Science & Society

Science and Society and how they get along.

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Location: Santa Barbara, California, United States

I'm a physicist and science consultant specialized in optics, lasers and optical engineering. This blog, StarkFX, looks at what applications physics is finding today. Or, if you are looking at my StarkEffects blog, it displays my views about and interest in the interface between society and science.

Sunday, April 29, 2007


One of the most important things I learned during my years of teaching physics was how to find the misconceptions that are holding a student back. Every time you try to teach a new physics concept you'll find that the new concept clashes with a previously held belief system. The trick is to ask enough questions of the student to discover just what the concepts are that the student is holding onto which prevent them from understanding the new concept. It is absolutely essential to get down to the basic world view that isn't working to explain reality as well as the new concept does. Without that step, the student will never internalize the new material.

As a society we do the same thing, especially regarding science. For example, scientists know full well that we are not the end-all of species evolution. We are not the perfect creature that evolution was meant to create. Scientists know we are evolving even now and that evolution and natural selection do not have a plan, they are simply a process with no end and no predetermined set of results. Unfortunately, as a society we still hold these ideas which come out in our literature, our movies and our public discussions. These misconceptions prevent us from fully comprehending the scientific theories that do work.

Evolution and natural selection are not the only areas where we hold collective misconceptions. Some other areas are basic mathematics where we don't fully accept Gödel's incompleteness theorems and we still pursue Hilbert's program. We don't comprehend relativity because we don't feel the need to think that way in our day to day activities. We don't understand the basic concept that even hydrogen as a fuel still leaves us with the need for energy coming from somewhere.

We will have to overcome the lazy tendency to assume we know what we need to know and start putting forth the energy to learn and overcome our misconceptions. Our progress depends on it.

enTroy Stark