RSS

Monthly Archives: July 2011

Editorial

It takes much shorter time to dismiss several good ideas than to generate one. Indifference is more discouraging than dismissal. KUFIT team’s principal concern lies in ensuring that we serve strictly academic and professional purposes, and that our genuine efforts are neither dismissed nor regarded with indifference and mistrust. Our professional, or rather emotional, security lies in our  sense of being surrounded by committed, competent and enthusiastic academics. Thus, we sustain the zeal for interdisciplinary discourses and would like to thank all our contributors for their timely participation. 
There should be no need to clarify that we have no mission to seek sheer name and recognition above our present positions. Since our goal is to share knowledge, rooted in the realization that positive learning transcends every worldly preoccupation against the thirst for digging gold, our work rises above any show of indifference or mistrust. Our determination to continue is a reward in itself. KUFIT embodies the desire to establish a discourse community in Kathmandu University, a community where one speaks beyond his disciplinary coterie as/to human beings who might have taken different professional routes but bear the identical perceptions of what goes around. 
We have always expected only one scholarly attitude from our colleagues – the readiness to own and augment professional conversations, the zeal to tell others how ideas work where we belong and how these ideas might benefit those who do not belong.  Please be a part of KUFIT sending us posts and observations, and promoting a culture of mutual growth.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Editorial

 

Mathematics and Nonmathematicians

— Pushpa Raj Adhikary

For most mathematics is like an iceberg, a small visible portion above water and nine times as much submerged below, invisible. Most of us who have come to know a little of mathematics, under rather uncomfortable conditions, have no idea what mathematics is the way it is hard for us to form a clear idea about the submerged part of the iceberg. The best thing to do about an iceberg is to take an about turn to go to the opposite way. Most of us do the same about turn in case of mathematics as well. 
Have those who take an about turn to go the opposite way ever tried to fathom what the subject is really about, what their own misimpressions are, and what sense it makes to those interested? Perhaps what puzzles non-mathematicians is the difficulty to realize mathematics. The explosion of the first atom bomb in 1945 was a reality out of a very famous mathematical equation of Einstein which says that E is equal to M C squared. If it makes no sense to you or to all non-mathematicians, it is because you never bothered to learn more about mathematics than what you know.
All the intelligent non-mathematicians may say, so what if I cannot make sense of the mathematical equation of Einstein while I know those disciplines of knowledge where mathematics has little or no use? But it is time to remind them that mathematics is no longer a subject they can dismiss easily. Mathematics is increasingly becoming important not to science and engineering but in industry, business, military affairs and many other human activities and innovations of new technologies in almost all areas of human endeavor. Space and deep sea explorations for tapping entirely new sources of energy, food and raw materials necessary to continue our development are impossible without the development of mathematics. So, there is a growing need for more and more persons to enhance their knowledge of mathematics. Mathematics no longer remains a subject of intellectual pursuit for a few but knowledge essential to create and respond to your daily requirements.
Why mathematics puzzles non-mathematicians is because they find it hard to decide what it actually is. Is it science? It is an art? Is it a language? In fact, mathematics is science, language, and art. Among all existing sciences, mathematics is the most general science. It is not restricted to any particular area of knowledge, real or imaginary. Mathematics deals with any objects, or observations, real or imaginary, and any thought however abstract it is. Numbers can count not only motor cars and people, but stars on the sky and molecules on a drop of water. No other science is as general as mathematics.
Mathematics is an art where creativity of highest order can be displayed by means of language, symbols, and a combination of both. Mathematics is also an art of reasoning and deduction. From such statements which are assumed to be true, we deduce, by reasoning, other statements that must inevitably follow them. For example, from the fact that 2 plus 5 equals seven, and some other statements, it can be deduced that 2222 plus 5555 equals 7777. No other art equals mathematics in the way of skillfully and correctly deducing.
Mathematics is also a language, the language of expressing scientific ideas. Natural laws are expressed correctly in the language of mathematics. Moreover, it is a language of calculation. In mathematics, any idea can be named, discussed, analyzed, and calculated (in exact reasoning process). Alfred North Whitehead remarked that a mathematician has weighed the earth and counted billions of molecules in a drop of water. In fact, no other language has such a degree of freedom, as in mathematics to use words or symbols for any idea one chooses. Precise deductions with these words or symbols lead to the calculation one desires. But let me remind the readers that mathematics in not only the language of calculation. Lots of calculations take place in an ordinary language, too. For example, removing ambiguity from sentences to make their meaning clear also needs calculations. 
Some people have found out what mathematics is about, and what power it has. For such people mathematics is the most exciting instrument of human mind. But we can say that most people have not understood this. Education in mathematics, up to now, has not been able to impart this degree of understanding to know what mathematics is about.
The root cause of the trouble in understanding mathematics lies in the introduction to mathematical ideas which we experience as we grow up. The introduction usually begins with arithmetic. In the age where the idea of numbers is introduced, a child may not be able to conceive the idea of 2: which represents two eyes or two hands that we possess. Again the number 3 which is larger than 2 by 1, and any other latter numbers, seem inconceivable for a child unless he/she is matured enough to count. Education in mathematics begins at an age when a person does not know very much, nor is he/she able to know much. Besides, mathematical ideas are introduced not in a systematic manner but in bits and pieces which make little sense to the learners. Moreover, the authoritarian manner of the teacher “do this and this and never mind if you do not understand” would contribute a lot for the general dislike for mathematics at the earliest opportunity. Those who continue the study of mathematics do so because it helps them to secure higher percentage in the tests/examinations and is necessary to study various branches of science and engineering afterwards. The worldwide trend of decline in the number of graduates majoring mathematics confirms that majority of young people shun this field. This is definitely not an encouraging sign at the age of rapid technological developments, and when we are faced with a hoard of problems. 
We are actually talking about non-mathematicians. So, as a non-mathematician have you ever reflected: “How much mathematics do I have to know? Can mathematics actually be useful to me?” If you are an intelligent person holding a responsible position, you need to know a host of things like how to read graphs and use tables, apply a few formulas, estimate the values of different items, take samples and make models and diagrams, determine chances, predict the future, and make appropriate decisions. All these are essential daily activities. Graphs and tables summarize a lot of information, and so do other mathematical ideas. These ideas help you to understand real world in much better way than without any mathematical ideas. As an intelligent non-mathematician you can think now how mathematical reasoning would help you and how much effort you have to make for acquiring broad and clear worldview.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Science

