Tag Archives: science

When Nothing Makes Sense, The Problem Is You

We all have our model of reality, which is different from everyone else’s. Some people think we humans are good by nature while others will die to defend the opposite. Some believe that a supernatural entity created the heavens and the Earth, and some don’t.

We all want, to some degree, to have an accurate model of reality. To achieve that, some turn to philosophy: a field of knowledge where every great figure is in disagreement with the others. Quoting Logicomix:

A Platonist thinks appearance is but a bad copy of real reality… while an Aristotelian puts all his faith in observation! Are mental concepts innate or acquired? “Innate”, says the great Kant! “Acquired”, says the great Hume! Is there an opposition between mind and matter? Yes, says Descartes. No, says Spinoza. “Why, it’s all in the mind” Berkeley says [bumps into lamppost] A rather extreme view if you ask me.

Given that science has not (yet) answered all questions we have about life, it seems impossible to get to a safe conclusion here.

However, this does not mean you can stick to your own interpretation of events if it’s wrong! Let me explain. Have you ever heard someone say, or said yourself, that “nothing makes sense”? For example:

  • Why would someone want to do harm to others? It doesn’t make sense!
  • Why does God allow for hunger in the world? It doesn’t make sense!
  • Why did he help me if he couldn’t get anything out of it? It doesn’t make sense!

But for most people is takes much more than one inconsistency to start questioning their models of reality. It shouldn’t take more than one. If philosophy was a science, then one counter-proof to your model means that something is wrong with it and it needs revision! It is certainly more likely that your model of reality is wrong than that millions of people are behaving wrongly, everyday, for thousands of years, isn’t it? Would you approach a person with “excuse me, sir, but I am afraid you are behaving incorrectly. People don’t work like that. Could you please act accordingly to my personal views”?

So folks, don’t assume you are right about life. If you observe something doesn’t work as you think it does, you are wrong. We are all attached to our philosophical views (they’re the one thing that’s ours after all), but trying to be accurate in such a chaotic area won’t do any harm.

Best regards, and wear sunscreen. Those bastards reach you even when you’re inside, looking at a glowing rectangle, in winter.

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Basic Guide To Learning

This is not a comprehensive guide to the mastery of any subject (as the title implies). It’s just a set of three principles that it’s good to keep in mind every time we try to acquire some new knowledge.

Learning principle number 1: Everything is connected.

Politics is really Psychology. Psychology is really Biology. Biology is really Chemistry. Chemistry is really Physics. Physics is really Maths.

Have you ever wondered why so many great minds are multidisciplinary? Take a look at  Leonardo da Vinci: “Italian polymath: painter, sculptor,architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer”. Well, turns out, every area of knowledge is connected with all the others. maths can teach you how to paint.

This is especially evident with languages. The more languages you know, the easier it is for you to learn new ones. This is where I discovered the importance of learning all those technical names for the words we already know how to use.

This is why I find it hard to believe that some scientists subscribe to the argument “you can’t apply the scientific method to religion and morals, it’s based on faith”. You either apply the scientific method, or you don’t. There is no such thing as unrelated areas. If you can affirm something is true without evidence in religion, you may be just as willing to do that in physics (my advice: be consistent!).

For further insights on this topic check out Holistic Learning(.pdf) and The Loom of Language(book).

Learning principle number 2:  Background matters.

“I study and study, but I can’t possibly pass this subject! How can it be, if it’s my favourite?”.

While it is a fact that some people are smarter than others, I believe the most important factor that differentiates a dedicated C student from a dedicated A student is when they started caring.

The people who is doing best in my class these high school years happen to be the ones that were interested in the subjects since they were very little. They read books, they asked questions. They have been building a knowledge base for their lifetimes.

On the other hand, some students have recently started caring about the subject at the same level than their A-obtainer counterparts. They probably used to study by repetition, not really understanding the content. They lack understanding of the most basic concepts of the matter, and thus have it extremely difficult to understand the more complex ones.

According to the first principle, the base you need to build for a new area of interest must be wide and comprehend several other areas. For example, if you want to learn Swahili, it’s not enough to learn the basic syntax and pronunciation. It’s also important to learn the history of the language and the culture of the people who speak it, among other things.

Learning principle number 3: Learning is organic.

“School is like Britannica. Learning is like Wikipedia”.

The educational system we have is linear. That means that you start at one point and you follow a line of increasingly complex concepts until someday you know enough and  get a diploma. The content is sorted in complexity order the same way the words are sorted in alphabetical order in a classical encyclopaedia.

There is no traced line from beginning to mastery of a subject or skill. You should not start learning by the basics, if the basics are not what interest you most. Learning must be a pleasant experience, always. Learning is like navigating Wikipedia. You see something you like, so you learn about it. While learning about it, you see related concepts that interest you, so you learn about them. Repeat.

When you learn in a non-linear way (organic if you will), the principle of background matters applies itself. You will not understand the most complex ideas so you will expand your knowledge until you do.

Note that this is closely related to “everything is connected” (as is should be, ’cause everything is connected ;))

For further insights on this topic check out Bring On The Learning Revolution(video), Math Class Needs a Makeover(video) and The Learning Revolution(Facebook Group).

I apologize for the made-up quotes on principles 2 and 3. I don’t know any quote that fits there! 🙂

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Adventure Jobs: Archaeologist: Fact or Fiction?

Not a quite real depiction of the job.

Indiana Jones makes this one sound like the most awesome job on Earth. Other fictional archaeologists include Charlotte Lewis from LOST or Lara Croft from the Tomb Rider franchise.

Why is archaeology so awesome?

If you are a Hollywood archaeologist, you should expect to get a whip, a battered hat and at least one gun. You are also very hot, smart and brave. You go to exotic locations and instead of sunbathing like a tourist would do in your place, you get into the jungle, the abandoned temple or the whatever, no matter how dangerous, and discover stuff no one else had before. You may also go to places nobody has been to for the last ten or twenty centuries!

No wonder this  job is associated with adventure. It has all the elements. But how much of it is actually real?

But how awesome archaeology really is?

The look:

Nobody will stop you from getting the Indiana Jones or Lara Croft look. You can get the clothes easily, and a couple hours a week on the gym would also help. You can also have a gun if you wish so, but you don’t want to shoot everyone who gets between you and your discovery because that is, well, murder.

Although maybe not as much as Indy or Lara, a job that involves so much physical activity will get you in shape.

The character:

“Brave and smart” are two core characteristics of adventurers in any profession.

Real experiences:

My mother used to be an archaeologist  until I was born, so I asked her about the fieldwork. She said you get to go to the exotic locations. You get to face dangerous animals, you get the exciting adventures. You get to cross rivers without the use of a bridge, and you get to explore a lot. And you’re an expert on it.

Of course, there is also the science part: using the scientific method, you determine where you should look for the bones and ancient artefacts. Later, you reconstruct the past based on what you found: how people used to live, what technologies they had, how the societies were structured… how cool is that?

My history teacher used to be an archaeologist until she got married(see a pattern here?), and her depiction of the profession doesn’t differ much from the above. You get adventures and cool discoveries. However, discoveries do not always come in the shape of a golden statue resting inside a temple. You will have to pick a shovel and dig, dig, dig.

I recommend reading this great article for more information on the subject.

Fact or Fiction job for adventurers?

FACT. Not as exciting as depicted in films and books, but comes as close as it’s possible in real life.

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