Friday, January 20, 2006

Back in December, I went to a symposium on chemical education. Many topics were discussed, from the broad overview of chemistry education and its objectives(why, what) to the specifics(how, where, when).

One thing that struck me was how the lecturers seem so concerned(or eager) to push chemistry and general science education, when my own experience tells me there's no real compelling reason to do so. Most people can function perfectly in life without even the most cursory understanding of science and the scientific method. So why push it?

One of the lecturers, a certain prof, told me the reason for the new initiatives in science education was the work of politicians. Evidently, they feel that having a populace familiar with science and its concepts would help them push certain policies through much more easily. I commented that's not necessarily true, and it seemed he knew that I knew what those policies are, because he agreed.

Those policies? Kyoto, greenhouse warming, ozone layer, depletion of resources, ethical constraints, blah blah.

We ended our short discussion perfunctorily without any definitive conclusion, and since then I kept wondering to myself, why would politicans think that way? Science is a field of many questions and challenges, where theories would stand and fall on their own merits or demerits. Thinking that science would 'brainwash' people into a particular view through science was a policy doomed to failure. Or so that was what I had always thought.

Through Austrian economics and the libertarian movement, I came to be acquainted with the philosophy and world view of Karl Popper, who elucidated the criterion of falsification as a key denotion of what is and what is not scientific.

I never knew of his diametrical opposite Thomas Kuhn until a week ago, when I read a tract on chemical education's epistemology that mentioned them alongside each other, in a key but obscure event of the twentieth century called the 'Science Wars'.

Popper represented the libertarian aspects of science, where everything is subject to scrutiny and logic, and nothing is exempt. He extended science's worldview to other areas, parts of life, most notably sociology and politics. It ws important for people to be aware of alternatives and the possile consequences. He believed in fair play for conflicting theories; they must convince people by dint of their predictive ability. It was a democratic endeavour.

In contrast, Kuhn represented the authoritarian aspects, where science should be a guided affair, a single paradigm that splits off into new paradigms when existing problems are too difficult/complex to be solved by the existing paradigms. Science would be a matter of listening, consulting with the 'knowers', the High Priests, who by dint of their long year in scientific research, would know what is best for everybody else.

Essentially, Kuhn and his followers won the war. Since then, philosophy in science has been dominated by Kuhn and his disciples, even though Popper is slowly making his comeback. Science and how it has been taught has been affected as well, I think. We dictate certain things to students; they either do as we tell them, or fail the test.

That's not really science. We don't teach them logic. We don't tell them of the fallacies of reasoning. We don't tell them of the blind alleys that science stumbled into at one point or another, the conflicting viewpoints and how those issues were resolved.

We never gave them the tools to learn science on their own. One of my colleagues, when told by the principal that it wa the task of GP tutors to impart those skills, said it was too much for only GP tutors to do; everybody should pitch in.

However, Kuhn had already won; how many people in the SAJC science department know the basics of epistemology? We're the lowly priests, the imparters, the middlemen, the executors of the High Priests' will. I can rail against the bad science inherent in the ozone theory and HIV=AIDS all I want; it doesn't matter because I'm just a cog right now.

With the High Priests in control, it would be easy enough for politicians to come in and exploit the authoritarian aspects of science for their purposes. If a high priest(eg. Gallo) says a certain thing, then it certainly must be so. The people will meekly accept whatever the High Priest says, and the government/state can borrow the High Priest's power to push their own preferred policies through.

Nowhere was this more evident than in the Snuppy clone affair. So sure, we have brought down one High Priest, but the rest of the priesthood remains inviolate. It's the system that's the problem. Science, or rather, the concept of 'Big Science', are going to be the downfall of science.

What will it take to challenge them?

Sunday, January 15, 2006

What a week. Choir is coming along almost fine, except for the definitive lack of guys. Given that the student population actually is about 1:1 for the genders, and that the sports activities have both boy and girl teams, there's no reason why there is such a paucity of guys coming for choir auditions.

Or maybe there is: the stereotypical image of choirboys as wussies. Having been in many choirs, I have to say that the proportion of male wussies in choirs is no more or less than in any society or club. In fact, there's nothing more manly than a good bass with a deep powerful voice!

