Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Polls Archive 55 - Lying to Children

Poll 55 - " 'Lying to Children' is a phrase used to describe the way we sometimes tell overly simplified versions of the truth to children because they're not ready to deal with such complexity. Is Imagining the Tenth Dimension like that?" Poll ended December 31 2009. 55.5% said "Yes", 36.5% said "No, because it's the truth", and 8.0% said "No, because it's wrong".

I had not heard of the phrase "lying to children" before until the original Imagining the Tenth Dimension animation was posted to Boing Boing last August. A commenter named Takuan said "I must accept this charming lie-to-children graciously since I likely won't have the time or opportunity to be taught better".

Here's a link to a blog entry from a few months back written by Bruce Conrad which came up when I googled the phrase "Lying to Children". Bruce describes a high school class who were asked what the sun is made of:

...One classmate raised his hand and proudly proclaimed, "The sun is a big ball of burning gases." He looked around, and we all nodded our sage heads in confirmation.

The teacher went on to explain to us that the sun was not burning gases, but rather a thermonuclear reaction. Fusion to be exact, and as Einstein's famous equation helps us understand, a little bit of gas goes a long way in creating the energy that we receive here on the Earth as heat and light.

That was very interesting, from a scientific point of view. Something even more interesting happened during that class, from a social point of view. Many students were upset that this hadn't been explained to us much earlier. Upset that we had been told the burning gases theory. As one student put it, "They lied to us!" And, we were upset that we had believed it so easily.

But was it a lie? Or was it just a simplification?
Bruce does a good job of explaining the "lying to children" concept: sometimes it's more productive to give students a simplified version of the truth, and as their understanding of the world increases, give them a more accurate version later on.

So is Imagining the Tenth Dimension like that? Looking at the poll results, I'm flattered that over 36% said "No, because it's the truth", because that's what I personally believe as well. I'm also pleased to see over 55% saying "Yes", since I've encouraged people to approach these ideas that way: this is a way to open the door, to awaken people's curiosity, but there's years of hard lifting (intellectually speaking) if you want to really became a physicist, or a string theorist. As I'm always careful to point out, I'm not a physicist, I'm a composer, and therefore the only claim I can legitimately make is that I've come up with a useful visualization tool, one which a lot of other people have found to have interesting connections to their own ways of understanding reality.

In Holograms and Quanta, I remarked that around 2,000,000 page results come up if you type the name of my book in quotes into google. When I made that remark the number was usually just under two million... but coincidentally, I typed that phrase in right now and here's what I just saw:
Two million results! Wow. Are some of those results people who are agreeing with the 8% noted above, saying that my approach to visualizing is just plain wrong? No question. But the large majority, I'm sure you'll find, are people telling each other about how much they liked my original animation, or recommending my project to each other. A few days ago a Youtube user wrote to me to say that my way of visualizing the dimensions is absolutely wrong, and asking why I want to spread such lies. Here's how I replied :
My video shows a way of visualizing spatial dimensions. Some physicists prefer to call the extra dimensions "space-like" but we are still talking about dimensions that are each at a new "right angle" to the one before. I am using a version of the point-line-plane postulate, an accepted way of defining any number of spatial dimensions for the reasoning in my video. Which part do you disagree with? The contention from Kaluza, endorsed by Einstein, that our 4D spacetime is defined at the fifth dimension? The idea that the fifth dimension appears from our perspective to be "curled up at the planck length" but that is because of the granular nature of 4D spacetime? The string theory idea that our universe is constrained by a seven-dimensional brane? The idea that there is an underlying state of indeterminacy from which our universe or any other springs? Please be more specific in your objection.

Every day I hear from students thanking me for making them interested in learning more about physics and cosmology, and that is the intent of the original video: to get people thinking.
This is my 394th published entry into this blog. How do I keep coming up with subjects? Because I keep seeing new connections between other schools of thought and my approach to visualizing the dimensions. Let's go back to Bruce Conrad, who goes on to explain how fables and fairy tales might also be thought of as useful "lies to children". He then ties that into Popperian Cosmology, another term I'd never run across before.

Just last week, in Strength of Gravity, Speed of Light, I returned to the conclusion I reach in my book: there are three systems interacting to create our reality. The first two are just "there" once you move out beyond the entropy-driven limits of our arrow of time:
1. the physical system.
2. the system of ideas and patterns, the meme-system.
3. is consciousness, which interacts through constructive interference to select which parts of the other two systems any of us are witness to at any particular "now"
Popper's 3 worlds
Twentieth century philosopher Karl Popper, it appears, had a similar insight. His system of cosmology proposes that there are 3 worlds interacting:
World 1: the world of physical objects and events, including biological entities
World 2: the world of mental objects and events
World 3: the world of the products of the human mind
For me, this appears to be another great example of the synchronicities of ideas that are just floating out there in the ether, as a great many people seem to be reaching similar conclusions about the underlying processes and structures of our reality. With two million references to my project out there on the internet, I'm excited and grateful to be a part of this new groundswell of understanding.

Enjoy the journey!

Rob Bryanton

Next: Polls Archive 56 - What's Augmented Reality's Future?

1 comment:

jenlight said...

I feel very much like a simpleton. I watched it for some insight into a subject I am only beginning to study as an adult. I realize that it's a simplified explanation, but doesn't everyone have to start somewhere?

Incidentally, I'm also reading Physics For Dummies which I'm rather enjoying. :)

Tenth Dimension Vlog playlist