Monday, November 15, 2010

We have got cancer too, Mr Feynman !

Happen to read this book , Surely you are joking Mr Feynman, by brilliant physicist Richard Feynman , Could not resist to share a transcripts from a chapter from this book.

"At the end of the academic year, the students asked me to give a talk about my experiences of teaching in Brazil. At the talk there would be not only students, but professors and government officials, so I made them promise that I could say whatever I wanted. They said,

"Sure. Of course. It's a
free country."

So I came in, carrying the elementary physics textbook that they used in the first year of college. They thought this book was especially good
because it had different kinds of typeface--bold black for the most important things to remember, lighter for less important things, and so on.

Right away somebody said, "You're not going to say anything bad about the textbook, are you? The man who wrote it is here, and everybody

thinks it's a good textbook."

"You promised I could say whatever I wanted."

The lecture hall was full. I started out by defining science as an understanding of the behavior of nature. Then I asked, "What is a good reason for
teaching science? Of course, no country can consider itself civilized unless . . . yak, yak, yak." They were all sitting there nodding, because I know that's the way they think.

Then I say, "The main purpose of my talk is to demonstrate to you that no science is being taught in Brazil!"

I can see them stir, thinking, "What? No science? This is absolutely crazy! We have all these classes."
So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books.

There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it's amazing you don't find
many physicists in Brazil--why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.

Then I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren't many children
studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek--even the smaller kids in the elementary schools.

He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, "What were Socrates' ideas on the
relationship between Truth and Beauty?"--and the student can't answer. Then he asks the student, What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third
Symposium?" the student lights up and goes, "Brrrrrrrrr-up"--he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.

But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!

What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and
then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something.

To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand.

I said, "That's how it looks to me, when I see you teaching the kids 'science' here in Brazil." (Big blast, right?)

By flipping the pages at random, and putting my finger in and reading the sentences on that

page, I can show you what's the matter--how it's not science, but memorizing, in every circumstance. Therefore I am brave enough to flip through the
pages now, in front of this audience, to put my finger in, to read, and to show you.

So I did it. Brrrrrrrup--I stuck my finger in, and I started to read: "Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are


I said, "And there, have you got science? No! You have only told what a word means in terms of other words. You haven't told anything about
nature-what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can't.

"But if, instead, you were to write, 'When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some
other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called "triboluminescence."' Then someone will go home and try it. Then there's an experience of nature." I used that example to show them, but it didn't make any difference where I would have put my finger in the book; it was
like that everywhere.

Finally, I said that I couldn't see how anyone could he educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to
pass exams, but nobody knows anything. "

Well, after I gave the talk, the head of the science education department got up and said, "Mr. Feynman has told us some things that are very hard for us to hear, but it appears to he that he really loves science, and is sincere in his criticism. Therefore, I think we should listen to him. I came here knowing we have some sickness in our system of education; what I have learned is that we have a cancer!"--and he sat down."

No wonder , its not the state of Brazil , in 1950's or so when this book is written , its true even now in India , We have Got Cancer too, Mr Feynman !

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