If I state that people are both world makers and beings-in-the-world, so in other words that they – at once – create their habitats when inhabiting their creations, and becoming “inhabited” by them on a second step, what do you think or loudly say about it?
We, human beings are embedded in a world where we adapt to live thanks to some cognitive abilities that define our way to handle and perceive things. Such as formal knowledge, abstraction, logical intuitions and imagination that we mix together in a balanced (hopefully) way. Both of these features contribute to our (inter)personal cognitive growths.
The example of children in action during an experimental activity is slightly different. Despite the formal content technically acquired, they want to “feel” the enclosed knowledge by the precision of the technique saw and repeated. In fact, our nature is the one of very special species pertinent to highly intelligent and over imitative mammals, remember?
Thanks to this attitude we build our reasoning and all sort of cognitive connections that seems to us valuable and repeatable. Not for fancy, but for their efficiency! Since childhood period, the development of the ability that will allow us to manage all sort of precise movements require further exploration and reflections.
A larger percentage of our nowadays abilities derive from how and when a set of daily performances took place during our pedagogical formation. In fact, something happens where young eyes and little tiny hands started to interface a new environment: fun, pro activity, curiosity, failure and full engagement are able to produce and create a full envision on what the space may be. And of course to track the role of the object in this environment and participants perception. Even our “adult” bodies hold quite a bit of knowledge about space in their movement. Yet, much of this knowledge remains tacit, hidden in the beholder’s habitual activity or experiences.
One of Seymour Papert (American mathematician, computer scientist and educator) greatest insights in the constructionist movement in education and artificial intelligence was the idea that all sort of commands and procedures available to drive a logo turtle are fairly intuitive to the child. They are also carefully chosen to enable the design of a new generation of many mathematically relevant and intriguing figures in space! The guiding principles behind Turtle Geometry are simple and much in tune with our views: Papert’s turtles become extensions of self that the child controls using words.
Giving directions – remote driving – encourages the participant child to reflect upon a sort of inner know-how and to express it precisely enough so that the machine can carry it out. “In teaching the computer how to think, children embark on an exploration about how they themselves think” . More important, Papert’s turtles are designed to be “egocentric”.
Directions are given in reference to a turtle’s position and heading and not as a function of some external reference system (Cartesian axe with x,y coordinates). This requires that users (not only children) start to change their mind, literally putting themselves in the turtle’s shoes, to figure out where they want to move. One strategy can be design a software environment for building geometric shapes and use this knowledge as a tiller to help them explore all sort of new spatial relations and possible transformations.
Thanks to turtle geometry procedure, children start their own path to interact with this computational creature, moving in prescribed directions and starting to draw precise amounts of possible shapes. If you are curious, this turtle can be represented by one cursor on the screen or, even better, allowing a realistic embodiment as a mechanical toy-robot. The logo programming language is so intuitive and simple for the motivated children, that it is possible to communicate with the turtle using this understandable language.
Following these instructions, our turtle will move into the space by typing commands at the remote keyboard. Do you want some examples?
Typing ‘FORWARD 100’ makes the turtle move in a straight line, ‘RIGHT 90’ will lead the turtle to pivot in place through 90 degrees, choosing ‘PENDOWN’ will cause our turtle to lower a pen, while ‘PENUP’ will leave a visible trace of the same pen raised up, as commanded. In fact the turtle is highly reliable ;-).
The commands and procedures available to drive the turtle are fairly intuitive to the child. They are also carefully chosen to enable the generation of many mathematically relevant and intriguing figures in space.
The guiding principles behind Turtle Geometry are simple and much in tune with our
views. This is because Papert’s logo turtles become extensions of self that the child controls using words.
The syntax of Turtle Logo is able to provide a variable toolkit easy to refer it when assembling basic available operations (rotations/translations) is required. The result is interesting and surprising: using computational tools and object responsiveness offers instant feedback, which helps protract all sort of different interaction. In this flow of input and outputs, children can identify with the turtle and become able to bring their knowledge about their bodies and how they move into the work of formal geometry.
Children’s sense of themselves (resuming what children’s point of view or ‘stance in the worlds’ can be) would complete the cycle between moving one’s own body, driving or programming the instrumentation available to play or give it a precise set of instructions. Switching back and forth (doing it oneself philosophy) is a way to engage one’s body and mind and the secondary step to learn how to give precise instructions to others (principle of instructing someone on quantitative responsive artifact) is what will lead to a deeper understanding Either about geometric or arithmetic operations in series.
The dynamic properties of interactive tools are used to tickle learners’ ‘knowledge in action’ allowed to ‘learning by doing’ procedures. In both cases, the idea is to give children a way of thinking of themselves as beings capable to “do science” by different practical experiments and social activities, such building technological devices that function following some rules interpreted by logic, intuition and body experimentation.
Children are engaged because they appreciate this learning occasion to use their own experience (present and past) as a lever to actively explore mathematical ideas. Playing together, learning from each other stating the ‘what if’ logic, establishing a dialog between what it is or even what it could be, is the means by which children (as well as adults!) go through difficulties, searching for possible achievable solutions and even new challenges.
Play is a fundamental tool to be engaged, and represent (think on the history of science and all the discoveries that be refined after several handling) an important aspect in human learning, from identity building to constructing knowledge about the world.
Erick Erickson defined play as a toy situation that allows us to reveal and commit ourselves in its unreality, because it operates within a transitional space.
More than in the past, performance and simulation are granted a new place alongside language. In fact, the things that will come in the upcoming future will depend on the effort that international educators, cognitive scientists, researchers in machine learning and human perception, will dig and probe definitely valuable to find out.
Even this highly specific point is something everyone should reflect about, because the principle to set priorities is fundamental to build all sort of valuable theoretical knowledge.
