Ingolf Dahl













examensarbete 5 p

Handledare: Peter Johansson

Examinator: Ilse Hakvoort

PPU-distans Vt-2003







Background:     The motivation for studies is central for the success of the education in school. Motivation is related to the question “why?”, which ultimately leads us to the big question about the meaning of life, the universe and everything.

Purpose:           I will present a philosophical discussion about the essence of being a human being and to investigate different perspectives on the relation between thinking, our experience of consciousness and the meaning and goals of life. Especially implications for school and learning are emphasized.

Method:           To obtain a wider perspective, and to find out what teenagers might feel and think about their own thinking, some teenagers were interviewed, using a phenomenographic approach.

Result:              To discuss the way the pupils experience their thinking and consciousness seems to be a good way to get a discussion about essential questions in school. To be conscious, to experience, think and communicate is the essence of what it is to be a human being. Acquiring knowledge is the method to enhance the consciousness experience.



Introduction. 3

Why? A discussion about this question and its answer. 4

Cogito ergo sum.. 5

The quality of consciousness and thinking. 5

Are these arguments ”science”?. 6

Methodology and questions. 6

Discussions about the meaning of life. 8

The interviews. 9

Discussion. 15

Conclusions. 16

References. 19

Appendix 1: Frågeunderlag. 21


Do you enjoy thinking?

Ingolf Dahl



Among all lower-your-mortgage and porn emails, I have recently obtained an advertisement for a new magazine. They know, or think they know, my life goals and what the meaning of my life is:


From what I know of your tastes, I believe you're the kind of man who's perfect for Razor magazine.

It's not a men's magazine for every guy. It's not for older, conservative types. It's not for kids. Razor is strictly for successful, vigorous men who believe in living life to its extreme. It covers every subject you love -- women, cars, food, drink, travel, women -- from an extreme point of view.

Razor is the REAL man's lifestyle magazine, full of cars, girls, sports, girls, fishing, girls, movies, and more girls. Every issue features hot photo layouts, revealing interviews, stars, travel, entertainment and gorgeous models. Razor is for those who strive to go faster, farther and higher than the average man.


To me this feels empty and shallow. I do not feel motivated to work as a teacher, if the goal of all my pupils is to live purely according to the Razor lifestyle, and if I cannot present any attractive alternatives. There hopefully is something else, something more. I will present a philosophical discussion about the essence of being a human being, as a motivation and basis for this paper. The main theme of the paper is to investigate different perspectives on the relation between thinking, our experience of consciousness and the meaning and goals of life, using a phenomenographic approach. The motivation for this is to provide a motivation for learning, since motivation is an absolute necessity for learning success. To broaden the perspective and to see things from the point of view of some of my pupils, I have made some interviews. I have no ambition to act as a neutral observer – I would rather prefer to be able to influence the thinking of my dialogue partners by initiating a thought process. Such a change can of course be difficult to observe. Also their thoughts will influence my thinking, and when I report about their answers, they are filtered by my interpretation of them. To find the objective truth is of great value in many situations, but when we deal with motivation and first person experiences, we are outside the realm of pure objective truth. First person experiences are synonymous with subjective information.


In this paper my thoughts about thinking, consciousness and the meaning of life are presented first. Then the methodology and the questions that I want to ask the pupils are presented, followed by the results of my dialogues. There are some implications for schools, especially for the attitudes to learning and to the subjects of learning. These implications are presented from the perspective of this paper. Maybe they will break in a confrontation with the reality present in the schools, but I think it should be a privilege of a new teacher to present some wild ideas for testing.


Why? A discussion about this question and its answer.

The “why?” question is typical for the three-years-old kid, who tries to drive his or her parents out of balance. The parent first tries to give a long and elaborate answer, but has ultimately to give up, when each answer is met by a new why(Stewart and Cohen 1997). Somewhere a limit is found, when the meaning of life, the universe and everything is questioned. Douglas Adams suggested that the answer to the question about life, the universe and everything could be 42, but that the question might not be formulated in the right way(Adams 1979). As I understand it, there must be a prerequisite to the existence of an answer, and that is that there exists a conscious and thinking organism or entity, which has the capability to experience this meaning. The existence of a stone has no meaning to the stone: but we, as human beings, might see the meaning behind the existence of a particular stone.


What consciousness really is and how to handle a scientific approach to this concept is subject to an intense discussion. A particularly difficult problem is to find objective criteria, which could be used by one human being to determine if another human being, animal or machine is conscious. David Chalmers (Chalmers 1996) has tried to prove that this is impossible in principle. For me here it is enough that consciousness, as seen from the first-person perspective, seems to be a common human experience, sometimes described by other words and packaged into more complex concepts, for instance “soul”. The experience of consciousness and our ability to experience and think is absolutely essential to our existence as human beings, irrespectively if we like it or not.


