Sunday, December 1, 2013

NGSS: The catechism of electrons

It's December again.
Last year's post revisited.

Ferry jetty two days ago....

Our culture depends on the myth that everyone can be everywhere, and that your everywhere is the same as mine.

Still, even with our phones and iPods and televisions, everyone of us lives in a tiny, real  piece of the universe, knowable only to us individually, knowable only by the electrons around us.

All electrons that affect us are local--they have to be. They don't travel well, most don't travel particularly far, and our only hope of recognizing something "outside" is if our electrons get dinged, one way or another.

All sensations, all thoughts, all consciousness is ridiculously local.
How do we sense anything?
Electrons get pushed, electrons get pulled.
Most of us remain blisffully unaware of this, and it is killing us.


Electrons in a wire move slowly. Very slowly. If you mark a particular electron and follow it, it will bounce and jiggle and vibrate, but its average velocity flowing through your power cable will be less than a snail's pace. Literally.

The hectic "real" world that scurries us through life does not exist.  It is our creation, and it is hubris to call it real.
A robin's egg, in my garden.
It reflects light with wavelengths of ~500 nanometers.
The ancients said we're living souls, made of dust, made alive by Yahweh's breath.
The moderns say we're organic material, made of atoms, essentially empty space defined by electrons jostling against each other, balls of energy.

Neither story is fully comprehensible, nor complete. Both stories matter. They may even be the same story.

Who has time for stories anymore?
We need facts and truths and certainty and standards, or so those who believe in a global economy tell us. It is easy to believe in the stories of others when you have lost your own.

The Next Generation Science Standards came out last January. The full name of the document is Next Generation Science Standards for Today’s Students and Tomorrow’s Workforce.

Look at its references to electrons, and it's clear that "tomorrow's workforce" has different priorities than tomorrow's physicists or storytellers or musicians or citizens.

The concept of electron has been stripped to words devoid of stories. No mention of J.J. Thomson and his cathode ray tube, no sense of an electron's place in the herenow, not even a pretense of mystery.

"Tomorrow's workforce" (which used to be called children) is fed today's catechism.

Electrons have a story to tell--Princeton University know this! From Ali Yazdani's work.

We need our myths to stay grounded.
We need our myths to remain true.

The ghosts on the edge of the dark sea may be connected to something, but it's not the real world.
We owe it to our children to show them what they will miss if they let other humans far far away control what they ought to "see."

I have yet to meet a child more fascinated by a phone than a frog. Really.

1 comment:

Doug Hill said...

Lovely essay, Michael. Thanks for it.