Do in a new way what you have been doing, and do in a joyful way what you are given to do
When differences encounter ‘connection,’ they form newness. Professor Heung is a ‘connector,’ although he is known more widely as a medical doctor. He is also an ‘inventor’ and a ‘frontiersman’ who has created something new by connecting different things, making them one. He opened a new path long ago, but he has walked with others rather than going on alone. He has helped all kinds of students, including those who study the sciences and engineering and those who study liberal arts, to widen their understanding of the ‘human’ by giving lectures combining biological knowledge with the wisdom of the humanities. It has already been 14 years since he started to give such lectures. These years have been the golden age of his life, as he has continued growing and enjoyed happiness by means of ‘connecting.’ He has taught through the model of his life and way of being, rather than with his words, that pursuing in a new way what you have always done is the secret of becoming older in a rich way.
“Korea’s educational system has strictly separated science and engineering students and liberal arts students, and so Korean students are not interested in what others study when it is outside their own boundaries. They often disparagingly speak of each other, because they don’t know each other well. But if they understand each other, they become different. As they learn more about others, they continuously discover what is new to them, and so they see more in each other. 'The Biological Human' is the interdisciplinary course that I have given based on that conviction. After taking the course, I have heard countless times from students that they think their educational fees were well spent. One student in the College of Law wrote in his review, ‘Now I want to major in medical jurisprudence after taking the course.’ For me, it was full of reward and joy.”
While preparing the course, he purchased more books from the humanities than those related to his own field. With an unceasing, roving curiosity about newly-released books, he has continuously discovered dimensions of knowledge that can be connected with the natural sciences. Meanwhile, he has grown in his conviction that all fields of study start and finish with the human. He studied even more passionately and connected various academic fields more diligently in order to understand the manifold universe of humankind. As he continued along this path, his perspective on the world became wider and deeper. What he began doing in order to give better lectures has turned into what he does in order to live a better life.
“I have regrets as much as satisfaction. The early lectures of the course, “The Biological Human,” were not as profound as I believe they are now. I sometimes ask myself what if I had known then what I know now. This is my final semester before my retirement, due to my age. But I’m not sorry about that, because I may be able to continue giving the course. I still strive to make my lectures as insightful as possible by always being open to new wisdom and insight.”
When he taught physiology at the College of Medicine, he employed an unconventional teaching method. Taking analogical advantage of the ‘group hunting’ that persists in human genes, he encouraged his students to study cooperatively and share their results with their peers. The result? The students’ grades improved significantly. His class demonstrated in a unique way that an altruistic person is easily defeated by a selfish person, but an altruistic group always outperforms a selfish group.
The stunningly new method of teaching led to his selection as the ‘Best Lecturer’ of the university by the Joongang Ilbo newspaper in 2017. It was as if he had been reborn.
The Communication, Consideration and Release Inscribed in Our Body
His course “The Biological Human” has won the Seoktap Outstanding Lecture Award an incredible 18 times, and it also won the Innovative Lecture Award in 2019. He explains how this came about.
“As my course became popular, I was unable to accept all those who wanted to take it. Feeling regretful about that, I developed the “NEMO” lecture system, which enables 500 students to audit lectures simultaneously, offline and online. That departure may be what was evaluated highly.”
Even after he was able to welcome 500 students into a course that had previously been limited to only 100, he was still dissatisfied. Even if he could accept 500 students into the course per semester, there were still many others who couldn't take it. Thus, he wrote the book , which summarizes the core of the course over the years. This book, published in early summer this year, is making a great contribution to the popularization of science.
By putting in writing what he had been teaching, he realized what he had been missing. As he supplemented his lectures through the book, both it and his lecture notes became richer and were on an even surer footing. The whole process was a happy one.
“You have to communicate with others more if you want to age gracefully and joyfully. When you smile and communicate with others, endorphin is produced, increasing the sense of connectedness and stability. There is a biological truth we have to emphasize. Only humans have white in the eye. In contrast to quadrupedal animals, who are always looking at the ground searching for something to eat, we humans, who can stand erect, started to look at the faces of others. The white of your eye shows what you are looking at when you are with another face-to-face. We developed the white of the eye to enable communion, but now we do not look at each other as we are so busy looking at our smartphones. I feel sorry that we may be returning to the time when our precursors were four-footed animals.”
He emphasizes emotional release and consideration for others as other virtues that enable aging in a productive way. The release of emotions can create a space in life where people can be considerate to each other. He has a strong conviction that those virtues are the secrets of making the elderly life intellectually, emotionally and spiritually rich. Release and consideration are also characteristics of the human body. He explains that none of the organs in our body operates at 100% capacity. All the organs ‘empty themselves’ and allow the blood flow to go to other organs that may require more input in order to function. It is his sincere desire that we humans learn the wisdom inscribed in our body.
“There are three dimensions of the human through which we are superior to artificial intelligence: the white of the eye, the wrong-answer dimension and insight. As I mentioned before, the white of the eye is the means of communication that only humans have. There are still many aspects of the world that can be properly managed only when people communicate, arm-in-arm and really seeing each other. Humans are also the sole possessors of a wrong-answer dimension. Artificial intelligence is capable of identifying the right answers to questions based on big data, but is unable to accumulate and learn from wrong answers. Conversely, we humans give a welter of wrong answers in countless situations and on that basis search for the right answers. In that process, we acquire insight, which leads to creation. Acquiring insight from the wrong-answer dimension requires numerous experiences. That’s the value of becoming older.”
He originally chose to study basic medical science because he wanted to understand human memory. He has no regrets because when he ‘gave up the stethoscope,’ he gained much joy from the choice. What is at the core of his joy is communication. Since he was appointed in 1990 as a professor at Korea University, his alma mater, he has memorized the names of all the students who took his lectures, because he has never forgotten that saying someone's name is the first step toward warm communication. He speaks to students by using the respectful forms of the Korean language, but he always talks with them like friends. Lowering himself humbly to make eye contact is his greatest key to happiness.
“From long ago, I have been the main cook at home. This may be because I majored in brain science that I was wondering about when humans feel that something is tasty. Cooking is like an experiment. When my family says that what I cook is delicious, I feel as delighted as I would if I achieve a successful result from an experiment.” His dream is to lead field trips for kindergarteners after he leaves the university, becoming a ‘story-telling grandpa.’ He's already the most adorable grandpa in the world.