 

Einstein beyond Science

— Hem Raj Kafle
Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized.
(Albert Einstein)
Almost every educated human being around the world knows Albert Einstein as a great scientist, with allusion to his path-breaking formula e=mc2.  But what about his philosophical orientations outside physics and mathematics? This article presents a reading of some of his opinions beyond the scope of fundamental sciences. 
A remarkable aspect of Einstein’s idea about science lies in how he defines the identity and role of a scientist in relation with other identities and roles. Unlike most of us who see science in hard work within a specific circle, and worse, in the crafty maneuvering of data through modern gadgets, Einstein takes a scientist for a “real seeker after truth” perhaps identical to a sage in penance and distinguished from “a mere artisan or a specialist.” For him, a scientist’s identity is best characterized by his “knowledge of the historic and philosophical background” of the subject of his pursuit. Thus, a scientist is expected to grow to be a philosopher developing the competent vision as much to internalize and communicate the results of his hard works and to challenge and appreciate existing knowledge, as to signal the avenues for future adventures.  The scientist is also a historian for his careful documentation of the erstwhile achievements and failures in a field of knowledge. A physicist, for this reason, has no need to wait till a philosopher does “critical contemplation of the theoretical foundations”; it is his own responsibility to be able to document, assess and disseminate the vital (and sometimes dangerous) aspects of his discoveries because “he himself knows best, and feels more surely where the shoe pinches.”  
A large part of Einstein’s discourse on science involves his ideas on the responsibilities of a scientist. His primary emphasis in this direction is on the scientist’s public role, which fundamentally includes critical awareness towards possible misuses of scientific knowledge, especially during violence and war. He explains, “When men are engaged in war and conquest, the tools of science become as dangerous as a razor in the hands of a child. The fate of mankind depends entirely on our sense of morality.” This reflects a general condition of a time during the twentieth century when Einstein, earlier as a member of the League of Nations in the aftermath of World War I, and later as a witness to the nuclear devastations of World War II, advocated the need of a world government, and of disarming warring countries towards ensuring peace and harmony in the world as a whole. So, he foresees the intensity of the dangers of nuclear warfare in forthcoming periods of human history, and stresses the urgency of ethically reorienting scientists and engineers towards general human welfare. He terms such reorientation as “a particularly heavy burden of moral responsibility” rooted in the fact that “the development of military means of mass destruction is dependent on their work.”
 
