Context #3 (Spring,
2000, pp. 12-13), published by The Nature Institute
Michael D'Aleo and Stephen Edelglass, both high school teachers in Waldorf
schools, have written a valuable little book called Sensible Physics
Teaching. It contains day-by-day lesson plans for sixth through eighth
grades, providing a curriculum thoroughly rooted in the immediate experience
of the students.
One of the interesting features of Sensible Physics Teaching
is that students are never asked to explain a phenomenon on their
first day of encounter with it. Their initial task is to become acquainted
with the phenomenon in all possible detail, making it part of their own,
lucid experience. On a subsequent day they revisit the experience in memory
-- serving further to enliven their inner command of the facts of the
case. Then they seek to deepen their understanding by bringing the most
fruitful conceptual illumination to their experience. This method has
When a dispute about what happens arises between two students,
or a student questions the teacher, it is settled by revisiting the phenomena.
There is no dogma regarding experience. Students have their own experience
that they try to understand. They usually feel that they have learned
something. The student may say, "I will no longer rely on the teacher
to tell me what is right or wrong. I can know that from my own experience!
I can confirm the correctness of my thinking by comparing it to my own
This kind of self-confidence (and competence) is hard to come by when students
are surrounded by computer technology that functions like a mysterious black
box, and when they are handed down abstract theoretical principles that
they then must try to get an (often poorly understood) experimental apparatus
This important book does suffer one defect: it badly needed a copy editing
and proofreading that it never got. This, presumably, will be mended in
a second printing.
The authors' introduction sets their method in a clear light, and we
offer on the next page an extract from this introduction, reprinted by
kind permission of Parker Courtney Press. For ordering information, see
end of the text excerpt.
From "Introduction to Sense Based Science" in Sensible
Michael D'Aleo and Stephen Edelglass
Sense-based scientific methodology ... does not look behind the world
of experience for an explanation. Most explanations today are in terms
of mechanical models. For example, within a sense-based methodology the
reason materials get hotter is understood to be that they are exposed
to hotter bodies than they are themselves. This explanation consists of
a description of the conditions under which to expect an experience. In
contrast, an increase in hotness of a body is usually "explained" in terms
of hypothetically faster-moving molecules of the hotter body colliding
with the hypothetically slower-moving molecules of the colder body to
increase the mean speed of the latter and decrease the mean speed of the
former . . . . By using such hypothetical models scientists feel they
have "explained" the conjunction of increase of hotness and expansion.
However, model-based explanations are made at the expense of reducing
hotness and coldness to motion of hypothetical mechanical entities. In
this way hotness and coldness as such are implied to be merely subjective
human responses. Molecules are taken to be real while human experience
Molecules are not imagined to be either hot or cold. They are imagined
just to move and collide with each other. Actually, molecules are merely
models (imaginations) that constitute an intermediate virtual concept
that is constructed mentally in order to "explain," among many other phenomena,
why materials expand when they get hot. An intermediate nonperceptible
entity (molecule) is created mentally to link a theorized cause and effect
condition. The price of such an approach, however, is the alienation of
human beings from the world of experience. In contrast, sense-based science
places people directly into their experience. After all, experience is
the final arbiter of the validity of scientific concepts.
In no way do the authors intend to convey the idea that models are useless.
In fact, scientific models can be rather helpful. Much of our modern technology
was developed using them. The objection we have to them is that when these
intermediate virtual concepts are taken to constitute reality, a meaningful
human context is lacking. This lack is, perhaps, one of the reasons that
technology has not been an unalloyed blessing to the earth.
Consider the example of strong herbicides. While the chemical has the
desired initial effect of killing unwanted plant life, such as weeds in
lawns, the scientific community has been slow to react to its effects
on wildlife and groundwater drinking supplies. There are, of course, many
reasons for this, including the economic benefit to the producer and the
convenience of chemicals to the user. However, we would suggest that one
reason for the slowness of response is that since science is done in a
manner that is abstracted from the experience of nature human beings are
simply less awake to the manifold character of that experience; they are
less awake to its wholeness. By way of its emphasis on experience, the
practice of sense-based science strengthens people's sense faculties.
Thus people are in the world actually rather than virtually. . . .
It is impossible to look behind the phenomenal world. Expecting scientific
understanding to be of the form of an underlying model that explains experience
presupposes that the world is like a machine that can be taken apart.
Such a methodology encourages an a priori mechanical view of the
world, a mechanical view that is supposed to make sense of life. What
is more, such practice encourages concern with a virtual world of models
rather than with the world of actual experience. Practice of such science
removes human beings from their experience. It alienates them from reality.
Sense-based science, in contrast, encourages concern with actual experience
and finding relationships within that experience. It encourages connectedness
with other human beings and with the environment rather than detachment,
because it stays within experience of human beings and their environment
rather than looking behind such encounterings. Participation in the environment
-- human, natural and human made -- gives an immediate intuition for possible
harmful effects of human action and, through that, self-knowledge.
Sensible Physics Teaching, a 140-page paperback, is available
for $16.75 from Parker Courtney Press, 307 Hungry Hollow Road, Chestnut
Ridge, NY 10977. Shipping and handling is $3.50, plus $1 for each additional
Original source: In Context (Spring, 2000, pp. 12-13), published
by The Nature Institute