Monday, February 25, 2008

Quote-Analysis Time

"And if the neuroscientists are right, you can create new brain cells--by learning (and not being stuck in a dull cubicle)--at virtually any age."

This is from near the end of the "inspirational" treatise on practicing and skill-development that Ms. Oakes gave our class today and is asking us to have read and answer six questions on by Thursday. I agree with pretty much all the material it presents. In a nutshell, it asserts that being good at something is the product of long, dedicated practice rather than some people simply being better than others, with natural talent existing but being far less of a factor than most people give it credit for.

All that is directly in accordance with what I believe. The problem I have with this article, and what will make this post more than one happy little paragraph, lies in the first clause of the above quote, and other such parts strewn throughout the article: science. The idea is that "since scientists say it, it's true! and therefore you will believe it!" I'm not saying that serious scientists should usually be doubted, but the modern world, and this country in particular, take the trusting of science and the "scientific method" to an almost religious level.

What I have such a problem with is not so much the proving of new discoveries with scientific evidence, but the "proving" of ideas that people have already known for millennia. This article pretty much states the same thing that Suzuki Shinichi stated about musical talent--the difference is that Suzuki learnt this through long experience and dedication of his own. Whoever wrote this article just had to fire up the product of some other scientist's work. The ancient martial arts masters were always (and still are) firing morsels of pure euphonic wisdom at their students like "If enough dust accumulates, it can become a mountain" and "If you fall down seven times, get up eight times," referring the dogged striving necessary to gain mastery.

Why do people trust scientists over great teachers of other types? "Well, everyone was just running around in the dark until a bunch of rich Europeans came up with the scientific method," we're supposed to think. I mean, my mother and I always get headaches when big storms are coming. And then, what do you know, one day on the news: "Scientists have actually found that headaches can predict weather patterns!!!!111oneone~~ No one knew that before!" Of course the scientific method has its strengths. I'm not going to advocate for a better method for discovering the exact mass of magnesium dust after you've smoked it over a Bunsen burner, or the velocity you need to fire a bullet at to get a wooden block to move exactly the right distance across a table with a certain coefficient of kinetic friction. But must all wisdom be put into chemicalle formulæ and fizzikal ekwayzhuns? Does it really lead us any closer to the truth? Could anyone who reads this silly blog really make a difference about it? Am I doing the right thing by spending my time here and writing this rather than trying to use the scientific method myself to finish this horrid problem set on gravitational fields? Would the scientific method be a better way to answer these questions than common sense and wisdom?

I don't think a verbal answer is necessary for any of those mind-blowing questions, but if you're still stuck, I'll just let you know that they all have the same answer, at least according to my religion weltanschauung. Puzzle over the issues if you want. Or use proper problem solving format to find the exact answer. Then we'll compare solutions and maybe discuss it over the Sunday New York Times at a local breakfast place, or whatever you like to do when you meet someone for a friendly chat.

Lil Mugi

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