Cogito ergo sum

Descartes tried to find some basic truth, which we cannot deny, but can rely on, and use as a starting point for a logical theory for the world. This resulted in his famous “Cogito, ergo sum”, “I think, therefore I am”(Descartes 1637; Descartes 1641). It maybe is a too large logical step to let the purport of this sentence shift to “I think, that is the reason of my being”. But it is logical to say “I think and am conscious, and that is a prerequisite that is necessary if my life should have any meaning to me.” We see thus that consciousness and thinking is more basic than meaning. We can even state that consciousness is the real essence of being a human being: it is our privilege and our fate.


This ability enables us and forces us:

·        to experience,

·        to communicate,

·        to fantasize,

·        to solve problems,

·        to implements thoughts and fantasy in the physical world as art or constructions,

·        to understand phenomena and to see things from new perspectives,

·        to acquire skills and competences for different activities,

·        to acquaint ourselves with common knowledge, thoughts of other people, artwork and experiences,

·        to feel empathy for other human beings and love and be loved, and

·        to join the journey of the humanity into the future towards a goal that we probably are not even capable to imagine.


All these points can be important for the quality of life, and all are closely connected to learning and the aims of the school system.


All men by nature desire knowledge(Aristotle)


The quality of consciousness and thinking

When I have presented these ideas for other people, quite often the question about the consciousness of animals is actualised. Is it just humans that are conscious, or are also dogs and cats conscious? Where in the animal kingdom can we find the limit between conscious thinking and unconscious automata? This question is closely related to the question about possible consciousness in imagined, advanced computer systems. I find it very hard to give any other answer other than this: Consciousness is not an on-off, flip-flop property; consciousness is a continuous, multidimensional entity. If we consider consciousness to be a flip-flop property, we might end up with the questions about simpler and simpler organisms are conscious, and ultimately reach the question if a bimetal thermostat is conscious.


If we compare humans to animals, it is evident that human consciousness and thinking has some qualities (language, abstract thinking) that do not seem present to the same amount in most animals. We can also suspect that the consciousness of some animals has qualities that we cannot utilize in a similar way. But it is quite logical that if we cannot judge if another being is conscious or not, then we cannot say that the consciousness of one being is “better” than in another being. However, since the consciousness is a “first-person experience”, we could compare the quality of consciousness at different occasions for the same individual.


Are these arguments ”science”?

If this paper should have “scientific qualities”, the reader could ask if the arguments above are “scientific”. I would say no; I have not presented any falsifiable hypothesis. What I have discussed is a perspective, a point of view, which you might enjoy and accept or reject, according to your personal feelings. This point of view does not implicate any hard facts about the world, but it might have implications for our attitudes, especially in the field of learning and the qualities of life. This implies implications for school and for science. We can see as a goal for learning to increase the realm of our consciousness and the qualities of thinking by creating new tools and perspectives for thinking and to transfer abilities to many people. I hope to make a useful and interesting paper. And if it is not useful or interesting, it is not good science.


Methodology and questions

How do pupils and people in general think about their own thinking? Do they take it for given, without any reflection? Or do they enjoy specific thinking activities, and try to create opportunities for these? Could a meta-thinking about these questions enhance the motivation for learning? To find out something about this, I have made some interviews with school pupils of age 16-17, in a phenomenographic way(Orgill). I wanted specifically to ask them if they enjoy thinking, and mention the different aspects of thinking, given above in the section “Cogito, ergo sum”. There I wanted to know for each aspect if it is important or not, and listen to comments and thoughts about it. I also asked if I have left out important aspects, and asked if these points are important or not compared to other goals of life, for instance to build a family, to obtain a social and physical environment according to their taste or to become rich and famous. I would like to know if they see any consequences for their own learning or for the school system. It is also of interest to know if these questions were experienced as relevant, and if they touched questions that the pupils have thought about earlier.


What I wanted to obtain as result of my interviews is to know better if these concepts are relevant and important for the pupils and if they create some kind of “resonance”. I wanted also to see the variation between different pupils and if some new thoughts show up during the interviews. Orgill (Orgill) has described the phenomenographic interview method in the following way, which also reflect my ambitions:


“Phenomenographic studies strive to discover the different ways in which people understand or experience certain phenomena. Although many possible sources of information can reveal a person’s understanding or conception of a particular phenomenon, the method of discovery is usually an open, deep interview (Booth 1997). “Open” indicates that there is no definite structure to the interview. While researchers may have a list of questions or concerns that they wish to address during the interview, they are also prepared to follow any unexpected lines of reasoning that the interviewee might address as some of these departures may lead to fruitful new reflections that could not have been anticipated by the researcher. “Deep” indicates that the interview will follow a certain line of questioning until it is exhausted, until the participant has nothing else to say and until the researcher and participant have reached some kind of common understanding about the topics of discussion.”


