Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Knowledge and Education

  1. Jun 28, 2007 #1
    When people speak about getting an education, I think of science, maths, logic as the key foundations to an education. However there are many who supposeddly have an education but may not have done any science beyond year 10 and are very ignorant about maths. Should these people be labeled as educated and or knowledgable? If they are than they are certainly missing on some very important and useful knowledge.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2007 #2
    I agree with you, and based on the history I have read of education systems before the 20th century 'everyone goes to college' american money scheme, so did past western societies.

    In medieval universities, a study of liberal arts begins with:

    The Trivium: Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic

    Then the next step is:

    The quadravarium: arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy

    And finally the student would be prepared for courses in philosophy and theology.
  4. Jun 30, 2007 #3


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Yes, they should.

    My grandfather is overeducated, and is one of the most influential experts on German literature (among many other prizes, was awarded the Humboldt prize), and he doesn't know heck about math because he doesn't need it. :smile:

    Oh, come on...
  5. Jun 30, 2007 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    Do you think YOU are educated? How is your classical Greek and Latin? Let's not be provincial.
  6. Jun 30, 2007 #5
    do you, pivoxa15, have a reason (underlying question and/or worry) for thinking about this?

    It's rather pointed toward a direction that you're thinking about (it seems), but not asking directly.
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2007
  7. Jun 30, 2007 #6
    When I think of getting an education I think of learning things one needs to function and thrive with regards to what one wants to do with one's life.

    Do you know how to put in drywall? Can you lay bricks straight?
    If not, do you deserve to live in a house that is more than a hut?

    Do you know how to give yourself a blood transfusion?

    There is too much knowledge in the world currently for anyone to know it all. This is why people specialize and trade skills and write it down in books.

    The other thing is, people have different temperaments and talents, which means not everyone is good at all the same things. This is an advantage to the species.

    People feeling superior about the knowledge they have is exactly what lead Socrates to say: Wisdom is knowing that you know nothing [or close enough to nothing that its indistinguishable]
  8. Jul 1, 2007 #7
    But the thing is with the knowledge of the sciences, maths and logic, one can literally learn anything else with confidence. If one is also willing offcourse. That is my mine point. What makes these subjects stand out is their unbias nature. Humanities subjets are biased. And people only trained in them have a narrower mindset which are all too human. As Nietsze wrote a book called 'Human, all too human'. This phrase is very good to describe humantities subjects. To conclude that people with only humantiites background are uneducated may be going too far as most of you say. But do you see my point? It's not about being arrogant.
  9. Jul 1, 2007 #8


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    I see your point, but it's still far too rigorous.

    Edit: and, are you saying that someone with a good knowledge in math and logic will do better in humanities subjects?
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  10. Jul 1, 2007 #9
    Sorry, I think you are completely wrong.

    I have a humanities education, two degrees in fact, I studied Nietzsche as part of a humanities course, as well as other subjects. I also have an interest in the sciences(but am far from being an expert). And I can hold my own at basic carpentry. The most important thing I think I learned in school was critical thinking, sifting through all kinds of stuff to find the relevant material.

    I know plenty of very smart 'science' types, some of them are quite well rounded and could learn quite a few things, while some others are morons outside their field of expertise.

    You may be confident you could learn anything, and maybe you could, but in my experience people tend to gravitate towards things they are good at and very few people are 'good at everything'.

    Although to be fair I don't really understand what you mean by 'bias'.
  11. Jul 1, 2007 #10
    I think math is horribly boring and have thus avoided it; I can't say this has held me back in studying Philosophy or Social Anthropology - even my formal logic class went very well - I quite enjoyed it, actually :smile:
  12. Jul 1, 2007 #11
    Biased being only capable of thinking from the human experience or a humanistic thought which naturally arises from using human languages like English. It's good when dealing with human affairs but there are lots of other things out there like other animals, inanimate matter. People with scientific training could relate to these far better than a humanities student. But that dosen't mean a scientist cannot relate to humans. A good training in biology and espcially evolution can allow you to relate to people and understand them much better although from a rational point of view. However, that dosen't mean they can intermingle any better with people and usually pretty bad at it no matter how much biology they know.:smile:

    A critical thinking course is useful and reduces the bias somewhat but it still can't look into and analyse many inanimate things rigorously and invoke human subjectivity because it uses human language. I use to think philosophy was good but after completing some third year physics subjects, I have realised how inadequate it is and how much it is to human subjectivity even though it's meant to be a rational subject. Maybe a rational subject compared to other humanitities subjects but highly subjective compared to physics. Although that is not to say it was useless and waste of time. I do not regret taking them. Philosophy of science may be of use to science but I believe scientists themselves should be capable of it and practice it. So science training is still imperical. Note I am not saying all philosophers of science need university science education but defintely need a full high school science education. And so should the rest of the well 'educated' population.

    I use to have a humanities education (with no science beyond year 10 and medium level maths) in high school but decided to change to science especially physics and maths. I also took philosophy in university. I can tell you how much more useful physics and maths has proved to be in thinking about things and have literally been a life changing experience. I feel I can relate to the inanimate objects, animals including humans much better. In the past I remember looking at a bird and not thinking anything about it apart from the fact that it's in my way. I use to scare it away and find it amusing (although I was young back then so I might have done that even with science knowledge). But now when I see one, I stare at it and appreciate its complexity and be amazed. I can remember back in the old days without any science, I would think so irrationally and make decisions I would laugh at today. I use to also think a lot about the concept of time but didn't go anywhere. Now with physics, I have some principles to guide me namely the second law of thermodyamics which suggests that time is an artificial concept defined by humans and that it may not exist but rather things change due to a more fundalmental reason which is the 2nd law. Its manifestion allows us to detect and feel the concept we call time. It is rough and not the full picture but at least its a start in the right direction which someone without knowledge of science would never realise.

    I actually did fairly well in year 12 but even though I had a high score, deep down I felt I didn't know anything. I can recall how amazed I was at my friends who had taken science how knowledgable they were at things. And how I always asked them questions but they never seem to ask me any. Then I decided to join them. The change has been most worthwhile and life changing.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  13. Jul 1, 2007 #12
    Its hard to have 'confidence' in something you DON'T know. If your goal is to have 'confidence' in something---then, have 'confidence' in the things you 'know' for SURE, and 'interest' in those things that you 'don't' until you do have 'confidence' in them. Very few things are in 'black and white' like it seems you 'want' them to be.


    ANYTHING can 'seem' logical--until its pointed out that its not.


    'What' you are 'taught' is supposed to be just the foundations of 'what' you learn.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  14. Jul 1, 2007 #13
    Learning to speak a different language is something that expands understanding. I'm not very good with other languages, but the little exposure I have had to Spanish and French gave me insights into things I hadn't thought of before. Math is also another language... but its not the only one and if its the only one you study in depth, you will definitely have a bias, as you say.

    I'm glad you found your way, but what you describe just goes back to what I was saying about people tending to gravitate to things.... Clearly you belong in science classes. They give you what you need.

    Some people need science in order to understand and interact with the world, it gives them a framework and rules to follow. Others benefit more from a few well chosen social science courses, still others read books, or spend time hiking in the wilderness.

    As to 3rd year physics, I don't doubt it has benefits, but 3rd year is when you get to the good stuff in most areas of study.

    My experience has been different from yours. I find math boring and uninspiring, but when I am curious about something I ask.

    You keep saying how science has changed your life, and even supplied some anecdotes... which is entirely subjective.... and oh so human.
  15. Jul 1, 2007 #14
    Thats the power of science and esecially physics for you. After having done physics, I have more confidence in learning anything even before learning them. But maybe more importantly, not to be afraid or discouraged when I make a mistake or not understand something. That is probably the biggest reason why I feel so confident about learning things now.

    Science has also taught me not to think things are black and white. How have I made things look black and white?
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  16. Jul 1, 2007 #15


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Indeed, science education has an interesting influence on you.
  17. Jul 1, 2007 #16

    MY interpretation of WHAT you are writing, how you are writing (your presentation), what you are asking, ---shows what you're interested in.

