Bulletin 5 July 4, 1997
On Methodology. How would you like to learn science from us at our school?
If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is. That is a standard current warning. So a free university sound like a bit much. Our claim is simple. We need you and you need us. Why? Because the study of complex systems, the set of questions which perplex people, is really difficult. We believe, as a cooperative effort, we have managed to add new light on many of the issues. But, even with 40 to 60 years of experience, we find it almost impossible to transmit our learning. It gets too involved - both in its time dimension and knowledge depth - for standard propagation. It can either die with us, poured almost at random into the ground or we can look for the students who might be able to benefit. A number of events of the past few weeks have given us some more insight into the transmittal problem. This we now wish to share with you readers. Note that from our first Bull, we addressed ourselves as a peripatetic school in the Aristotelean tradition. In the past week that claim has been driven home to us. So we present some issues of a didactic-methodological nature.
The events. This AM was forced by spouse to see a current movie advertised as an outstanding romantic comedy featuring a most beautiful and engaging actress. The critics regard both claims to be true. Instead, it seemed to be utterly tasteless and conceptually destructive morally. Add to that, the movie - opening on the day of an important public legal-political announcement - contained a piece of propaganda, regarding human social practices that were one of the most destructive to humans ever devised, that - if accepted by the viewer - tended to nullify human wellbeing by killing people. Accept that movie thoughtlessly and the presenter of its art as innocent and in good form? No way!
However within the week, that actress was interviewed by a media program of absolutely solid teaching competence. This is no casual statement. It has an interrogator of flawless quality who runs a training school in the theatrical arts in a very serious social science school. His preparation for those interviews is phenomenal; a few hundred well prepared written questions are used to present both the artist, his or her training, and the skills and methods used. The interviews already number in the dozens and have presented many of America's greatest actors, almost all of whom have had connection to the school from its originators' very controversial beginnings. Their methods are still subject to controversy, but not in this observer's view, having been exposed to their products for nearly 60 years. Their NY downtown beginnings influenced the entire range of Broadway's and Hollywood's product, as well as far beyond. Arguments with their mother school and some of its social science faculty reflects in no way on the competence of the teaching.
When the fairly young, stunningly beautiful, actress was interviewed, quickly identified in the interrogator's opinion as one of the 100 most talented great beauty actresses in America, and then searchingly interviewed and dissected, one thing became immediately clear. She is a fantastically competent actress, almost completely self-trained, within the opportunity range that her parents had provided her entry. Control of every detail of her performance was always opportunistic and complete. As a scientist, this observer does not quarrel with the elementary facts when they are put out in front. She is a well trained actress. Second, it was clear that the school as a theatrical training institution, lived completely up to its claim, at least up to its present timescale of development. Third, one point that the actress made, upon questioning, was that you should never refuse a challenge. If the opportunity is presented, accept it even if you have to fake it, but you had better get right to work and learn how to do it. The moral to that last point is not that one has to be a faker but that one has to take challenges beyond immediate competence.
The moral that this observer drew was that this homeokinetic free university was stuck with the same problem as that theatrical school, that its peripatetic aim was appropriate, and that no one could say what its chances for success were. It had as much claim to methodology, and controversy, its longevity as extensive, at least half as old as the school under discussion. It suggested putting forth this claim. Show your training, interest, and competence, and homeokinetics can put a scientific shape on it, whether it be by this AM or other ffs.
The second event in that same week was a reaction to the content of an issue of a scientific periodical from NY, The Sciences, particularly in two of its pieces. One raised the question of the irreversible aspects of time in physical law and quite properly states that physicists have debated the solution of the paradox of time with regard to the past and future of physical events, without resolution, but then it touts a 'new' resolution by the author's hosts of that problem. Most physicists, in contradistinction, believe that the laws of physics are time reversible. In this homeokinetic school, its ff's are ready to debate and present a view that differs both with the accepted but relatedly unresolved outlook to dissipative thermodynamics, and how the time reversibility issue can be resolved. It will be presented as part of some future Bulls.
A second article in the same journal, a book review on the field of mathematics, addresses the question whether mathematics has any competence to reach up to related mathematical material that similarly is perplexing in the physical outlook. Since the reviewer, examining systems studies in the past about 20 odd years ago (and that much younger), in one sentence dismissed a major early effort in homeokinetic physics of working systems as a first physical science study of such systems, it is not clear whether he allows any options for systematic studies. He leaves both fields having to look for an as yet unfound unification of their respective efforts.
The upshot from the two events, to this observer, is to say that schools are needed, schools of different study content are needed; there are those major problems out there that require methods and tools of study. You can choose as you wish. This school has its methods and ideas. It isn't easy.
Coda. Before allowing us or you any chance for reflection, the latest issue of Science (June 27), the font of American science, has a brief ornamental note on selling science. It lends credence to the punditry of media science writers with their assertion that "The challenge facing scientists is to find a way to convey the essential features, elegance, and simplicity of important works of science so that [they] may be appreciated, just as they are appreciated in important works of art." Science appreciation is needed as well as art appreciation; these cultures have to be shared with the public is the claim.
But the issue remains under what union, with what collegiality, and involving what methodologies? The voice of what turtles are to be heard over the land? Our homeokinetic associates and colleagues have dealt with the scientific content and methodologies used to create art with artists and even for the layperson in either or both fields a number of times in the past 60 years. As a detail of the moment, one of our students has two successful books within the NY art scene on what is effectively a homeokinetic theory for modern jazz dancing and its esthetic foundations, both for dancer and choreographer, and is associated with a successful dancing and performing dance studio. We received a fax from one of our ffs from the most widely reported event of July 3. Instead of being one of the 6,000 (journalists), he has been there with a group of more than a dozen graduate students observing very intimately as interns, the events of political transfer for the past number of months. As one of America's political experts for our national leaders, he reports to us his initial impressions just 12 hours after the event. How good is his punditry? We will see, in time to come.
Yet we still do not have any guarantee on how to best teach the prepared student the art of science. Thus this Bull. Thus this school. We repeat monotonously, it isn't easy. Journalistic punditry carries debatable credentials. But that is their right. We only take issue with their collegiality and openness. We have to concern ourselves with our own punditry. Ciao!