As I gazed at the simple glass sphere Van de Graaff generator at Cropper Motors this morning I was transfixed with the straight-forward way our minds want us to conceptualise this world around us. We seek and demand of ourselves answers for everything and yet only the most basic scratch on the surface of sensed reality brings us to the realisation that we are enormously finite in what we know and understand.
Scientists around the world are perturbed at the decision by a world astronomical body to declassify Pluto as a planet of Sol's system. As a former science teach, this puzzled me because we have for decades, warned students that we know so little about this distant body in the solar system that it just may not cut it as a full fledged planet. It is no surprise as more data is available, that this, like so many other little problems, has to change in definition, simply because, our knowledge base is expanding.
Last night, as I viewed the street video I had created in the evening, I was shocked to see a vehicle make a beeline toward my camera. I had not been manning the camera but in the van sorting out low batteries in another camera and it was a surprise to see this vehicle veer from the traffic pattern toward me. Moments later, on the video, a vehicle of someone who does not share a positive view of me went by and my mind put the two things together and I was certain that this was an attempt, or threat, upon me and my equipment. It wasn't until a policeman asked me to go over, frame by frame, the images, to discover to my chagrin, that it was a friend playing a little joke on me, who conducted the little close encounter. I relate this story to tell you that just relying upon the obvious, the senses, I certainly can be led very much astray. The video camera is not like my eyes, it has no emotions, no memory and never blinks.
Each of us constructs our reality, oh we tell ourselves things like, "but I know what i saw" or "seeing is believing" and even more dangerous, "well, what I remember is. . ." Undoubtedly we have to start somewhere, but empirical data is hopelessly flawed. Our confusion over what we think, what we believe and what might be, are still a mess, because what is, can rarely, if ever, be established with 100% certainty.
A few days ago a friend was explaining to me how he resents the use of the term "common sense" which has this built in assumption that there is a truth out there, that most would agree upon and of course, that indeed is the basic premise of the idea of "common sense," yet time after time, we have seen historical and modern examples of decisions made by the vast majority, that are just plain wrong. I don't want to identify examples because it is for each of us to determine what we think is real and this is not intended to be a political statement.
So, what then are we to do about this conundrum? The answer is in our nature, it is part of what makes us human. We all can communicate, we can talk and that is indeed what we were meant to do. The path to success, in sorting out the confusions of reality, is to use our creative spirit and engage actively in debate. Debate, is one of those little used and unfashionable formats in today's world. A large number of people want to be told what is, or what isn't, while others want some expert opinion, the truth lies in the gray matter between your ears and you have to examine orally, what you think with others. You need their input and you need to apply the highest level of critical thinking to the process.
If we were to design the perfect education system, front and centre in that system, would be the active development of critical thinking, scientific research, informed debate and instill the lack of contentment, that would prevent every student from ever giving up on being a perpetual learner. The quest for knowledge, information and wisdom, is a lifelong process. He or she, who abandons that process, is doomed to enveloping ignorance.