Insights into reality

Ever an investigator of knowledge, preferably of understanding, the Seeker, in his retirement, began to investigate extra-sensory phenomena (e.s.p). In his youth, he had read of Prof. Rhine’s work in this field at Duke University.

Having read a recently published tome bringing together the latest perceptions on e.s.p, the Seeker consulted a visiting European clairvoyant, just to see what happened. To his surprise, without even looking at him, she described accurately his family and their tense relationships, then mentioned his very private thought about re-emigrating, and finally advised that his marriage was over. This was news to him, but proven correct.

Such accuracy was impressive, as his previous exposure to clairvoyants, astrologers and ‘fortune tellers’ in an Asian environment had merely increased his inborn scepticism. There had been many amateurs or charlatans around. Yet, he had seen faith-healing and the discovery of lost objects, mainly valuable jewellery.

He then consulted an English clairvoyant, again out of curiosity. To his considerable surprise, on arrival, he was told ‘I have the spirit of your uncle with us. Will you accept him?’ Initially at a loss for words (and thought), he said, ‘I have 3 uncles. Please describe him.’ To his delight, it was clearly his senior uncle, the second-most important man in his life (after his father). His acceptance of the spirit (whom he could not see nor communicate with) enabled a silent dialogue between the clairvoyant and the spirit; he remained tongue-tied, only responding to questions by the clairvoyant.

The introductory statement by the spirit was that “higher beings” had sent him because he was the one the client was “most likely to accept.” The Seeker’s sceptical mind was presumably well known to the spirit world. The consultation ended in a three-way exchange, wherein the spirit displayed his knowledge of what had happened to his nephew after his own death. The spirit then faded away, having left his nephew with some sound suggestions for his future.

This experience left the nephew in a philosophical quandary. The spirit world had never been part of his framework of reference for anything. Ultimately, he realised that he had been exposed to a very significant event. He could not reject it just because it did not fit into any generally acceptable frame of knowledge, beliefs and values. He has since acted on the suggestions received.

The Seeker then consulted another kind of clairvoyant, a spiritual healer, again out of curiosity. An Australian, she offered her client’s past-life experiences as an explanation of certain physical pains of his, which he had not mentioned to anyone.

When he rejected her comments, saying that any of his past-life experiences must surely be available only to him, her reply was that her own spirit guide is a Healer, who is able to read all of the Seeker’s past lives. Strangely, soon after, the Seeker’s pains disappeared.
And, like the English clairvoyant, this Australian healer displayed an ability to sense the presence of the souls or spirits of the Seeker’s dead children. He found this quite disconcerting. How does one deny these events and their significance, or their implications about the reality of human existence?

Then, there is the ‘casual clairvoyant’ who, in a non-consultative contact, could claim to see either a past or the future of the Seeker. She once described the physical appearance of the Seeker’s spirit guide, while conveying his complaint that the Seeker had not been listening to him!

As the historical Lin Yu Tang, a Chinese philosopher of renown, might have said to his imagined porcine pet, ‘Where now, old sow?’

For a rational sceptical person to find, after a lifetime lived to the full, that the spirit world exists, is a great surprise. When the events experienced cannot be denied because of the accuracy of the information made available, and also because the Seeker of knowledge exposed to the events is told that the spirit world is playing a significant role in his life, what is he to do?

 

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We really know nothing

Socrates reportedly claimed “I know nothing.” That statement resonates with me. After a sound colonial education, wide reading, thinking deeply about almost everything that affects us as human beings, comparing what the scientists are saying about cosmology with the beliefs offered by religions, and after a highly interactive and contributory life as an adult for 7 decades, I too feel that I know nothing.

But then, from about age 8, when I seemingly became aware that I had a brain with an associated mind, I began to ask myself “How do I know what I know?” No one could help me answer that question. The obvious answer? “I do not know!”

Continuing on a subjective plane of contemplation, are there not situations when one just ‘knows’ something, or about something? There are those who read the past accurately, or foretell the future accurately, or accurately read the thoughts of others, or see what is happening elsewhere (not always confirmable) – but seem untouched by their ability. It is as if they are merely conduits. My experience covers all these phenomena.

