Semantics and dictionaries

In the USA the conversation about socialism is getting front attention. Many articles are being written related to the political environment where ideas about the future are exchanged. It appears that in some cases people are thorned between believing in capitalism as a political philosophical ideology or, on the other hand, socialism.

But there is a big problem with this dichotomy. Capitalism and socialism are not on the same plane. They are not exclusive.

Most English dictionaries in the USA confuse the terms socialism and communism, for example, The Newbury House dictionary has for socialism “a political belief or philosophy that says the government should own and run factories, hospitals, schools, etc. with the people sharing in work and product: Under socialism, the government pays for most education.” and for communism it has: “a political system in which all business and other property are owned by the government for the use and good of the people: Communism took hold in Europe and Asia after World War II.”

As it is clear from the previous dictionary entries the definition of socialism and communism is the same. So why are there two words if they mean the same thing?

The answer, of course, is that this dictionary definition is not accurate. One thing is the economic system called communism where there is no private property. And, another thing is the social system where the policies established by a democratically elected government are to benefit society in general. The wellbeing of the individual is intrinsically dependent on the wellbeing of society. Thus education benefits the individual as it benefits society in general. That is why in the USA a public system of education, paid by its citizens guarantees free schooling up to grade 12. A socialist idea.

Free roads, highways, freeways, are other examples of how citizens come together to build infrastructure for the general benefit. Dams, levees, ports, that are managed by the Coast Guard and The US Army Corps of Engineers are more good examples of socialist endeavors.

The question today is: Is health care a national interest?


Philosophy of change

Why do we need to study philosophy?

One might love learning, or one might see the practicality of learning. Either way learning philosophy is something we cannot avoid or should not avoid. The good news is that there are many ways of getting into it, from a very introductory to a more sophisticated. Let’s start with a fun introductory way. Let’s talk about “The Hobbit and Philosophy” edited by G. Basham and E. Bronson.

You can learn more about the book following this link:

Basham and Bronson start by quoting Aeschylus: “Men shall learn wisdom, by affliction schooled” and later quoting Confucius: “The gem cannot be polished without friction, not man without trials.”

These quotes made me think about what is going on around the world and particularly in the USA. It looks like there is a little friction and grinding as one is needed to polish a gem. The gem metaphor for me is humanity. We need to go through these changes, so we can mature from an individualistic selfish and childish society to a grown-up tantrum free, peaceful society.

The changes we are witnessing now make people anxious with a feeling of vulnerability but they are good and necessary for the maturation process. It is not an idiotic ignorant posture as so called pragmatics would say, it is a logical posture based on historical data. We have become better and better over the years, it is (called the better angels of our soul) what keep us going and struggling.

J. R. R. Tolkien in his “The Hobbit” makes it clear that in order to have a better life we must go through a transformation. One that brings us out of our comfort zone, the ordinary and forces us to see other perspectives. By doing so we learn more about ourselves thus becoming wiser and happier.

After all what is the meaning of life if it is not the pursuit of happiness?

Semantics, irrational and imaginary.

I are irrational numbers truly irrational? or imaginary numbers truly imaginary ?

Truth and Reality

What can we do to know what the truth is?

How can we know what reality is?

Scientist have a way to learn about the world, we called it “The Scientific Method” and is the process by which we have studied natural phenomena and discover many of the things we know about the universe, including of course about our world. What is important to realize is that it appears that the more we know, the more questions we can ask. A kind of paradox: The More We Know The Less We Know. The More We Know The More We Want To Know.

Part of this process is the gathering of data. Data that has to be fitted to models, hypothesis  that conform a theory with laws, principles, and a-priori assumptions. Similarly social sciences, not being exact sciences, try to model human behavior in order to understand social phenomena and predict how societies will be.

Analyzing data through statistical methods is not easy in either case, in hard sciences or social sciences. On top of these difficulties we have semantics, as the meaning of words is many times obscured, confused, or out right spun out of meaning. Take for example “economics” as the study of the production and distribution of goods and services. (As I heard today a new friend William Denis to define it for me.) Directly economics has nothing to do with the welfare of a society as it is a secondary consequence of the production and distribution of goods and services, but, (there is always a but) why would goods and services be produced and distributed in the first place if there was no societal impact, mainly for some benefit of the individuals in that system. The name “goods” semantically will indicate that it is for a benefit. It will not be “goods” if it was not, for sure.

