Monday, July 17, 2006

Auto Mechanics to Quantum Mechanics

Some former students have been asking for this, so here goes...

I have a schtick that I do whenever I teach. I start each class by inviting questions, any question, auto mechanics to quantum mechanics, ask me anything. I get an incredibly wide range of questions: everything from requests for advice on personal issues to current event questions, lots on science and history, where did x come from type stuff, and many attempts to out smart ass the master. Often, I know the answer. Sometimes I don't, but usually I am able to find the answer and bring it to the next class. These are the ones I love because behind every seemingly simple questions are connections in places you never would have expected.

Ron Zucker brought up Bruce Goldberg, an old prof of ours and it is actually from one day in Bruce's intro to philosophy class that I got the idea for this. It was late in the semester and it was a lecture hall full of about 200 students -- virtually none of whom had said a word since day one. Goldberg looked up and did something he never had never in the class before, he asked for questions. When none came after a long silence, he remarked, "Someone, say something. Go ahead, belch, make guttural sounds, I'll make something out of it." A frat boy in the back row, sensing a challenge asked who won the 1926 World Series. Without missing a beat, Goldberg says, "The St. Louis Cardinals over the Yankees in seven games. In fact, in the seventh game..." and he outlines the ninth inning and how the Yankees almost came back to win, but didn't. Amazing as that was, without a breath, he finishes the story and says, "which illustrates clearly what we were saying about determinism..." and ties it seamlessly back into the philosophical discussion he was having with himself minutes before. It was masterful. So, when I started in the classroom, I figured I'd give it a try and from there, it's history...or science, or whatever else get asked.

So, any questions?

UPDATE: Gosh, what amazing questions. Rather than try in the comment thread to deal with such great issues, I'll post about them over the next week or so and address as many as I can. That, however, should not keep you from responding to them yourselves. Thanks everyone.