There are also those who communicate with the spirits of dead humans; and who say that the spirit realm influences – indeed, guides – some of us. As well, there is intuition, an understanding without perceivable cause; the so-called ‘third eye’ is often credited with this ability.

Is it therefore probable that those who seek knowledge, even through what we know as the sciences, can ever be certain that the explanations offered are (realistically) no more than theories, tentative in nature? What if some (many?) theories cannot be tested – ever? Does the use of mathematical calculations prove (that is, beyond challenge) any theory? Or, would a rigorous application of mathematical processes merely enhance the probability of the causal relationship being tested being potentially verifiable, were a process of verification to become available?

Since maths is apparently not created but discovered, does the human brain, drawing on only 5 senses (enhanced by some appropriate equipment), have the capacity to access the totality of the information which may be available? Worse still, the scientific method, which tells us reliably about the mechanistic material realm, is unable to deal with the ethereal realm. How do we obtain reliable information about matters neither measurable nor repeatable?

In reality, we puny humans can only hope to achieve a tentative understanding of matters of relevance to existence, by drawing upon what is set before us as knowledge, relying upon that ephemeral ability known as intuition. If only we could avoid being led into blind alleys by purveyors of faith in both the material and immaterial realms.

Knowing nothing, and awaiting hopefully for some slight infusion of insight from the ethereal realm may be sensible, while reconciling the tie to the material realm of Earth with that innate yearning for communing with the insubstantial Divine.

A Seeker of knowledge may thus need to settle for an understanding drawn from intuition, where the objective may actually be subjective!

An ethnic approach to minority communities

Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki, an eminent sociologist, and Chairman of the federal government’s Ethnic Advisory Council, said (in a published article) that the policy of grants to ethnic groups pays disproportionate attention to one of the many dimensions of multicultural policy. It promotes “an ethnic approach to minority groups”, by emphasising the things that divide us, instead of the things that bind us. The policy also extends the scope of equality of access (to the nation’s resources) to the equality of outcomes.

The need for some short-term affirmative action or positive discrimination “specifically targeted to refugees and other victims of oppression” is, however, not denied by the professor. He went on to say that wooing the ethnic vote “represents a grave distortion of multiculturalism for all Australians. It measures the success or otherwise of multicultural policies by the amount of special funds and programs directed specifically to ethnics, irrespective of whether they lead to a cohesive or fragmented society”.

He says also that multiculturalism is seen here as an instance of public policy developed for the benefit of minority groups and not as Australia’s legitimate response to the demographic reality of our society.

This view is confirmed (also in a published article) by Sir James Gobbo, an eminent community leader (later Governor of the state of Victoria), when he says that the philosophy of multiculturalism “calls for respect for differences but not their perpetuation at public expense”.

I am grateful to these two eminent leaders (with whom I once had a close and warm working relationship) for articulating my views so succinctly and in such a timely manner. But stacked against the three of us in our approach to funding for ethnic groups (and implicitly to the plural service structures so endowed) and the divisiveness of such an approach, is a multitude of ethnic leaders. Of course, these claim to speak on behalf of their people.

However, it is difficult to know if their constituencies are consulted regularly and whether, in any such consultations, each community has considered how its grandchildren will relate to the grandchildren of other Australians, and to what kind of nation they will belong.

(This is an extract from my first book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of multicultural Malayan in White Australia, written in 1994. Following Prof. Zubrzycki’s positive review of the book, he wrote to me a personal letter. He said “I agree with everything you have said, except on the issue of voluntary euthanasia.”

All the reviews of the book were fabulous. Refer book pages for Raja Arasa Ratnam on amazon.com’s kindle books. Refer also my other WordPress posts on multiculturalism. To me, multiculturalism simply defines ethno-cultural diversity; no policy is needed.)

Some issues of multiculturalism

“In 1995, The United Nations International Year for Tolerance (and the twentieth anniversary of the enactment of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act), the then Prime Minister of Australia claimed that there is in Australia ‘no language not spoken, no culture not understood, no religion not practiced.’ It must be true; it was in the news. In any event, this means that we the most culturally diverse nation in the world; or is it only linguistically diverse?

