What is She Thinking NOW?

Some thoughts from the never still (no matter how much she meditates) brain of Annabella.

Here's a picture of our great crew on the good ship Grobstein as we sail into uncharted territory. Our port of call is Bryn Mawr College Park Science Building, Bryn Mawr, PA...destination unknown exactly, but somewhere within mind, thought, consciousness, time, and education. Happy sailing, ladies!

...With our fearless captain Paul Grobstein and the Center for Science in Society.

As a team we are working on bridging the gap between science and society, searching for the answers to the unanswerable questions, each in her own way.

One is exploring the relationship between time and consciousness. One is exploring the phenomena of mental illness, and building computer models of society so that we can collectively reach a greater understanding. One is examining the relationship between linguistics and time...

...And all of us are looking at these questions through an eyeglass equipped with lenses of science, society, education and how it all fits together.

For more info about the true nature of our summer voyage visit our home page.

Me? What am I doing?

I'm learning arithmetic, boning up on my multiplication tables and working on multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. (My Dear Aunt Sally) What else would a college sophomore approaching middle age be doing on a summer day?

It's all part of an elementary school curriculum project where we are rethinking the way math and science are presented to our young people. Right now I am considering not only the way math is presented, but also the methods presented in how to do these operations.

This all started my first year at Bryn Mawr, when I went to a presentation billed as "The Mathmagician". There I saw a man do arithmetic operations in his head faster than any of the six volunteers could punch out the answers on their calculators. And these weren't just the easy problems. He went as far as multiplying two 5-digit numbers together, having received the digits for each number one at a time from different students in the audience. Repeatedly and consistently, this man beat the calculators and was perfectly accurate. Then he squared large numbers that we shouted out to him, and once again performed flawlessly.

How did he do that? I want to do math like that! Then he got to the good part and showed us what he was doing. It was a new way to do the old arithmetic processes, My Dear Aunt Sally. It was very different from what I was taught in school in the 70's. The main similarity between the old and new methods was that you still had to know your multiplication tables. This was not magic at all. It was a greatly improved, in my opinion, way of doing math. From my vantage point it made arithmetic fun, interactive and alive. Then he showed us more ways to make it even easier. As I lapped up the information, part of me thought this was somehow cheating. After all, this was not the way one is supposed to do these things!

Then someone in the audience mentioned that he claimed to have pi memorized to 100 digits, and challenged him to write it on the board. He smiled and said that he did indeed have that number memorized and would be happy to write as many digits as would fit on the board, but he pointed out that we would have no way to verify if he were correct! We told him to do it anyway. He picked up a piece of chalk, turned to the board, took a deep breath and started writing as fast as one could write anything. He was definitely not straining to come up with the digits.

When the board was filled, less than 30 seconds later, he stopped writing and turned around. From the back of the room a professor holding a textbook yelled out that he was right up to the first 60 digits, but we didn't have any way to check the rest. There was resounding applause. The whole evening was very impressive.

When everyone else was heading to the door, I headed toward the floor. I had to ask this man, "This makes a great show, but if this kind of math works so well, and is as easy as it appears, how come we aren't teaching this in elementary schools?"

"You tell me." he said.

This was my introduction to Arthur Benjamin. For more information on him and this math, visit Arthur Benjamin's home page.

Fast forward a year or so to this spring. In response to a physicist saying that he couldn't teach quantum physics to someone who doesn't understand higher math, I responded that the ideas that quantum physics is pointing us to, things such as interconnectedness, the field of infinite possibility, that merely by observing something we change the observed and thereby can never observe it in its unobserved state, that our consciousness affects our surroundings...these things have been known, taught, and demonstrated to us through millennia by people we call sages.

My theory is that we are born understanding these things, and they are taught out of us in early education when we learn such human contrivances as right and wrong, and their emotional ramifications, the concept of cold, hard/unchangeable fact, something you can count on. Our once fluid, flexible perspective of life as one of infinite possibility coupled with continual uncertainty is changed to one with strict rules of cause and effect and changelessness. Then, once our wisdom is taught out of us in deference to knowledge, a meager attempt to re-introduce the ideas of options and possibilities is made in high school and college. But by then, the dye has been cast, and usually our view of the world and of ourselves is too fixed to incorporate the ideas that quantum physics is pointing us toward; the ideas that were once innate to all of us are now deemed unacceptable or unreachable by most people, and are relegated to the realm of intellectuals and quantum physicists. Many of us who have seen this dynamic in our own lives have spent years trying to unlearn much of what we learned in school.

Personally, I am glad to see math and the sciences catching up to the wisdom of the sages. Better late than never! Perhaps with the advent of repeatable experimental evidence verifying the sages wisdom, more people will take the time to let the ideas of infinite possibility, total connectedness with all things, and the comfort of continual uncertainty that is so lost on the whole in our society, re-enter their psyche. Perhaps they will take more time to consider what it was the sages were showing us, and we will begin to understand that each of us influences the world through our thought, and that continual uncertainty precludes any value for right and wrong. As this happens, and right loses its luster and wrong loses its stigma, creativity can flourish. The world will change in ways once considered impossible. Solutions to our most pressing situations will come from "out of nowhere" as we open up to possibility, and leave the notions of success/failure behind learning to live life fully.

Which leads me to my current endeavors of writing collaboratively a math/science curriculum for elementary students aimed at nurturing the innate knowledge of our youngsters, putting it to use as opposed to replacing it with facts. Guiding them to answer their questions with their own theories, then testing those theories and revising their answers accordingly, and so on. Our goal is to keep them engaged with the world around them, building a foundational perspective of a world of infinite possibility and fundamental uncertainty. From there it is easy to insert "facts" and "laws" and "scientific principles" acknowledging that these are the leading stories of our time, and as such are very useful. And it is quite acceptable as new observations are made to change the stories defining our understanding of the world.

I fancy myself being part of a group ushering in a generation of curious, engaged, confident adults who are not threatened by new understandings nor thrown off kilter by observations that challenge their old stories of understanding. They greet these new ideas with relish knowing that with every observation that challenges the old story comes a new, more accurate story depicting the world around them and their participation in it. And they get to write that new story, over and over again.