Newsletter 66 Teach - certainty & uncertainty


Many years ago during one of my lectures in the philosophy of education I accused my esteemed lecturer of playing mind-games and he later accused of being a Luddite. He called me a Luddite because I could not envisage a time as suggested by the philosophy of Positivism when we will be able to control and predict human behavior. My argument was that we will never see that day because of all the variable at play which needs to be manipulated and controlled. My lecturer ask me to dream of such a day. Imagine he said how much of scares resources we can save if only we can control the process of school improvement and produce better learners.

Humanity is on an ongoing quest to better understand the world we live in (our earth in the cosmos) and better understand human behavior. And so maybe one day we will be able to predict and control human behavior. Ian Steward wrote the book “Does God Play Dice” where he explains the world of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Here are some extracts from his book. It is simply mind boggling!

“In the distant past of our race…chaos reigned and law was unimaginable. Over a period of several thousand years, humanity slowly came to realize that nature has many regularities, which can be recorded, analyzed, predicted and exploited. By the 18th century science had been so successful in laying bare the laws of nature that many thought there was little left to discover.”

“But the world moved on, and our vision of the universe moved with it…For we are beginning to discover that systems obeying immutable and precise laws do not always act in predictable and regular ways. Simple laws may not produce simple behavior. Deterministic laws can produce behavior that appears random. Order can breed its own kind of chaos.”

“What we thought was simple becomes complicated, and disturbing new questions are raised regarding measurement, predictability, and verification or falsification of theories…Phenomena that appear structureless and random may in fact obeying simple laws.”

“It is an entire new world, a kind of mathematics, a fundamental breakthrough in the understanding of irregularities in nature. We are witnessing its birth. The future has yet to unfold.”

Teachers must teach and prepare learners that our world is both certain and uncertain, predictable and unpredictable, a game of chance and determinate. Teach them that there is more grey between the opposite of white and black. The world we live in is simply complicated!

Steward quoted Poincare, a French mathematician who commented on the “implications for experiment”; “When we wish to check a hypothesis, what should we do? We cannot verify all its consequences, since they would be infinite in number; we content ourselves with verifying certain one and if we succeed we declare the hypothesis confirm.”