Monthly Archives: February 2016

How We Learn #3 – Science, Humans and The Infinite

Previously I mentioned that in my school days the sciences were taught so as to never kindle any interest in me. Our teachers seemed more interested in laying traps (Gotcha!) than in imparting knowledge. I thought of physics and chemistry as bitter-tasting medicine that had to be swallowed. No more.

Nowadays sciences which were strictly separate seem to have coalesced and melded together. Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” combines anthropology, history and geography. Diamond links the human trajectory through time and space to climate, terrain , invasions, scientific discoveries and other unpredictable elements.

Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is an Oxford Professor of Public Understanding of Science and an excellent teacher with a gift for making the esoteric comprehensible. I like his proposition that we humans are only the disposable wrapping that allows our genes to travel on without us. I think that is what immortality really is.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Natural History Museum in New York. He follows in the footsteps of Carl Sagan whose television show Cosmos helped to debunk the idea that we humans are at the center of the universe. Sagan showed that we and our planet are but a tiny dot in the immensity of the cosmos. Tyson notices children’s natural curiosity about the world and observes how it can be drummed out of them by making them adhere to a structured way of learning. This famous scientist encourages daydreaming.

I now leave the familiar sphere altogether with Physicist Lisa Randall. She explains dark and light matter, black holes and introduces us to the Large Hadron Collider which reenacts the Big Bang by accelerating particles and simulating the birth of the Universe. She also explains the recent discovery of Higgs-Boson, an elementary particle that gives other particles their mass and is sometimes called the God Particle. In her latest book she explains how meteorites deposited the seeds of life on earth, and how the dinosaurs disappeared making possible the birth of mammals.

My mind is stretched to its outer limits. Dizziness is imminent as I am desperately trying to hold on to these new ideas. I shall stop with this slippery and elusive knowledge before it totally eludes my grasp.

In Part 4 I will attempt to understand time/space and dwell on our very limited senses.

How We Learn #2 – Missed Opportunities

palmyra (Above, Palmyra, Syria)

How We Learn – Missed Opportunities

In the last post, I discussed the ways in which some of my teachers discouraged learning. I also realized that my own family missed opportunities to help me understand the world.

At home in Beirut, Lebanon we had a curious way of ignoring the very world we lived in. My parents never thought of taking us to the many historic places which were very close to where we lived. There were Roman ruins at Baalbek in Eastern Lebanon which I did not see. I also didn’t get to visit the nearby old city of Damascus, Syria with its colorful souks (markets). I also never made the trip to Palmyra, Syria, which is now all the more regrettable because many of the sights are disappearing before our eyes. We had snow in the Lebanese mountains, yet we never went skiing. Perhaps I should not be too harsh on my parents. They were strangers in a strange land and my father’s main preoccupation was to adapt and survive which he did very well.

I have since learned to open my mind to science topics thanks to reading and listening to wonderful communicators like Neil DeGrass Tyson, Richard Dawkins and Lisa Randall. I will write about them next time.