Monthly Archives: September 2012

Baby’s first scientific paradigm.

Well, she’s not a baby any more (that role is now filled by Anna-Rose), rather Chloe’s a little girl, aged just a little over 3 now, with an inquisitive mind. She likes trains and planes and science and that’s all rather good by me. Where she gets her taste in jazz from I’ve no idea. Recently, I’ve been reading her See Inside Space (a lift-the-flap book on all things space) to her, and for my own reading, Kuhn’s classic The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. It struck me that here I am giving her her first scientific paradigms: that the universe is composed of discrete matter (atoms, made of subatomic particles, made of quarks & etc.), that stars are “born” and “die”, that nothing can get out of a black hole (I haven’t complicated that picture by introducing Hawking radiation just yet), that galaxies are composed of stars, that we can observe these using devices—telescopes—constructed with other paradigms—EM radiation—in mind. That I’m also teaching her to recognise things: our position in the milky way, what interstellar dust and gas clouds look like, that black holes can be identified by their accretion disks. And I’m astounded at her ability to recognise/recall all of the above quite precisely!

The scary thing is that I could tell her Biblical/other mythological accounts of creation and she’d believe them just as much. She knows about evidence though; I teach her the evidence we have for the big bang, and she’s aware, from the history of theories and knowledge page, featuring famous astronomers & physicists, that scientific knowledge is updated: “Daddy, what did he discover?”. As for the moon being made of rocks (a fact she enjoyed repeated to me today without any precursor discussion on space) vs. cheese, she’s Ok with that because she can see the moon looks more like a big rock. I suspect there’s a connection here to thinking about views on climate change: people get set in both their ways of living as well as their set of paradigms as they age, and it grows harder to counter those. Much easier in children to build up a set of paradigms than to change one “brick” in a paradigm “wall” later. How to wind back the clock / replace a large set of paradigms (world-view)? Perhaps there are some lessons in The Young Atheist’s Handbook by Alom Shaha (next on my reading list).