These days are very busy for all the protagonists of the schools: pupils, teachers, educators, directors, etc..It’s time for exam and final qualification and the young hearth of the interested students is thinking on how to conquer the best notes and the best present from their enthusiastic parents: some days of vacation with the sport team or scouts, a new drone (it seems quite appealing even for young), all sort of technological devices able to offer a full and long entertainment, concert tickets, and everything that now I am not completely fully aware of 😉
If you ask me, about my childhood during this specific calendar time antecedent summer, well, actually I was waiting this period since Easter vacations. Despite going through all the formal appointments required to have sufficient notes and be safe from parents judgements, I dedicated time to make my book reading list. But not the one full of novelties that I wanted to buy spending afternoons and monthly pocket money in Feltrinelli center stores. My list had the titles of all the books bought or borrowed that I wanted to read again with more peace and awareness, free from any external task to complete. The stories acquired a better shape, the details started to arise and the characters become richer in emotions.
Last week I was speaking with a friend that works as temporary teacher at school. “Things are very different now compared with the time we learned”, mostly because the attitude of the young is changed and the school evaluation became more complex. She told me that these little guys seems to be present with their body in the class, but their mind is far away, distant from the subject her and the colleagues tried to illustrate them with different modalities (upon which nothing seems to be more relevant in respect of the other) and its difficult catch their attention (because their full participation is utopia!) on lessons.
Beyond relevant fact explained by frontal exposition you can try to learn how to play with them, I suggested, and during this alternative time, perhaps they will feel that you want to engage in an interactive game. If you play good you can transfer knowledge, because with positive attitude you can enrich the learning environment and the setting of first curiosity and future interest.
– “Never underestimate young intelligence and sensitivity”, I allowed myself to say.
This statement arise from some experienced I had in education, but everyone can agree that young seem to be more reactive where the “setting” of their class is defined by energizers, dialogues on a specific topic, richer literacy activities.
For young students even only the fact to see a more engaging attitude of learning showed by their teachers, is a sort of elementary “waking up” from their mental blurred jam of first hours. Hey, the truth is that even teachers sensitivity and engagement must not be underestimated!
The educators of today are conscious and aware of the fact that students increase their participation and interest onto the formal subject by learning actively. The main problem to address is that all the practices of active learning are not so commonly accepted by the institutional curriculum upon which notes and subjects annual programs refer to.
You can anticipate me, I know that! Other problems are the fact that ‘there is not enough time to experiment’; ‘they do not like to do the simplest tasks required, why do you should think that they’ll spend more time on extra ones?; ‘students show all the times a dis-proportioned engagement. It’s a fact.’; until the everlasting classic: ‘in an informal context, we cannot follow common parameters to give them notes!’.
The so called ‘Active learning’ is defined by educational researchers as the kind of learning that requires students to engage cognitively and meaningfully with the materials, to get “involved with the information presented, deeply thinking about it (analyzing, synthesizing, evaluating) rather than just passively
receiving it. Thus, “active” students are considered to be cognitively “engaged” cognitively, capable to show a strong motivation and an emotional perspective on what they learn.
When engagement is discussed in motivational terms, it tends to mean the precursor attitude or interest in getting involved with the learning materials.
Behavioral engagement refers generally to the notion of participating and addresses large-grained measures, such as how often students attend class or do homework, whereas emotional engagement encompasses measures of positive and negative reactions to teachers, classmates, academics, and so on.
Although there is some research on cognitive engagement, it emphasizes broad
notions such as thoughtfulness and willingness to exert the necessary effort to succeed and master complex skills and ideas.
When I talk on “learning activities” I am referring to the large collection of instructional or learning tasks from which teachers or educational designers
can choose for students to do (e.g. reading, understand math formulae, solving problems, design charts and diagrams, and so on).
Let me say something related to this point. First of all, I noted that almost every teacher wants to create activities that overcome the students ‘passive learning’ attitude. The problem is that just a few of them (that generally are defined by a more open minded and an integrated formation) reflect on the ‘how’ and ‘when’ to do it.
Perhaps the fact that teachers have few criteria to use in deciding which are the best ‘active learning’ activities to design and implement for their students, deeply influence their future actions. Third, there are no guidelines for teachers regarding how to best modify their favorite existing assignments in order to optimize ‘active learning’.
Pedagogues have tackled the challenge of creating more active learning environments, trying to have clear in mind that the first thing to do is to recognize main features of students learning environments, and just after start the reflections on how depict evidence from a variety of learning activities, domains, student ages and common trends enclosed in subjects.
These ones are the main frame of interested objects tied together.
A brightest image of one class is see the teacher design the schema and interconnections between these objects, in a way capable to rise the class interest. The eyes of the students are assimilating something that otherwise seemed repellent to their reasoning and curiosity.
Yes, actually this is the Hollywood’s scene for schools professionals! the mastery of the teacher in front of the whole class achieved the first inner desired success: their attention, their energy to think on bright questions, their pleasured genuine interest.
In effect, the principle of making things interesting means that subjects can be selected in relation to the child’s present experience, powers and needs.
It is also true that, sometimes, students not appreciate the relevance of the material presented and all its future relationships and values connected to what has already a strong significance in their lives.
So we can say, helped by Dewey reasoning, that making things interesting is bringing to consciousness the bearing of the new material which constitutes reality.
Here there are some criteria to sharp this preliminary framework:
– how far is one interest externally attached to another, or substituted for another?
– how far does the new appeal and can be a source of motivation?
– how things permeate one another?
– how find the interconnection between things that externally seems remote but if well bounded appears as ‘one’ beautiful set of knowledge?