The Office of Multicultural Affairs also told us then that multiculturalism is a policy for managing the consequences of cultural diversity; that this policy confers upon us two rights and a responsibility. The rights are: to express and share our cultural heritage, and to equality of treatment and opportunity; the responsibility is to utilise effectively the skills and talents of all Australians.

The Office also identified certain limits to Australian multiculturalism: that we should have an over-riding and unifying commitment to Australia; that we should accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society, viz. the Constitution and the rule of law; tolerance and equality; parliamentary democracy; freedom of speech and religion; English as the national language; and equality of the sexes; and that we have an obligation to accept the rights of others to express their views and values.

All this is eminently reasonable and sensible, except that bit about ‘managing’. In addition, the chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation (Sir James Gobbo), an ethnic community leader of great competence and renown, said (also in 1995) that he looked forward to ‘the day in the not too distant future, when our cultural diversity and our policies of tolerance and respect in handling this diversity will be so much a part of the fabric of society, that we shall no longer need to use such words as multiculturalism and ethnic’.”

“This view parallels the mature view (also expressed in 1995) of the President of the Czech Republic that the best hope for a peaceful multicultural civilisation in the world is to understand and insist on ‘the shared spiritual values of our cultures’.”

“Another outstanding ethnic community leader (Emeritus Professor Jerzy Zubrzycki) questioned (also in 1995) whether the term ‘multiculturalism’ is now out of date. … … ‘Many cultures, one Australia’ has greater attraction for him. While supporting the thrust of current multicultural policy, he raised two important issues: that ‘not all traditions, cultures and customs are necessarily equal’, and that wooing the ethnic vote throws the policy ‘out of balance’.

Where ‘some minority values are totally inconsistent with fundamental values of the dominant Australian culture’ (eg. where ‘the family takes the law into its hands to redress a wrong done to one of its members’), ‘it would be nonsense to say that every culture is equally valued and therefore legitimate’.

This is an extract from my book ‘Destiny Will Out: the experiences of a multicultural Malayan in White Australia’ (1997)

Tolerance of failure

‘Tolerance of failure’ behind declining results

Following my previous posts on matters educational, especially in a competitive global milieu, here are extracts from an article which brings out the issues. The contents of this article are consistent with previous news reports on Australia’s ranking on a global scale.

These who make counter-arguments claiming that Australian students are better ‘rounded’ than their counterparts overseas or their Asian-Australian cohorts, because the typical Aussie is more involved in sport, appear incredible. Equally questionable are claims in the local media that regular tests and exams are stressful. Could normal life be expected to be stress-free?

The article is by Pallavi Singhal in the Sydney Morning Herald of 29 Sept. 2017.

“The co-ordinator of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) has linked Australia’s steady decline in all three test areas of maths, reading and science to the country’s “tolerance of failure” in schools.

Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD’s education directorate, said “It is perhaps too easy to do well in Australia” and that the country tends to accept that “some students will come out less well.”

“We asked students what makes you successful in maths, and many students in Australia said that it’s about talent, but if you asked students in China or Singapore the same question, you had the vast majority saying, ‘I can be succeed if I try very hard and my teachers support me’,” Mr. Schleicher said.

“In other countries, there is a belief that the education system is just not sorting them but that it can make a difference. There would be a much greater tendency for teachers to redouble their efforts for students who are struggling.”

The latest PISA results from last year showed that Australian 15-year olds are declining in both absolute terms and relative to their international peers. … …

“Australia used to be very good at the high end of the skill level but there’s been a gradual slide over the last 15 years,” said Mr. Schleicher. He said that the countries performing best “pay more attention to how they develop and retain the best teachers”. … …

“Australia needs to make teaching intellectually more attractive and provide better support and opportunities for the profession. … … “

Comment (based on nearly 70 years’ residence in Australia as an adult): The ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude held by many in the formerly closed and protective Australia is no more. Multiculturalism and globalisation require better planning and performance for survival.

 

Periodic tests or continuous tracking?

“Focusing solely on academic achievement as measured by final results reveals little about how much a student has actually learnt during the year. Tracking academic progress, on the other hand, paints a much clearer picture.” Peter Goss and Jordana Hunter (Sydney Morning Herald)

“Academic achievement is influenced by many factors, including prior achievement and socio-economic background. By contrast, academic progress, while not perfect, provides a better indication of how much students have actually learnt.”

