Reformation of thought by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

There was a time when West gained knowledge by translating Arabic language books of Greek and Muslim philosophers. In the 21st century technologies has made it possible for us to come full circle and gain knowledge from the West to advance our societies not in terms of material progress alone but also developing thought. In doing so we should not feel insecure that our culture will be sacrificed on the altar of modernity. Human nature is evolutionary, culture as a human enterprise is also an evolutionary concept. But since this evolution moves with a glacier speed we hardly notice it. Whether we learn from Western science or not our culture is going to change anyways. So it is better to learn than not to learn.

The process of learning is a complex function. An important quality to be an effective learner is to be able to ask questions that probe the issue deeper and from multiple facets. It was 18th century French philosopher Rene Descartes, considered as the father of modern philosophy, who presented the concept that certainty and truth are two different things. His main motive was to promote scientific rational thinking. He suggested that a person may feel certain about an event, phenomena or information but it may not necessarily be true. Certainty is confirmed to be true by allowing the observer to raise doubts through liberty of asking questions without any limitations. Any impairment of liberty to inquire develops risks that an observer could believe a certainty to be true while it could actually be false or far from the truth. An illustration of this concept could be our view of the world around us. When viewed by a naked eye an iron table appears to be solid with a definite geometric shape but at a sub-atomic level it reveals itself to be comprised mostly of an empty space consisted of spherical atoms. From this perspective we can deduct that certainty is moveable while ultimate truth is immovable and unchangeable. The contemporary knowledge of science can not be considered to have achieved finality and has revealed absolute truth. To progress towards truth certainty should be treated with a grain of speculation. Realty from this approach of evolving certainty has a different manifestation for each individual.

Although the concept of certainty was presented by Descartes for scientific inquiry but I feel it has equally significant application in social development. Social aspect of this concept is that in a society where literacy rate is low the emotional quotient of majority of citizens is very high. This results in impaired development of faculties to enable people to collect and analyze pertinent information and contemplating on it. This consequently produces definitive judgments quickly at considering phenomena to be certainly true without raising sufficient level of inquiry. For instance use of propaganda in domestic politics and international relations. It is a distorted or biased presentation of facts to create a certainty that projects a particular political objective. The interesting thing is that propaganda has an element of truth in it but what it does is that it suspends the curiosity of the observer so that he does not inquire enough to go pass the charade and get to the truth of it.

The difference of propaganda practices in West and East is that in West, where literacy rates are high, it is achieved through presentation of facts in a particular light. On the other hand, in East, where literacy rate is low, facts are distorted to promote a certain perception. As an example, many of my educated friends sent me emails with an excerpt from a column to prove that Malala was a CIA agent. The excerpt was extracted from a satirical columnist but that fact was ignored to be certain that their judgment of Malala was true. In Pakistan, the quality of factual contents in Urdu newspapers is quite bad. In these newspapers news headlines and opinion columns, with some exceptions, are built around distorted facts to present a certain view. Prevalence of conspiracy theories in our society is also the function of accepting propaganda to be true and then vigorously promoting and endorsing it.

Another complexity that is introduced to this concept of certainty is the use of language to communicate ideas. Language as a human enterprise is not a perfect medium. An idea expressed has the potential to be understood significantly differently by each individual based on their own emotional and historical association with words and phrases. It is not possible to dissociate history and emotions from a language, to transform it into a totally rational medium, as these are building blocks of it at the first place.

Social application of this concept of certainty is in the field of reporting history. The variables and their combinations related to past events are so many that it is not possible for the historian to report an event as it happened. Another dimension is that historic facts are devoid of communicating the emotions exactly as it was experienced by the participants of an event. So in reading history the reader has to maintain certain amount of skepticism alive to be able to change his view of the event if more evidence is presented or old evidence is presented with a new light. A society has to allow varied reporting of history to enable the readers to form a much more informed view of their history.

Pakistani higher education system is such that it does not encourage critical thinking rather we produce conformists. In the absence of encouraging and welcoming questions what we produce is a cadre of degree holders that are not able to get to the truth. They arrive at certainty without reasonably confirming it through seeking deeper empirical evidence. This in turn produces errors in judgments which lead to erroneous decisions as these are based on small sample of facts. Accumulation of these small errors ultimately results in the deterioration of society. From the political perspective absence of critical inquiry would translate into a collective thinking that is mistaken and chaotic. It is very important that critical thinking should be promoted in the institution of higher learning so that a much more informed thought could evolve.

Iqbal’s idea of Khudi can only materialize when a person holds truth and is cognizant of his fiduciary responsibility to apply it for the greater good of the community.

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