To go over all that the person interested in doing something new in the actual panorama of education must wear the best suit that characterize a performer, capable to exhibit clearness and strong personal energy to transfer information to young minds. All these steps must take care of the environment and any sort of related failure will be part of the process where ideals can be re-shaped and implemented starting from the attention on particulars traits of young perception and their own interests development.
Last week I was lucky to attend to the annual international conference held at the Enrico ‘Fermi Center’ in Rome. The Institute of Physics has proved to be a symbol and an extraordinary place for Italian research, for scientific promotion and knowledge in general. A creative environment for the ability to combine individual skills and a scientific, political, and social milieu in the years when discoveries and innovations in Italy enabled, alongside scientific progress, a cultural progress capable of being perceptible, broad andpowerful.
The Center is close at the Institute of Physics of Via Panisperna, completely renewed and upcoming home to an interactive exhibition entirely dedicated to the charismatic figure of physicist Enrico Fermi. Well, this adjective is even reductive if you remember how he managed to involve a group of brilliant young students – Emilio Segré, Bruno Pontecorvo, Edoardo Amaldi and Ettore Majorana (all of whom became famous scientists and Physics Education referents) – forming a working group committed to scientific research who would achieve great discoveries in the field of nuclear physics.
And let me remember his words, with reference to The Future of Nuclear Physics in J. W. Cronin ‘Fermi Remembered’, to make wise choices about nuclear technology.
Some of you may ask, what is the good of working so hard merely to collect a few facts which will bring no pleasure except to a few long-haired professors who love to collect such things and will be of no use to anybody because only few specialists at best will be able to understand them? In answer to such question[s] I may venture a fairly safe prediction. History of science and technology has consistently taught us that scientific advances in basic understanding have sooner or later led to technical and industrial applications that have revolutionized our way of life. It seems to me improbable that this effort to get at the structure of matter should be an exception to this rule. What is less certain, and what we all fervently hope, is that man will soon grow sufficiently adult to make good use of the powers that he acquires over nature
Something very actual nowadays and capable to show his sensibility for society. Yes, society, that appears to be the subject of this annual workshop, focused on the role of Museum Exhibition in the field of the New Physics, around nucear particles or newest medical therapies for tumors that cannot be removed because too dangerous, up to the knowledge of our body, that we can understand and imagine more realistically thanks to ‘Corporea‘ science exhibition, organized now at ‘Città della Scienza’ in the historical city of Naples. Vittorio Silvestrini was the founder of CDS in 1987 because Italy should have a Science Center as the main ones present in Europe and America. A place to explain and show how scientific knowledge must belong to people and the whole society. CDS is a foundation and they communicate their innovations describing themselves as both an incubator of start-ups and an exhibition milieu. The spokesperson stress the importance of the laboratory/educational area to give the visitor a more engaged and sensory experience – as to say – in science.
The elements able to catch the attention of the visitors are all sort of immersive videos, virtual reality experiences, games, multimedia, laboratories, experiments and visitors curiosity, providing a full experience that involves an audience of all ages, leading to the discovery of the human body as a holistic system.
This idea of complexity refer to different single parties, that can ensure the constant flow of interactions between tiny parts and the whole environment (inner and outer) as first requirement of the “right working” in a dynamic body.
The process of teaching for children and adolescents is supported through formal and informal strategies, but also the adults are a target. They need to be engaged too, of course as multipliers for their children, acquaintances at work and family members. He says that the museum acts as a company in effect, that must fit in some parameters of objectives and expenses to face, although its image, in the first instance, is the one of a ‘no- profit’ identity and therefore having an internal precise organization and differentiation is crucial to have and maintain by time the expected high success.
One of the main objectives of the CDS is to involve interpretations and science education, including some dedicated areas that allow the scientists to communicate their work to the people. There is not magic formula to gain public recognition, but Corporea had in two months (it started in March 2017) a huge participation. Perhaps its first advantage is that it is an interactive exhibition capable to communicate the bio-medicine traits in a simple and sensory way to the public. This is easily recognized if we think that people are more interested to what regards themselves more, so what can be more interesting than looking after a webcam allowing a friendly and safe visit within our muscles, bones, tendons and brain microcircuits?
The CDS benefit also from the FabLab opening, thanks to a constant partnerships development with companies and professional in the field of communication. Moreover there is a FabLab area active in schools that were involved in the projects of CDS, now analyzing the usefulness of the personal smartphone for the science education of children. In other words, the aim of this national scientific center is to remind people that it is important to give new light on the global and interactive side of science, starting by its boundaries with society and giving a multidisciplinary focus on an even strongest network of partners.
One of them is the Middle East, represented with a new Exhibition organized in Palestine and a summer school organized in partnership with the middle east economic partners, that this year will be at its third edition.
Now is the turn of the speech of Dr. Derek Gillespie – Head of Skills and Engagement of British STFC. He starts to show its passion for the work he done in UK, giving us details on the role of partnership to allow all sort of multiple engagement strategies capable to inspire children, friends, families during the visit of a city and local exposition/exhibit around science.
People respond immediately to stories if they walk through adversities, and what better than experience the story behind the particular object creation or the scientist life, personal and professional commitment for the quality of what she/he does? Perhaps we can be inspired, thinking and remembering this astonishing stories around science and effective meaningful discoveries, translating this willingness on what we need do, daily, without too much attention or particular social care…
I’m glad that he recognized that people who work in communication seems to be enthusiastic and optimistic…Well, actually they must be, because they imagine a change and they vote to this ethical change their creative and imaginative skills translate them in professional writing and planned engaging activities based on expected quantitative results. Am I right?
