Education and Sensory Experience

Single cells follow chemical trails, plants can grow towards light, and animals, well, animals can see and hear and smell and touch and taste. The sensory systems of organisms embeds them within the world, anchoring their behaviors to the features of the world that matters most to their survival and reproduction. Yet, most organisms don't have an experience of the world. At least what humans conceive of as experience is impossible without the complex neural structures found in the vertebrate brain, and not just any vertebrate brain, but one with cognitive functioning circuitry. Humans have this circuitry, which links our consciousness with our sensory experience of the world in way that is impossible for other organisms, including most animals.

We co-create the world as beings with consciousness. Neuroscientists have known for decades that sensory information is groomed and shaped backstage, in the primary brain systems, before it makes an entrance on the stage of consciousness, but each of us interacts with sensory information through a stunningly complex, and unique, suite of symbols, imagination, memory, and attitudes. We define ourselves in relation to these sensory data, contextualizing our goals and revising our relation to the universe. We co-create the world, and the world co-creates us. 

Education provides a path for infinite construction and new interaction with the world. Anyone who has taken an art history class cannot view a painting in the same way, although the sensory information has not changed between the beginning and ending of the course. But the person's vocabulary, memory, and attention has changed, and it can continue to change. One of the promises of education, arguably its greatest gift, is that humans beings can be more than receivers, listening to the static of the universe. We do this by building, over the centuries and from generation to generation, knowledge systems that promise humans something denied to almost every other organism, the chance to participate in the creation of the world.