Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Physics for Fido

How to Teach Physics to Your Dog by Chad Orzel--This is chapter 3, "Schrodinger's Dog." It's wonderful.

I can't tell you exactly how I came upon this--I know I started at Sherry Chandler's blog, followed a link, and another link...and there I was, reading Orzel's bitter complaint about a New York Times movie reviewer who proudly displays his ignorance of physics. A physicist and college professor, Dr. Orzel is often irritated by The Innumeracy of Intellectuals. Sadly, indifference to math is not limited the the intelligentsia. Adult basic education students, school children, and college freshmen all use a smug tone to tell me they "are no good at math," meaning "Get out of my face with that stuff, I can't be bothered." In contrast, people who can't read well generally try to cover up and fake it. I don't get it, but the reason I often end up teaching math to the unwilling is the scarcity of teachers willing and able to take on those classes.

I'm looking forward to reading the whole canine physics course--we never got to quantum mechanics in my undergraduate physics class, because the physics department thought it was "too hard for biologists." I wish I'd had Dr. Orzel!


Dave said...

I'm not crazy about math because, at least at the lower levels we're taught in school, there's only one correct answer. Where's the fun in that? Also, it's the ultimate in reductionism and abstraction -- neither things I enjoy. Still, I recognize its fundamental importance, and do sometimes wish I could get more enthusiastic about it.

I guess I am more puzzled and annoyed by the indifference of so many literary intellectuals to anything outside the humanities -- basically the whole of science, including anthopology.

Rebecca Clayton said...

I'm surprised a poet doesn't like reductionism and abstraction--isn't part of the excitement of poetry the tension between evoking the material and emotional worlds while using words (abstractions) in formal or unconventional ways?

I didn't like math in elementary school either--there was a lot of punishment for failure, and math is a skill that you practice, like music. You're bound to make mistakes, but if you practice, you get better at it.

Sherry said...

I have a friend, a professor emeritus of physics, a photographer, and a poet, who has a chapbook coming out soon called "Chasing Shroedinger's Cat." He gets very upset at the way poets use that cat as a metaphor because they get the science wrong. I'll send him a link to this post.

Which I'm not sure how I missed -- I've been in some odd limbo state this fall.

Having a son with a math disability was enough to disenchant me with public school approaches to math. They thought, because he could memorize the "math facts," he therefore couldn't solve logical problems.