I think he is true when he says that doing a small number of things well is perhaps the best way to pursue some good outcomes and to make a change in the audience. Nowadays there is the need to change the mindset for physics. The interest of upcoming years will be focused to reach students from 9 up to 13 years old because it is important to support them by tools. But which kind of tools are effectively the key source of good results in their engagement and scientific reasoning? Well, for this time I am sorry to delude your attention, but this remain an open question that requires the efforts of the world of educational research and a more effective ministerial dialogue around the science curricula for this sensitive age. What I see here is the need to face the questions of the children based on what is seriously interesting for them in the life time where fun and friendship have the first place and science is thought many times as a subject that is interesting at the beginning but then with more mathematical specialization became something boring, too challenging and a relevant matter for the most endowed. Hey, wait a minute…
So, what I am missing about the “trendy” side of being Nerds? 😉
In summary, to organize an activity in this educational domain, facilitators, scientists and teachers must work together to give their support and particular knowledge to develop parameters that have to be organized and perfectibility judgement by everyone of them, looking for an interdisciplinary management.
Understanding what is done
Children need to be evaluated by what they understand, what they imagine and what they propose us (the responsible of science communication, education and planning) as focus of interest. This is a very important point to take care of, as a bottom-up informational process that can have a magnetic impact on the whole organization of the scientific activity managed for a target.
Some reflections rises from his talk. Some of them fit in the development of a strategy with an evolution approach, for the successful benefits in both projects. The constant need to be supportive and involving for your audience, cause the public need to be more engaged and more conscious on what is perceived and seen. To make something relevant you must arrange the right partnership and do not wait to much to develop it, as projects on science communication need to face more priorities and “dark” sides of general comprehension and involvement. Another thing on projects is that who is responsible for the objectives and overall planning need to pay attention to what will be public feedback’s and willingness to learn from scientists, highlighting the diversities and culture behind their views and priorities.
Moreover, you must find opportunities to pilot your approaches in ‘safe’ environments with critical backgrounds. How we describe things in science, and focus on stories that are relevant because they do not fall in simply talking: they underline the sacrifice and the beauty to face complexity by daily work efforts.
Afterwards, when I am reflecting on all of these truths, I finally came up with a key word. This one is referred to the first things to have in mind when you develop a partnership: the reflecting need to have precisely clear “what” motivate the organization you want to work with.
This is the first thing to do; and if you do not think to trust me face life rules.
Then was the turn of the responsible of Media Communication of INAF (The National Institute of Astrophysics). He shows us their media pages, from the Youtube channel (when one of their videos is daily available), the Instagram and twitter account. Plus, there is also a mobile application free to download. What they are more proud of is the presence of more than 7000 articles regarding INAF, the producing of Docs and specific Broadcasting in Italy. This flow is allowed by their high skills in astrophysics, the ability to be relevant by time, precise and able to talk simply in a trustworthy attitude towards journalists and the press in general. In retrospective, what they aim to change is the massive production in Italian language, as for the poor attitude to translate documents in English and therefore increase the number of their viewers by social networks that are English speakers. A topic to work more in future will be the effort to communicate the fascinating side of astrophysics, thanks to 3-D simulations and modelling in physics, convinced that this perspective can allow retention thanks to the better perform allowed for users.
Luisa Cifarelli, the director of the Fermi Center, speaks gently and clearly to us. The audience felt her charisma and security by the firm tone used and the capability to express idea in the most clear way. Some key elements of her speech were the outreach thinking on the motivation and the interest of the society for the scientific material and issues proposed, that is the most important thing to manage. Monitor and notice the issues that the newsletter want to communicate, so to analyses its impact. When in the meanwhile Facebook and Twitter needs attentions from Physics Center and Academia Departments, because even having the right pictures for the Instagram account can allow the communicator to gain or lose the audience very fast (this is the main problem, that with pics you must be very good at!). The speech finished with the warning to pay attention on the interest of the community and the attractive side of Montecarlo simulation (that usually are something boring in books) when you publish a scientific paper…
Emma Sanders, responsible for the Microcosm Exhibition at CERN in Meyrin, talked on the techniques they used to enhance the effectiveness for the general public. Some highlights on her talk are that ones below:
Who visits Microcosm?
Why the need to provide the material on multiple languages? and why to address both tourists and school visits curiosities on Particle physics (taking in account that who visit the exhibition is defined by different ages)
Recognizing that 39% of annual visitors are linked to the workers of CERN or they themselves study Physics and are curious about the authenticity and real ways to communicate the activities made by researchers. Which are the tools and the elements that can boost the exhibitions attractiveness?
Who is the common scientist that work at CERN? Some emotional and personal aspect of the person, before the scientist, have to be showed.
Describing the microcosm where scientists (physicists and engineers) speaks to the general public using their own voice to speak different languages.
CMS experiment recreation putting attention to the technological complexity of its devices and high technology sub-parts to underline the link with techno scientific leading progress.
Discovery of new particles and new machines
Increase the Guides number, even if they are volunteers at CERN, but for visitors it is very important to have a contact with people instead of the most attractive interactive video recording. This aspect is what matters the most for the general public. It is important to transmit the enthusiasm that scientists have as persons with aspirations and need of social interest on what they try to pursue with fundamental Research.
Show the diversity and the professional/carrier level of scientist is important. The audience need to see how many different varieties of people are all together at CERN working for an higher and collective purpose.
At the beginning of the exhibition, every employee says who he/she is, the field of studies and what they are doing at CERN as job. This aspect is important to show the warmth of the person and to experiment ways to communicate: dancing, looking around waiting for some questions or attention of the visitors, smiling and showing a nice endeavor towards the potential contact eyes that the exhibition aspire to inspire. Sorry for the game words:-) I like that too much.
Deaf people need to be engaged too. Science is for everyone and people see the effort and help of deaf physicist of CERN that communicate their research with sign language.
Everything done is supposed to be shared and many events are going on with different audiences of young.
There is the effort to communicate the process of design the technology and the fundamental research that can be done outside the Universities.
