Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Understanding something about science: how to approach a domain of interest

To understand something about science the best plan is to read a short history of science, and popular works on relativity and quantum mechanics.
Martin Gardner, before 2013.

Mathematics and science writer Martin Gardner (1914-2010) suggested this “strategy” in his autobiography, introduced with a foreword by statistician Persi Diaconis (see Diaconis' blurb). Gardner wrote this while discussing the Great Books movement initiated by Robert Hutchins, Mortimer Adler and Richard Peter McKeon at the University of Chicago in Illinois. The idea of the Great Books scheme was that a list of preselected, original books—classics of Western culture and breakthrough literature—would be the best educational approach in advancing an academic career. Certainly, any such undertaking is culturally biased. In a world of fast, dynamically changing priorities and progress, learning goals are best achieved within (inter)disciplinary and community context: as outlined in the quotation, a targeted short history, scholarly overview or review will be most inspiring and introductory before diving deeper into the domain of interest. The detour through precursors and classics may then be taken at a later stage, when time frames allow in-depth studies and divergent curiosity.

Keywords: didactics, education, history.

Martin Gardner with Persi Diaconis and James Rand: Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2013; page 50.

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