    Your 'Polls' are the biggest indicator---they divide (are trying to) opinions into sectors (black and white)--looking for 'right or wrong'.
  18. Jul 1, 2007 #17
    I tend to agree with the overall theme of the thread, but not to the extent that I would label people who don't study the sciences or anything quantitative in nature as uneducated. I just don't think you can get by in life without the analytical thinking that an education in the sciences develops.

    People want you to be able to work with numbers, to use models to analyze problems, and to be able think about the relationships between variables. Everyone runs into numbers in some way, shape, or form (think of all the sayings about "death and taxes"). You need to be able to handle working with numbers at a basic level at the very least.

    And yes, the humanities are important as well. Learning how to use language, argue your points effectively (probably the most important skill gained from philosophy), and think about subjects which aren't packaged up into neat little squares is a very useful skill set. In fact, these skills are fundamental to you being able to gain any education in a quantitative subject in the first place.

    I bet most reasonable people would agree that taking courses from both quantitative and non-quantitative disciplines is very important and that those who avoid one or the other are missing out.

    That's not a product of the subjects so much as it is a product of your habits and attitudes about studying.

    What would really be useful is if studying the sciences gained you quick and easy insights into the humanities, which they don't. If you study physics and suddenly want to learn something like linguistics or anthropology you'll be a novice. It's not like you would suddenly become exempt from having to put in significant study time to understand the subject.
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2007
  19. Jul 2, 2007 #18
    Being confident at studying a subject dosen't mean you are guaranteed to spend less time on it or even succeed intially. It just means you go in there with a good attitude which most of the time is half of the battle done already as the mind is extremely complex.

    However physics gives you more than just a positive attitude and never say die mentality. You get an understanding of the general principles of the universe. And can answer simple questions like 'why the sky is blue' that the best humanities student without any science training cannot answer without the slightest clue.

    For a physics student to learn the pure humanities, they may not be able to apply the physical principles directly so it would take hard work. But they are logical thinkers and good detector of patterns which would help in learning any humanity subject as well. At least there would be less irrational thoughts by someone without any science training but also learning the same humanities subject.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2007
  20. Jul 2, 2007 #19
    Science teaches people that nothing is black and white. But its objectiveness forces the scientist to use tools that are black and white. Maths is an example. It is up to the scientist to not take the results too literally. And give intepretations of the maths.

    My polls are exactly tools to objectify open questions. And then intepret the precise results from the polls. I rather do that then read each person's subjective opinions and guess what they are trying to say. But a combination is the best with these open questions. Although in particle physics say, I think full objectivity with maths without any essays to describe the structure of matter would be best.
  21. Jul 2, 2007 #20
    Maths is very different to say English or Spanish. To draw an analogy I'd label them as differnt species. I naturally will have a bias when forming my opinion. The point is if you properly use maths as a tool to analyse something starting with undisputed postulates than it will give you unbiased conclusions. However do the same with say English and you may not. Your own intepretations and opinions will get into it.

    The thing is science has changed my life so much that it is undisputable, contary to the level of disputableness of humanitites subjects. In this way it is not 'so human'. Maybe 'so godly'. Although this phrase is 'so human'.:smile: The fact that I am posting in the philosophy forum suggests I am giving science a break and be more human.

    I use to find maths boring and uninspiring hence why I didn't do advanced high school maths. But looking back it was also because I didn't understand it nor had good results. I remember that I started to enjoy it in year 12 after putting in some serious work before enjoying it. I admit it was lame and torteous at the time but after this period of unejoyable work, I started to succeed and understood things more. It created a positive snowball effect which by the end of year 12, my dream job was to become a mathematician.

    I can remember another anecdote. In first year uni while doing uni maths but still without any science, there was a spider crawling on the mirror. In the past my reaction would first be freightened than to kill it as quickly as possible full of disgust. But that day, my reaction was different. The first thing I noticed was its symmetrical shape and actually thought that it was quite beautiful. There was no thought of killing it and just appreciated its shape. The fact that it was crawling on the mirror magnified that property. At the time I was shocked at my reaction and realised that it was my maths training that enable me to see this. Today, with science training also I am able to better appreciate spiders and some insights to why there is this symmetry and where it came from (in terms of its ancestory) although very roughly as I don't have good training in biology. I am able to look past the black and white world I use to see with only maths training.
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2007
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook