The Practicality Delusion

Contributed by Muhammad Zain Mobeen

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What is it that makes us humans so different from all the other known organisms that inhabit this planet? At one point in time our ancestors lived out their lives in pursuit of fulfilling their primitive desires as hunters and wanderers. However with the passage of time evolution molded the human mind into an extraordinary machine capable of figuring out the laws of nature, thereby allowing us to transcend our base desires and explore the Universe in search of higher truth. This is a journey that has manifested itself in many forms throughout the ages, the ancient Greek Civilization, the Golden Age of Islam, and the European Renaissance.

The technologically driven society that we inhabit today would not have been possible if the scientific pursuits of the enlightened men and women from the past had not inspired future generations. There perhaps would not have been a Newton (which may have been a relief in the view of some students!) or an Einstein or just about any scientist you can think of who has revolutionized our understanding of nature.

From sending space probes beyond known objects in the Solar System to smashing protons in order to reveal their constituents, the Universe, in a sense has become our playing field.

Today we see that the human race has indeed come a long way. From sending space probes beyond known objects in the Solar System to smashing protons in order to reveal their constituents, the Universe, in a sense has become our playing field. Of course we have yet to determine all the rules of the game and their consequences. In fact it is the unknown and the uncharted in nature that even today drives many young minds to dream to one day pick up the mantle of the scientist so that they too could inspire and enlighten future generations just as their predecessors before them.

Now depending on the reader’s personal experience this may or may not strike as a surprise that in our great nation, where pretty much everyone is expecting for a miracle to make things better, the above discourse on pursuing science is considered a joke by a lot of people. It may seem as an exaggeration but you are welcome to put it to the test as I have over the course of many years. There have been many occasions when the mentioning of my desire to become a physicist raised more eyebrows than the shattering of a glass. Okay that was an exaggeration (partially), I admit it. But the point I am trying to highlight is that our notion of education is somehow intertwined with the desire to become financially stable. Pretty much like magnetic and electric fields, you cannot have one without the other. But why is it that way? One idea that comes to mind is perhaps the crippling poverty rampant in Pakistan. But these eyebrow raising people that I make mention of, at least in my experience were all upper middle class people who went to the “best schools” and would never cease to mention their outstanding math scores. Yet, despite of the fact that they probably stood first in every examination and committed to memorize many textbooks in order to do so, they did so for all the wrong reasons.

It hurts me deeply when I think about the number of dreams and aspirations that might have fallen victim to this onslaught by the proponents of such views. We might have already lost some of the brightest minds of tomorrow.

Newton did not just create a whole branch of mathematics to come up with the laws of motion just so that centuries later reproducing these laws in exams could help someone get into medical school. Nor was any other scientific discovery made so that it could be used to kill off any trace of wonder and curiosity in children and instead brainwash them into believing that science and math are torturous hurdles that stand in the way of them and ‘success’. Of course success in this context refers to the supposedly enormous piles of gold and riches that await those who choose whatever career societal norms deem practical (which is really just a stupid way of saying profitable).

It hurts me deeply when I think about the number of dreams and aspirations that might have fallen victim to this onslaught by the proponents of such views. We might have already lost some of the brightest minds of tomorrow.  These may possibly include a prolific mathematician, a devoted cancer researcher or an inquisitive astronomer, who was led to believe that his or her passion for science was no more than an idle fantasy. In fact a friend of mine (who by the way was very passionate about physics and math) repeatedly tried to talk me out of pursuing physics arguing that I was out of my mind and committing career suicide.

Nevertheless his example serves to elucidate how the ‘practicality delusion’ that is adhered to so religiously by our society eventually crushes the dreams of our youth. This is a menace that discourages future generations from dreaming big, and instead requires them to believe that things will always remain the way they are, so why try at all? Perhaps in the not so distant future we may finally come to the realization that this capacity to dream is not our enemy but rather it is our salvation from ignorance. It is what makes each of us unique, gives us the means to create a better tomorrow and allows us to embrace our true role in the Universe.


Contributed by Muhammad Zain Mobeen

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