John Coates is a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge and a former Wall Street trader for Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Deutsche Bank. In 2012 he published a book titled, “The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: how risk-taking transforms us, body and mind.” In the book Coates takes a detailed look at the evolutionary process of the human brain, human body and how they relate to each other (specifically in times of stress).
Part III of the book is titled, “Seasons of the market” and includes a subsection called “The pleasure of information.” The section details the release of dopamine into the brain and how it can affect a plethora of other things within the body. Dopamine specifically targets brain regions controlling reward and movement; so when someone receives an important piece of information or does something that promotes health or survival – such as eating, drinking, or having sex – dopamine is subsequently released along the pleasure pathways of the brain, inducing a joyous and sometimes euphoric experience. The human brain appears to value dopamine more so than the reward itself; it’s how millions of people in this country have become addicted to food, how our generation has become addicted to text messaging and push notifications, and how junkies become addicted to alcohol, narcotics and amphetamines. The most interesting bit of information in this chapter dealt with a German research group designing an experiment that cut the link between the pleasure of eating and the need to search for food.
The research team took a group of rats and pharmacologically depleted their dopamine and found that the rats would continue to eat and enjoy the food only when it was brought to them and put directly into their mouths. The rats would do this every time, but completely refused to walk even a small distance in search of food. The experiment illustrates the link between activity and joy in human beings, the thrill of the hunt, the art of the chase, the pursuit angle along the sideline. It means that animals prefer to work for their food instead of receiving it passively.
Coates, in the succeeding paragraph, makes a genius point when he says, “If you are programming an animal to survive, you should make it enjoy more than just eating and drinking and having sex, which would encourage it to develop into nothing more than a couch potato or a louche hedonist. You should make it love the activities that lead to the discovery of food, water, and sex.”
Sir Kenneth Robinson is a best-selling English author who serves on several advisory boards pertaining to the arts in education. He is professionally labeled as an educationalist and gave the most-viewed TED Talk in history during a conference in February of 2006. The talk is titled, “How schools kill creativity” and has, to date, received over 30 million views between the TED website and YouTube postings. His dialogue runs close to 20 minutes and draws a standing ovation at its closure. He covers a wide range of topics, from the hilariousness of picturing Shakespeare as a child, his opinions on the human race steadily growing out of creativity, and the odd mental picture of university professors as gigantic heads, constantly inflating with knowledge, only using their bodies as modes of transport for their all-important craniums.
What I took most tangibly from the Robinson talk was his description of differentiating modes of talent and ambition. He references an interview with Gillian Lynne, a multi-millionaire British ballerina, dancer, theatre director and choreographer. She is most famous for her work with Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Robinson had interviewed her for a book he was working on at the time that dealt with successful individuals in obscure fields and how those individuals first discovered and subsequently cultivated their talents. Lynne was in grade school in the 1930’s and had trouble focusing; she was underperforming and teachers complained that she could not sit still. According to Robinson, “Today, she would probably be diagnosed with ADHD, but it hadn’t been invented yet.” Lynne went to a specialist with her mother and the doctor asked her a series of questions, after which he informed Lynne to stay in the room while he and her mother went outside to talk about his findings. As the doctor exited the room he flicked the radio on and closed the door. Once in the hallway he instructed Lynne’s mother to be quiet and watch her daughter through the windowpane. The music played and young Gillian Lynne proceeded to rhythmically dance around the room, her body and mind fully consumed by the task at hand. Her mother said that she did not understand and the doctor simply said, “Your daughter isn’t sick, she’s a dancer.” Lynne eventually transferred to a dance school, flourished, and the rest is history. The adage in this story and in the points Robinson strives to make have clearly resonated over time.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Thanks to Albert Einstein, I have a direct line to my conclusion. Lynne, our gill-bearing friend, and the animals on both four legs and two have, above any others, one important trait in common. They were all born with a specific set of talents that will, when properly honed, allow them to capture their food, water and sex. Classroom education as we know it was designed during the industrial revolution. It worked very well because it was designed for that specific time period. Lynne was seen as different because she didn’t fit the mold that school offered. Luckily for her, she found people that transcended the constraints of the period and guided her in the right direction.
The problem with education today (in a production sense) is that it was designed for the industrial revolution. This current system employs general education requirements of all shape and size, all of which scare me more and more the further I get away from them. It doesn’t make any sense for a freely capitalistic society to be educating its future in this way. When many are made to fit into one mold, instead of encouraging personal growth, a society of similarity is created. In this societal model therein lies potential for decreased happiness, disillusionment with purpose, alternative and dangerous ways to find pleasure, and of course, a “wealth” gap. This could potentially happen when, over many years, the future is repeatedly told what they will become as opposed to what they can make themselves into. Pretty scary, isn’t it?