Friday, March 31

Education

In tuesday's post I might have given the impression that I think education is a redundant waist of time. I would like to prove the opposite in this post, while combining the subject with something I wrote about in my last post - namely, the 'unstructured' mind of children. In Forbes Magazine, Malcolm Forbes once wrote; "Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one." I think we can only see the world in a truly objective, unprejudiced way in the first years of our lives. When we actively start to learn, our view becomes extremely subjective, and we spent the rest of our lives trying to get everything back into perspective again. At least I hope most of us do.

I'm not afraid to admit that I have my own
preconceived opinions and thoughts - it's impossible to banish prejudice completely, as it is impossible to ignore all tendentious messages from one's environment. I can't honestly say that the decisions I've made - and will make in the future - are based on pure facts only, and are never seriously influenced by coloured perceptions. But I can tell you that I will try to question my reasoning when a decision seems to be affected by such premises. Allowing it will only lead to worse prejudgement. In such cases, the mind might best be treated like a child - as far as this is possible with only one mind available. But that's another story.

'Replacing an empty mind with an open one', as said by Forbes, might be one of the most important objectives of education - although it is underestimated.
However, there are many other views and arguments that emphasize the importance of education, mentioned by both great minds in the past and more recent thinkers. Plato saw education as the versatile key to creating and sustaining his Republic. According to Aristotle, three important forces should be cultivated in education; nature, habit and reason. To him, one of the primary purposes of education was the creation of good citizens. In the Romantic period, the individual gradually became more important than society. The Franco-Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau held that education is a natural process, driven by the instigation of satisfying one's curiosity - a process of great importance, shaping virtuous adults in general. American philosopher John Dewey was of the opinion that education shouldn't be the teaching of mere dead fact; skills and knowledge which students learned should be fully integrated in their lifes. Again it is underlined that education should primarily focus on developing the individual - as opposed to merely develop his knowledge. This seems to be the most important aspect of education, in everyone's interest; to prepare for a valuable life in society. It's a shame that education nowadays seems to be aimed at preparation for the labor market only.

More on this subject at Philosophy of education, a Wikipedia article.

Wednesday, March 29

Freedom


Yesterday’s post was about american influences, amongst other things. When I was a kid, I had certain ideas about immigrating to the States. I think I picked up some elements from a mob movie - the Godfather perhaps? First, you arrive by boat on a small island in front of New York. Quite realistic so far. Then you have to perform two tasks to show that you're 'worthy' of becoming an american citizen; singing the national anthem by heart (or Amazing Grace), and name every president in the history of the United States by heart - in the right order. I wasn't at all sure I would ever immigrate to the States, but until I had decided on that matter it seemed useful to start learning. Let's see; George Washington... That's as far as I got - I guess my attention span wasn't very large back then. I'm glad the immigration procedure I described is far from correct. It would have been awfully cruel.

Interesting how a child's mind works, though. It picks up lots of information, but it hasn't learned to make all the right connections yet. And there's no framework. No filing cabinet with handy tabs on alphabetical order, just a huge mess on the floor. That sounds familiar -well, I guess it shows that on some levels I'll always be a kid; mess is simply a way to express my inner childhood. Just kidding. I'd like to conclude this post with a quote of the 3rd president of the United States. They are true words if you speak of nations, but it might work differently for the human mind. It seems we are only truly free of mind when we are still ignorant.

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. - Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, March 28

Babel fishes


"We don't need no education, we don't need no thought control."
- Another brick in the wall, part II (Pink Floyd)

The Netherlands (were I live) is just a small country. It's slightly less than twice the size of New Jersey, and has a population of only 16 million people. It won't surprise you to hear that foreign influences are quite important here; in business, politics and daily life. Especially since the Netherlands is a member of the European Union too. The biggest influences on daily life are coming from english speaking countries, the States in particular. And mainly from the media. I think it's time for a little survey.

  • One week of movies on dutch channels: English is the main language spoken in 95% of all movies; 33 where from the United States, 2 from Great Brittain and 2 from Canada. The remaining 2 movies were from France and Romania. Surprisingly enough I couldn't find any dutch movies, although the Netherlands does have a film industry.
  • A morning of listening to a commercial radio station (6:00 - 12:00): In these six hours, 3 dutch songs couldn't measure up to 78 english songs (of which 3 were sung by dutch artists).
  • Series on a saturday night: All series were of british and american origin (16 in total) except for one dutch series I had never heard of before. Not very convincing.