Another project is to find a place where all the exhibitions can be explained and communicated to visitors (this is a project in work in progress).
The speech of Vincenzo Napolano, Representative of INFN Communication Office was entitled ‘Why make stories about science’?
Napolano started a reflection on the target and the perspective to be chosen to reach one specific target. For example the latest exhibition Science Blunders (Balle di Scienza) organized by INFN reflect on how the errors can be interesting to underline the “work in progress” that characterize physics (in particular) and science (in general) process. As history teaches us, withing centuries, the best discoveries were made by chance. The scientists, in first person, will tell their stories to describe their view, personal paths and vision on science.
Another exhibit, called ‘The Virtual Men, the Physics explores the body‘ was organized in the historical Palazzo Blu of Pisa to engage society on a very specific area of the Physics research, using the society interest for the body and its balances or complexities to fascinate people for what is beyond the visible side of the body material (as a voyage by tendons, bones, blood circulations, neuron circuits and general system complexity) showing the potential of the technologies used to address its secrets and mysteries.
What about the exploit of the space at your disposal?
Well, you can transform the content that must be enjoyable for the people and it can be maximized to increase the interactive side with the visitor. Staring from a single touch, you can see the whole story projected (developed linearly by familiar words, searching for key word able to underline clearness) in front of you to, reflecting and take your time to build your image of what physics represents for our life progress and ethical societal values (efforts, vision, progress, pressures to get results, etc)
There are also sensors and videos that can be animated, this is the way by which the environment is designed for the user. The exhibition uses the natural elements to increase engagement (for example the viscosity of water to explain motion to allow the visitor experiment with the area around him, to develop a more evolved perception of the space near us and our proprioception, using reactive physical particles reactions or a projection thanks to various kinds of light able to create a very particular texture in all the exhibit area at disposition) and the imagination for this newness.
Letting the visitor have a high degree of freedom to play, to give its contributions, increase the level of curiosity and motivation to understand better what is being saw and “felt” within the different areas of the exhibit, hoping that afterwards this person can communicate what saw, even afterwards, in different daily life environments… these are what Napolano talked about.
And if you are interested on the history of science, there is the possibility to look for footage and original documents to explain the history of physics that made famous Italy all over the world, thanks to another exhibition showing the original documents of Galileo Galilei. They are disposed in the most accessible expectation of the public, through the info graphics and an overall approach of interactivity.
What came afterwards? A nice talk with the speakers and a promenade in the beautiful Via Nazionale, right in the center of the capital. Thinking on what and how I can do with this knowledge to focus on society and young participation to the rich and dynamic world of STEM.
This week I’ve dedicated some thoughts to recognize some characteristics of the priorities needed to set up the simple and beautiful frame for a well-grounded scientific theory.
The general idea is this one: if a scientific theory is a complex interlocking of concepts, observations, definitions, presuppositions, experimental results and connections to other theories, no single fact is going to be crucial for the survival of this theory. We perceive that here there is something missing, unclear, stated as too hypothetical…
The reason is that this “simple” claim allow – afterwards – an indicative increase of errors and misconceptions. So let’s reasoning by steps, slowly, and I will promise to try to do not leave much of the theoretic behind.
An aim of a scientist is to understand nature, right? In order to do that a gathering and interpretation of data is needed. But how does a scientist reason? For sure he/she is able to follow regularities, after precise observations allowed by high technologies and a ‘reliable method’ used to select the range of relevant data to be registered in a “software” afterwards. Then, after that and further analysis and discussion between peers scientists can arrive up to an interpretation of Nature and its features.
Within this proceedings I found a commonality with the philosopher of science that works to find – by knowledge interrelation – key elements to select one or more between competing theories, referring only to valid evidence. Namely, the ones who made the history of sciences were able to construct explanations with desirable properties, using inductive and deductive logic to determining the truth or falsehood of a claim. Now I’m referring to the empirical method that is founded upon experience and observation.
Empirical observations are a necessary ingredient of science and one might even say that empirical results are the first bricks upon which scientific thinking is built. But I am afraid to say that science enterprise cannot be built on empirical results alone. There is an important problem with basing scientific conclusion solely on empirical facts, namely, the one of induction. Better known as ‘inductive logic’ it means that we can conclude that something will always happen because it has happen before (I know that I must stay near the espresso machine because if I leave it alone more than 3 minutes I will burn my coffee and made the kitchen a mess). This logic is at the core of any attempt to prove a conclusion by finite empirical observation and this conclusion is general, it does not regard only me and/or my household familiarity:-). But I figured out that a problem with this reasoning still remains, because the fact that something has always happened before does not insure that it will always happen.
At the opposite pole of though is the doctrine of rationalism. The main exponent was René Descartes who says the world that our human senses can be fooled, therefore empirical information cannot be a secure foundation for science. Actually, yes, everyone can agree that optics and optical illusions shows us that we can seriously mislead. So, if the evidence of our senses can’t be trusted, what else can? The answer is one thing that theorist called ‘deductive logic’. In other words, Mathematics: the surest foundation of knowledge because science should be based on our minds, not our senses. Rationalism, take to its extreme, proclaims that truth can be apprehended directly by our minds. To achieve that task people should use proper thought processes, identifying manifestly true first principles and deduct their consequences; without referring to empirical inputs. Thanks to the human potential to learn, few people still accept this extreme view.
The official marriage between empiricism and mathematical logic paths was completed in Vienna (around 1930) by a group pf philosophers who developed a viewpoint called logical positivism. This one is based on the evidence that only direct and observable objects or events should be considered valid scientific subject matter. The task of science, in this view, is to ascertain that logical relationship between all of them can be captured by observations, because this is the first rule of positive knowledge.
