Allegory of The Cave (Reflections on Science Education)

25 10 2010

Socrates: To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
Glaucon: That is certain.

There is a wonderful tale written by Plato called “The Allegory of the Cave”. To summarize the story, a man makes a discovery and wishes to tell everyone he knows. But his description goes against the beliefs of those around him and he feels his knowledge separates him from them. Eventually, he realizes that the only way for them to understand him is for them to find the truth themselves.

The crux of the story is that our characters in need of truth have always been prisoners in a cave where they have had very little light.  In order to find the truth, they must exit the cave.  Shady descriptions of the outside world will not do.  But with a bright sun, this will be quite painful …so they wait until night.  The dimmest of light, the stars, then becomes the first thing they gain knowledge to.  As their eyes acclimate to their new environment, many things — things whose existence had been mere suggestion — become very real to them.  After a time their eyes can handle brighter lights and they can see many more things.  And finally, after much patience and some discomfort, they can view their world in full sunlight.

The rest of the story is rather convoluted and a bit of a strain to swallow, but what Plato was trying to do was set up an allegory for how discovery works.

It’s been 20 years since I first read The Allegory of the Cave from Plato’s The Republic.  I read it while in Governor’s School, where we then had a lively discussion about whether it was possible to fully explain a new discovery to someone without any direct proof.  Could they be persuaded that you weren’t misleading them?  Could they believe in something that went against their everyday perception if you drew out your argument logically and without flaw, though you had not a shred of tangible evidence to support you?  In the end, the man who left the cave and made a discovery viewed the others as being ignorant, but conversely (and here’s the real kicker!) the ones left behind who did not see the truth viewed the one with knowledge as being ridiculous.

I spoke with a preacher friend of mine this past week, who also happens to be a science teacher.  While debating the efficacy of hands-on versus verbal strategies, he said something quite profound.  He said, “Our perceptions become our reality.”

That’s really deep.  I’ve been thinking about all the topics it could be applied to — science, politics, religion, those crazy Tea Party-ers, and of course our self-perceptions.  It’s something so universally true.  Wish I had thought it up.  (I realize he surely didn’t think it up first; but like when Einstein published E = mc² and said that it’s simplicity revealed it’s truth, it’s one of those things that just sounds profoundly awesome because of it’s simplicity.)

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Life Without TV

7 10 2010

As sort of an experiment, Geneva and I decided to shut off our satellite TV service last month.  A lot of people I know don’t watch much TV and we figured we might try spending our quiet hours doing more reading and getting house-work done.  Also, with this current economy I can’t quite justify the cost of the hefty DirecTV bill.  Those guys are determined to raise rates as often as our power company does!

So how’s it going, you ask?  Well, the toughest part is losing the morning news.  I know that our local stations broadcast for free —  in Hi-Def even(!) — but if you don’t know, I live in the sticks.  So far out live I that signals from the big city are more ‘suggestions’ rather than actual transmissions.  And in this digital age that amounts to pretty much a black screen.  But back to the stuff I miss…  the morning news.  I’ve grown accustomed to finding out what new thing I’m supposed to be fired up about each morning before heading off to work, and now that I don’t have that I feel, I dunno, not very fired up.  I’m sort of a news junkie so getting my morning fix has become — almost necessary.  And yeah, of course the internets could keep me in the know, but i can’t browse whilst putting on my socks.  I need that passive information feed.  Well, I guess I’ll just have to rely on NPR during the drive in to fill that hole.  But they need to learn to talk faster!  Headline news can feed me three news stories every minute.  Ya gotta keep Broca’s brain contextually stimulated.

For my other programming I’ve been taking a page from Wil Wheaton and hitting Hulu and various other video-specific websites.  And through the power of the occasional torrent, I’m able to watch most of the TV that I normally would have suffered through the ads to enjoy — like Rules of Engagement, the Venture Bros., and House.  I also can catch The Daily Show through their own website, which is nice because then I can easily catch all the parts of the interviews they edit out for the TV time-slot.  [But why must they show me the exact same very annoying commercial during every single break?  Can’t the AXE people just make a couple of extra commercials just to make me not spaz every time I see their product in the future?  morons.]

And so the experiment continues.  The boys haven’t complained about missing their daily dose of iCarly, but with school and soccer their schedules are so packed right now they wouldn’t have a 30-min. break in the day anyhow.  And I’m catching up on a couple of books I’m been limping through and working my way through the back-log of movies I’ve been ‘intending to get to’ for far too long.  (Sherlock Holmes is *still* sitting on my DVD player — unwatched!)

For someone who prides himself on  perpetually integrating current pop culture into his vernacular seamlessly (“Twitcher lets you send and receive short messages called ‘twits’. [ding] Why, here’s a twit now!), I’m gonna find it hard to keep up.  And as I’ve learned in the past, it’s not always a sure thing that an internet meme is recognizable by anyone other than those it was intended for.  …or the other 99.99% of the local population.  meh.  Honestly, if I wore a T-shirt with “The cake is a liar.” printed on it, will it actually make me seem any cooler to the general public?  I think not.

So for anyone keeping score:  Having time to do some things that needed doing, 1.  Keeping in touch with the things that keep me sane and make me cool, zero.

Oh, well.  At least I’ll have another $75 in my pocket at the end of the month.