barnabas_truman: (young whistler)
Today I met a bunch of new (to me) students and talked with them for most of an hour about temperature and heat flow and conservation of energy and graphs and equations. Afterwards three of them independently came up to me to tell me that my teaching style is "outstanding." I'd call that a successful first day of class.

Later, in office hours, a familiar-looking student came in for some help with the same subject matter, and to get my advice and opinions in general on physics classes, learning about logic, a possible philosophy minor, and how to apply all of this towards an eventual career in emergency medicine.

He then told me that three years ago he was in the summer orientation algebra review class I taught, and apparently what I wrote on his final exam had had a huge impact on him. It seems he hadn't really applied himself much during the summer orientation program, and during the final he felt totally lost and wrote a rather emotional note to me on the back apologizing to me, the instructor, for doing so badly. He tells me I wrote a very long and thoughtful response (I just barely remember this myself) telling him that he doesn't need to apologize to me; that the only person harmed or helped by his studying habits is himself; and that it's going to be okay--that a big part of the reason for this summer program is to give him a chance to make mistakes and learn from them in a safe space without huge negative consequences. I didn't fully realize it at the time, but apparently this was exactly what he needed to hear.

It's always nice to find out, even years later, that what I've done has made the world a little better for somebody.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Summer session: ten weeks' worth of physics material packed into only five. Every support workshop is a rush; every day I find that students are studying material about a week ahead of what I would expect. So often in the past few weeks I've been reminded of Feynman's footnote:

"How I'm rushing through this! How much each sentence in this brief story contains. 'The stars are made of the same atoms as the earth.' I usually pick one small topic like this to give a lecture on."

So much marvel and wonder in the universe; so little time to discuss it in detail. Such is life.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Just had a thoroughly invigorating shouting match with a hellfire-and-homosexuality street preacher out on the quad. I started by trying to counter and/or question the claims he was shouting about God's attitude towards sex, marijuana, and modern sinful college students; realized I wasn't getting anywhere; noticed that there was actually a sizable audience; and decided to fight fire with fire by shouting right back.

I paced around him while shouting (louder than he could; thank you projection workshops) that he was a terrible preacher because he's only shouting and not listening; that the first thing any teacher, preacher, actor, or politician MUST learn is LISTEN TO YOUR AUDIENCE; that he just seems to walk onto a college campus thinking he knows everything about the students already and yells at them without listening; then I turned to the audience, gestured broadly, and shouted "Here's your audience, so listen! Audience! What do you want to tell this fellow?"

They all shouted as one: "GO HOME!" Couldn't have said it better myself. That stunned the preacher just long enough for me to step in front of him, face the assembled students, and give a one-minute impromptu sermon on the Gospel of Fred Rogers, a far better Christian than this so-called preacher, telling the students that today is a better day because they are here, that nobody should tell them they are bad for being themselves, that Mr Rogers and I love them just the way they are, and that it is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood.

Walked off just in time to be out of sight before the adrenaline wore off. It's not so great to nearly collapse when the audience is watching.
barnabas_truman: (army)
"Did you have to make that horrible pun?"

"Yes."

"Really?"

"Really. Moral imperative."

"Whaaat? What do you mean 'moral imperative'?"

"I'm not entirely sure but I did take a few philosophy classes in college so presumably I know what I'm talking about."
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Long ago I stood on the balcony of a physics lecture hall, watched the leaves of a nearby tree shiver in the wind, and pondered the physics of their chaotic dance. Today I passed by the same building, watched the leaves dancing again, and thought:

Twelve generations of leaves have grown and fallen since I last paid them any mind, but the tree remains and each new leaf can still dance.

Twelve generations of students have passed through this hall since I learned physics in it, but the building remains and the class is still taught.

Twelve years of experience have shaped me since I first watched this tree, but I remain myself and I still think these thoughts.

These moments of clarity--these deep connections that grow between my memories, the land's memories, my future, and the land's future--are among the best things about returning to teach in the place where I once learned. Would that everyone had such opportunities.

Omphalos

Jul. 17th, 2012 11:52 am
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
From another discussion regarding depictions of Adam's navel:

The belly button thing is actually just a small part of a much larger theological issue called the "omphalos hypothesis" (Greek for "navel"). The whole point of the belly button argument is that the existence of a belly button is normally an indication of a past event (gestation), so if the first humans were created from scratch as adults *with* belly buttons, then the creator was essentially creating false information about their age.