I could also state some words about what I do not want to do in this investigation. This investigation deals with “first person experiences”, that is how different persons describe how they feel and think. I do not want to correlate this difference in perspective with different “third person” properties of the pupils – success in school, gender, age, colour of hair, or anything. That is another story, to be told by someone else, if it should be told at all.


Discussions about the meaning of life

As a preliminary investigation, I have followed discussions about the meaning of life on a web forum at, mainly reached by teen-agers. The persons, who participate in this debate, cannot be said to be representative, but they are at least interested in the subject, and have probably been thinking about it. Different persons put different meaning into the concept “the meaning of life”, and what I mean here with this concept is the union of all those meanings. In the Lunarstorm discussion it is possible to distinguish some typical views about the meaning of life:


1)      General confusion (often connected to depression).

2)      Each person must find his own solution, but to succeed one must be honest towards oneself. But there is nothing to loose.

3)      Circular reasoning (bootstrap): “The meaning of life is that there is no meaning” or “The meaning of life is to search its meaning”.

4)      There is no meaning, “no idea to think about it, just waste of time”. Instead, enjoy life and have as much fun as possible.

5)      The life is not acceptable if there is no meaning.

6)      Survive and reproduce.

7)      To feel good and happy and help other to feel good and happy.

8)      God gives a meaning to your life,

9)      Love gives meaning to your life.

10)  Communion and social interaction gives meaning to your life.

11)  To be remembered gives meaning to your life.

12)  You will know when you die, just wait. Another version of this: “The person, which knows most decimals of p when he dies, wins.”

13)  The answer is 42.

14)  One thing that makes the life worth living is that we all the time want to learn something more.


From the discussion I also note that the discussion subject “the meaning of life” leads to polarization among the discussion partners – “you have your meaning and I have mine, and that is that, period”. In the question there seem to be a hidden assumption that there is one and only one meaning of life, while people in real life act as if there are several reasons and priorities. The discussion does seldom lead to common strategies for action.


Which of these points are directly connected to consciousness and the quality of thinking? Point four and seven, about enjoying life, presume consciousness. Maybe God, love, communion and to be remembered also require consciousness. Only point fourteen about learning is connected to the quality of thinking, and can provide a role for the teacher.


The Lunarstorm discussion is interesting in the way that it tells us what some teenagers may think and reason. If we want more elaborate answers to the question about the meaning of life, a Google search for “meaning of life” provides a number of thought-provoking web sites:


The Meaning of Life,, also uses consciousness as a starting point for the discussion.


Soon You Will Understand... The Meaning of Life, is a place to go if you really desperately need to know what the meaning of your life is.


Frequently Asked Questions about the Meaning of Life, discuss the meaning of life in the context of ultra technology and the near future of humanity. Frightening or promising? We might in the very near future see a number of technological revolutions, similar to the industrial revolution, the computerization and the creation of Internet. I think that one of these events will occur when we have instructed the computers to manage information about the world in the way we do, so that computers become able to interpret pictures and common written or spoken text in an intelligent way. These abilities should not demand consciousness of the computer, just proper programming. The mayor steps towards this may be taken any day, maybe even last Friday, as you may have noticed. The success of the Google search engine gives some foretaste of what will come.


I cannot stand up for everything stated at these web sites, but found them very interesting.


The interviews

I have made 6 interviews: 2 boys, 2 girls and 2 groups. One of the groups consisted of 5 girls and one boy, the other of 2 boys and one girl. All of the pupils were studying the “Natur” program at the secondary school “Elof Lindälvs gymnasium” in Kungsbacka. These students are those that I know best, and those that know me best. They cannot be considered as a random choice of teenagers – I had to find persons that were willing to discuss and share their views. The interviews took between half an hour and a little more than one hour to do. I made a tape recording of the interviews. When I was listening to the tapes, I found a drawback with group interviews – it was sometimes difficult to hear the contributions, especially from the girls. I had prepared the interviews by making a question summary, see Appendix 1 (in Swedish).


First in the interviews I presented shortly why I wanted to make these interviews, and why I think consciousness and thinking is essential for a human being. No one wants to become a zombie (zombie - A being that behaves like us and may share our functional organization and even, perhaps, our neurophysiological makeup without conscious experiences or qualia, from Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind(Eliasmith).