Often great people are believed to be associated with a political philosophy. Sometimes they themselves appear to claim a particular association.  But mostly, they maintain a universal balance in their lives and works. And, it is common for their public image to come under the scrutiny of the press and general people. Einstein’s involvement in disarmament movement on behalf of the League of Nations during the 1920s gave his relatively neutral, apolitical stance a semblance of political identity.  But in his thoughts he reserves himself a nonaligned position. He idealizes democracy as a system to guarantee human rights and dignity. He declares: “My political ideal is democracy.” And he deplores autocracy thus: “An autocratic system of coercion … soon degenerates. For force always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to be an invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded by scoundrels.”
Of Einstein’s thoughts on universal human identity and co-existence, the notion of cosmic religion appears to be the most representative.  In his seminal work “Religion and Science” Einstein defines cosmic religion as “a third stage of religious experience,” which belongs to or represents all other religions, “even though it is rarely found in a pure form… .”  For him the first and second stages are “religion of fear” and “moral religion,” in which the images of diverse individual Gods were inherent. He asserts that such diversity stems from the generally perceived plurality of races, locations, rituals and beliefs, and involves the state of obligation to, or rather oppression by, an omnipotent yet inherently emaciated power. It further signifies a general moral dilemma of whether to worship individuality or idolatry. 
The notion of cosmic religion transcends any barriers created by multiple religious sects, leaders and preachers. In other words, it foresees the end of divisions, or at least the reduction of their recurrence. There is a rare emergence of a representative, unifying religious leadership from within the existing multiplicity. So, Einstein argues, such emergence as that of Moses or Buddha has been distinguished by cosmic religious feeling, “which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man’s image.” Cosmic awareness both indicates unity in diversity, and shows the absence of diversity. Imbued with cosmic religious orientation, an individual would feel the “futility of human desires and aims,” meaning that cosmic awareness would make individuality appear like moral imprisonment subsequently impelling a person to accept the world as “a single significant whole.” Interestingly, Einstein appears to reflect Rabindranath Tagore’s notion of a world devoid of “narrow domestic walls.” Thus,  in faith and pursuit of cosmic religion, Einstein believes, an individual “achieves a far-reaching emancipation from the shackles of personal hopes and desires.” 
But does Einstein mean to be an atheist? Alan H. Batten puts that though his ideas reflect some sense of atheism, it is only the “condemnation of anthropomorphic images of God.” Cosmic religion underscores the call for glorifying the concept of godhood and religion as greater and more inclusive than what is generally believed and practiced in everyday life. The cosmic sense — the emphasis on the convergence of individualities into one encompassing principle, the concerns for universal brotherhood and harmony — makes Einstein a true preacher of humanity. This is the aspect many educated people and scientists alike may not know about Albert Einstein. It takes more reading on/of his ideas to realize that the great scientist was much greater and more polysemic than his scientific works.
Works Consulted
  • Einstein, Albert.  Ideas and Opinions. Trans. Walter E. Delhi: Rupa, 2003.
  •  Kafle, Hem R.“Cosmic Awareness in Laxmi Prashad Devkota.”Devkota Studies 3.2(2008):27-31.
           
