Tuesday, July 03, 2012

We come in peace.

Flopped back on roomie's bed to catch the local morning news yesterday, mostly to see if the weatherman could find a new way to say "Ninety-something and bone-dry"*, and the anchor started reading a wire service story off the teleprompter regarding the potential discovery of the Higg's boson (which he haltingly pronounced "buh-ZHAHN"), including the use of the term "god particle" which physicists do love so, and which led to a segue to the traffic 'n' weather.

And I realized, looking at the four people standing on that set, that not one of them up until that moment had heard of CERN** and wouldn't know a boson if a stream of them was being bounced off their body from the overhead lighting. It was one of those "same planet, different worlds" moments. And for some reason this made me very sad.

It was the same feeling I had, once, years ago when I had accidentally stumbled across some edutainment program on TeeWee about how flax is made into linen. I had kinda fallen into it and my then-roommate asked what I was watching. I said "It's about making cloth from flax. You should c'mere and watch it; it's kinda neat."

And she replied "Why would I want to know that?"

I was at a loss for words. Why wouldn't you want to know something you didn't know a moment before? I don't get it.

*A month of essentially identical meteorological conditions gets old. I can't see how people who live places where they have nothing but climate rather than proper weather can stand it.

** Although you could probably jog their memory about CERN by saying "You remember, 'way back before Michael Jackson died, that big machine in Europe that was going to destroy the world with a black hole if they turned it on? Yeah, that place."


edthetank said...

The same thing used to frustrate me in school. People would always ask "Do we have to know that for the test?" My response was almost always "Why would you want to not know something?"

Yrro said...

I sometimes wonder if knowing something is just plain *harder* for those people. Like asking a fat person with bad knees why they *wouldn't* just want to go for a run this morning.

"Because it's work."

If your activation energy is that much higher, it makes it a lot harder to set up that internal pleasure feedback loop that drives human action.

Robin said...

I'll wait for my astrophysicist friend to explain the release to me when its out.

Want I should copy it over for you here?

Bob said...

Remember what a famous consulting detective said on the subject?

"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skilful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."

Robb Allen said...

I have an entire area in my brain attic for loose lumber and Ikea instructions. I like hearing "this is how this is done" but rarely do I *study* it.

My brain is finite and one of the things I've excelled at in life is taking all the furniture and tools out of my brain and replacing them with the latest designs. As a computer programmer, this is a critical skill.

I love learning, but I also have to be careful about it. I'm relearning some previously held but long lost skills now. I'm expanding my knowledge of music and guitar at the same time. I'm also learning how to deal with the politics and personal interactions of the 2A by helping run a statewide organization (side note - you gun owners are a bunch of stingy, whiny bastards).

Some times, I can't really find enjoyment in learning certain things because I'm already burning my CPU at 100% as is.

It's not a negative thing at all. I *do* get the thrill of "Huh, I didn't know that!" much like reading about monotremes the other day, but I didn't really dig into the evolutionary history of 'em because I'm cool with "Ah, egg laying mammals that sweat milk!" and calling it a day.

RL said...

Folk don't seem to want to learn more because they're afraid they only have so much solid state capacity to absorb important stuff...Like Dancing with the American Idols and such.

fast richard said...

I once met a physicist who worked at CERN. I was seated next to him at dinner at the house of my ex-wife's grad school study partner. His explanation of where he worked and what he did was more dumbed down than it needed to be, but my knowledge of high energy physics was not enough to ask meaningful questions, so I figured I should just shut up and listen.

mikee said...

As a child I watched nature shows addictively, soaking up arcana regarding narwhals, moose, anacondas, bees and many other critters. When dating my wife, she was amazed that I could often name a critter the second it appeared on TV, "Oooh, look, a capybara!" Then she discovered that I couldn't name a petunia, azalea, or other common garden flower without her help.

It all evens up, I guess, depending upondepending on what you got put up in the attic.

Chris said...

Similar with me: fauna is interesting, flora not so much. How to cook something is interesting, how to work on an engine is not. How to mix stuff that goes boom . . . well, we don't want to commit such thoughts to the permanence of the intertubes, do we?

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

It was my understanding that physicists cringe at the term "God particle", which is used primarily by the news media who don't know enough about the science involved to characterize it properly.

Perhaps I'm wrong about that understanding...

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

(On the other hand, I may have not read into "which physicists love so" the wry intent that I just discovered in it. Chalk that up to a lack of morning caffeine while on holiday...)

perlhaqr said...

It rained here last night!

