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Old June 28 2010, 03:43 AM   #33
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

flemm wrote: View Post
Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
If a science teacher somewhere does not mention to her students that the planets orbit the sun because of gravity, then that certainly is a failing of dramatic proportions, but it really doesn't have anything to do with whether Newtonian or Einsteinian theory is being taught, since both of these theories are descriptions of "gravity." Once you start doing the math, though, I don't think there's any way to just start with Einstein.
But that's a false dichotomy. It shouldn't be about "Newton" vs. "Einstein." That's falling into the same familiar pattern of teaching science as though it were history. It's not. It's all the same principles. Newton's equations are an approximation of Einstein's, and they should be taught as aspects of a single universal principle. You're just uncritically embracing the very paradigm that I'm saying should be questioned. Just because you learned it a certain way doesn't mean it's impossible to teach it any other way. The way a small child learns a new language is very different from the way an adult learns a new language. The child's mind is more open, less bound by preconceptions. Maybe you or I couldn't learn physics the way I'm suggesting, because our minds were conditioned with certain assumptions by the way we were educated. My point is that maybe a child who's starting fresh wouldn't be bound by the same limitations we are, and might be able to learn in a different way.

With the Bohr model of the atom, I could see it potentially being misleading if presented incorrectly, but if presented correctly, as a sometimes convenient approximation of a more nuanced reality? I don't see this inhibiting anyone's development as a scientist.
I'm not talking about scientists. I'm talking about the millions of people who are only taught the old, pre-relativity, pre-quantum notions in their conventional education, and never learn the deeper truths because they don't continue into a specialized science education. So that most of the rank and file people in the country are basically stuck at a level of scientific understanding that's over a century out of date.

See, I'm not talking about the higher mathematics. I'm talking about the way the general public is trapped in ignorance because of the deliberately misleading way that science is taught in grade school and general-requirement, non-major college courses. I don't believe that science should work like that. I don't believe the basic truths of the universe should be reserved for a privileged elite while the masses are stuck in the nineteenth century.

In science basically you formulate hypotheses, then test them. Create a model, then improve upon it. In that sense, learning how models and theories have been created and refined strikes me as a pretty natural and important part of what teaching science should be all about.
Part, yes, but not the overriding whole.

Agreed, but teaching quantum mechanics as truthful would be a mistake as well. Science is a work in progress, so it goes without saying that any theory should be presented as an attempt to describe reality that will need to continue to be tested and refined (or has already been tested and refined). Teaching the Bohr atom as truth could potentially be more damaging since it is currently extremely outdated, but teaching quantum mechanics (as we currently understand them) as some kind of ultimate truth would be damaging as well, since our understanding of these processes will continue to grow and be refined.
Where in the hell did you get the idea that I'm advocating any concept as idiotic as "some kind of ultimate truth?" That's a deeply insulting straw man and I resent it. Science is not about ultimate truth, it's about what works. And quantum theory works. It has been experimentally verified in many ways, it is the fundamental basis of a wealth of modern technology including the very computers we're using to have this discussion, it is used every day as an effective working tool. No, obviously we don't know everything yet, but it's simply a lie to tell people that quantum physics is just an untested idea. In fact, it's a lie of monstrous proportions, tantamount to teaching that evolution is an untested idea. Both quantum physics and evolution are absolutely foundational to their respective fields, all-encompassing and used successfully on an everyday basis. Of course nonsensical concepts like "absolute truth" should be kept out of it, but we should teach our best understanding, we should teach what works as a proven tool for describing the universe, and that means teaching quantum physics.

How does this struggle manifest itself? If we're talking about understanding something like the uncertainty principle in a pop-science sort of way, then I think any interested adult can readily grasp some of the basics, and certainly any child as well.
I'm talking about knowing that quantum physics is not some untested, arcane, abstract principle like most people believe, but is instead the core of virtually all modern physics and chemistry and has a wealth of practical applications in modern technology. I'm talking about knowing that quantum physics is not some mystical gobbledegook that can be twisted to justify any kind of supernatural or pseudoscientific nonsense but is in fact a mathematically rigorous, deterministic science. You're grossly underestimating how ignorant the public is about quantum theory, at least in America.

If we're talking about learning the actual math, then that means going through the "history of math and science," unless there is a short cut to multi-variable calculus that I'm unaware of, short of being a math genius. Here the problem is pretty simple: the math is hard.
Learning a new language is hard if you're starting as an adult. But children do it easily, almost instinctively. You're not even trying to consider my point here. You're just restating your preconceptions rather than questioning them.

Now, I'm not saying that what I'm suggesting absolutely would work. I'm just saying that it's worth asking the question. That it's worth thinking about, rather than just shooting it down out of hand because it clashes with our preconceptions.
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