The Fundamentals of Education

A Socratic Perspective on
the Cultivation of Humanity

by Max Maxwell and Melete

Page 34

The Constant Human Response to Variation

If detected variations are not filtered out to allow for a particular focus, there are two basic characteristics of response relevant to the topic of this essay. This distinction has to do with the fact that all responses either do or do not involve a question. At the level of the unconscious, the brain is always querying itself. The human brain is a Disneyland of promptings and responses, or if you will, question and answer.

Our habit of asking questions in the face of variation is much more frequent and persistent than many may realize. We ask questions every time we face unexpected variations. This often happens even in the most mundane daily occurrences. Imagine that you are about to open a door. You reach down to where you expect the door knob to be. You see it is not there and feel a brief flash of surprise while immediately questioning the presence of the knob. Before you can philosophize about it, you have already looked to the other side of the door, found the knob, and answered your question. Questions and answers are always flowing through our minds as a pattern of daily life. Questions do not require the proper grammar or vocal inflection in order to exist in our brains. They pour forth from within us in both verbal and non-verbal forms, and we respond to them as a matter of habit.

Imagine you step outside, detect the variation of temperature and wonder about the weather. This weather related moment of inquiry can flash through your mind and be resolved before you step off the porch. If you see a flash of movement out of the corner of your eye, it captures your attention in a moment of inquiry as you instinctually seek an answer to the question, "What was that?". As you sit at your desk, you move your hand over the surface of your desk and detect a variation in the feel of the surface. Before you can make a willful response, your brain has already asked, "What is this sticky spot?". As you sit in the chair at your desk, you feel an unusual variation in your weight shifting in the chair and wonder what is different. You may never actually articulate these questions with words, but merely feel the moments of inquiry in your mind. In such moments we ask one of the many questions that our brains ask every day. Many of these questions are not remembered. Many are posed with such force of habit that we do not even think of them as questions.

Variation is the fabric of our being in time. The human subjective of facing change is the single most repeated and fundamental characteristic of the human condition. In the human confrontation of constant, never ending variation, the structure of question and answer reveals itself to be one of the most repeated activities in the human mind.  What is most repeated, is also what is most fundamental to the human condition. At a very fundamental level, the art of living can be expressed as an art of asking and answering questions. The art of asking and answering questions is also the essential soul of the Socratic method. To the extent that Socratic dialogue is structured around the asking and answering of questions, it shares with all human living, the most repeated and most fundamental human activity in all life. Without the capacity to ask and answer questions, we could not survive in even the simplest of circumstances.

It is also true of a rock that "facing change" is the most persistent characteristic of the "rock condition". Although, this kind of "facing" is not a reality that possess the quality of subjectivity we attribute to humans. The broadly based truth is that variation is an extraordinarily persistent characteristic of the whole universe. In order to move closer to the human condition we need to add one more attribute to the reality of facing change. The truth of the human condition in facing change is that we tend to increase in complexity as we face change. This is more true of biology, and the human technological artifacts of biology, than of the general order of matter. A rock has a stronger tendency to face variations that are more in the flow of direct and uncontested dissipation through entropic process. In contrast, biology persistently experiences variations over time to become more complex. From the general increase of complexity in the scheme of biological evolution, to the increase in the complexity of a human mind from birth to maturity, to the increase in the complexities of technology that result from our human living, biology contains capacities for repetition and variation that correlate with an increase in the complexity of the system. In a quest for meaning, which must travel the road of increasing complexity, we must focus with great persistence upon that which repeats the most. Here we have the great fundamental key to human thriving. It is our capacity for inquiry. Regardless of if we wish it or not, the highly repeated activity of asking and answering questions is the human gateway to increasing our capacity to create variation, to increase in complexity, and to embrace a greater depth of meaning in our living.