On Cognitive Empowerment

“Coming to understand a painting or a symphony in an unfamiliar style, to recognize the work of an artist or school, to see or hear in new ways, is as cognitive an achievement as learning to read or write or add.” – Nelson Goodman

The Muslim Indian community is today plagued with various maladies, including poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, and social, political, economic, and religious insecurity. Perhaps M. A. Jinnah had foreseen and prophesied this state of the Muslim Indian community, and had vehemently demanded the partition of the Indian Subcontinent. Jinnah may or may not have been justified in his demand for a separate state; however, the reality stands to witness that partition has in no way solved these problems; neither in India nor in Pakistan. At the same time, it is cognitively absurd at this juncture to divulge, introspect, and resent on a historical rhetoric beyond our control. We might always be tempted to depart from the metaphorical and embellished thought process of conferring Partition as the root of our present maladies. However, our mental cerebration would almost always stop us from extricating the effect of Partition and its emotional implications on the sorry state we cut today. Why is any thought of the future so hauntingly dismayed by the past? Why cannot our thought process be alienated from this rhetoric impediment? The primary reason is that we acutely lack cognitive empowerment; and love to mix emotions and thinking [akin to mixing drinking and driving??].

Cave Hira
Cave Hira

Cognitive empowerment might be a heavy and loaded term for many; however, it needs a high level of consideration. Before we define it, let’s take a look at the background of cognition – or the thought process. And even before we talk of cognition, let’s talk about the different types of learning and thought processes. Benjamin Bloom, a noted scientist in the field of learning or cognitive psychology, has laid down three domains of learning in the taxonomy that he has developed:

  • Cognitive: Deals with intellectual learning abilities
  • Affective: Deals with emotions and behavioral skills
  • Psychomotor: Deals physical movements, coordination, and use of motor skills

Note that the learning we are talking about here is not related to appearing and passing an exam; rather extending to acquire the skills of visualization, thought process, perception, inductive and deductive logic, and interpretation; and acting cogently in a given situation. Also note that being literate is no way a guarantee of gaining learning, as per the Constructivist School of Thought on Cognitive/Learning Psychology. All these three domains of learning play a major role in developing the cognitive thinking and decision-making skills of an individual. For example, how we react to an adverse situation, say confronted with a person abusing – this reaction may be propelled by a combination of emotional outburst, combined with an intellectual action requiring physical movement. The reaction could be highly emotional, by replying in the same language; wherein the affective domain dominates the decision-making ability. The reaction might also include slapping the abuser; which demonstrates the use (or abuse) of affective and psychomotor domains. In very rare cases, the reaction might include ignoring the person with the thought that he/she has done some wrong to himself/herself, not to me – and contemplating to avoid a similar situation in future. This third reaction vehemently demonstrates a very controlled decision that combines the three domains of learning in the best possible way – as also promoted by Islam. If we gain the ability to ascertain the requisite levels of cognitive, affective, and psychomotor involvements and control our thought process and actions accordingly, that is when I would define as having attained cognitive empowerment.

The irony of the Muslim Indian community today is that we precariously allow the affective domain to dominate in our thought process and decision-making skills. This has a direct bearing of the environment that we are generally exposed to. Err; please allow me to call it ghetto, not environment!! We have been brought up in a ghetto that constantly reminds us that learning starts and ends with literacy – the ability to read and write – and the ability to earn a living out of it. Unfortunately, learning starts much beyond simple literacy. Unfortunate in its sense because the intellectuals and frontrunners of the Community have never delved in this surprising verity – and we are often too happy and content with our efforts towards making the Community literate; maybe with a few degrees and certificates – nothing beyond that.

It is this ghetto that compels us to argue for reservations and other leverages; perceiving them as means to an end. Unfortunately again, these are ends in themselves, barriers that prevent us from moving any further. What we do with reservations and similar leverages is elevate ourselves on the same platform of abjection and wretchedness; when we should have actually thought of moving forward, not staying at the present location on an elevated platform. It is this ghetto that surreptitiously tempts us towards the coziness and security of being enclosed within a self-defined boundary of progress; bravely negating the external veracity. [For example, we clap and congratulate each other when a few students of AMU are selected by a few companies; but fail to compare with where the students of other universities stand in terms of placements.] We are belittled by the same ghetto to view engineering, medicine; maybe management and mass communication these days, as the conviction to success, while pompously ignoring any other unconventional but promising career. This ghetto gets more intense and innate in our generations with every level of lack of cognitive empowerment, because lack of empowerment has an overbearing genetic effect.

Cognitive empowerment can be developed with a sincere will combined with the ability to retrospect and question. Questioning leads to arguments, debates, and inductive and deductive reasoning; it has also been encouraged in our religion. The glorious Islamic history is witness to the birth, development, and implementation of this cognitive empowerment and reasoning; which might have obligated Allama Iqbal to proclaim that “…the birth of Islam is the birth of inductive reasoning; an intellectual revolt against the speculative philosophy of the Greeks”. However, we have perhaps misplaced it somewhere. We need to search and reconstruct this intellectual revolt against the contemporary, and recognize, see, hear, and induce the reality in new ways. Let’s make this effort to understand a painting and a symphony detached from our conventional thought process. It would mark a renaissance to break open our ghetto thought process and regain our lost cognitive empowerment – not seemingly similar to gaining our lost glory, as per some think tanks. Till then, we have miles to go before we sleep…

Sharjeel Ahmad is MBA and an Economics graduate. He is an instructional designer by profession and is presently based in Saudi Arabia. He has keen interest in social, economic, and political issues facing Indian populace, with special emphasis on minority issues.

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