It was weird.

perlhaqr said...

edthetank: The same thing used to frustrate me in school. People would always ask "Do we have to know that for the test?"

What was worse was hearing that question all through EMT school. :(

Eventually I (I was not the teacher) started annoyedly replying "No, you have to know it for the job." People stopped asking. Somehow, I still remained mostly popular amongst my peers.

Anonymous said...

I've always felt for weather people in California, esp. socal, because as you said the weather is 90+ % the same thing, day in day out. NorCal at least has two seasons (kinda wet & dry), the excitement comes from try to guess when it will flip from one to the other. That and the very occasional storm off the Pacific, which gets them into a tizzy - they actually have to study wind speeds and the like.

og said...

It's a curse, wanting to know new stuff. Among other things,I know how to splice cable, do hidden dovetail joints, and can code in three obsolete computer languages- one of which has absolutely zero remaining pieces of equipment that use that language.

I'm OK with it so far, but if the old, useless crap starts crowding out new, useful information I'mna be pissed.

Anonymous said...

The idea that new knowledge crowds out old is likely pure poppycock. Can anyone cite a study?

When I taught and got the "Do we have to know this?" question, my standard response was "No, you can stay as dumb as you like."

I was not a particularly good teacher.

Stretch said...

My latest Same Planet/Different World moment was Friday:
Phone Solicitor: Would you like to subscribe to the Local Fish-wrap newspaper?
Me: Gee, it must be like selling buggy whips in the '20s.
PS: That's why I hate calling Virginia! You all are such racist!
Me: *hangs up*

The difference? I've been educated. PS has been indoctrinated.

og said...

"Can anyone cite a study?"

About what?

DirtCrashr said...

There's knowing and there's knowing - Nowadays there's plenty of not-knowing that's actually needed. I choose popular culture, because it's ephemera anyhow. I didn't *need* (or want) to know ANYTHING about the gay-guy with two last-names, but I am forced-to and exposed to him regardless, just because somebody else put him on Teevee as a joke or something. Higgs-bosons are another matter entirely, as is flax - and how to properly sear a pork butt (shoulder), and how many grains of H4895 go under an 150gra Sierra Matchking. You have to pick your gaps now, where to not-know things.

Goober said...

Reminds me of an XKCD comic I read a while back. it essentially did a bunch of math that "proved" that for any given "fact" there are about 10,000 people a day learning it for the first time. THe comic was suggesting that instead of talking down to the person by saying "you didn't know that? jeez! EVERYBODY knows that!" that you should be excited about being the person lucky enough to be able to impart new knowledge onto one of those 10,000 people that day.

The example was mentos and soda. The guy in the comic, instead of saying "you haven't heard about that?" said "Dude, clear your calendar for the afternoon, we've got a grocery run to make!"

So I agree with you, Tam. Learning something new, even if it is useless knowledge, is very enjoyable, and even better is imparting that knowledge to someone who didn't know it before.

Matt G said...

Way back in '91, I was tasked by Dr. Shepley of the University Of Texas with writing a paper about the new Superconducting Super Collider that they were in the process of building in Waxahachie, TX. This was to make that bity little CERN collider look like a wedding ring to a horse track; the Texas collider was 54 miles long. Dr. Shepley pushed hard for the SSC and awareness of it in his physics students. He even got Nobel Prize Laureate Steven Weinberg to come lecture to our class on it. I thought that I should write a pretty impressive paper.

It turned out that, once I got deep into the topic that I was writing about-- friction issues with circulating liquid helium through the pipes used to cool the SSC to make it work-- I discovered that I didn't have the engineering chops to do it. So I requested an extension, and got one, turning in a paper that summer on the exciting Higgs Boson Particle that we hoped to discover with this amazing new machine. I got a B.

The SSC was sadly discontinued in 1993, and the tunnel is used for storage and such.

I think about that Higgs particle, and what we might be able to do if we understand it. I believe that it was constitutional to try to find it. I wish that we had, and made use of the knowlege. I'd like to see the stars, or at least the moons of Mars.

Anonymous said...

Og, a study showing that acquiring new knowledge causes older knowledge to be lost. I shudder to think how to design such a study, so I continue to believe that you can learn all you want without affecting what you forget.

Pakkinpoppa said...

Ignorance is usually deliberate.
I've been saying that for years.

That being said, being minus TV and most of the books I read the boy are cardboard (he's gotten some with actual pages being 3 now) I don't always get to learn as much as I did before him. But I don't avoid knowledge if I can help it.

og said...

"without affecting what you forget."

What dids I frget?

Anonymous said...

