Fly on the Wall—Education as a Happiness Machine

To learn is to know, or so the theory goes.  We add information to our minds and develop processes to accentuate our knowledge acquisition skills.  Yet, the internet provides multiple answers to many of the same questions; you need only decide your point of view in advance and have it confirmed if you want to just satisfy ego.  Like disciplinary silos, such as sociology or environmental science, each refracting reality through a set of epistemological assumptions about the way of the world and how to understand life, the internet leads us to live in times that transcend the idea of merely going to school to receive answers.  Answers nowadays are produced through interaction; priorities change as history unfolds.

When a goal is known beforehand knowledge tends to fit expectation; come what may is a different method of inquiry form give me what I want.  Indoctrination has always been part of education even in times when the facade of certainty has fallen away.  AU uniquely positions us to tailor our education to fit our lifestyle needs while also providing us with some certainty in a flowing sea of social media flux.  To expect education to produce a happier, more fulfilled, version of ourselves might, however, be a tall order.  At best we can only gain deeper insights and more reasonable perspectives on the world and our place in it.

The world of 2022 may not be so different from a few decades ago.  Even before the internet was in vogue, absolution from ambiguity was a tough nut to crack.  Knowing something and standing pat about it has always been problematic; the tendency of learning and life is to flow onward.  Several decades ago, Jean Baudrillard followed up his 1981 epic Simulation and Simulacra by claiming that “all we can do is simulate the orgy, simulate liberation…all the goals of liberation are already behind us…The logic of viral dispersal in networks is no longer a logic of value; neither, therefore, is it a logic of equivalence.” (Baudrillard, 4-5).  Post modern society implies that every assertion about truth is hollow, susceptible to the whims of change over time.  Would we even be happier, though, if life invoked certain guarantees?  Happiness, after all, is a static and stolid state that requires a lack of pleasure for its perspective to make sense; who can tell how they feel without comparing states of feeling?

Philosopher Robert Nozick in the 1970s had suggested that, given a choice, we’re find pleasant certainties hollow if they were made permanent; given the opportunity to take a pill guaranteeing a happy life, free from annoyances like disappointing academic marks or failed romantic relationships, we’d be better off to choose an authentic existence including calamities and pitfalls.  “We want to have a genuine relationship with reality, not live a fictional life that only feels real” (Buscicchi, online).

As recently as 2017, deep into our current era of virtual reality headgear and nebulous online interactions with strangers, “Frank Hindriks and Ivan Douven asked experimental subjects if they would be willing to take, for the rest of their life, a pill with no side-effects that would provide them with almost exclusively pleasant experiences” (online).  Only 53% agreed that they’d make the leap into a reality free of difficulty.  Apparently, the tendency for many is to prefer reality with its bumps and twists over a smooth ride.  Athabasca can provide a happy diversion to life’s little nuisances by providing our brains with a window onto a wide and different world, one that diverges from our own and provides perspective on what, to us, a good life means.  Our textbooks allow mental openings onto other ways of being and thinking, almost like entering an alternate reality.

There’s a reason why putting one’s thinking cap on and imagining oneself as a psychologist or a businessperson for the purposes of succeeding in a course is only a temporary experience.  Nothing we learn can be universally applicable to all circumstances, and maybe that’s a key theme to university studies.  As with permanent happiness, learning isn’t something we do and then move on from.  Education is a process, a state of mind.  Learning when to apply our studies to life and how to translate our inquisitive essence to diverse situations is part of what allows us to grow our minds throughout life.  Context is crucial to both happiness and the value of education.

No amount of study will make life perfect but there can never be too many ideas in our heads.  Innovation comes with AU studies because we have to take our coursework into ordinary life and see how it fits—or doesn’t.  As our minds evolve with academic inputs there’s a circulation of realities, good and bad, that go into making us who we are.   Baudrillard aptly claimed that “with the benefit of a little hindsight, we may say that the unavoidable goal of all liberation is to foster and provision circulatory networks” (Baudrillard, 4).  Sifting, sorting, and organizing are skills as crucial as an attention span, and rather than involving a series of rote answers they are flexible and dynamic tools applicable regardless of context.

Baudrillard, J.  (1990).  The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena.  Verso: London & Brooklyn.
Buscicchi, L.  (2022).  ‘Robert Nozick’s Metaverse Machine’.  Philosophy Now Magazine.  Retrieved from
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