 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Discourse

 

Neither the Second God Nor the Message

— Nirmala Mani Adhikary
Ask someone raised in the religious traditions of the Western world to describe God, and this, with idiosyncratic variations, might be the answer:
“God is all-knowing, and all powerful. He is a spirit, not a body, and He exists both outside us and within us. God is always with us, because He is everywhere. We can never fully understand Him, because He works in mysterious ways.”In broad terms, this describes the God of our fathers, but it also describes the electronic media, the second god, which man has created.
Tony Schwartz (Media: The Second God, 1983, p. 1)
We live in mediated world. Mass media play a significant role in present society. However, understanding this significant entity is not easy. The term “mass media” encompasses a countless array of institutions and individuals who differ in purpose, scope, method, and cultural context. It may refer to the people, the policies, the organizations, and the technology that go into producing mass communication. Sometimes, the term is used just to mean various artifactual and/or mechanical means, such as books, newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film and the Internet, emphasizing the single components of the mass media. Often, the term refers to the media industry, also called the content industry. Mass media in general have complex relationship with various aspects of society such as cultures, ideologies, political systems, economic systems, technologies available, and so on
Controversies exist in the field of mass communication and media studies as in many other areas of academic fields/disciplines. There are differing ideas among scholars about understanding communication, its process and medium. Mediated communication is not an exception. Over the years, different theories have risen and then faded into the background and other theories and methods of studying mass communication have gained attention. Some theorists even argue that the mass media actually are declining and heading towards their demise. But other theorists argue that, despite the changing technology, the phenomenon persists within the whole institutional framework.
Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), the “archpriest” of media analysis, argues that medium is the message. “What is most important are the media people watch or listen to, not the programs or texts carried by the media”, he opines. And, Tony Schwartz terms electronic media as “the second god.” However, this is to note that electronic media are experienced differently in societies with ‘non-Western’ characteristics. The dissimilarities are not just a matter of difference in economic development, since profound differences of culture and long historical occurrence are involved. The study of mass communication media cannot avoid dealing with questions of world-views and values and norms.
In one of the traditional thoughts in Hinduism, communication is the sharing among/ between sahridayas. Communication according to this concept is a relationship based on common and mutual understanding and feeling, for sahridaya literally means ‘of one heart’. Here, communication is for communion. Thus, communication is an inward search for meaning, a process leading to self-awareness, then to freedom, and finally to truth. The intra-personal dimension is of greater importance than the interpersonal (and other forms like mass communication) in the Vedic Hindu approach.  
According to the orthodox Hindu belief, the body is only a temporary abode of atman, and it is an instrument for the attainment of moksha. The bodily self is not the ultimate truth though it is essential for the worldly existence. In fact, all worldly things are considered ephemeral, and the mundane world is just a transition on the way to the spiritual one. Understandably, medium or channel could be a constituent of a process of attaining mutual understanding, commonness or oneness among people: no more, no less.
When the place of medium or channel is considered in the light of Hindu world-view, it is a means, not the end. Certainly, the channel/medium is vital, but not more than the humans and the messages involved in the communication process and the ‘communication goal’ itself. Thus, the notions – medium as the message and media as the second god – do not seem in consonance to Hindu world-view. However, they may influence human conditions, and may even force to bring changes into human environments.
Present day mediated world is indeed a two-edged sword. Media are setting up new exchange systems, completely changing the conditions governing the transmission of knowledge, opening up a whole range of possibilities for making formal and non-formal education generally available, bringing culture to the people at large, and promoting knowledge and know-how. They are creating conditions that allow constant individual enrichment and enable the people of all nations to take part in their own advancement and to broaden their outlooks. At the same time, the ‘disembodiment’ or ‘de-personalization’ that McLuhan warned about just a few decades ago has, seemingly, become widespread. Some say that media have made us more violent and weakened our moral character. However, this issue needs more extended discourse than is intended here.
In brief, the mass media have both positive and negative dimensions. If we consider media as the second god or the message itself, we cannot be intelligent consumers of media. Rather, such notion promotes the idea of passive, tame and helpless receiver once claimed by the hypodermic needle theorists. But, the situation alters when we understand mass media just a means for our ‘communication goals’. The sadharanikaran model of communication (SMC), which underscores the notion of sahridayata as fundamental to profound understanding and warm co-existence among people, can substantially contribute in this regard.
For more discussion on the SMC, please visit:
 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Discourse

 

Is Teaching Art or Science?