Although the amount of influence from foreign countries is considerable, I don't think it's much of a problem. On the contrary, I wouldn't have been able to write these posts if it weren't for the constant stream of english language I've been exposed to all these years. On dutch television, english movies and programs are subtitled - instead of being dubbed. Subtitles are not as irritating as they seem, once you're used to it. It's not surprising that most dutch children learn english very easily, because television teaches them - every day. You gradually read less dutch and understand more english. It seems paradoxical, but if there's one place dutch children don't learn alot of english, it's at school.

About the image: Pieter Bruegel the Elder's Tower of Babel, a beautiful and very detailed painting. According to the Bible, the Tower of Babel was a tower built by a united humanity to reach the heavens. To prevent this project from succeeding, God confused their languages so that each spoke a different language. As a result, they could no longer communicate with one another and the work stopped. The builders were then scattered to different parts of Earth. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

Monday, March 27

Food for thought


This week's biology lessons: Food and digestion. The intestine is the part of the body responsible for extracting nutrition from food. In this time of exams, I wonder how much my brains can absorb. Knowledge, that is, although I'll probably be needing some nutrients for learning too. I reckon I can remember alot of information - much more than I originally thought - but knowing how to learn is absolutely essential. My favorite method is making excerpts. While doing it, it seems like there's no end to it. But if I'll persevere I'm sure it's going to be a huge success. When I just read the text, I feel like I've forgot 5 seconds later. When I make excerpts, I 'process' the information in my head, forcing myself to understand and remember. It's like the essence of the subject matter leaves a mark in my brains. Furthermore, all that I've written functions as a kind of proof to myself, proof that I have learned and understood. It really boosts my self-confidence, and I do need confidence at times like these, lots of it. I think I need to absorb some energy in general. Which brings us back to food: Food for thought.

Saturday, March 25

Lost

I don't visit alot of other weblogs, because I can't seem to find the ones that can really interest me - and inspire me. However, I intend to visit a few blogs regularly. However from Chelly (Canada) is one of those blogs, Her posts from yesterday and today were quite inspiring, so today I will take the liberty of 'stealing' her subject.

It's a theme I have wrote about before (take a look here and here) but I keep thinking about it 'every now and then'; memories and how they tend to be forgotten. Lost, one could say. Often, the bond between people gradually fades, just like the memories they leave behind. An old picture tarnishing in the sunlight. And it's such a sad thing when I think about it, all these friendships waisted, all these faces I don't see anymore. I meet them only occasionally, realizing that I don't really know that person standing in front of me. I recognize the outside but fail to understand the inside. It takes only a few months - a year perhaps - for best friends to become strangers to one another. My best friend from primary school lives just a few blocks away. She went to another high school, six years ago, and we never really spoke again. This year her dad died - very unexpectedly - and I felt the need to comfort her. To say something, do something. But then I realized I couldn't. And more importantly; it wasn't up to me anymore.

Friday, March 24

Reaching


A few days ago I heard someone on television say that there are three requirements to happiness;

  • Something to do
  • Someone to love
  • Something to look forward to

If you have 2 of these 3 requirements, you are (or should be) a happy person. Interesting thought, and I guess it's partially true. These are important things in people's lives. On the other hand, if you're depressed or have recently lost someone you loved, you won't consider yourself happy - while you could still meet the requirements (maybe even all three of them, although the last one might be very tricky).

Loesje - an international free speech organisation started in the Netherlands - publishes posters with sentences like "Sparks tend to jump over" and "If everyone is deaf - We'll just sing in sign language" , as well as many messages with social and political themes. On happiness, Loesje wrote this (I've translated); "Happiness is a direction - not a point". It's one of my favorite Loesje statements, because of several reasons. First of all I understand it, which is not always the case. Another reason is the fact that it's quite short, so I can remember it easily. But most of all I think it's very true. We have a dutch proverb, 'de spijker op zijn kop slaan'... (grabs dictionary)... To hit the nail on the head, yes, that's the one. A literal translation, actually. What I wanted to say is; some Loesje messages really hit the nail on the head, like this one. You can't catch happiness, you can only reach for it.

Visit Loesje at http://www.loesje.org/

Thursday, March 23

That's the spirit

"If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow."

I certainly hope this Chinese proverb is true. I often feel the need to change, but I rarely ever notice I have changed. I did yesterday, however. After a aggravating disagreement with my friend, I walked out and went home. I expected to be bothered by the incident all day, but - as we say in dutch - 'nothing was less true'. After ten tiring minutes of being irritated and grumpy, I noticed feeling better. At the end of the day, I was more cheerful than I had been in quite some time. Ever this morning I felt fine, being quite polite while refusing to take any of the blame. After a decade of being able to stand conflict nor criticism, I seem to have finally learned something. It was about time.

