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Old June 27 2010, 11:31 PM   #31
Christopher
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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have needed to wait that long to get the foundations if the educational system hadn't wasted so many years teaching you outdated stuff like Ptolemy and Newton and the Bohr atom and then required you to unlearn it all.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.
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Old June 28 2010, 12:46 AM   #32
flemm
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

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.

Certainly on a conceptual level, it makes sense to introduce children to ideas like time dilation and so on in a more anecdotal sort of way before the actual math gets dealt with, and I think any good science teacher could include a few thought experiments of this nature. But as far as acquisition of the actual mathematical understanding is concerned, you have to crawl before you can walk.

Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
I don't think you have to unlearn the older conceptual models to understand the newer ones. That's certainly true of Newtonian physics, since you can't understand the Einsteinian equations without first understanding the Newtonian ones, just like you can't realistically learn algebra without learning arithmetic first. It's cumulative.

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. 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.

Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
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.

These are issues of teaching technique, and I'm sure that there are many bad teachers out there, but they would probably be bad teachers even if the curriculum were changed. Getting more good teachers out there is a hugely important issue, which I'm afraid has no easy solution.

Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
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.

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.

Doubtless our schools could do a much better job of teaching math in a rigorous manner, but I don't think the problem is that they're teaching outdated math when they should be teaching the updated math (none of the math is outdated and is necessary in order to understand the new math).

Christopher wrote: View Post
So it's frankly rather dishonest to hide the quantum nature of reality from our children.
Anyone doing this is wrong

Teachers teaching algebra and Newtonian physics so that their students can later do the math that is required to understand Heisenberg and Einstein are definitely not wrong. On a very basic level, you can't do the complicated math without learning the easy math first.

On the other hand, math and science teachers should definitely be teasing their students with time "paradoxes" and thought experiments and so on, absolutely. That is part of being a good teacher, but it doesn't remove the need to actually learn the science involved, to the extent that the goal is that type of concrete understanding, rather than a popularizing A Brief History of Time-style appoach, which undoubtedly has its merits and might complement the actual science very nicely in any curriculum.

Last edited by flemm; June 28 2010 at 01:10 AM.
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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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Old June 28 2010, 06:18 PM   #34
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

kkozoriz1 wrote: View Post
JD wrote: View Post
S&S has the description up for the second and only the second new YA Starfleet Academy book.
A new Starfleet Academy series for teens--filled with romance and adventure! In The Competitive Edge, Kirk finds out how much of a toll the intense training classes and grueling schedule of academy life is taking on all the cadets, including himself. But some recruits seem better equipped to handle the challenges. Is there something that is giving them an edge? Kirk is determined to find out, especially since one of the cadets with a little something extra is his new girlfriend.


Seriously, this sounds like a bad after school special. Romance & adventure? Is there something giving them an edge?

I half expect the last page to have a PSA "Starfleet Cadets don't do drugs!"

Hopefully it'll be handled with more subtlety that this blurb.
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Old June 28 2010, 06:26 PM   #35
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

Christopher wrote: View Post

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.
I'm pretty sure along with "children's brains being more flexible", this is pseudo-science. I've just had a quick look around the peer reviewed literature and can't find anything that support this, the only things I can find talk about this stuff in terms of 'myths'.
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Old June 28 2010, 07:55 PM   #36
flemm
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
My original remark was not directed at you, so there is no reason for you to feel threatened or insulted. My point was that if any teacher is presenting the Bohr model of the atom as "truthful," then there is a problem with that teacher's approach that changing the curriculum alone will not fix.

Christopher wrote: View Post
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.
Sure, it's an interesting question

To the extent that some high percentage of Americans don't perceive quantum mechanics as a tested theory (which would certainly not surprise me), this is probably due to social factors similar to those that often determine Americans' perception of evolutionary theory and global warming.

JoeZhang wrote: View Post
I'm pretty sure along with "children's brains being more flexible", this is pseudo-science. I've just had a quick look around the peer reviewed literature and can't find anything that support this, the only things I can find talk about this stuff in terms of 'myths'.
In my experience it is essentially a myth, yes, though there is perhaps some truth to it, depending on exactly how one formulates the idea. Adults can learn languages very quickly in the right circumstances and with the right attitude, but there are a lot of social and psychological barriers. Adults are used to being in control, knowing what to say and when to say it. It can be extremely difficult for an adult to deal with the awkward and helpless feeling that sometimes comes with learning a new language.

With children, they are essentially going through that same process in their mother tongue anyway (growing up), so there is not that same feeling of going from mastery to helplessness.
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Old June 28 2010, 08:07 PM   #37
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

flemm wrote: View Post
To the extent that some high percentage of Americans don't perceive quantum mechanics as a tested theory (which would certainly not surprise me), this is probably due to social factors similar to those that often determine Americans' perception of evolutionary theory and global warming.
No, I think it's just that they aren't taught anything about it in pre-college education. It's not that they refuse to believe it, it's just that they haven't been told about it in the first place beyond vague rumblings and distorted mystical gobbledegook. True, there's a similar ignorance behind creationist thinking; American schools are just generally incompetent and negligent when it comes to teaching science. But at least evolution is taught in high-school biology in school districts that aren't in the thrall of creationist loons. You generally don't get any education about quantum physics unless you go to college and major in physics. At least, you didn't when I was in high school, and I went to one of the best public high schools in America, so I doubt things are any better for the average student today. Indeed, there are plenty of school districts in America that don't require science courses at all.
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Old June 29 2010, 01:19 PM   #38
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Re: A description is up for one of the new Starfleet Academy books

JoeZhang wrote: View Post
I'm pretty sure along with "children's brains being more flexible", this is pseudo-science. I've just had a quick look around the peer reviewed literature and can't find anything that support this, the only things I can find talk about this stuff in terms of 'myths'.
AFAIK, at birth a child is capable of making the sounds of any human language, but they tend to learn, by trial and error like Pavlov's dog, only to keep making the sounds to which the people around them respond positively. The attention the child receives acts as a reward and they keep making those sounds which are rewarding for them.

Older humans' vocal organs lose the ability to make "every" sound. It is a rare adult who can speak other languages, learned as an adult, with perfect pronunciation and accent.

Pretty certain that's not a "myth".
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