By Amar Yumnam
Let me start this time with a long quotation from the first chapter of a 2010 book on Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steve Johnson:
“………. as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.
—SHAKESPEARE, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.14-17
Sometime in the late 1870s, a Parisian obstetrician named Stephane Tarnier took a day off from his work at Maternité de Paris, the lying-in hospital for the city’s poor women, and paid a visit to the nearby Paris Zoo. Wandering past the elephants and reptiles and classical gardens of the zoo’s home inside the Jardin des Plantes, Tarnier stumbled across an exhibit of chicken incubators. Seeing the hatchlings totter about in the incubator’s warm enclosure triggered an association in his head, and before long he had hired Odile Martin, the zoo’s poultry raiser, to construct a device that would perform a similar function for human newborns. By modern standards, infant mortality was staggeringly high in the late nineteenth century, even in a city as sophisticated as Paris. One in five babies died before learning to crawl, and the odds were far worse for premature babies born with low birth weights. Tarnier knew that temperature regulation was critical for keeping these infants alive, and he knew that the French medical establishment had a deep-seated obsession with statistics. And so as soon as his newborn incubator had been installed at Maternité, the fragile infants warmed by hot water bottles below the wooden boxes, Tarnier embarked on a quick study of five hundred babies. The results shocked the Parisian medical establishment: while 66 percent of low-weight babies died within weeks of birth, only 38 percent died if they were housed in Tarnier’s incubating box. You could effectively halve the mortality rate for premature babies simply by treating them like hatchlings in a zoo.
“Tarnier’s incubator was not the first device employed for warming newborns, and the contraption he built with Martin would be improved upon significantly in the subsequent decades. But Tarnier’s statistical analysis gave newborn incubation the push that it needed: within a few years, the Paris municipal board required that incubators be installed in all the city’s maternity hospitals. In 1896, an enterprising physician named Alexandre Lion set up a display of incubators—with live newborns—at the Berlin Exposition. Dubbed the Kinderbrutenstalt, or “child hatchery,” Lion’s exhibit turned out to be the sleeper hit of the exposition, and launched a bizarre tradition of incubator sideshows that persisted well into the twentieth century. (Coney Island had a permanent baby incubator show until the early 1940s.) Modern incubators, supplemented with high-oxygen therapy and other advances, became standard equipment in all American hospitals after the end of World War II, triggering a spectacular 75 percent decline in infant mortality rates between 1950 and 1998. Because incubators focus exclusively on the beginning of life, their benefit to public health—measured by the sheer number of extra years they provide—rivals any medical advance of the twentieth century. Radiation therapy or a double bypass might give you another decade or two, but an incubator gives you an entire lifetime.”
The implication of this long quotation is that information is important. It also emphasises that putting this information to good use is significant. Here the critical input is the level of knowledge. Knowledge possession should be of such a level that the importance and the contextualisation of the information received are appreciated. The application of the information to activities and interventions should also be founded on sound knowledge such that the outcomes of these actions are significantly positive. Now the world is accepting the fundamentality of basing our individual and social actions on the application of information and knowledge. This is why we hear so much about the knowledge society and knowledge economy.
But the question to be asked is whether such a transformation towards the application of information and knowledge in individual and social functionings spontaneous or is there some other requirement for it to emerge and flourish? Well the answer is that there is a definitive requirement for a social milieu (we call it culture) where the members of the society commit and work relentlessly to listen to the values of information and importance of knowledge. Relentlessness is the term to be noted here. The society cannot work in an off and on manner when it comes to the use of information and application of knowledge while behaving, functioning and performing; it has to be a continuous affair. This behavioural quality should inhabit every organ of the society – state, individual, ethnic groups and what not. The preeminent significance of this behavioural quality is on the rise with every advancement in the application of knowledge as manifested so glaringly in the contemporary digitising world.
This is where the biggest predicament of Manipur lies. The opportunities for building the capacity to process information and appreciate knowledge are increasingly beyond the reach of the poor. The school education and the component characteristics are now so much dominated by the private sector that the cost for meaningful participation of all the children is beyond the reach of many. Despite these weaknesses, we can claim that the semblance of competitive school education is prevalent in Manipur. Complete school education, the scenario is so depressing. The post-school education is as good as non-existent in Manipur today. The functioning, performance and delivery in this stage is so hopelessly absent of use of information and application of knowledge. This contrasts with the deep necessity at this stage of learning to put to practice the capacity created at the school level education. In other words, at the post-school educational institutes in Manipur, we are manufacturing products who cannot adopt the principle of harnessing information and using knowledge in functioning. A little learning is a dangerous thing is what we have been made to appreciate from childhood. But what Manipur now does is moving in a very fast pace towards a society which cannot put the heads to good use to the processes of functioning and influencing performance for better outcomes. This lax and discounting knowledge now characterises every functioning of the land in both the state and the non-state agents.
In a dangerous way this negative pace towards degradation is now salient in all the functioning of all the diverse ethnic groups in Manipur in both their internal and external manifestations. We must now be seriously alive in particular to the looming internal and external violent dispositions of the diverse ethnic groups in this land. While heart should be foundation for functioning within and without ethnic functions, all are engaged in articulating issues and interests along vis-à-vis others. Unfortunately, this is the only area where head is put to use in Manipur. But this is exactly where the process is negative and the outcome would be damagingly violent. God save Manipur as both the state and the non-state agents do not have time and inclination to ponder on this emerging outcome.