This naturally leads to some discussions about the thinking of animals, and what it is like to be an animal(Nagel 1974). One of the pupils expressed concern about how the humanity takes total control over the whole earth, leaving nothing to the other animals. Nature and wild life is evidently an important part of the world picture for some of these teenagers. For me it is evident that the era of big mammals on earth was doomed to end when the dog was domesticated 14 000 years back. Within approx. 1000 years the mammoth, the sabre-toothed tiger and the European rhinoceros all were exterminated. We can regret the state of things, but that is history, similar to the ending of the dinosaur era, and we are not able to run the time and evolution backwards. Maybe we should discuss these large-perspective things more in school?


The question if they enjoy thinking makes the pupils hesitating; I had to exemplify to proceed. Could we get a better conscious experience by learning? (“Eleverna skall bli medvetna om att nya kunskaper och insikter är förutsättningar för personlig utveckling”, from Lpf94) The example of reading made the pupils agree to this point. The ability to read increases your possibility to find a meaning in your life. One pupil expressed worry that you also may lose something. That is true, we know that the art of transferring oral information from generation to generation was soon lost when reading and writing was invented. Maybe the meaning of life once was to be able to transfer and develop the old songs of the tribe. The problem in general is that we are unable to understand what we lose, since we are not really able to compare the first-person experiences before and after a change of the state of the brain. We can only rely on people who have learnt something, and ask if they regret the effort they have made. However, there are many things you have to learn in school, and everything maybe is not worth the effort for every pupil. The comment of one pupil was that you are totally counted out in the society we have now, if you lack the basic abilities in reading, writing and also math.


The next question I made was about experiences, if these are important. Examples could be take a roller-coaster ride, to swim in the Mediterranean or to watch an ant war. This question is important for learning and for the creation of productive learning environments. If the act of learning can be experienced as an act of experience, this might enhance the learning effect. You might also get more out of an experience, if you know better what is happening. Experiences are important for the pupils, at least as a spice in everyday life, making the everyday life easier to endure. Journeys are mentioned, and important experiences are remembered several years. Too many experiences can create satiety – variation is important. The experiences do not need to be huge: small thing, as a teacher arriving late to a lesson, might embellish the day. It is important to be able to enjoy the everyday life, and to see everything as an experience. The life should be nice and jolly time.


Every one of the interviewed pupils confirmed that they fantasize a lot, and that imagination was very important for them. The content of these fantasies of course is private area. Roll playing games are a way to create collective fantasies. Books and movies make it possible to see into the fantasies of other persons, and that is another kind of experience, that also might influence the private fantasies. The fantasy genre was mentioned, and also the Foundation novels by Asimov. They contain philosophy, science, political science and everything.


We also discussed that very much in our near environment consists of fantasies and thoughts that are materialized and made real. However, the act of materializing fantasies did not really engage the pupils very much. A check in the curriculum for the Swedish primary and secondary school reveals that creativity is something that is considered more important in the primary school than in the secondary, where creativity only is mentioned once, in the context of aesthetic activity. In the curriculum for secondary school mathematics, the joy of mathematical creativity is mentioned: “Utbildningen syftar även till att eleverna skall uppleva glädjen i att utveckla sin matematiska kreativitet och förmåga att lösa problem samt få erfara något av matematikens skönhet och logik.” Also the program goals for the program “Naturvetenskapsprogrammet” mention creativity: “Att öva kreativitet, initiativförmåga och förmåga att lösa problem är väsentliga inslag i utbildningen.” My impression is that the pupils that I have interviewed have not managed to experience the joy of creativity to sufficient extent to start to appreciate it. Or maybe they have had too much pottering (“pyssel” in Swedish) in the lower classes, with the requirement to make something out of scrap or nothing, could have taken the joy out of it. If you do not succeed to fully materialize your fantasies, or if the materialization is not so fantastic as you wanted it, you might feel a big emptiness, when you have lost your fantasy, but only obtained some junk. One idea to stimulate creativity is to supply material, techniques, and such computer programs and tools that enable creative work. But materializing fantasies could also be to plan a journey or any activity, and there is a large variation between different individuals in what direction their creativity is directed.


To obtain abilities and skilfulness is important for one of the pupils, who is doing advanced sports. This pupil had experienced how she had learnt to learn new things faster during the process. The sport activity also enables her to manage more in her everyday life. Another pupil had built a bike cart, and felt very satisfied with seeing the concrete result. He then felt satisfaction when he was able to use skills to materialize a fantasy, and also strived for the reward of success and the feeling of overview and control when he was working with other learning tasks. One pupil emphasized that it was a strong driving force to become better than other, to become the best in some respect. To be skilful in one respect enhances the self-confidence, and this might help in other areas, in a self-catalysing way.


