it! Use it!
This section, on color vision,
is here to point to several concepts that reach out and tie together many
topics that might seem to have little to do with color vision. This
is a multi-dimensional approach to knowledge for use.
Think of it as a hyperspace
web of relationships which through its "hyperlinks" can enhance the likelihood
that a concept will get recognized as a clue to solving to some problem.
We get a solution we didn't previosuly recognize as being just what we
were looking for. But never thought to look in that direction.
I have tried versions of
this approach in the classroom. Usually with little apparent success,
except when the playing field was radically altered from the traditional
teach-learn-test format to self-paced, mastery-oriented, problem-solving,
proctored learning. Then, little glimmers of hope sparkled here and
there, and some real, and useful, learning became apparent. Today,
science teaching research is developing the problem-solving and mastery-orientation
aspects and are having considerably greater success than I ever knew.
And today, the Internet is revolutionizing — no, has revolutionized — the
way people acquire knowledge.
Why should elementary physics
be learned in a classroom, as a flood of confusing words, equations, and
mathematical procedures, then virtually regurgitated on exam papers,
to be mercifully swept away as an unpleasant experience, unconnected from
the real world? Mercifully unconnected. Gone and forgotten.
Why should the textbook
then be resold, buried in the attic, or ritualistically burned like the
paid-off thirty-year mortgage?
Many physicists carry around
a physics "Vade Mecum," a volume of useful concepts, procedures, equations,
technical data, references, . . . the sort of things you need to do
to use physics. Vade Mecum means "go with me."
If physics instructors want to convey to their students that physics is
useful, and something to be used, they must teach to some sort of vade
mecum. A survey course should train its students to be able to
recognize when physics concepts are relevant and how to discover how to
apply them. Physics is so huge that to try to "cover" it in a year
of classroom coverage is utterly absurd. A vade mecum will
soon be available to everyone, if it isn't there already waiting to be
properly organized: the Internet.
A survey course should show
its students the true mystery of physics, which comes from the fact
that physics (math, too, much of which grew out of physics) is humankind's
deepest explorations into the edges of human comprehension. That
doesn't include suggestions that quantum mechanics and relativity suggest
possibilities for precognition, mental spoon bending, astrological prediction,
or any of those other unsubstantiated—and very easily imagined—creations
of wishful thinking.
The mysteries of physics
are simpler. . . and much more difficult to imagine. Like the six-factor
color seen everyday by a bird. We need to weave multidimensional
threads of reasoning in our critical examinations of "pseudoscience."