This theory allow by its clarity and precision the “positive” relationships and rules that many philosopher and scientists were searching for, captured by the evidence that nothing can be more clear and unambiguous than mathematical logic. And following this principle, empirical facts are certainly a firm foundation upon which build scientific organisms.
Then, a problem rise, and it dealt with the fact that in science many things are not directly observable. To address this issue a focus on “rules of correspondence” was a requisition that every logical positivist must face between theoretical entities and empirical observations. As long as a concept could be connected to observations by a set of rigid rules the concept was legitimate, otherwise it will lifted out.
A similar kind of thinking can be found in the movement based on ‘operational definition’ of a scientific concept that state and describe all the operations done by a measurement. For example, Newton defined time with a verbal statement that he regarded as self-evident, but that was operationally limited. In comparison, Einstein’s redefinition of time in terms of the operations with clocks that are instruments needed to measure time, turned out to be an advantage to write about measurements and to have a common reference about.
P. W. Bridgman was the first who formulate the idea of an operational definition. I do not know how much his background as experimental physicist with a strong philosophical interest influence his thoughts, but for sure there is a strong analytical background around the claim that “any concepts that couldn’t be defined operationally should be considered scientifically meaningless”. I am the idea that this spirit of operationalism have an intrinsic correspondence with positivism that dominate the scene of the most relevant philosophy of science for decades.
Philosophers heavily influenced by physics adopted a different line of thought: you can use mathematics to predict how the events follow one from another. Solving equations, in the right order and pursuing a clear methodology, can be the way to predict how the first event determines the occurrence of the second where causality have only an anthropomorphic lineaments. The situations became even more intricate if I take in account the problems of knowledge, where there branch of philosophy responsible for its analysis is better known as epistemology.
Based on some questions that can go from the mechanisms and the ways used to acquire and construct knowledge of the world, affirm that we know something, insure that our knowledge is true and how it is related to things themselves there is one branch that go undisturbed: Epistemology. It hunt an dig within the roots of analysis, reasoning of objects and phenomena that emerge in our life, and that are in the meanwhile the fundamental principles of every science.
Next time I will talk more about the validation of theories, because it requires more attention that the one I can give to it today.
Today I want to write a bit about my inner hope for the upcoming event of ‘Science is Change‘ organized from the 11th to the 14th of May in the beautiful Auditorium della Musica of Rome. The theme of this year is change. Very inspiring. Change is a metaphor of power, force, and the symbol of wisdom. Why so? Well, let’s remember what British naturalist and biologist Charles Darwin teaches us: the one who can survive at natural selection is not the strongest animal species or the smartest one, it is the most ready who can face adaptation. The one that is just ready to change and adapt to the renewed environmental – inner and outer, I must say – conditions. That is the being that will live, spreading its own genes by new and adapted off-springs.
The word of change is a key-word. It does not only represent the nature surrounding us, because it describe the inner reality of the society in which we live now. It is able to depict our inner self and emotions: all of us need to face change (in life, work and with best friends) and depending on how we face it we’ll let emerge something new, or even the development of a barrier to protect ourselves from its features. Actually the second is fair more common than the first one. You can agree with that.
At first glance, all the science world is characterized by change: people who deal with it start their days moved by a constant search for answers to mankind problems that need an high level production of discoveries, inventions and innovations so to have the chance to change our lifestyles. It is also true that science plays a key role in helping people cope with change, beginning with the transformations that characterize our cosmopolitan society: first of all climate change and the risks that policy will affect science financing and research because of some collateral “pressures” or priorities. Economy is one of them, even if its profit are connected to scientific progress. Strange liaison, right?
The truth is that Science is a matter of all of us, even if we do not understand firstly what the responsible of its beauty are doing all days, moved and afflicted by inner technophobia that does not let us imagine or desire any expectations. In fact, I invite you to tell me that is not true, lot of us think that research is a sort of partial dawdling, defined mostly by a pleasant attendance in biomedical labs of national foundations, when the results appears to be very little or sporadic in time compared to the huge amount of money invested. And if we are the main investors and we do not understand how these money are used, well all sort pf problems rise.
I am sure that lot of scientific bloggers well-framed what I’m talking about.
It is very simple say that scientists are lucky people that spent their days making simulations or developing new software that maybe will let us have better technologies in a word. A place that we know (daily!) facing brutal changes, both in the societal side than in the environmental one, right? But this seems to be not our priority because science can have a potential or an impact for society but to get all these dynamics of rehearsal, delineation and development of societal identity in relation to science would require efforts, critique sense, long and attentive studies.
So, what do we have to do? Well, due to time reason and worse (we are saying that all the times!) working conditions, the better thing to do is to leave only to this caste of scientists the efforts to understand the mysteries of diseases, space nature, microelectronics, robotics, let them try to create intelligent algorithms, better models for climate change predictions and new cures for cancer. Yes, it really seems to be the best thing to do…
Why? the reason is pretty simple and crystal clear: we have the perception that we cannot (or we would not) understand the domain of science. We are not able to scrutinized it because we cannot evoke the universal laws of physics and symmetry that can allow the wiser view of the role of scientific research for our society. Am I right? In fact, it is also true that scientists cannot work alone, they need a social construction of their scientific authority that allow them continue on these efforts.
They need us, because we are all members of the society that needs to desire progress, we are the referents to whom all these technologies and research aims are directed to. I hope that this event can allow a sort of reflection to people who will participate, bring their children to science labs organized by enthusiasts educators and ask themselves questions about the different lessons or theater spectacles of ‘Science is Change’.
When people reflect upon their lack of scientific knowledge, something happen: awareness is spreading as a flower during the spring time.
The flower of critique sense and the hard (or majestic) path of knowledge that will allow to redevelop this status of moral and ethical values around science and its enterprise, develop around and for all of us, as unified society. Rich in contrasts, I agree, but is by all sort of diversities that life begin and continue to give us the change to made our own reflections.