Solving problems (puzzles and crosswords or computer games of the adventure type) is a positive thing for the pupils, even if it might be very frustrating to get stuck in a computer game designed for the age 3-8. One comment was that it is a requirement for the science program in school to find joy in problem solving. Real world problems inspire more than constructed artificial problems. When the problem is presented, you feel a challenge. If you manage to solve the problem, you feel satisfaction. But too difficult problems you have to put aside.


To try to understand and comprehend is built into a scientific way of seeing things, but also a basic human urge. It is something we do without thinking about it. Sometimes it can be small things, which are not recognized by anyone except your self. We discussed if it was possible to understand the mayor in Beijing, who tried to hide the spreading of the SARS epidemic. One might try to create a long chain of explanations of things, but that is maybe a clinic way of seeing. Another way is to imagine your self in the clothes of the mayor. If you think about the colour of the sky, you can think about how different wavelengths of light are behaving, and understand the physics involved. Then the light is transformed into colours in your eye, and you get a private experience of the colour. This experience is not described by science: maybe what you feel as blue may feel as red for another person, but given the same name.


To see things out of a new perspective is sometimes very interesting. The time sometimes change your way of seeing things. Sometimes a person just give you a new point-of-view, and you wonder why you did not think about that by yourself. Science has many times provided new perspectives. One example is Pasteur, who used a microscope to give himself a new perspective on living organisms. He then discovered bacteria, and this gave a new perspective on diseases.


Several of the pupils were very fond of history and the cultural heritage, and to acquaint themselves with the thoughts of other people, artwork and experiences. Some of the pupils found history interesting, but did not see the relevance of it in their present life. We discussed if the detailed knowledge about a subject can make it more interesting. One pupil mentioned the connection between thought and language, and we discussed how learning words and language better also changes the way of thinking, for instance the learning of mathematical or scientific terminology. That is a way to obtain a broader reality, and makes it possible to experience more.


From a recent inquire, made in 2003 by the Göteborgs-Posten to 2611 pupils in 9th year in school, the most common answer to the question “What are the most important things for a good life?” was to have friends. 565 pupils gave answers in this category. That communication and thought exchange is important is demonstrated by the popularity of the Lunarstorm web site. (Due to this popularity, this web site is not available from the computers in the Elof Lindälvs gymnasium. Personally I cannot see that this agrees with the first paragraph in the curriculum Lpf94 “Skolans uppgift är att låta varje elev finna sin unika egenart och därigenom kunna delta i samhällslivet genom att ge sitt bästa i ansvarig frihet.”) One pupil responded in this way to the question about communication with other people: ”That is the meaning, that’s why we are here, otherwise I could be the single human in the world.” He also mentions problem solving together with other persons, and exchange of thought and ideas, to see what kind of place we are living in. Instead of Lunarstorm, he used email to exchange letters with other people.


The process of formulating and writing down things, and also to discuss them with friends, is experienced as a good way to sharpen the thoughts: “The ideal thing would to be schizophrenic, so that you could have a discussion with yourself.” You need also to be alone sometimes, to put your thoughts straight.


Close emotional contact, either with family (326 pupils), boyfriend or girlfriend (262 pupils) was also a common answer in the Göteborgs-Posten inquire.


One pupil mentions the feelings and emotions connected to specific tasks, and has the strategy to do necessary but dull tasks as soon as possible, to get rid of them, to feel free to spend the rest of the time with those things that he enjoyed.


The pupils seem to have ideas and plans for their own future, but are very unsure and vague about the future of the humanity in general, and also about how this process will influence their own life. They express more pessimism than optimism, but are seeing the acceleration of the pace, and hope to be able to adopt but still retain a basic set of values.


Other things (maybe not directly connected to thinking and the conscious experience) that might be important in life:


·        To make the world better;

·        To have a family (to survive and reproduce);

·        To find a place and a human environment where you can feel at home;

·        To become rich and famous.


The reaction of one pupil was that making the world better really involved thinking. A better world for one pupil involved a more comfortable and easy way of living: water from a tap and transport by car instead of the hard and laborious way our ancestors lived. To survive and reproduce is a good life goal for lower organisms, but might feel insufficient for human beings. A common opinion was that becoming famous is not anything to strive for, not extremely rich either. It is more important to leave a positive memory in those people that you have close contact with.


