I was studying in +1 when I started loving Physics. My friend Vivek and I would spend hours talking about the subject while we missed classes and discussed problems sitting well maintained lawns of Government Rajindra College, Bathinda. We both know that we would have been physicists if we had been in Europe or America where pure sciences were still flourishing along with other popular subjects of study. But we also knew that both of us were gearing for a rather dull career in Engineering or related areas. Nevertheless, these things did not matter when we were deep into our discussions questioning postulates of great scientists through our conversations and occasionally pausing to marveled at mental acumen of underrated thinkers like Maxwell and Gauss.
But that is just the background of the atmosphere from which I want to share a story with you guys. It goes like this. Any student of science would tell you that Newton came up with the idea of Gravitation. He said two bodies of matter continuously keep attracting each other with a continuous force of gravity depending on their masses and the distance between them. But that is where most of us stop thinking about this phenomena. If you extend your imagination a bit further and think about the cosmos, all you see is millions of miles of empty space dotted with a few islands of mass here and there. And what puts this mega engine in motion is continuous creation and annihilation of mass (particles). And conjuring up this image, I could not help but ask this question, “when a particle of mass is create in one part of the universe, how much time does it take for another particle millions of miles away, to start attracting this particle”? Is gravity and instantaneous force or does it take time to show up when a new particle is born? While I was thrilled by this thought, it was not even good enough to muster a confused look at my teachers faces. I remember one of them telling me, “beta pahila exercise de sval taan kar lao”; another said, “yaar kaam de gaal karia karo, how is this important for the exams”?
And that is really the start and the end of my story. Given the level of Education in our colleges and universities this is as far as an individual’s curiosity can go. Our physics books are filled with scientific theories, postulates and numerical questions along with star status to those with highest probability to appear in a competitive exam. There are some more with multiple questions and answers where your ability to come up with an answer is considered as important as getting it right. And the professors have mugged up these books like a pandit would mug-up schlokes from Gita or a bhai sahib will kunth Gubani. They are incapable of giving an original answer to any problem in the world. Asking a question is as bad in our education system as it is in our religions. There is no escape for a fertile mind but to feel ashamed for its clumsiness and impracticality of asking ‘not linked to examination’ questions.
I have read many biographies of scientists, but Einstein is my favorite (I think that is because there is more and credible information about him as compared with any other star scientists out there). A few months back I was reading the latest biography of Einstein that is available in the market. It is written by Walter Issacson who is also the author of the best seller biography of Steve Jobs. Anyhow, out of all the biographies of Einstein, Walter’s work is supposed to be most comprehensive and authentic (And having read some of his other biographies, I tend to agree with this). His work is great, not only for presenting Einstein as a normal human being, but also for explaining his line of though in the clearest and simplest possible way. And it is during reading this book that I came across a fundamental question that Einstein had asked himself, that steered him towards “General Theory of Relativity”. The question that he asked himself was,“when a particle of mass is create in one part of the universe, how much time does it take for another particle millions of miles away, to start attracting this particle. Is gravitation a constant force or a continuous exchange of force? Does gravity travel? How fast does it travel”? I still can not believe that I did not know this before, in spite of reading quite about bit about Einstein and his works.
No one had any answer for Einstein’s questions. Einstein did not even have full command on mathematics that was required to unravel this mystery. Nevertheless, there was a greater chance for him to find this answer in Europe than if he had asked the same question in India. Einstein was able to lay his hands on right information that he was looking for. He was able to read works of great scientists in his moth tongue and he had company of great scientists to discuss these matters with. And most importantly, he had audience to listen to him while he was refining his seemingly metaphysical ideas.
Yes, I am indirectly saying that asking the right question is the most important part of getting an answer for a problem. But I am not taking away anything from individuals like Einstein who follow their instincts and go to any extent to find answers. To be honest, asking a question is also easy. But finding an answer is a lot harder and a boring job. There would have been many in the world who would have asked the same question as Einstein did but did not have the will, resources and mental ability to get to the answer.
The tragedy that I am trying to point out is that there would have been many in India who would ask questions like these before I did and there will be many after me. But none of us will ever be able to get to the answer; not in our current education system. We have systematically killed the ability to question and innovate. We are copy cats of western civilization in every aspect of Education. In our schools and universities, the creativity and boldness of ideas moves like an abandoned and somewhat abnormal child. Rote learning rules and is encouraged at every step. And then we wonder how can we be the back office of IT Revolution while our kids rule the world in spelling bee competitions, our students top foreign Universities with ease, our brains crunch numbers faster than calculators. The problem is that we are born slaves to the ideas of the others. Our own ideas are seen as an abomination to the rhythm of nature; by our own parents; by our own teachers.
So while we think about rejuvenating our society, lets not forget to start from the basics. If we keep letting small ideas die, they will never lead to bigger ones. And soon the very foundation of our society will based on borrowed ideas. If we really want to start a new chapter in history of Punjab, we have to start with our kids. We have to build a solid Education system and give our teachers freedom of though. We have learned so many bad things from the West, we must learn some good ones. Let’s debate our options for a more Educated society. Let’s respect fertility of mind over rote learning.