(Personally I find this argument somewhat silly, as from a biological perspective the very EXISTENCE of ANY part of a human body is an indication of gestation in the past, and there's nothing special about the navel.)

But this raises a flurry of other questions that are even deeper, as the belly button is by no means the only (supposedly) created thing that is normally an indication of a past event. Some other examples:

Was Adam (and the other higher animals) created with intestines already partly full? (If not, digestion wouldn't work properly; if so, what were the contents made of?)

Were the first trees created with or without rings already in place? (We have tree-ring evidence of trees many thousands of years old, so in a young-Earth scenario, "with" is the only option.)

Were landscapes created with valleys already showing signs of milllennia of erosion?

Were all of the stars created with entire pathways of pre-extant light already en route to Earth?

...and so on. Ultimately this leads to one conclusion: if the creator was able to create false evidence suggesting past events before creation, then NO evidence regarding the age of ANYTHING can be trusted. Indeed we may as well claim that the entire universe was created in roughly its present state last Thursday, and that any memories you have of, say, Wednesday are false memories implanted in your brain while it was being created.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
After observing the physics lab, I stopped by the math department to say hello to some old friends and make some inquiries about future classes. (I might actually be TAKING a math class next quarter if schedules work out.) At lunchtime I got some pizza and joined in an enjoyable theological argument with some kids from a Christian club tabling on the quad. Meanwhile, one physics workshop I'm teaching is getting into the really neat stuff about potential energy between two bonded atoms and the other is starting on electric circuits with capacitors. Fun times.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
How can a pacifist teacher justify teaching math and physics to students that are going into the military?

As a pacifist, it would be unethical to act in a way that strengthens the military. (If asked to use my skills to design a bomb, for instance, I would instantly refuse.)

But as a teacher, it would be unethical and unprofessional to refuse to teach any student that needs my help.

What am I to do? The obvious answer is "teach them anyway," which is what I am doing, but nonetheless I am troubled in my conscience.
barnabas_truman: (army)
I just spent half an hour cheerfully discussing theology with a couple of door-to-door JW missionaries. In the end they excused himself and left while I was still trying to continue the conversation. That means I win! Good times; I hadn't done that in a decade or so.

I was quite proud of myself for correctly guessing that he was a JW the moment he mentioned the year 1914 in relation to the apocalypse, and for knowing enough Bible references to hold my own in a debate over the identity of the snake in Genesis and "Satan" in Job as well as God's actual intentions in the Fall of Man. I was also amused that, as they left, one of them inquired whether I was a Seventh Day Adventist due to my ideas about Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 being separate accounts of two independent creations (in fact I actually got the idea from GURPS Cabal!).
barnabas_truman: (math)
"We ought, then, to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state and as the cause of the one which is to follow. Given for one instant an intelligence which could comprehend all the forces by which nature is animated and the respective situation of the beings who compose it--an intelligence sufficiently vast to submit these data to analysis--it would embrace in the same formula the movements of the greatest bodies of the universe and those of the lightest atom; for it, nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to its eyes."

--Pierre-Simon Laplace, Essai philosophique sur la probabilite.
barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
Back in junior high I started thinking "What if everybody not only thinks differently, but perceives the world differently? What if my green is your purple or whatever?" It wasn't until mid-high school that I discovered that most intellectuals went through that realization at some point.

At around the same time I was also learning to play Irish folk music--the first time I was learning music by listening to it rather than reading it--and I gradually realized that I was mentally associating certain tunes with certain shapes and colors. I don't remember any of it now except that the key of G was red, the key of E was yellow, and I think major keys were square and minor keys were triangular.

For a while I would also occasionally mix up modern Spanish and renaissance English--I would be talking with someone at Ren Faire and accidentally throw in a Spanish word. I'm still not sure if that's due to the fact that the two languages are grammatically similar or just because they were both "foreign" languages that I was learning at about the same time, so they took up the same space in my head and overlapped sometimes.

I'm not sure what the voice in my mind sounds like because I've only thought it, never heard it. I think it's my own voice. Sometimes it's other people's voices instead. Sometimes it's other people's voices also. Sometimes I have conversations with myself in my head. Sometimes I argue with myself in my head. Sometimes I argue with other voices in my head. Sometimes this leads to useful insights, other times it's mildly amusing but doesn't really go anywhere. Sometimes when I'm driving along Highway 80 I can talk to Highway 80 in my head. It's not all that smart but it's friendly and fun to talk to once in a while. It must be lonely being a highway and having people drive over you all day every day but nobody ever talks to you. So I try to help when I can.

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