My friend could find no apparent connection and ask me to explain my thinking - Here goes: I believe that art in all its forms, music, literature, painting, and physics are all abstractions we develop to help us make sense of the world around us.
Man-O-Friday! My friend pounced on me and informed me very quickly that music was in no way an abstraction (she’s a musician). I was quickly told that music had notes, and scales, and techniques, etc that made it quite concrete.
This is where I believe our conversation revealed a deep difference in the way both of us see the world around us. I believe the MUSIC is a creation of the mind that is inspired by some concrete experience. The music reveals the way the composer interpreted and made sense of the experience. The notes, scales, theory, symbols, clefs, etc are just tools and techniques used to complete the abstraction which is the music itself. The mind creates the music - the notes document it.
Art follows the same example. An artist creates a painting, drawing, sculpture, or whatever that represents their mental model of an idea or event – the way they interpret and make sense of it. The canvases, brushes, paints, oils, clay, and whatever else they use are again tools and techniques that assist and allow the realization of their idea.
Literature works again in this line of reasoning. Shakespeare, King, Tolkien, Longfellow, and anyone else you want to name reveal the way they interpret their thinking and the world through words. All of the tools of writing and storytelling serve the writer in revealing their thinking.
So what about physics? By now I hope you see where I’m coming from – physicists search for and examine relationships between events that help them make sense of the world around them. The formulas, mathematics, graphs, and equipment just facilitate and make possible those connections.
An equation can be as beautiful as a painting, a song, or a poem. If you haven’t read A Mathematician’s Lament, now would be a good time. We want to make music therefore we learn and practice the techniques of music. We want to be a painter, so we dedicate time to learning techniques. In either case the techniques are not an end in themselves but a means to an end.
So why do so many folks allow formulas and equations to be the way we define physics? They are but tools that help us interpret and understand our world. I am prepared to dedicate one day a week to blogging this next year. My idea is that I want my students to translate the abstractions of physics into words or video or some other alternate abstraction. If they can do that perhaps they will arrive at some more fundamental and meaningful understanding of how our world works. Perhaps they can reconcile conflicting mental models in this way.
I want them to see that they can describe an event in writing. They can draw a picture of the event. They can write a song about the event. They can graph a relationship in the event. They can describe the event algebraically. All are useful ways of understanding and making sense of the event.
One common thread between all of the ways we can interpret an event is the EVENT itself. I am amazed that people think it’s innovative to use inquiry in science. For crying out loud you have to have an EVENT of some sort to study! Textbooks, videos, and worksheets don’t cut it.
So what do you think? Am I all wet? Leave your comments – I want to hear them.