मृत्योर् मामृतम् गमय – Part II

Impact of humans is limited by two factors: time and memory. Human time is limited, and more so is their memory. A human acts on what they remember. They pass on this memory to their offspring – both biological and ideological, and this forms the basis of human bias. However, human recollection is neither perfect nor free of biases. When individuals take it upon themselves to pass on their lessons, these lessons invariably lead to perpetuation of biases. The only way to mitigate both these problems – imperfect recall and passing over biases – is to build institutional memory.

Institutional memory has other important advantages over human memory – the most important of which is longevity. A typical institution like a University lives longer than a typical human. These institutions also have extraordinary reach due to their ability to become centers of ideological dissemination. While humans are beset by several biological impulses and weaknesses, an institution serves to guard against them. By virtue of being supported by and contributed to by many humans, institutions ensure both ideological and temporal continuity.

One of the major advantages of institutions is that they can convert human habits into processes. Processes form the basis of any reproducible experiment. Institutions record, study and convert individual successes into processes that can be replicated widely. Moreover, Institutions also identify the path of least resistance towards what is perceived success. A good example is a structured college course helping students attaining proficiency in their field of choice. Though exemplary, colleges aren’t the limit of our definition of an “Institution”. In olden days, the council of elders in a village was an institution. The covenant of marriage, with its pithy vows of with you for all seven janmas, is an institution too. For the purposes of our discussion – an institution is a meta entity that can collect, store, and retrieve historic data, and also have the expertise to interpret the said data with respect to the present.

Much of our ancient glory can be attributed to our ability to build institutions. One wonders: would it have been possible to have a Patanjali or a Panini, an Aryabhatta or a Bhaskaracharya, a Kanada or an Adi Shankara, without the ability to build institutions. The corollary is also true: given the widespread institutional set up we had, such advances in linguistics, mathematics and surgical sciences was to be expected. If it wasn’t Susruta, it would have been another Madhusudana who wrote the treatise on surgery. Irrespective of who the author was – one thing we can be sure is that the treatise would have been written.

Therein lies the beauty of institution building. In part III, we will see some examples that enabled us to attain immortality.


This essay is part II of a four-part essay on institutional thinking and excellence in societies
Part I: https://kreately.in/from-mortality-to-immortality-accidental-success/
Part II: https://kreately.in/from-mortality-to-immortality-institutional-design/
Part III: https://kreately.in/from-mortality-to-immortality-excellence-in-pre-islamic-india/

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