Monday, June 2, 2008

Big Science (yodeleheehoo)

I am not familiar with Brian Greene or his work, but his Op Ed piece in today's New York Times really hit home for me, so much so that I could have written it myself.

I am no scientist. My own work is firmly ensconced in the humanities. I haven't studied science since my freshman year in college when I sat in the back of a large biology course trying to figure out why everyone else was freaking out only to realize that I had wandered into a premed section. But I think the big questions in science are incredibly cool. I've been known to read books about physics for fun (although admittedly not since embarking on a dissertation). But unfortunately, a lot of us never get around to the big questions, because our educational systems think the small questions need to come first.

I'm not saying that the smaller questions, the details, aren't important. But doesn't it make sense to get people excited about science first and follow up on the details later? Because if you do it the other way around, they may never want to follow up. But if you start with big science, you can wow them. It's exciting. It's an adventure. It's philosophy and religion and history and art and poetry all rolled into one.

I feel the same way about math too. It's why I was sitting at the kitchen table the other day working on problems in base 2 for AJ to solve. It's why we celebrated Pi day on March 14. It's why we draw fractal trees in our crayon forests. Just because we can't grasp the details doesn't mean we can't grasp the general idea. If AJ learns to love the general idea, then eventually he will seek out the details on his own. That's my philosophy and I'm sticking to it. It seems to be working so far.

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