Likewise the idea of common sense, is one of those myths about truth, and reality. Books about “common sense” or “Against Common Sense” (Kevin Kumashido) have been written to articulate what the authors ideas are about the rights or wrongs in our society, claiming that what they believe is backed by common sense. This is the worst way of arguing about ideas as most common sense ideas in the past have been wrong. Reading history we can find innumerable examples of common sense being wrong, like the earth is flat or the earth is at the center of the solar system.

I will conclude that one way that will not reveal what the reality is, is common sense. So let’s turn around a find other means of finding the truth about reality. One way of course is what was mentioned at the beginning, it is the scientific method with Falsifiability as introduced by Karl Popper in his “Critical Rationalism” to analyze the scientific process. 

Priming and framing

We go through life unaware that we have been primed and framed.

Leaders like teachers prime and frame all the time. We live in a time that has sophisticated mean for control, education, and development of ideas. We have become aware of the differences between processes and objects. Particularly in education where the student learning objectives and outcomes can be separated from the learning that someone gets from the process.

Thinking about this, I have been intentional about having in every class activities directed to priming the learning of my students, intentional about developing activities to frame the content concept of that lesson. Finally being intentional on having means for the evaluation and assessment for each learning outcome. Being intentional about it is the first step (an indispensable first step) in achieving the course objectives.

Examples of these activities are playing games, telling jokes, stories, anecdotes and music. In each case the purpose is to set the right mood so students have the attitude needed to face challenging concepts. Attitude is everything when learning. As I constantly remind my students: “If you are not having fun… you are not learning!”

Stronger Than Steel

Steel is the symbol and embodiment of strength. An alloy made by adding carbon to iron and some other metallic elements in minor percentage. The strength of steel doesn’t come from the strength of iron or the strength of carbon, it come from the binding strength between iron and carbon; it is a great example of how the whole is more than the sum of its parts. Those elements that like titanium can be added as trace will also transform the alloy into a substance with properties that non of the individual elements have. These are the powers of unity.

and Watching this video from NOVA

Today we are experiencing in our society dislodging forces that are working against unity, politically, socially, economically, and pedagogically. In this post I want to address the pedagogical implications of unity as they relate to the other aspects of our lives.

Over the years teaching has been designed in a way that subjects are taught individually and separate from other subjects, even though this seems impossible when dealing with areas like math and physical science. It sounds impossible to separate math from physical sciences but it is not about the use of it, it is about the learning of it. It is normally understood that when some one is using math, say algebra, in physical science the student is supposed to know the principles of algebra and not learn them as s/he learns the principles of the physical science. The problem is that when students learn something in a class, they find it extremely difficult to cross the line to another course and apply those ideas from the other class. This semester (Spring 2018) I am teaching an introductory college chemistry course, and finding out that basic mathematical operations have to be taught together with the chemical principles. Things like equality operations, where multiplying both sides of an equation by a constant doesn’t change the equation. Concepts that students learned while in middle school and are supposed to understand but when it comes to the time of applying these concepts have difficulty.

There is another aspect about the separation of learning about a topic and learning about how to deal with problems related to that topic. Let me explain.

The basic idea in stoichiometry is that there is conservation of mass in a chemical reaction, the amount (in mass) of reactants must be conserved and therefore the amount (in mass) of the products should be the same. If, for example, there are 5 carbon atoms as reactants yielding products, there must be 5 carbon atoms in the products!

Similarly with our society where the union has different properties than the individuals that conform it. A situation where the total is greater than the sum of its parts. In science we have system theory where one can analyze the behavior and characteristics of the whole independent of the characteristics of the individual components without forgetting there are individual components with their own characteristics and properties. The main problem we have in our dualistic thinking is that you can study them separately without having in mind both. Having both in mind is critical for the solution of the problems now affecting society.


Dear Democrats: We Really Need to Up Our Game

John Hawthorne clearly signals a way forward in this post. Enjoy!

Source: Dear Democrats: We Really Need to Up Our Game