All these questions have, or should have, relevance for school, in one or other way, and maybe should be discussed more – in the homes, among the youngsters and if possible also in school. The pupils see some risks with making it into a school subject: if that is done in an insensitive way, some pupils might be turned away. Some of the boys seem to be afraid of abstract discussions about their own feelings and thinking. Maybe that is a part of our heritage, where girls can have feelings and write diaries but boys should cut down trees and build houses. Some persons get incentives from a discussion, but other just get frightened by all evil things in the world and by the unknown future, and want to shelter in an secure and familiar environment.



The issue of many scientific investigations is to find objective facts about the world. Statistical polls have often the aim to obtain objective facts about the opinions of humans. For such tasks the interview method I have chosen is not optimal. But there is more in science and philosophy than finding objective facts about the world – think about the whole area of mathematics for example, which is not relying on the properties of the world as such. Statistical polls often inhibit intelligent answers from the respondents by reducing the possible answers to a limited number of possibilities, limiting the openings for unexpected answers. What I sought in the interviews were exactly the intelligent, unexpected answers, and I think the interview method was appropriate for that. My description of the outcome of the interviews should not be seen as an objective account of the thoughts of the pupils – it is instead the result of an active dialogue, seen through my eyes.


One thing that the pupils mediated in the interviews was that it sometimes feels strenuous and tiresome to think. Thinking about infinities and trying to comprehend the purport of infinity might be felt in that way. This feeling of tiredness makes me curious. Is it the experienced paradox that creates this tiredness? Or is it information overload, too many concepts to keep in mind at the same time? Are there special items in the courses that create these feelings? Or is the time of day and the blood sugar level more important? Would it help with a sweetie or some physical exercise? Is this tiredness something to avoid, something for the teacher to be aware of? Or is it something that the pupils have to train to overcome? To answer these questions could be the subject of another investigation.


There were two aspects that I missed to speak with the pupils about: One thing is the special pleasure of cultivating, to watch the growth of things under your care; it can be children, plants or capital stock. Another thing is the urge to collect information, organize and structure it into knowledge, and to transfer this knowledge to other people. This is something that provides satisfaction to many persons. One example of such a person was Carolus Linnaeus; another is Eric W. Weisstein, creator of the MathWorld web site at



The perspective in the discussion here is that of the individual: what is the meaning of life, how can I give content to life, and what is the relation between these questions and the activities in school? The curricula for school have partly another perspective: how can school create competent and responsible citizens, to the benefit of the society? Hopefully these ambitions are mutually supporting – the society needs harmonic citizens, and the citizens need a harmonic society. When we are to build a school, the society perspective may come in the foreground, but when we want to motivate pupils, it is more natural to have the individual perspective.


In the “Methodology” section above there is a question how pupils experience their own thinking. My impression is that they take it for given, without much reflection, until the matter is taken up for discussion. This discussion could lead to reflection and to better motivation for learning activities. Therefore these things should be discussed in schools. Proper ways to achieve constructive discussions have to be found.


The “Why” question: I have earlier said that thinking and discussions about the meaning of life easily end up in dead ends. For instance, it is difficult to create a constructive debate between an atheist and someone, who states that God gives meaning to your life. To discuss how different types of thinking and feelings are experienced, in a way similar to the interviews, seems to be a much better way to get into essential questions. Then it does not matter too much if the ability to think is gift from God or created by evolution playing dice. Discussions about what is important should give a good ground for motivation for studies. The discussion about “why” might give implication both for the questions “What (to learn)?” and “How (to learn)?”


A common question in school is: “What use do I have of this knowledge?” Behind this question I guess a long chain of thoughts, maybe in this way: “I might learn something in school, that I can have use in my work in such a way that I earn more money, which I could spend on my leisure time on something I really want to do.” If this is the only ambition with school, there is no reason to teach history to those pupils that will take simple jobs after school. Luckily, the curriculum has a bit wider perspective than that: each individual should find his unique distinctive character, and should be able to participate in the society as a free and responsible citizen. However, this does not necessarily imply that the pupil will be satisfied and happy with his unique character. A better question could be: “What delight do I get from this knowledge?”


Experiences are important for the pupils. What can we conclude from that?

One way is to see that experiences could be utilized to achieve increased attention, and that might increase the learning potential. With better learning and knowledge, the pupils will be better members of the society. Therefore experiences could be used in school when appropriate.


Another way of seeing things is more similar to the Japanese teacher, who wanted to give her pupils’ nice memories to carry with them through life. The school is a part of life, and experiences are a part of those things that make life worth living. The school should give experiences and enable the pupils to get good experiences, and knowledge is one way to achieve that. Achieving knowledge is sometimes an experience as such, and that feeling should be mediated to the pupils.


