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Old June 27 2010, 11:31 PM   #31
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

flemm wrote: View Post
Is starting with quantum mechanics even possible, as far as the mathematics involved is concerned? I went as far as multi-variable calculus personally, and special relativity is surprisingly simple, but it was only after three semesters of college level physics that we had enough of a fondation to look at the uncertainty principle (right about the time I switched to studying language ).
Well, you don't need to teach General Relativity in order to teach that the planets orbit the Sun because of gravity. You can introduce the basic concepts before getting into the detailed math.

And you probably wouldn't have needed to wait that long to get the foundations if the educational system hadn't wasted so many years teaching you outdated stuff like Ptolemy and Newton and the Bohr atom and then required you to unlearn it all. Sure, learning the history of science is valuable, but it dominates the curriculum far too much at the expense of a cohesive understanding from first principles.

There are many problems with our educational system, but is starting with Newtonian physics really one of them? For one thing, it still basically applies to most of daily existence on earth, since the Einsteinian radicals just factor out to approximately 1 over short distances and slow speeds (basically everything we are likely to encounter in every day life). For another, you need the basic building blocks of algebra and calculus to deal with the more complicated mathematics, isn't it like learning the basics of a language before trying to write poetry or an essay?
The best way to learn language is by using it and picking it up as you go. You derive the rules from witnessing and participating in the overall process of language, both spoken and written.

At the very least, students shouldn't be lied to. They shouldn't be taught the Bohr model of the atom as if it were truthful. They should at least be told that it's a very crude and discredited analogy. But I think there's got to be a better way of teaching the idea of electron shells and quantum states.

See, a lot of the problem we have grasping quantum physics is that we're so indoctrinated over the years in a classical way of defining particles and waves that when we're confronted with the idea that they're facets of the same thing, it's a struggle to understand. But children's minds are less weighted down with preconceptions, so if you start them off with the understanding that reality is made up of waves, maybe they'll grasp it more readily than we did.

Beyond that, has anyone yet figured out how to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics and come up with a viable GUT or TOE or whatever the catch phrase is these days? If not, then I'm not sure that showing how everything arises from quantum mechanics is even possible at this point.
Just because a science is incomplete doesn't mean it shouldn't be taught at all. We don't yet know how many Earthlike planets are out there or what dark matter is, but we can still teach astrophysics. We don't know what the appendix does, but we can still teach anatomy and biology. Science is never a complete, all-inclusive discipline, so having more to learn is no reason to hide the truth from our children. No, gravitation hasn't yet been explained in quantum terms, but everything else in the whole universe has been. So it's frankly rather dishonest to hide the quantum nature of reality from our children.
Written Worlds -- Christopher L. Bennett's blog and webpage
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