Updated: Mar 26
I recently finished reading Carlo Rovelli's incredibly illuminating book "Reality is not what it seems - The Journey to Quantum Gravity" and whilst completely blowing my mind it also reminded me of the following anecdote.
The story is about a Headmaster who at the start of every new academic year would stand in front of the whole school and try something new, like trying to play the bagpipes for the first time or speak a new language. In doing so he would embarrass himself by 'failing' in front of everyone. He would then commit to learn the instrument or language over the course of the academic year as in his words, "We expect you students to learn new things, and I know how hard that can be at times, so I will join you on that journey and try to learn something new myself". At the end of the year he would come back on stage and demonstrate to the whole school what he had learnt and how well he could play the musical instrument or speak the new language he had learnt.
I have always liked this anecdote because I feel it epitomises in a nutshell how, if we are not careful, as adults we forget not only that we can (and should) learn new things but even more importantly how hard it is for children at times to learn. Learning new things can be especially difficult and frustrating when faced with having to consider a different or new perspective or a different way of looking at things. Carlo Rovelli's book highlights this point very well. Trying to get your head around Quantum Gravity is clearly not easy, but by guiding the reader through the obstacles that scientists have met and how they have overcome them by re-evaluating their perspective of the problem was not only refreshing but made the process of learning a great deal 'easier' for me. I felt like the Headmaster in the above anecdote, I really did learn something new (whether I understood it or not is another matter!).
Physics isn't the only discipline asking us to continually look at new ways of perceiving things. There are plenty of other examples. One only has to read Jo Marchants' "Cure - A journey into the science of Mind and Body" to be mesmerised by the recent scientific findings about the power of harnessing the placebo effect and its healing properties, or Giula Enders' "Gut" which opens up the wonders of our 'second brain', our gut and explores how we really are what we eat in that by changing the bacterial makeup of our gut we can change our character, or even our will to live... 'food for thought'... or Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers" which identifies so succinctly that the simplest of things, your birth date, can define how successful you are in school and then on into future life and how character traits can stay with us generation after generation irrespective of parental upbringing or not.
It is lovely reading these books, but I do also get frustrated at times. As a Headmaster I want the best for my students and I want the best life chances for them but I can't help but admit to a sense of powerlessness at times. Why? Because as much as I would like to take the ideas and findings from these wonderfully illuminating books and incorporate them into school life, not only would it be deemed controversial, but change is difficult, especially change that demands a new perspective. Honestly how many parents would countenance a school program to alter the bacterial makeup of its students guts in order to develop their character traits and motivation, or a school program to use the placebo effect for healing a child when it hurts itself (both emotionally and physically)? Pragmatically I respect and understand that, but I do still dream.
Maybe there is hope for my dreams though, maybe Carlo Rovelli will wake up one day and decide to write a new book, not one about Quantum Loop Theory but one about 'Quantum Education Theory'. I thought I would try to start things off, you are most welcome to have a read, it is linked to this.
Don't expect much though, not only is my Maths and Physics from University days very rusty, but I'm not sure I've interpreted the Theory of Quantum Mechanics as succinctly as I should have. My University Lecturers may be very disappointed! But maybe that's the point? At least I'm trying to understand it, and like the Headmaster in my anecdote, if I'm trying to understand something, then maybe this will inspire my students to keep trying to understand things themselves. After all they only have to try!