In connection to experiences there is the philosophical questions of Plato about the world as we experience, and if there is another “idea” world behind this(Plato 360 B.C.). Galileo Galilei stated that this idea world should be described in mathematical terms(Galileo 1623), and gave birth of the “modern project” of giving a scientific description of the world. This was a starting point for the scientific revolution. The best way of illustrating the limitations of the human senses is to study the way we are experiencing the huge electromagnetic spectrum. We see only the averaged intensities of three narrow regions as colours in the “visible” part of the spectrum, and our senses are blind for almost all information except this. Now we have learnt to use technology to utilise some additional parts of the spectrum, and this is relevant both for our picture of the world and our everyday life. Is this view mediated to the pupils? My impression is that the physics and biology of the sensory organs is not considered as very relevant, neither in physics, nor in biology, especially not from the point of view of illuminating the capabilities and limitations of the sensory organs to describe the world around us. That is a pity, because then we might miss good motivations for further studies. I have not found anything explicit in the curricula about this. Instead the word “reality” (“verkligheten”) is used as something given (Kursplan för grundskolan i Fysik 2000-07), and science is a human construction (Kursplan för grundskolan i Naturorienterande ämnen 2000-07), which gives one way, among other ways, to describe this given reality. I wonder if sub millimetre waves and the moons of Jupiter are parts of the reality, or if these are human constructions, that might change in the light of new findings… I would prefer to have the view that “reality” is a human construction and that science is the art of finding new perspectives on the world, and in this way change the way that we experience this reality. Much of our knowledge and our problem solving skills are based on the ability to change perspective, and our ability to find the transformation rules from one perspective to another. When we acquire knowledge, the way we experience the world changes. A carpenter and a small child experience a wall inside a house in very different ways. The child sees the surface, while a Swedish carpenter sees gypsum boards covering a wooden framework, and he can even make a very good and specific guess of the thickness of the wall. Thus knowledge provides a kind of X-ray vision.


How do we let the pupils feel the joy of creativity and of problem solving? These activities can be truly addictive for some individuals. Probably those individuals later become the most creative artists, the most dedicated scientists and the most inventive inventors. The responsibility to create a suitable atmosphere rests almost entirely on the teacher and the teaching environment. It is easy to state what is not a creative environment. A teacher, who has a strong control and self-assertion demand, is devastating. Another teacher, who leaves his pupils in vacuum, maybe will not destroy the joy of the already self-going, but will spoil those that have not awakened yet. Probably the best teacher in this respect is the person who manages to maximise the intellectual level of the interactivity in an individualised way.


Evidently the demand to be able to communicate with other people and the interest for the cultural heritage are very strong motivations to learn new languages, but also to learn concepts that may enhance the ability to communicate on the primary language. Many “facts” act as implicit reference or navigation points in this communication, “exformation” in a term defined by Nørretranders(Nørretranders 1991). The value of such a fact from this point of view is determined by the associative richness of the fact; that is if it is relevant in many contexts. If the pupils experience that we try to teach them “isolated” facts, either we have taught them the wrong concepts or we have not put them into some relevant contexts.


A common requirement on the education in school is that it should have a connection to reality and to everyday life. Implicitly this should increase the motivation for the subject. But what is everyday life for the pupils, and what will it be in the future? The pupils do not have the same everyday life; all of them, and the teaching staff in general evidently have problems to keep up with the pace of development. When the everyday life becomes too pushy on the school activities (i.e. mobile phones), there is a tendency to put up walls. I find nothing about the future, or visions of the future, in the journals from the teacher unions, except for some discussion about the role of the “teachers of the future”. I think it is important to mediate the message that the fantasies of today will constitute the reality and everyday life of tomorrow, and that many of the pupils in one or another way will work with the materialization of fantasies or purely with information or within virtual worlds.


In the introductions of books on pedagogy, often the concepts of knowledge and learning are discussed, but the motivation for acquiring knowledge is not very profound (Marton, Dahlgren et al. 1999). This motivation might be the needs of the society, or to form individuals that are free, enlightened, independent and responsible (Imsen 2000). Imsen discuss in Part III motivation and identity, with focus on the individual. From these chapters there seems to be very weak indirect connections between motivations and knowledge. Knowledge as such does not seem to be a basic need. For me the essence of existence is to be conscious, to experience, think and communicate, and the reason to be a free, enlightened, independent and responsible individual is that that provides me with the possibility to acquire knowledge. That is the method to enhance the consciousness experience.



Adams, D. (1979), The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy.


Aristotle Metaphysics, bk. 1, ch. 1.


Booth, S. (1997), "On Phenomenography, learning and teaching." Higher Education Research & Development 16: 135-159.


