Tuesday, July 12, 2005

EDUCATION NUTS AND BOLTS

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An old favorite of American mythology is the "can do" attitude and the "invent a better mousetrap" bravado. This was well earned and well respected. When faced with an obstacle, one relied upon technical cowboy inventiveness. Unlike the European peasants, mired in tradition, the American immigrant strode forth to try new things in new ways even if much of it looked like the Old World, we did create a lot of creators.

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington and even old Ben Franklin were inquiring minds which explored nature and roamed about in literature and science, seeking new things.

From Reuters News:
Moves by international companies to move jobs in information technology, high-tech manufacturing and research and development to low-income developing countries were just "harbingers" of that longer-term adjustment, Freeman said.

Urgent action was needed to ensure that slippage in science and engineering education and research, a bulwark of the U.S. productivity boom and resurgence during the 1990s, did not undermine America's global economic leadership, he added.

The United States has had a substantial lead in science and technology since World War II. With just 5 percent of the world's population, it employs almost a third of science and engineering researchers, accounts for 40 percent of research and development spending and publishes 35 percent of science and engineering research papers.
This was due nearly entirely to Adolph Hitler and the Russian Revolution and all the war and destruction and the impossibility of being an intellectual in a dead totalitarian climate. Refugees came to America which was sort of free and reasonably ripe for action. Money was here too, thanks to us winning both the British and the French empires in one swoop after WWII.
Numbers of science and engineering graduates from European and Asian universities are soaring while new degrees in the United States have stagnated -- cutting its overall share.

In 2000, the paper said, 17 percent of university bachelor degrees in the U.S. were in science and engineering compared with a world average of 27 percent and 52 percent in China.

The picture among doctorates -- key to advanced scientific research -- was more striking. In 2001, universities in the European Union granted 40 percent more science and engineering doctorates than the United States, with that figure expected to reach nearly 100 percent by about 2010, the study showed.

The study said deteriorating opportunities and comparative wages for young science and engineering graduates has discouraged U.S. students from entering these fields, but not those born in other countries.
52% of Chinese graduates are in the sciences? This is an eye-opener indeed. After Sputnik, I remember how our government got really big on the "study technology" hobby horse...and then went off to try to take even more of the British/French empires when we occupied Vietnam unsuccessfully.

Now the hobby horse sits in the attic collecting spiderwebs.

On the other hand, there has been this ongoing symposium in Oxford, England, called the TED. From the BBC:
Scientist Professor Richard Dawkins has opened a global conference of big thinkers warning that our Universe may be just "too queer" to understand.

Professor Dawkins, the renowned Selfish Gene author from Oxford University, said we were living in a "middle world" reality that we have created.
Hell, according to Justin Raimondo at Anti-war.com,
George Orwell's playbook: war is peace in this monstrous new world, and vice-versa, since the clear lines that used to separate them are erased. And this is not an anomaly, but the dawn of a new era, which might be called the Bizarro Age, in which up is down, the old rules are repealed, and the laws of God and man annulled
We are in Bizarro Age! Too queer....actually, it isn't that hard to understand any of it. All one has to do is drop the self-centered attitude homosapien animals enjoy and look at the works of nature with a critical eye.

Back to Dawkins in Oxford:
For example, what if the universe isn't static nor is flyin apart but is actually twisting inside out? Thanks to increasingly huge black hole entities? Won't that be interesting?
"Successive generations have come to terms with the increasing queerness of the Universe."

Each species, in fact, has a different "reality". They work with different "software" to make them feel comfortable, he suggested.

Because different species live in different models of the world, there was a discomforting variety of real worlds, he suggested.

"Middle world is like the narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that we see," he said.

"Middle world is the narrow range of reality that we judge to be normal as opposed to the queerness that we judge to be very small or very large."

He mused that perhaps children should be given computer games to play with that familiarize them with quantum physics concepts.
Well, I grew up exactly that way. At first, my parents were proud that I could comprehend various concepts that were supposedly difficult to fit into a belief system. But it wasn't hard at all! It was simple as falling off a chair.

Since I had no previous beliefs to deep six, it was simple.
Our brains had evolved to help us survive within the scale and orders of magnitude within which we exist, said Professor Dawkins.

We think that rocks and crystals are solid when in fact they were made up mostly of spaces in between atoms, he argued.

This, he said, was just the way our brains thought about things in order to help us navigate our "middle sized" world - the medium scale environment - a world in which we cannot see individual atoms.
My grandparents as well as parents were all astronomers. They always talked about this sort of thing. How different timescales work on objects in the same quantum matrix. Time for a rock passes quite differently from that of a fly yet both exist on the same plane of reality, however briefly.

When I learned about the spaces between the atoms of seemingly solid objects and that within these atoms there is still more space within which movement is occurring, I was about seven years old. I thought, if only I were able to visualize and then merge with the sub atomic structure, I could insinuate myself through solid objects.

In other words, I could use my mind to walk through walls. So I worked on this research project which mystified my mother who wondered why I would stare long and hard at a wall and then walk into it.

Maybe teaching children this sort of stuff has a downside?

Even as Dawkins, the number one evolutionist theorist around today, talked excitedly about expanding the minds of youth, the Catholic Church turns its back on science. From the NYT:
An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The cardinal, Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna, a theologian who is close to Pope Benedict XVI, staked out his position in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday, writing, "Evolution in the sense of common ancestry might be true, but evolution in the neo-Darwinian sense - an unguided, unplanned process of random variation and natural selection - is not."
It seems, the more monkey-like the human, the more they detest Darwin's assertion that we are mere apes.
Opponents of Darwinian evolution said they were gratified by Cardinal Schönborn's essay. But scientists and science teachers reacted with confusion, dismay and even anger. Some said they feared the cardinal's sentiments would cause religious scientists to question their faiths.

Cardinal Schönborn, who is on the Vatican's Congregation for Catholic Education, said the office had no plans to issue new guidance to teachers in Catholic schools on evolution. But he said he believed students in Catholic schools, and all schools, should be taught that evolution is just one of many theories. Many Catholic schools teach Darwinian evolution, in which accidental mutation and natural selection of the fittest organisms drive the history of life, as part of their science curriculum.
"One of several theories" is funny. I don't see any other "theories." I do see blind faith declarations all designed to elevate homosapiens to a plane equal with invisible and vindictive gods.

Why this is a step up baffles me.

Even as we bewail the loss of faith in engineering and surrender the laurels of that great institution, the Tinkerer who made things work and replace it with mordant desires to live forever, brainlessly proud, we must remember this: living forever is a curse.

At the Oxford symposium there were the usual lusts for everlasting life. The vision of the future was to do what Dr. Faustus wanted to do: stop time. As the great magician/scientist declared he had reached perfection, the devil came to collect his paltry soul. For indeed, eternal life is like the Egyptian pyramids: dusty, dry and dead. Even if the entity exists and can be touched and seen, it would be dead inside or more like a rock or a comet floating in space. Detached and disinterested. This is why the race against time spawns great things as even the busy bee works hard for the hive even as itself has but a very short life compared to the queen and hers isn't that long, either.

This is why birth and death are the intertwined snakes of existence.

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