But an alternative view is that education is the attempt to get minds to do things they are badly designed for. Though children instinctively speak, see, move and use common sense, their minds may be constitutionally ill at ease with many of the fruits of modern civilization: written language, mathematical calculation, the very large and very small spans of time and space that are the subject of history and science. If so, education will always be a tough slog, depending on disciplined work on the part of students and on the insight of a skilled teacher who can stretch stone-age minds to meet the demands of alien subject matter.
Our mental apparatus may also constrain how much we adults ever grasp the truths of science. The Big Bang, curved 4-D space-time and particles that act like waves-all are required by our best theories of physics but are incompatible with common sense. Similarly, consciousness and decision-making arise from the electrochemical activity of neural networks in the brain. But how moving molecules should throw off subjective feelings (as opposed to mere intelligent computations) and choices for which we can be held responsible (as opposed to behavior that is caused) remain deep mysteries to our Pleistocene psyches.
That suggests that our descendants will endlessly ponder the age-old topics of religion and philosophy, which ultimately hinge on concepts of matter and mind. Why does the universe exist, and what brought it into being? What are the rights and responsibilities of living things with different brains, hence different minds, from ours-fetuses, animals, neurologically impaired people, the dying? Abortion, animal rights, the insanity defense and euthanasia will continue to agonize the thoughtful (or be settled by dogma among the unthoughtful) for as long as the human mind confronts them.
One can also predict that the mind will shape, rather than be reshaped by, the information technology of the future. Why have computers recently infiltrated our lives? Because they have been painstakingly crafted to mesh better with the primitive workings of our minds. The graphical user interface (windows, icons, buttons, sliders, mice) and the World Wide Web represent the coercion of machines, not people.
We have jiggered our computers to simulate a world of phantom objects that are alien to the computer’s own internal workings (ones, zeroes and logic) but are comfortable for us tool-using, vision-dependent primates. Many other dramatic technological changes will come from getting our machines to adapt to our quirks-understanding our speech, recognizing our faces, carrying out our desires in accord with our common sense-rather than from getting humans to adapt to the ways of machines.
Our emotional repertoire, too, ensures that the world of tomorrow will be a familiar place. Humans are a social species, with intense longings for friends, communities, family and spouses, consummated by face-to-face contact.