Monday, 28 June 2010

Where is here?

If you are not baffled by the size of the universe, you have not understood how big it is yet.

We could be forgiven for thinking that the size of the universe has been designed with the deliberate intention of making any life within it feel insignificant. But in fact the situation is much worse: on the scale of the size of the universe, life within it is not significant
enough for any feeling of insignificance that life might have to merit as a deliberate intention. We are not significant enough to merit the status of deliberate insignificance.

Why go to all the trouble of making a universe this big, only to put life into this tiny grain of it? It makes no sense what so ever. The earth is like the foot of an ant on a football pitch the size of the world. If somebody squashed that ant, almost nothing would be any different. And yet here we all are, utterly convinced that we matter, and our lives matter, and curiously enough, perhaps they do.

As we are disenclined to believe in Creators these days, the obvious alternative to them seems to be that the universe could not help but come into existence. The existence of our vast universe was somehow evitable. It called itself forth. Something along the lines of this:

In the beginning there was nothing, but nothing had been nothing for so long that it was bored of being nothing. And so the universe said "Let there be me!" and there was him(her)(it).

Of course it is so hard to think of nothing, without it sneakily becoming a something. This might be why it is hard for us to understand how nothing leads inevitably to something. Because we have to keep reminding ourselves that the nothing we are talking about isn't something called nothing, but actually not any something at all. What ever we might think nothing is, it is actually not that. (That being the point.)

However if the universe did, as it were, say "Let there be me", our intuitions about symetry point towards some additional wonders. If one universe can say "Let there be me", why should another infinity of universes not do the same? Do universes come in a whole load of different sizes, in the same way that planets and stars and galaxies do? Are there some really small universes out there, where sentient beings similar to ourselves are not so inclined to be baffled by the size of that universe, because the universe in question isn't actually all that big? Maybe there are one or two universes out there that are just big enough for a family of four? Maybe we could move in?

Still you might ask, "where are any of these universes located?" - but that of course misses the more immediate question: "where is This universe located?"

Obviously it is Here. But where is Here?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Good Education

While we mostly tend to think that education is about Knowing, I would like to assert that education is about Not Knowing.

Good education is a process of moving ourselves and others towards the edge of our collective ignorance. The outcome of good education is not the arrogance of everything we collectively know, but rather the awareness of that abyss of ignorance. The summit of education brings us up to the edge of that abyss. That is where discovery can begin, and knowledge can move out to claim new territory. Before we can do that, we have to get to that edge. The edge of ignorance.

An awareness that this intention lies behind the education process allows the process of education to be true to itself. The final thing that our best teachers have to say to us, is that beyond this edge, nobody knows.

It is this edge that all education must aim for if it is to be honest. Ultimately all our knowledge in all areas of human endeavour is limited. The admission of these limits do not define our defeat. The admission of these limits is rather the place we must first aim to arrive at. It is the point. Moving ourselves up to the edge of ignorance is in fact precisely what counts as victory in education. Arriving at that edge. Moving ourselves and others towards that edge. Seeing that edge on the horizon. Knowing it is our destination.

Knowing that our destination is not the certainty of every bit of known territory that leads up to the edge, but rather it is the wonder that comes when we stand unflinchingly in front of the unknown and perhaps even the unknowable.

If as a teacher you manage to bring your students to that place, you are a very great teacher indeed.

Ignorance is not where we start from in education, rather it is where we get to if we are successful. Ignorance is the very height of education. Until we are aware of everything known, we cannot be aware of the space out beyond that. Where we start from in education, we might rather call innocence. This is a state in which we don't know anything, and so have no appreciation of the vast space of ignorance that lies beyond what is known.

What we know from science is that the universe is astonishing, beautiful and extremely bonkers. There is no compelling explanation as to why it exists. Perhaps such a question is ultimately paradoxical and meaningless. But in any case the study of science should make us humble, not arrogant.

The universe turns out to be utterly flabergastingly enormous. So enormous relative to anything in our usual experience that it renders any explanation we have so far gathered regarding why it might exist as utterly inadequate. Currently we human beings find ourselves in a situation where we are confronted with an utter mystery. We really don't have a clue. Or we certainly have no more than a clue.