In recent years, there has been a gradual erosion of student interest in the pure sciences, as well as in great works of literature, due to the influence of cable television, video games, movies , the lack of enlightened teachers and a misplaced emphasis on passing exams, which do not give a student the opportunity to experience the thrill of scientific discovery or the joy of reading great poetry or prose.
I limit my discussion to science in this essay.
Let’s first define science, its purpose and its limits. Science represents the best mental discipline available to man for understanding the laws of the physical universe.
It involves asking questions to understand a particular phenomenon, such as why the sky is blue or why an apple falls to the ground, and coming out with the best possible answer based on logic and experimental observation.
And that answer remains the same, regardless of where the experiment is performed and whoever performs the experiment.
But the whole process starts with curiosity.
It can be mentioned that children also have the same curiosity, when they begin their journey of life; they keep asking questions, some of which even adults cannot answer.
Instead of giving them convincing answers, adults snub children.
What distinguishes the curiosity of the scientist from that of the child is that the questions of the former are more structured and organized.
What characterizes his method is a certain perseverance that does not allow him to forget the question until he has found an answer.
But when it comes to today’s children, it’s us adults who are to blame.
If the child can, by operating a small “remote control”, change several channels of a television in a few minutes, why would he have any interest in knowing how a television works?
No adult has the patience or knowledge to explain how an airplane takes off or lands.
Therefore, visual entertainment like video games and movies involving sex and violence are undesirable and should therefore be avoided.
Children should be encouraged to watch movies, such as The Wizard of Oz, The sound of music and The Lion Kingalthough Charlie Chaplin and Laurel Hardy comedies, and even some funny cartoons like Thomas the train can also be included in the menu.
Older students should be encouraged to watch educational films such as The man who knew infinity of the great Indian mathematician Ramanujan, The Darwin Adventure and The fantastic journey and classics like Cromwell but definitely not anime tv series like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, which not only serve no purpose, but are also undesirable.
Of course, they can be allowed to see good detective films and good comedies.
Children and older students should be encouraged to play with science-based toys that promote creativity and scientific curiosity.
Hundreds of stores that sell such educational toys are scattered across the United States.
There are many such science shops in Britain, most of Europe and Japan as well.
However, I have not yet encountered such a store, which is exclusively devoted to scientific toys in our country.
This reminds me of the issue of science museums, in which toys based on scientific principles are displayed and simple scientific experiments are carried out.
There is a somewhat misconception prevailing among certain sections of the population that science museums are sophisticated institutions dealing with complex concepts, like quantum theory relativity, and black holes and are therefore avoided even by adults with the result that the children who accompany them are deprived of the possibility of visiting them.
On the contrary, as a prominent science writer rightly pointed out, science museums only exploit the simple themes of elementary science such as shadow reflection, light, refraction, sound resonance and magnetic forces. .
According to him, the opinion of many people that in the age of high technology, the visitor to science museums is old-fashioned and that museums are only for children, is also incorrect.
They would naturally be surprised that some of the so-called children who come to “play” in science museums are distinguished scientists, including Nobel laureates.
In fact, scientists visit these museums not only to suggest new ideas, but also to get inspiration from the exhibits that are already on display there.
A scientist from a prestigious university spent an entire month in one of these famous museums in the United States.
He built, among other things, a small color table, which functioned as an experimental laboratory to study the reflection, absorption and transmission of light, and a 3D shadow sculpture which uses red and green lights to producing the illusion of depth on a flat screen: and a small bouncing steel ball that begins to bounce high then lower, but with increasing frequency with each bounce, slamming on the table in an audible example of exponential decay.
Another famous scientist once spoke about resonance at the museum and ended up making a cyclotron out of a giant pendulum, showing how a series of successive small pushes in exactly the right place could generate large amounts of energy.
A visit to such a museum would instill in children and older students a healthy curiosity about scientific principles and a desire to pursue a career in science.
One of the students might one day turn out to be another Faraday, or Edison.
Even “theme parks” can be educational. For example, there is a “merry-go-round” in Disneyland, USA, in which a three-dimensional black beard or a ghost sits next to you. You can see them, but when you reach out to touch it turns out to be a simple holographic illusion.
This stimulates the curiosity of the child, who is delighted.
This brings me to the next point. What happened to all the quiz programs we had back in school days?
Being part of your university team, answering simple questions in science and literature and winning a small trophy, was a great source of pride.
We still have quiz programs, but of the “wrong kind”, e.g. movies, politics etcin which the reward for victory is one crore of rupees, which defeats the purpose.
The discussions in the parties linger on the political situation of the country or the last released films.
What happened to all those friendly, scientific puzzles that everyone at a party in someone’s living room was trying to figure out solutions to?
Fortunately, some pockets of such interests exist here and there.
I myself was recently present at a party where everyone enthusiastically participated in the search for answers to two of these enigmas.
The first concerned the way a person’s image is “reversed” in a mirror while the top and bottom, ie head and legs, are not “reversed”.
No one could explain the reason. Then someone suggested that this happens because the mirror picks up incoming light and reflects it back to you, reversing the direction of the light!
You and your image look in opposite directions. The question of left or right or top to bottom does not arise.
For the latter to happen, you need to place the mirror above your head or stand near it on the floor!
The second riddle, which I asked, was more interesting.
How come we humans have to constantly brush our teeth (at least twice a day, regardless of what we eat) to maintain oral hygiene while lions and tigers don’t have to do so – they don’t even brush their bloodstained teeth.
I have yet to meet a dentist who can answer this question, but the answers to such questions are the essence of science.