Wednesday, March 22

Stardust


I just remembered something else. Every atom - except for hydrogen and helium atoms - originated in a star. Michael Loewenstein and Amy Fredericks on one of numerous NASA websites:

"The elements themselves (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) were synthesized, cooked up as it were, in the nuclear furnaces that are the deep interior of stars. These elements are then released at the end of a star's lifetime when it explodes, and subsequently incorporated into a new generation of stars - and into the planets that form around the stars, and the lifeforms that originate on the planets."

They also quote Joni Mitchell's song Woodstock: "We are stardust, we are golden. We are billion year old carbon." I'm not sure it fits in a lyric, but at least it's true. I've always liked organic chemistry... Well, as opposed to redox reactions and acid/base systems, so that doesn't mean much.

Tuesday, March 21

A short history of our atoms


re·li·gion
1. a) Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. b) A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
2. The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3. A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4. A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.


Although there are some differences, maybe we could look upon science as if it were a religion. Maybe a better word would be belief. According to Dictionary.com, belief is "the mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another". It can also be described as "a mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something." According to science, we should obey the Forces of Nature. Thousands of scientists are both prophets and theologians, following the Commandments; discover, research, verify. Be curious! I feel science ís a belief. A belief in scientists and their proof, but more important, a belief in all we conclude from our surroundings.

A religion is often accompanied by stories, to make us understand how we should believe, and what we believe in. Science has its own tales. All of them can be found in nature, it just takes an effort to discover and understand them. One of my favorite stories is described by Bill Bryson in his book A short history of nearly everything. It makes me feel small and temporary, but to my surprise that's not a bad feeling. It's a story about atoms, the tiny building blocks we're all made from. Every atom in your body is making an incredible journey through time and space. They've all been part of several stars and millions of other organisms before finally coming together in you - not for long though. A billion of your atoms once belonged to Shakespeare. Another billion to Genghis Khan, Buddha, Alexander the Great, you name them. If they lived a few decades ago, you've inherited millions of their atoms. I guess we're exchanging atoms every second, taking a part from everyone we meet while giving them something back.

When I die, I might not live on in Heaven, Walhalla or the Summerlands. But my atoms will find new purpose and new life. In a few centuries, a part of 'me' will be in every living creature and every place on Earth. To me, it's an inspiring and comforting thought. That's what religion should be like, shouldn't it?

Monday, March 20

Figments of imagination


Yesterday I started to read a book called Hersenschimmen from the dutch author Bernlef. Today, I finished it. It struck me deep. A man and his wife (born and raised in Alkmaar, my home town) move to the States and live there for many years. The couple gets older and the husband starts to forget things. Later on, he sometimes thinks his father and grandfather are still alive, or WWII is still going on. He doesn't see the difference between night and day anymore. He doesn't recognize people. Hersenschimmen portraits the progressive decline of one man's brain functions due to dementia. The story shocked me, because it seems to give you a realistic picture of what it is really like -from the inside. Frightning and upsetting.

Being unable to recall certain memories is one of the symptoms of diseases causing dementia. But how vague and temporary is my own memory... I can't remember what I thought this morning, or all the things I've done yesterday. I don't know what I had for dinner a week ago. When you think about it, time seems to pass by so quickly. Today moves slowly, but yesterday is but an hour. For instance, I can't remember 1992, when I was five. Even if I knew the dates of some scarce distant memories I doubt that I can reconstruct much of that entire year. I can't remember november 5th 1992. I have no clue what happened that entire month, or the next. What did I do, how did I feel? I know it doesn't matter and forgetting entire years is quite common, but isn't it frighting when you think about it? I forgot 99,99% of my life. It's like I've only taken some short notes; a ballet lesson, a birthday, a holiday. I even keep forgetting the notebook.

Where is my life? How do I even know for sure it was there once, streaming through every second of time? The whirling river keeps on flowing into the future, but only few pebbles reach the ocean.


Sunday, March 19

Wild immortals


On my night table lies a small book. The cover features lots of golden curls and elegant letters write the title; Angelicus. The book features quotations on angels. I do not know if God, heaven or angels exist, and therefore I do not dare to believe in them, but neither can I believe the opposite. The existence of angels would be astonishing and miraculous, but so are quarks and super nova's. The fact that something seems unlikely doesn't neccesarily mean that it doesn't exist.

Angels have a symbolic meaning too. They can represent hope, dreams or thoughts, or be symbols of freedom and harmony. Universal beauty, unconditional love, immortal passion, you name it. Even silence. You know how they say an angel passes by when a meaningful silence occurs? To me, the booklet itself represents something too; I don't have to choose between believing and rejecting. These are some of my favorite quotes.

