird at the window is seeing?’
‘But Sir, it is seeing you and you are seeing it, so yes.’
Another curveball is pitched. This time it’s about how the human brain is a live experiment in biochemistry. Chemical neurotransmitters flood the cortex then are flushed down into the blood stream. Do we see the world, for example, in favourable terms because we’ve received a mega-dosage of serotonin? When reality appears blissful and its constituent parts all bound by harmony, is that not a overdose of oxytocin? The class ponder thi
‘Have you ever looked at a person and thought ‘I am seeing this person in a new light?’ Some nod eagerly. ‘Have you ever let love turn to dislike, or even indifference?’ Yes and yes. ‘Seen the same thing from tow different angles and it appears totally different?’ A bombshell has been dropped in the room. ‘That is reality at work.’
Another asks: ‘Reality changing like when you hallucinate? Have you ever taken drugs, sir?’
When the conversation takes on a solemn edge, honesty really is the best policy.
No faces are veiled and now eyes really do grow large like harvest moons.
Their interest in finding out what happens to reality when LSD breaks down the barrier between ‘I’ and everything else is stoked further when the revelation breaks that blue tastes different from green on LSD. Attention is absolute when, after yet more probing, it turns out that molecules fizz before eyes that become electron microscopes. And as for motion: bodily movement goes at 100 frames per second, the hand leaving traces of the orbit it took when it was swooshed through the air. Yes, class, you can still see your hand as it was on the way to being here.
We digress. Peyote and shamanism crops up, which propels thought toward the necromancer in the tribe, the heady fumes and the rites that put the medium of two worlds into a trance-like state. It is here that the spirits of the forest are unleashed and everything that cannot be seen suddenly can be.
One student claims to live surrounded by djinns. Then another, then another. Purgatory, limbo and all the lost souls enter through the backdoor and suddenly the room is filled with spirits of a conversation that sought to ask: what is the ultimate nature of reality? Lost souls take seats at empty tables. The living – or what has only come to life in the past hour – are hooked on tales from another land called alternate reality.
Reality will never be the same for some of these country girls again. Shifted by the mere mention of itself, reality has shown its true colours. Lo & behold, it turns out that orange is not the only colour with a distinctive taste.