Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Importance of Philosophy

This link will give you one of the most fascinating learning experiences for young 6-yr old children.  Children discuss very abstract thought that pertains to understanding big ideas about where feelings come from.  Perhaps the word choice is not yet developed, but as they grow and mature, it will certainly come.

We all learn philosophy, directly or indirectly.  We know that if it rains, you will get wet.  If you walked outside a building and did not get wet, then it is not raining.  We used a posteriori (experience driven) knowledge to draw this conclusion.

We know that the Sun will "rise" in the morning today, tomorrow, and every day for the rest of our lives.  We used a priori (rational) knowledge to predict this bold conclusion.

Every subject area follows rules of logic.  In math, you must know that when you add 2 objects to 2 other objects, you get 4 objects.  Of course, we know this is not always true.  If you add 1 raindrop to another, you get 1 bigger raindrop, but this is a relatively moot point.

Knowledge occurs either through experience or reason.  Everything you truly understand required one of those 2 conditions; often both.  You might think that you know that F= ma, but if you did not reason the meaning of the equation or experience a lab showing this, you do not really know it.

It amazes me that never in the pursuit of a high school diploma, does philosophy come up as an important subject area.  It is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.  Philosophy begs the question of why we take it for granted that 2+2 = 4, or that the Sun rises every morning.  Philosophy is the foundation for any real knowledge; it is also the common link for all Wikipedia articles.  Try clicking on the first link of any Wiki article, not including terms in parentheses or disambiguations.  Repeat this several times, and eventually you will find philosophy.

You cannot truly understand how we know that a scientific "fact" is true without understanding the roots behind it.  Everything you read in a science textbook was either derived mathematically (reason) or experimentally tested several times without failure (experience).  You must also understand that nothing you have learned in science is a true "fact."  The concept of force was created to make it easier to understand how to predict an object's motion.  Momentum was created to help predict collision results.  Energy was created to determine how fast an object could travel given certain parameters.

You cannot truly understand that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust without understanding the writings of eyewitnesses who saw it happen (experience), or without understanding the mathematical analysis used to compute such number (reason).

You cannot truly understand that a sentence must contain a noun and a verb without understanding that a statement lacking such is useless (reason), or that writing would be difficult to understand without such components (experience and reason).  You also know that even with such parameters, a sentence can still be meaning less.  Ex:  Colorless green ideas sleep furiously (famously stated by Noam Chomsky).  Sure, there is a noun and verb but it is utterly meaningless.

Experience and reason are the key henchmen for philosophy; they enforce the creation of knowledge that we take for granted.  Any time you struggle to accomplish a learning goal, it is because you lack the appropriate knowledge or experience to fuel such knowledge.  Nothing you learn in school is "new" information; it is simply a reorganization of things you already understand.  You understand that waves exist because you hear them; you understand that the derivative of x^2 is 2x because you know what both equations look like and there was never a time in mathematics where the "correct" answer is not consistent with what you know (unless you are confused).

In order for more effective education, I firmly believe that philosophy should be of utmost importance to learners as young as Kindergarten and 1st grade.  It should be a core subject, for all real knowledge is built through understanding how knowledge is built.

Is the glass half empty or half full?  Neither.  It is twice the volume of the fluid inside.

The Insignificance of the Debate Between Bill Nye and Ken Ham

On February 4, 2014, Bill Nye [the Science Guy], formerly known for his television show that explains various principles of science, took part in a debate versus Ken Ham, the president of the Creation Museum. The questions pertained to whether or not our species was created by an intangible, abstract entity, or through a slow process that involved the natural selection of the environment's optimal species.  As expected, the scientist's views demonstrated stronger, more consistent, empirical and statistical evidence.

The question of how humanity started is ultimately a scientific question, not a religious one.  Here's why:

Science answers questions that we know we can answer.  The origin of humanity can be traced, and   although there may not be a perfectly determined "right" answer, there are clearly "wrong" answers.  Stating that we were created by falling out of a storm cloud is not supported through any experimental knowledge that scientists have generated.  Stating that it took millions of years is consistent with how other modern species developed, as well as the age of the fossils of our evolutionary ancestors.  Carbon dating has done wonders in showing a relatively accurate age of ancient rocks and fossils.  Our knowledge of plate tectonics shows that geological patterns occurred in the same time period as the species that correspond to the different parts of the planet.  Science has made amazing ground in answering a question that was once thought unanswerable.

Religion has no place in trying to trump the findings of science.  Religion, unlike science, cannot change and adapt views when a better theory is found.  Scientists, on the other hand, are eager to find a better explanation than they have already found.  Religious institutions generally fear such improvement.  Ham's argument seemed mostly focused on the idea that we are not capable of judging the interpretation of the data.  I feel like this is an evasive position that does not take charge of the consistency of found information.

Ham seemed to try to associate his faith within the realm of scientists.  He cited examples of notable scientists and inventors who believed in the 6,000 yr old planet.  I do not find this to be convincing because the world is a very large place, and there will always be a few PhD-caliber persons who believe something different than the majority of PhD caliber individuals.  My own physics advisor in college, I suspect, would side with Ham on this issue.  This does not mean that we as citizens cannot dispute such position.  Even peer reviewed journals will publish such ideas.  Although peer reviewed journals require an extensive process, it does not prevent any idea from being published (that would be censorship, to which I also oppose).  Of course, what about the solid majority of scientists who do not accept Creationism (99.9% according to Donald Prothero's Reality Check)?

Nye previously stated a couple of years before that "Creationism is not appropriate for children."  He is exactly right; the product is an instilled set of values that are not consistent with other worldly observations.  In 2nd grade, I looked at a world map and felt like I could put together all the continents like a jigsaw puzzle.  5 years later, I would find that this is one of the arguments for plate tectonics.  Kids should be focused on learning relatively factual information; information that is inductively/deductively proven.  They should be told the potential sources of error of such arguments.  The world is much safer when children learn self-consistent information that fosters future thinking about systems, and I think it is a generally fun process when what you learn is consistent with prior knowledge.

It may seem that I am trying to dismantle the entire institution of religion.  I do believe that religion has a place in society, but I think that place needs reformation.  Religion has every right to foster the development of interpersonal values.  In order for society to function cooperatively, social organization is of great necessity.

Religion should not focus on trying to concretely answer descriptive questions; it is instead the role of the institution to foster moral values, promote humanist, altruistic behavior, organize charities and promote love and peace.  There is no reason for the church to even have to answer a question that has been answered in a way upon which most scientists generally agree.

Ultimately, this debate does not close any gaps between science and religion.  It reminds us of the societal dysfunction that remains from furnishing descriptively inaccurate tales, and presenting them to young children, who in turn pass them along to future generations.  Ham will never concede his counter-factual claims, and generally, individuals who militantly defend the Bible will not open up to new information.  Science is what predicts and prevents natural disasters; science is what allows us to determine how increased carbon emissions affect global temperature.  Science is what makes up our bodies; science is what tells us how to live longer; science explains what we can confirm we know.