I am a wild immortal, painting, writing, traveling between heaven and earth... - Shen Chou, Chinese painter of the Ming dynasty. He walks along the milky way, he collects the stars. - Hottentot people. We hail from the dawn of creation, ageless, deathless, untied to earth... - Early Irish text. Such harmony is in immortal souls. - William Shakespeare, English poet and playwright. And from the mist... Gigantic figures darkly glide... - Amelia Opie, English author. So hard it is to trace an angel's flight, since we are wingless. We can only praise and glory in the momentary sight. - Michelangelo, Renaissance artist and poet. At the round earth's imagin'd corners, blow your trumpets, angels, and arise. - William Shakespeare.

Thursday, March 16

Human reflection


Last week's post was about memories of people that seem to be changing. But people themselves change too, of course. Experiences and social contacts have a large impact on lifes and people's behaviour. I once read that we unconsciously copy aspects of the behaviour of people we interact with, like body language. I'm not sure why, but it seems to me that it gives a signal. "I'm listning, I understand what you're saying." I do believe that these interactions -all communication- changes you, maybe even the deepest core of your being. We change ourselves because we can't prevent others from changing us. The way we think, the way we act. I wouldn't call it growth (it can be a decline too, with or without terrible consequences) but it certainly affects us deeply. The trick is to find as much good influences, and to filter out the bad ones - or at least realise that you don't want to be affected in a negative way. Although that's hard, I reckon, maybe even impossible. Partially because of something called subjectivity. Yes, there it is again. Comforting friend yet sneaky enemy. I'll never know if it's painting in subtile colours or is blinding me completely...

About the image Lady Justice or Themis, titan of law and order. She's sometimes depicted wearing a blindfold, to show her absolute objectivity. Interesting, because you might also say she's blinded by subjectivity.

Thursday, March 9

Out of the picture


I think remembering people is very difficult - remembering them the way they are or were. It seems that the faces of people I haven't seen in a while, start to get more blurry every day. Or they start to look like someone else. I guess this is because we make unconscious links between people's appearance to remember more easily. Sometimes I can remember faces quite well, but it's like they're fragmented, like this Picasso painting. I know how their mouth looks, their nose, their hair... But I can't form the entire picture in my head anymore. Some years ago I watched a Discovery documentary on neurological disorders. One man couldn't recognize faces: His eyesight was working great but his brains couldn't form a recognizable face out of all the pieces (ears, lips etcetera). The part of his brain damaged was the part which specific purpose is to recognize faces. We have a part of our brain for that, isn't that amazing? I wonder if zebras have a part of their brains which only purpose is to recognize the stripes of other zebras.

But it's not just physical appearance that gets all messed up in my -and probably everybody's- head. I think the best example of this is a romance. People in love tend to forget every negative thing about their lover and overestimate the good things. From the outside ánd the inside. Love makes blind.

Monday, March 6

Welcome to Earth


One of my favorite programs is Google Earth. It's not only very usefull (I locate all my sandsamples with GE) but there are also some amazing things to be seen on the earth's surface. Some months ago I began to collect pictures of the most beautiful places. One of my newest snapshots shows the so-called Richat structure in Mauritania. It's nicknamed the Sahara Eye. Nobody really knows why it's circular.

But some human activity can also been shown from space. The green circles on the second picture (northern Saudi-Arabia) are actually signs of agriculture; fields with an irrigation system that rides in circles. That's why the fields have this shape. The largest field has a diameter roughly 700 metres. The earth has become a global village, to be discovered in your own home. It has its advantages, I must say :D

Friday, March 3

One spring-thing left


I shoudn't have said it was becoming springtime. Forgot to knock on wood. For the last three days it has been hailing and snowing regularly. In march. But there's one spring-thing left; puppies!

KNGF Geleidehonden is a dutch organisation that trains guide dogs. Wikipedia explains; Guide dog puppies generally leave the breeding facility at about 8-10 weeks of age, where they go to 'puppy raisers' or 'puppy walkers.' These are families that volunteer to give training and basic commands to a potential guide dog, during which the raisers or walkers expose the puppy to as many real-world experiences as possible. This is what we signed up for, and we are currently 7th on the list. This week 8 puppies were born (golden retriever x labrador). It will be the first time anyone in our family actually raises a dog, but according to KNGF that has it’s advantages. A guide dog is trained quite differently that a normal dog, and that might be confusing for someone that has had many dogs. There’s also intensive guiding from KNGF involved, that might be of influence too. When the little bundle of joy arrives here for his one-year stay, I’ll set up a second blog I think...