Chalmers, D. J. (1996), The Conscious Mind, Oxford University Press.


Descartes (1637), Discourse on Method.


Descartes (1641), Meditations.


Eliasmith, C., Dictionary of Philosophy of Mind, May 15, 2003,


Galileo (1623), The Assayer.


Imsen, G. (2000), Elevens värld, Studentlitteratur, Lund.


Marton, F., L. O. Dahlgren, et al. (1999), Inlärning och omvärldsuppfattning, Bokförlaget Prisma, Stockholm.


Nagel, T. (1974), "What is it like to be a bat?" The Philosophical Review (Cornell University) 83: 435-450.


Nørretranders, T. (1991), Märk världen, Bonniers Alba, Stockholm.


Orgill, M., Phenomenography, April 16, 2003,


Plato (360 B.C.), Phaedo.


Stewart, I. and J. Cohen (1997), Figments of Reality, The Evolution of the Curious Mind, Cambridge University Press.


Appendix 1: Frågeunderlag

Några tankar som jag skulle vilja ha synpunkter på:


Tycker du om att tänka?


Vi människor upplever att vi har ett medvetande och att vi kan tänka.


Hur detta går till, är det nog ganska få som begriper. Har djur medvetande? Kan man lära datorer att få medvetande? Strunt i det just nu, jag vet i alla fall att jag upplever mitt eget medvetande.


Det är vårt öde och ett privilegium för oss människor att uppleva det så. Men detta måste vara en förutsättning för att livet skall ha en mening, eller hur? Om vi alla var zombies, skulle allt vara bra meningslöst. (Zombie: A being that behaves like us and may share our functional organization and even, perhaps, our neurophysiological makeup without conscious experiences or qualia. See consciousness. (Eliasmith))


Om det nu är så, att tänkande och medvetande har med livets mening att göra, kan livet bli meningsfullare genom att vi skaffar oss bättre redskap för att tänka? (T.ex. genom att lära oss läsa, skriva, behärska språk, lära oss tänka mera logiskt och strukturerat etc.)


Är upplevelser viktiga för dig? Vilka? (Åka berg-och-dalbana, simma i Medelhavet, se utsikten från Eiffeltornet, höra Beethovens nia i konserthuset, se ett myrkrig mellan svarta och röda myror, smaka på bläckfisk konserverad i sitt eget bläck,...)


Eller är det viktigare att bara leva och känna att du mår bra?


Fantiserar du ibland? Är det viktigt för dig? (Under tråkiga lektioner, på natten innan du somnar, när du berättar sagor för lillebror, etc.) Tycker du om att ta del av andra människors fantasier, i böcker eller på film?


Tycker du om att lösa problem? Exempelvis lösa korsord, spela äventyrsspel på dator, lösa kluriga pussel?


Tycker du om att tänka ut saker, som du sedan kan förverkliga? T.ex. sy kläder efter egen design, bygga, snickra och slöjda, skriva datorprogram som löser speciella uppgifter, tänka ut musik eller konstverk?


Är det viktigt för dig att förstå saker (varför himlen är blå, varför det är inflation och inte deflation, varför Pekings borgmästare försökte hemlighålla uppgifter om Sars-smitta)? Tycker du om att få se saker ur nya perspektiv? Tycker du om att hitta samband, att få saker att stämma överens?


Är det viktigt för dig att bli skicklig på olika sätt? (Åka skateboard, spela elgitarr, baka strudlar, vinna Trivial Pursuit, tala engelska)


Är det spännande med historia, kulturarvet, hur människor har levt och tänkt och vad de har skapat och gjort under mänsklighetens historia?


Är det viktigt för dig att ha kontakt med andra människor för tankeutbyte? (Träffas, prata i telefon, skriva brev, Lunarstorma, etc...)


Är det viktigt för dig att ha nära känslomässiga relationer med andra människor, att de bryr sig om dig och att du bryr dig om dem?


Är det viktigt och spännande vad som händer i framtiden, både under ditt eget liv och efter det? Vad kommer att hända med mänskligheten på lite längre sikt? Kan vi föreställa oss detta?


Allt detta handlar om att tänka på ena eller andra sättet. Har jag glömt något annat sätt att tänka, som är viktigt?


Igen: Tycker du om att tänka?


Upplever du att allt detta har något med skolan att göra? Eller åtminstone borde ha det?


Det finns annat, som kan kännas viktigt i livet:

Att göra världen bättre,

Att skaffa sig familj,

Att hamna på en plats där man trivs tillsammans med människor man trivs med

Att bli rik och berömd, etc.

Vad är viktigt för dig?


Är detta frågor du funderar på? Är det viktiga frågor?