This is a fundamental question for which everyone in every culture must have an answer. Today we can infer knowledge from fundamental Research in theoretical and experimental particle physics, but it is evident that in the past people were fascinated by mythic stories. These ones serves more than one function, the first was accounting for the origin of the world and its people and the second was providing a sort of “justification” about the order of things.
In the past centuries cosmogony (reasoning around the account of the origins) and cosmology (studying the systematic order of things) were linked together in a way that people were able to bind. Nowadays the situation is slightly different, cause our modern culture has forgot (or lost forever?) these liaison preferring the science of physical cosmology.
Traditional usage of the word “cosmology” implied an underlying order that governed bot the the universe and humanity (implying some sort of supernatural level of existence) but the modern usage of “cosmology ” in the sciences means that the object of investigation of science is the entire universe as a whole. This discipline fully entered in science from the 20th century when physicists tried to solve Einstein’s equation of general theory of relativity for the Universe as a whole by making simplifying assumptions. This choice need to specify a model of the Universe and the solved equations how it has evolved in time. This is the main reason why present cosmological models needs to firstly be based and tested after on a large amount of empirical and quantitative data.
Let’s start with the theoretical frame of cosmology: all began in 1916 with Einstein’s general theory of relativity where gravitation is bounded to space and time: matter, space, time and gravity are indissolubly linked together. And by this assumption geometry and mathematical physics start to have common bases; without distinctions, where gravity is in fact what causes the curvature of space and time caused by the presence of matter. In other words, this inner relationship is what will marks the beginning of modern cosmology.
During the first year Einstein made a set of simple and reasonable assumptions about the properties of the Universe: it was isotropic (looks the same in every direction; i.e the cosmological principle) and homogeneous (on large scale there are no relevant differences) to grant that there are no special preferred observational frames of reference. But later on his mind, after intensive studies and numerous reflections on equations results of these precise conditions, he arrives to another result: the Universe was no-static. This was confirmed by the fact that to obtain a static solution in which the Universe remained the same over time, Einstein had to add and arbitrary constant to the equations.
The velocity of galaxies are relatively easy to calculate if we think on how the the Doppler effect works. Imagine that you are walking in the street and then you heard an ambulance some street away from your position. If the siren is traveling away from you the sound pitch will be lower and the contrary effect will happens if you’re reasoning vice versa. Having in mind this example will easily show why the light of a galaxy that is traveling away from us has a lowering frequency and a shift toward the red end of the spectrum (this is why this effect is called red shift). From measured changes in frequency (by spectroscopy analysis) the velocity of the galaxy can be calculated. Measuring the distance to such galaxy is more difficult, but it can be accomplished if you correlate the brightness to some other physical properties and then use this parameter to calculate distance. The ultimate step is to collect the set of red shift and measurements of distance to show its direct proportionality to velocity.
Except from local motion it was found that every galaxy observed was in fact receding away from us and reminding the cosmological principle we can infer that every point is becoming fainter from every other point, proving that the universe is expanding. From this frame we can derive two important conclusions. The first is that the general relativity is the theory that explain this phenomena, and the second one is that if time moves forward the Universe is expanding, then the opposite effect of moving backward will reduce it at a small dot, how it was appear approaching to zero. The time at which this occur might well be interpreted as the beginning of the Universe: a very hot and dense phase.
The proposed existence of this hot dense phase offered the opportunity to add more physics to these cosmological models because such hot dense conditions are expected to guarantee the creation of nuclei (nucleosynthesis).
Part of the problem is to determine properly the conditions found in the early Universe (around 100 and 300 seconds after its formation) and the other part of the problem is to calculate nuclear fusion reactions properly. In the early Universe, lighter elements were formed and they consed in starts (elements lighter than iron) and supernovae (heaviest elements). This is clear to infer if we know that at the early time of its formation the temperature was too high to any nucleosynthesis to occur, but when the Universe cooled there was a lack of energy necessary to create heaviest nuclei. An here we arrived to the big bang narrative…
In the beginning, all of the matter and energy of the Universe existed in a single point of infinite temperature and density. Space and time came into existence as this point started to expand. At the unimaginable temperature and density found in the early Universe, matter and energy as we know them did not exist, being found instead in the form of an undifferentiated primal substance. The laws of physics as we know them likewise did not exist, all fundamental forces being merged into a single unified force.
As the Universe expanded and cooled, matter and radiation separated out while the unified forces sequentially broke into the forces as we know them. As the Universe continued its overall expansion, gravity accumulated some of matter into stars and galaxies, which then evolved through their own life cycles, forming all the heavy elements along the way. Elements up to iron were formed by fusion in regular stars, while in the meanwhile the explosion of supernovae formed the heaviest ones. We are a results of that phenomena because eventually these elements found their way – patiently, waiting generations – of new stars systems, including our own, where conditions of the planets earth gave rise to the origin of life. Life then went to evolve into the present global ecosystem , while the Universe continue its expansion. But no one yet know how much it will last…
Actually all of this is connected to what has happened today at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, physicists and engineers are working to cross the level to understand the fundamental structure of the Universe. By efficient and super powerful LHC machine – the world’s largest and most complex scientific instrument capable to study the basic constituents of matter – the fundamental particles collide together at close (99,9%) to the speed of light.
The process gives the physicists clues &/or sharper questions about how the particles interact, and provides insights into the fundamental laws of nature. Today you might know that some hours ago, at 8pm, LHC restart again with the newest 2017 circulating beams of protons…I’m excited even to write it, because this was the first time in 2017 after the extended winter technical stop! I’m wondering what the four experiments (Cms, Atlas, LHCb and Alice), placed around the 27 kilometers of the ring, will reveal us in the upcoming weeks 🙂
Today I want to reflect on another aspect of the sacred aspects that can be present(ed) by the beauty, the fearless, the mysteries and the power of Nature.
