Why We Learn
Meaning and purpose are the twin mountain peaks that we need to conquer to truly shape the education equation in our collective favor.
To truly engage the public the solution is, among many things, largely a question of emotional engagement, purpose and meaning. We are humans after all, we need to understand through experience, a personal experience. Abstract, academic concepts or reasoning alone are not our strongest forte. As such when bringing something of scale to the public domain it’s going to require emotional content and it's going to have to carry meaning. Meaning that is relevant on an individual basis, to an individual’s current and future worldview.
The Emotional Response
In the 1950s and 60s in response to the Soviet space program, the US initiated a significant drive to surge scientific literacy and technical innovation arriving at the Apollo program and unlimitedly landing men on the moon. In response, during this period, engineering PhDs in US universities increased three fold. This was not a response to an academic campaign, it was a visceral emotional reaction to a powerful narrative, and academia benefitted downstream. People watched engineers dream, build and achieve the impossible, and people were spell bound.
Inspiring someone to learn takes more than just traditional academics. It takes emotion and meaning, that’s the business we are in. If we want to truly engage today’s “on-screen” generation in the sciences and space exploration we need a new level of interactive, meaningful programs. Many of today’s senior engineers and scientists will tell you they were inspired to pursue their careers through engagement with entertainment media in their youth, such as Star Wars and Star Trek. Entertainment does emotional attachment better than most and we have a grasp on the mechanics. In short, it’s an emotional relationship with an entertainment product or a real world event. Short of a manned mission to Mars any time soon, we must utilize innovations in entertainment to broaden emotional engagement.
On a side note, a Chase economics study carried out in 1975 confirmed the economic impact of ‘Moon shot’ approaches. It was calculated that for every dollar spent on the Apollo program four were returned to the economy.
VPACC and the rest of us need to rekindle the fires and develop institutions that target better ways to scale these priority concepts of meaning and purpose in the 21st century.