Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blog #14 - How do we learn best?

This question pertains to learning and how we process the world around us.

Descartes felt that we needed to doubt everything (Radical Doubt) and start from scratch; the only thing that we can truly be certain of is that we have a mind. "I think, therefore, I am." He relies predominantly on reason as is mode of learning: does what I'm learning stand up to reason and logic? If not, toss it.

John Locke felt that as humans we were born with blank slates (tabula rasa) and that we learn through a combination of our senses and observation and experience and memory. Nothing is innate and that almost everything we learn is gained from the outside world. When you consistently observe sensory data, you begin to form memories and complex ideas from these experiences.

A philosopher who we'll study later next week is George Berkley who believed that the senses and observation were the primary learning tool. In some ways, for Berkley, the only things that exist are things that we perceive, and once we stop perceiving them, they stop existing. But since we see people and objects continually reappear in our world in a very similar and consistant state - carrying on as if they had their own life/existence without us perceiving them, there needs to be a way to explain that. As you could probably guess, the only being capable of doing all of that in his mind.

So, two questions now that I think about it:
1. How do you best learn? Why? Combination or one way best for you?

2. In which way do you think schools are lacking as they prepare kids for the world? With this question, I am looking for an analysis on where you think the emphasis is misplaced, not specifics on any teacher's methods or a slam session on Groves H.S.

Due Friday, 250 words minimum. Thanks.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Blog #13 - Galileo's Paradigm Shift - What would be our next one?

There have been three paradigm shifts within the past four hundred years or so that have altered man's image of itself forever. Galileo's refinement of the telescope and discovery of Jupiter's four moons (this discovery and others like it helped reinforce the new heliocentered universe but wait! I thought the Earth was unalterable from creation - no one said anything about moons around Jupiter), Darwin's concept of evolution (refuting the idea that man is NOT made in God's image), and Freud's psychological theories about our unconscious desires controlling us (who's really in control?).

What is a paradigm shift? - This is a term initially defined by Thomas Kuhn (Wikipedia) in 1962 to describe a realignment in the basic thinking or assumptions about a topic. For instance, when movies went from silent to talkies in 1927 with The Jazz Singer, that made a whole new kind of movie possible for future directors. Kuhn initially applied the term to science, but since then, it has been adapted to many different things since 1962.

By way of illustrating this, the way people conduct research nowadays is completely different than it was when I did my undergrad degree at MSU less than 20 years ago. Computers existed back then but mainly as word processors (like the fabulous Apple IIe pictured to the right); the internet also existed but not in its current incarnation. When I needed to do research on a topic, I went to the library and looked up stuff the old fashioned way: I found the info in a card catalog in a long wooden shelving unit that smelled of mildew. I wrote down a whole list of books / articles / etc. and then I went and found them on the shelves in the library; if they were there, I looked to see that the books / articles / etc. had something relevant in it about my topic. If not, it went back on the shelf. If so, it went in my backpack. When my backpack got too full, I stopped at the nearest study table and started either taking notes on the relevant info or made copies of said info (if I had enough $$). Sound like fun? Just writing that and remembering that whole process made me thankful for computers.

By the time my Master's thesis came along in 1996-97, I still did some of the searching in the Wayne State library. But, most of the grunt work (card catalog searches, humping up and down stairs, checking out book shelves) was done by ERIC, an educational search engine. I had also upgraded to a Windows 95 computer and could surf the net in its infancy. A paradigm shift had occurred in research - how it was conducted, how quickly and efficiently it could be done. But the evaluation still had to be done by a human.

My question is: what kind of FUTURE paradigm shift do you envision shaking up life as we know it? (cue R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It"). What kind of technological innovation could revolutionize our lives in the near future? What kind of scientific breakthrough or discovery could alter the course of our lives? Could an accident or a terrorist attack or unforeseen event forever change the world?

Take some time to think about what you think might change our lives like Darwin, Galileo and Freud had done.

Due Wednesday, January 21st. 250 words minimum (should take some deep thinking).

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blog #12 - Seven Deadly Sins

The concept of sin has been around for about 2,000 years, but even before the advent of Christianity, these concepts of greed, envy, lust, anger, sloth, pride/arrogance, and gluttony have been seen as vices or major flaws in society. The way that the Christian church divided up sin was that there were small sins that weren't so bad - ones that could be forgiven by confession to a priest (venial), and ones that would ruin your chances to get into Heaven (those were cardinal sins). As we'll discover after the presentation of the sins, each of them have their own destructive qualities.

Anger tends to be the most destructive vice that can lead to war, genocide, and racism. Yet, anger can also be channeled into fighting against evil.

Greed is purported to be the worst of them all, the root of all sin, b/c if you did not desire more than you needed or wanted, then there would be fewer problems. Yet, that desire to improve ourselves (and this dovetails nicely with envy and gluttony here b/c what are envy and gluttony but forms of greed) comes from the desire to better ourselves.

Pride can also be seen as the root of all sins b/c when you see yourself as more important than others, especially God (as Pope Gregory the Great put it), then you are putting yourself above others. You are supposed to be a humble servant of God, and pride destroys that relationship. However, pride can be an important part of a person's self-esteem; it can also be part of a country's nationalism (as long as it doesn't turn into xenophobia). What about the pride of doing a job well? This builds confidence in the worker.
So then there's lust. As we have seen lately with New York governor Eliot Spitzer and former Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards, lust has led people down the wrong path. I even hesitate to say that lust has led them, b/c those two guys got themselves in trouble. Love doesn't come from lust; I can tell you that from experience. My wife and I were friends first before we fell in love. Ours isn't universal, but it is an example of how love should come first. Lust, unfortunately, drives people to do insane things and I won't defend this with a flipside like I have the other vices.
10 years ago, lust dominated the headlines and cable news with the Clinton - Lewinsky saga and eventual impeachment in December 1998 and trial in February 1999. Fast forward to today, lust no longer dominates the headlines; it's greed and envy with news of the bailouts, economic scandals and political corruption as well as the looming depression.
Of these seven, which do you think can be the most personally destructive and why? Also, which of the seven is the most destructive for society and why?
Due Thursday, 1/8/09. 200 words minimum.