Oh well, back to the drawing board for recruitment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A busy few days. Just discovered that the local Battletech gamers are back in action, so I'll probably have to toss in some support as well as an OPFOR player. However, my days are already pretty packed: Five-day work week, with only early offs on Mondays and Fridays, service learning committee stuff, preparing SPA for students, soccer on Sundays with some old kakis, and now Saturday CBT gaming.

I gotta find a way to get through this without burning out. I also need to start looking for a girlfriend... Ehhhhhh...

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Origin of the State

As few may know, I am a frequent commenter at Samizadata as well as the Belmont Club. The fact that I peruse these blogs most frequently is an indication of my political leanings, the result of years of carefully examining history and facts, as well as some forceful logic.

Strictly speaking, I am a classic liberal(as opposed to the modern liberal who is not liberal at all) leaning towards conservatism. The only reason why I don't veer all the way to anarchy, or even the anarcho-capitalism favored by the Austrian economists is because they committed the same grievous error as the socialists; they ignored human nature.

There was indeed a time when Man was a bunch of largely unconnected individuals, without any state or larger organization than the tribe to govern them. It lasted till about 8000 BC. Then the first civilizations arose.

So why did people decide to band together? If the Austrians were right, then people would be happy enough on their own without needing to band together to form larger demographic constructs, which would be the basis for the modern nation-state. Obviously, that was not the case. So what went wrong(or right)?

Thomas Hobbes has the answer in Leviathan. Men are motivated by mainly two things: desire and fear. There is no fear greater than the fear of death. No matter how strong or how smart a man is, he can never be free from the fear of death. And in the natural world, which is to say, the world before the birth of civilization, the fear of death was especially strong in man. Hobbes classified the right to self-protection against violent death as the most basic human right. But when resources are scarce, especially resources vital to living like food, what's a caveman to do? The answer was easy: kill the other cavemen competing for those resources. And then there is desire. Frankly speaking, we have unlimited wants. Man is naturally a creature of acquisition. As Machiavelli put it, 'The wish to acquire is in truth very natural and common, and men always do so when they can'.

Couple the two, and in a Royal Rumble world, you have a system in which every man looked out for himself, 'war of all against all' (bellum omnium contra omnes). And so, life was 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'. In short, the life of pre-civilization man.

The solution to that sticky problem was for every man to give up some of that natural right to a higher authority, for the higher authority to provide security against the fear of death, to punish those who transgressed against the natural rights of others, and so on. With such a higher authority, it became easier for people to pool their resources together. And while one man may find it difficult to overcome nature to produce more resources for himself, a group of many men under a single authority will find it much easier.

A single man, or even a single tribe, cannot possibly dig a irrigation canal several miles long. But a nation of people can, making the land much more agriculturally productive. But such nation of people can only come about through the existence of a central authority that enforces laws to ensure that people can cooperate without fear of death, as well as everybody doing their fair share. In other words, Leviathan.

The anarchists may argue that people will do so anyway if it is in their self-interest, in the absence of a higher authority, but why would they? They could negotiate contracts with one another, but what if the contract was violated? What then? In other words, you can't get away without having a state to impose law and order.

And that is why anarchy is unworkable. But what about the state? What if it gets too powerful, eats up too many 'rights'? Is it a good, or bad thing?

Friday, January 06, 2006

It's been a while. I took a 2 year hiatus, and finally I'm back!

Just got assigned to help take charge of the choir, along with one other teacher, both of us relative newbies in the teaching service. The choir's in a rather bad shape, with only about 10 members turning up on a good day. Nope, not good at all.

It's going to be tough to get interest, excitement, and fun going in the CCA again, but the new conductor's a good start. Vocal production is the very first step, and then simple pieces of music. I was flipping through my choir files, and to my amazement there were about 30 songs in the folk/Asian category alone.

I thought to myself, "Did I really sing that many songs in those years in the choir?"

Well, just a boring update. But trust me, it'll get more interesting. I'm just getting warmed up.