Thursday, December 26, 2013

iPad's electric ass

"Sensuous" and "sensual" are not interchangeable. Focusing on the sensual will get a teacher fired, and rightfully so.

We're now losing the sensuous as well, and this does not bode well for science.

We can only know the world through our senses. We use our brains to put the uncountable bits of information noted by our billions of cells dedicated to sensing, creating models of what's out there.

We do this for a few good reasons--what's out there may eat us, be eaten, or be loved. What's out there may kill us or protect us. What's out there is what's in us--we are all streaming bits of matter put together temporarily using energy from our God-given sun.

Our ancestors managed to muddle their ways through the muck and mortality, long enough to reproduce over hundreds of millions of years, and here you are.

The piney smell of the tree in our home flares up memories of so many years past, a visceral response with no words needed. The touch of kin warms us up beyond the edges of our fingertips. Shared voices, shared songs sung together flood us with joy. (Tracing the joy to dopamine does not diminish irrational impulse to sing--we do not live for survival alone.)

The iPad has not changed this. Children are not wired differently. We all still live in the same world.

What has changed is how our children perceive the world--a smooth glass touchscreen is misnamed. It responds to tiny changes in electric charge. The sense of touch, as minimal as it is, is just a distraction.

Before long we will skip the touch altogether--and this will be hailed as a breakthrough.

Simply turning a doorknob involves several kinds of touch--we sense where our fingers are relative to the rest of the world, the pressure applied, the cold firmness of the ungiving metal. We use muscle memory buried deep in the cerebellum, memory developed through opening doors thousands of times before.

Or you can simply swipe a screen.

By Steve Paine, CC

Muffling one or more of our senses heightens others--Helen Keller's words explode with sensuousness. The child who so easily gives up touch gets an explosion of light and fury. She lives in a world of immortality, a world that bends to her wishes, a world that defies the limits of the natural world.

We are (mostly) visual creatures, at least publicly.
We trust (mostly) the acts we can define in words.

Still, the animal in us, the us in us, still lives in a wordless but full world of earthy smells, sounds too deep to be heard, of bitter tastes and piercing pain, a world with mortal consequences.

In that world, and only that world, forms the foundations of what we call true in science. All our models, our hypotheses and theories, our symbolic representations of our world require that we use all our senses, that they come to some kind of concordance.

Science is about grasping the frayed edges of what we think we know about what our senses tell us.

I cannot teach photosynthesis to a child who has never smelled a fresh leaf she just crumpled in her hand, only to see it slowly writhe back to some semblance of its former shape. (How can the vital aroma of a still live leaf even be describe?)

Not because shes need to know what leaves smell like, but because she needs to know that leaves exist. Not pictures of leaves, but leaves as leaves, in her hand, in her nose, in her mouth. She needs to feel the different textures, smell the different aromas, of the living and the dead leaves around her.

She needs to know that the natural world exists independent of her limited perceptions. The touchscreen makers will not tell her, because they sell them, and these days, neither will her parents, because they have forgotten (or never knew).

You want your child to learn science?
You want your child to immerse herself in the natural world?
Get your child's head out of iPad's electric ass.

It's really not that complicated.
Been reading Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses--yes, it influenced me. I nicked the Keller reference from her.


Susan Eckert said...

"If you stand right fronting and face to face with a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a scimitar, and you will feel its sweet edge dividing you through your heart and marrow. Be it life or death, we crave only reality."
Henry David Thoreau

When it comes to a leaf and the way it feels, smells, the green color glowing in the sun, the iPad is definitely not reality. It's just pixels.

From what I have read and my own experience, the brain only knows what comes from the physical world. Willingham says "we understand new things in the context of things we already know, and most of what we know is concrete."

So, every year how best can we teach photosynthesis? It seems so logical to ask the students to grow. And they come into class each day and look to see if there is growth. And once they realize that a typical plant needs chlorophyll to grow and that chlorophyll reflects green light, they wonder how the seed can germinate b/c it's not green. And only then can they really understand what a seed is and the roles of photosx and cellular respiration in a plant. But they learned this by holding the seed, looking at the seed, pouring water on the pot and rooting around to see what a germinated seed looks like.

I'm rambling I think. But I agree with you wholeheartedly.

doyle said...

Dear Susan,

It starts, again, with the seed. I have too many sophomores who never planted anything before hitting my classroom.


John Spencer said...

Our kids got roller skates for Christmas. They didn't get anything that beeps or buzzes or lights up (though my son did beg for a box of matches so that he could test what burns and what doesn't burn).

They have fallen more times than I can count.

Nobody falls on an iPad.

doyle said...

Dear John,

True, but my niece stepped on a Mac. =)

And heck, give your kid the matches--what better way to explore the world.

(I'm counting on parents like you to get s through the new Dark Age.)

Sean Nash said...

When I'm all-in on an idea, but with little time to post a real reply, (as in too busy making jewelry with two little girls on the day after Christmas), I tend to grab the nearest concrete connection. In this case, it is this post from 2008. Looks like I tagged you in this one as well. Go figure. Merry Christmas a day late.

Sean Nash said...

Oh yeah... this one:

doyle said...

Dear Sean,

Wow, 5 years ago!

That was a great life-altering post--still resonates.

Love that Steve Dembo was part o the comments.

Small world.

Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Malcolm Chrystal said...

"What's out there is what's in us--we are all streaming bits of matter put together temporarily using energy from our God-given sun."

This line reminds me of this (which I copied from Wikipedia):

BIOPHILIA--> The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984).[1] He defines biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life".[2]

We spend altogether too much time inside in school. I cringe when I recall the times I said no to " Mr Chrystal can we go outside to finish this?"

doyle said...

Dear Malcolm,