Let’s start saying that Science, in a first glance, can be summarized as the study of the natural world that by historical and traditions time could have different religious significance, descriptions and very specific perspectives.
But before proceeding further I need to make clear what I mean for nature. For me it does not represent only the bucolic landscapes and the amazing areas of Earth unsullied by civilization like the Amazonian Forest, the Savanna or the arctic lichen forests compositions. By nature I mean what our mind and senses can view and feel in toto, including the entire Universe and all living beings as a miracle of balance and chemical perfection. In fact, the conceptualization of nature has varied in different cultures throughout the ages and by specific cultures that sometimes added a religious view to nature.
It is very important to remind that some religions will sanctify its main aspects by the presence of deity that can belong or not to nature. The point here is that there is not a single precise meaning for “sacred” when we talk about nature, because during times many different cultures interpreted its sacredness in a variety of ways.
However there are some important aspects that can minimize deviation, such as the sense of meaning that nature shield, a sort of divine presence infusion, the perception of aliveness, the view of the interconnections among things and matters and the connection that we as human have with all living beings around us and the rest of nature that we have to safeguard and respect understanding its varieties.
One of the mostly common recurring themes on the sacred aspects of nature is the sense of nature as something alive, avoiding to be inert, objectified, categorically framed in a predefined sense. The aliveness of nature is related to this idea of interconnection present between all things that ancient tribes communicate, and see as a sort of experience that lead people to the concept of sacred capable to can give a sense of readiness to perceive the beauty of things when they are bounded together as a perfect manufactured weave. In J. E. Carrol Twobears I found an example taken from Native American religious philosophy about this process of mutual associations and personal awareness on the sacred aspects of nature.
What I am trying to communicate here is that the awareness of the sacred is an experience, not an hypothesis or some sort of demonstrated conclusion. But what is this that sacredness of everything like? It is a way of seeing in and through and beyond each individual things to perceive the relatedness and interconnection of each thing to everything else. Finding sacred is not to have a theory about the origins of things or to apprehend their usefulness for us, but to witness the miraculous reality and the unfolding aliveness of everything a being connected together of all real entities. This awareness of the mysterious ground of being that is manifested in the eruption of each remarkable things is the experience of the sacred.
There is another interesting idea that arise from these reflections, setting its origin in the Greek ancient philosophical frame where the aliveness of nature was gathered with the soul and mind of the beautiful nature as the balance and the order in the cosmos, as Aristotle says, imposing order first upon itself and then upon everything belonging to it. Here, the main concept was that the cosmos and the whole word of nature were not only alive but also intelligent.
Then was the turn of other conceptualizations of nature, sacred and perfect, to became part of traditions, even religious one when the Christians developed a sense of aliveness and power of nature warranted by God. A source of love, vigor, fertility and health that before being manlike was felt in the Earth as true and sacred power.
There is a beautiful example of this sense of existence in nature – or even Earth though by its holy and sacred features – found in the words of the mystic Irish poet known in the early XX century with the pseudonym of AE:
I think of Earth as the floor of a cathedral where altar and presence are everywhere. This reverence came to me as a boy listening to the voice of birds one colored evening of summer, and I felt a certitude that the same spirit was in all […] So the lover of Earth will be trance in some spiritual communion, or will find his being overflowing into the being of the elements or become aware that they are breathing their life into his own […] Earth may suddenly blaze about him with supernatural light in some lonely spot amid the hills, and he will find he stands as the prophet in a place that is holy ground.
What is worth to underline here is that another important dimension of the sacredness of nature concern is the meaningfulness of its creatures and the magical equilibrium between them at the beginning of the chaos. A symbolic content is represented when AE speaks about appearances that, in his view, serve as bridge to overcome the surface and gain the apprehension of different levels of meaning. These deeper level may be inherent solely within nature itself or reflect some transcendent idea that can be easily manifested by its beauty and multiple dimensions and diversity of matters and objects that are visible to us. But maybe these ones are receptacles of an exterior force that differentiate them from a first belonging milieu, covered with new meaning and values. AE remarks that point, saying that “nature includes not only what impresses the eyes as color or forms, but also inner dimensions. The world is no mere surface reality but a living cosmos that we can gradually learn to see. This force may reside in the substance of the object or in its form”.
During history many civilizations developed a greater attention to details when the argument world view needed to be addressed in some sort of sophisticated analysis of the philosophical aspects related to this brighter and broader idea of nature. As to say traditional metaphysics sees the Universe not as a multitude of facts or opaques objects each possessing a completely independent reality of its own, but as myriads of symbols reflecting reality. In this frame the light possessed by the intellect – sacred in its essence and protected by revelation – seep through the opaqueness of the facts or objects encountered so they can gain a new transparency or even shaded color.
Here the sacred view of nature is associated with a sense of interconnections that bound all thing, when divine presence and/or other sources of order can give to the relationship between nature and humanity/living beings its meaningfulness and presence priority. This is a metaphysical view of nature when the indivisible cosmic organism can be displayed even by a range of different scale of internal forms, when each gave rise to the next higher level by virtue of the potentiality infused in it by the immanent principle of the totality. These aspects describe nature as a dynamic organismic system despite an all-embracing living animal. It illustrate all the interdependent forms related by some sort dialectical aliveness that arise with the exploration of details differentiation visible during many cultures and times. And by that a sacred view of nature, even not easily defined , can be understood if we think that all things in the world and their totality are fragments of a still greater whole that needs the participation of the faith to be operate in the world, starting from the developments that will lead nature its prior importance and preservation.