There *used* to be a study about the brain's knowledge capacity, but the filing cabinet where they stored it before the internet filled up, so they had to toss it.

Point being: you shouldn't learn every detail, but build an index so that you know where to find it when you need it. . .

Kristopher said...

Errmmm ... you are getting streams of bosons bounced off of you by the light fixtures ... and everything else in the room.

Unless you live in a zero degree Kelvin environment in the absolute dark.

In fact, there is this huge freaking boson emitter in the sky once a day.

Paul said...

Back when TV first came to South Africa the weather report was always the same. "For the highveldt, partly cloudy and mild with isolated thunder-showers".

Always got a kick out of that as a little kid. I always wanted the weather guy to say something different, but he never did.

Drang said...

As for "New knowledge chasing out old", like some sort of weird parody of Gresham's Law, i think it has more to do with how often you use the knowledge. I occasionally try to remember how to say something in Korean for example, and fail, since it's been well over a decade since I sis more than say hello or order dinner in Korean. Similarly, I took what the Detroit school system called "pre-calculus", AKA trigonometry, my senior year of high school. Waited until my junior year of college to fulfill my math requirement, and signed up for "college algebra", AKA trigonometry. It has been all of three years since I'd used math to do more than fill out a tax return, and I sweated bullets eking out a C- in that class. It wasn't all the new stuff I'd learned making forget other stuff, it was failure to practice a skill causing it to atrophy.


Ed Skinner said...

You should give Phoenix Arizona a try in the summer if you want varied weather. Some days we have fierce heat. Other days it is intense while on still others, we call it really, really hot. Then, there are the damn hot ones, the why the hell am I still living here days and, of course, the I'm not going out into that heat days. Some weeks, we can get a series of seven days where these descriptions are applied, each to a different day, and never in the same sequence. I tell ya, the unpredictability is enough to almost make you wish it would rain. ("Almost," I said.)

DirtCrashr said...

Be thankful that you CAN and DO forget things. Some say it's just a storage issue, it's still there but in a lower drawer of the memory-mine.
BUT I have NO idea where I picked up the "Tyler Durden" byte that beamed into my dream of Google the other night. Maybe they are sending signals and Blogger is the refactor.

Robb Allen said...

The idea that new knowledge crowds out old is likely pure poppycock. Can anyone cite a study?

How about billions of anecdotes instead? I.e. people constantly forget how to do things they've not done in ages.

It's probably more akin to atrophy. I got A's in science classes in high school, and was in top of my class during my electronics training in the military (8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 6 months. The same education most people get after 4 years of college). In my A-school, I only missed 2 questions total.

Now, ask me how many covalent shells are on a copper atom and I'll give you my best deer in the headlight look. I kept my workbooks and every here and there I open them up and it looks like my handwriting, but I'll be damned what all the squiggly lines mean.

In order to maintain that knowledge, you have to continuously use it. In order to learn something, I must expend time to do so and then continuously practice. Economics indicate I don't have enough time to do this for everything I'm interested in.

The Interweb Tubes, however, can help. A good base understanding of something can get you a long way. Just knowing how to look up something on Bing doesn't mean you're smart, you have to know how to apply it. I'm a computer programmer, and I couldn't tell you half the keywords in the languages I know. But within minutes, I can find the right code blocks to do what I need it to do without bogging myself down in the details that require energy and time to maintain.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I both need to parse through encoded HTML to reconstitute allowable tags and then go do my guitar lessons since I forgot how to play after putting them up for 15 years.

OrangeNeck said...

It's like that M*A*S*H episode where Klinger's foray into the camp's newspaper adventures had him reporting the weather: "chance of clouds today, or not."

Jeffro said...

And she replied "Why would I want to know that?"

Failed to grok that here, too.

I can't see how people who live places where they have nothing but climate rather than proper weather can stand it.

All part of the charm. When it does finally change, because it does, one appreciates it.

Anonymous said...

At the uni I went to and later taught at, all the students who asked "Do we have to know that for the exam?" ended up becoming surgeons of one type or other, especially neurosurgeons and gynecologists.


precision said...

part of learning has to do with IQ. Part of retaining learning has to do with desire and IQ, not to mention practice.

We don't forget longterm skills so much as we become less skilled. The further away from a gross motor function something is, the more often it needs to be exercised to remain accessible.

Accessibility is the true issue. Lower IQ reduces depth of learning ,depth of retention and frequency needed for exercise. reducing any of those reduces longterm accessibility. Relearning is always done faster than learning, mainly because you are only reaccessing not actually learning over.

bob r said...

xkcd Ten Thousand