“Our focus should be on the academic progress we want students to make, rather than the final mark.”

“Great teachers use high-quality student assessments to identify where each student is starting from. They teach based on what students are ready to learn next. They monitor progress over time and adjust their teaching strategies along the way. This approach needs to become systematic, including being embedded in teacher training courses.

Growing numbers of schools analyse student progress over time to identify and fix problems individual teachers might miss. A few schools are increasingly clear-eyed about their challenge and target two years of learning in one. They know exactly where each student is at, and track progress relentlessly to stay on target.”

“Tracking academic progress is vital. It tells teachers and schools when their approach is working. Recognising and celebrating great progress helps sustain motivation.”

(These are extracts from the SMH article.)

Comment: Successful continuous tracking should remove the fear of tests. To avoid misleading our youth about their viability in a globalised community, teachers would surely want to ensure that school leavers have achieved the requisite level of competencies. Hence the need for nationwide tests.

Why is periodic testing in schools being decried? Obviously, students, teachers, and policy makers in the education system would have a spotlight shone on them. Effective effort should be a basal requirement for all participants in the education process.

Thus, a casual assessment of entrants to a kinder class would identify the approach to be taken. Those who complain loudly about this may need to be asked “Is kinder a parent-free playground?”

Those who complain about the periodic testing of competence at various points during school will want to ensure that continuous tracking occurs in their school, and that the competence levels to be achieved each year have been met.

 

Delaying job-seeking by degree?

I observed, in my early years in Australia, that some young boys would leave school at about age 15, or at the completion of Year 10, to find physical work. When able-bodied European immigrants obtained work, mainly in building up Australia’s infrastructure, did that reduce the jobs available to 15-year old Anglo-Aussies?

There were also fewer jobs available to these youths as manufacturing began progressively to shrink. Was that why completion of Year 12 became compulsory? Were those interested in working with their hands then enabled to obtain relevant practical training? Indeed, were apprenticeships as tradesmen being diminished as well?

This situation may explain the quaint policy of expecting 45% of youths up to their mid-twenties to obtain tertiary qualifications. Was this not just delaying job seeking? Why 45%? What skills are needed in the economy which requires a university degree?

As well, the many colleges of advanced education (CAEs), which offered vocational training, were converted to universities. For whose benefit? As I observed, the curriculum offered by them was not like the progressively deepening learning offered by the traditional universities. (Refer historian Jacques Barzun in my post “Do universities meet the needs of society?”)

In one example of a re-labelled CAE, for a 4-year teaching degree, the second major was Sociology. No methodology was taught. Of what use is sociology in training a teacher? The content could have been learnt in high school or in the new colleges covering only Years 11 and 12. These colleges offered imitations of university experience.

That is what I was told when I was invited to join the School Board of one of these colleges. I had previously been chairman of a primary school board, a representative of the A.C.T. Schools Authority on another school board, and the president of a high school Parents & Citizens Committee. That is, I have had years of experience with the education of our youth, apart of having been a school teacher in British Malaya.

I then discovered that students could matriculate with limited academic learning. They would be comparable (to some extent) to some students who had completed Year 12 not being able to solve simple problems in arithmetic, or to write clearly (because also of their poor spelling). I write all this from personal knowledge.

Now universities have remedial courses for those deficient in the basics of written communication, and for survival in a numerical transactional milieu, before commencing their course of study. My experience in interviewing candidates for promotion (through Promotion Appeals Committees) in the federal public service led me to question the benefits of some degrees issued by some former CAEs. When a student with a pass mark below 50% is accepted for a university course … … !

Having kept our youth out of the workforce as long as possible, while they acquire a degree and a significant debt to the government for their fees, what sort of jobs are available to them where their degree is relevant? In an economy increasingly based on the service industries, isn’t work-skill training more important than a university degree for many jobs?

But then, could a nation rely upon market forces to produce private tertiary colleges of competence, quality, and relevance? Do we have bureaucracies competent to assess intended establishment, and then to monitor the operation, of private colleges? News reports seem to suggest otherwise.

What seems to be missing in the educational sector is quality control. Process does not equate to desired or needed outcomes.