        —  Eak Prasad Duwadi
Is teaching an art?  Well, I think teaching is a complicated network of acts, a verity to which anyone who stands in front of learners can readily verify. In his renowned book, The Art of Teaching, Highet (1989) argues teaching is an art, not a science. He also claims teaching is like painting a picture and that it cannot be thoroughly evaluated. 
One distinguished teacher takes the neutral stance. He believes the systematic study of teaching over the years supports the notion that good teaching is as much a science as an art. However, many people still regard knowledge of the subject matter as the major prerequisite to effective teaching. On the other hand, various researches report about faculty members becoming more aware that successful teachers are knowledgeable in their subject matter, teaching strategies, and learning theories and are committed to individual learning.
There is no consensus on what good teaching is, and how to best evaluate the goodness of it.  Probably there never will. For instance, In Nepal, especially in private schools, one’s capability to maintain absolute silence in the classroom is regarded as the mark of his success as a teacher. This is to say, the notion of effective teaching is expected to involve more than a teacher’s command of the subject matter. But one eminent educator opines that teaching requires as much the knowledge of content as the awareness of general pedagogy, core curriculum, learner characteristics, educational contexts, and educational ends and values. In fact, the general practice of maintaining classroom silence does not feature anywhere in the literature of effective teaching. 
Good teaching is the ability to make particular concepts of a discipline/subject perceptible to a group of learners. A common argument is that good teaching should be defined in terms of student learning. And there are cautionary remarks as well, such that the teacher’s role must not be minimized. However, the most teachers assert that effectiveness should be based on “learning-centered evaluation,” where teaching is evaluated in the context of the learning goals of a specific course. This focuses on the relationship between teaching objectives, actual teaching practices, and the actual learning outcomes.
In his book The Courage to Teach, Palmer (1997) suggested that “good teaching cannot be reduced to technique: good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Identity and integrity will develop when teachers attempt to eliminate academic debates and speak about who they are as teachers. Only at this point will an emphasis on good teaching become part of a departmental culture. One way to engage faculty members in discussions of “who they are” as teachers, are course portfolios. 
One thing most teachers all over the world agree is that “good teaching is a matter of hard work, discipline, determination, and the intense moments or hours of glee.”
References
Highet, G. (1989). The art of teaching.  London: Vintage.
Palmer, P. J. (1997). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. Toronto: Jossey-Bass.
 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Reflections

 

Perspectives on Mathematics

 – Kanhaiya Jha
Students often feel that what they are taught is useless in practical life. French Philosopher  and  mathematician Rene Discartes (1596 – 1650) once said, “People hate maths, so let’s turn it into picture to make it easier.” Often, the student does not easily understand what is being taught because he is unable to visualize what in fact is going on. But it is the only subject where one may get hundred out of hundred, yet people say it is difficult. It definitely requires more effort and time than other subjects. But due to its wide applications and importance, it has been made a compulsory subject worldwide for the students in the school level to university level curriculum and more weightage have been given to maths. As knowledge of English language helps people to communicate well with others, maths has been proved to have the same role as science and technology. Therefore, to understand the existing technological developments, maths has become a necessary tool. But one does not need to be a mathematician; one at least requires knowing about the widespread contribution of mathematics. 
Maths is the base for almost all scientific developments and modern technology.  Maths is also used as a powerful means of communication. An updated Standard syllabus and equivalent recognized text books of many universities help students to develop an understanding of theoretical concepts as well as problem solving skills in maths. Teachers can play a vital role for motivating students towards this  subject, giving more applications and connecting it to other fields. Knowledge is unlimited, so a healthy and regular interaction between teachers and students can produce beautiful results. Students can derive more benefit from studying maths only when they appreciate its beauty and operate it properly. Topics with elementary roots and strong interconnections should be taught with great care. Instead of making straight leap to the problems while at the classroom, some preliminary discussion on how, when and why particular concept developed helps to create a positive attitude.
Definitions in maths ensure that everyone agrees on the meaning of the terminologies and concepts. Theorems in mathematics provide the user with the reassurance of validation and a model of logical argument. The use of theorems and logical arguments lead the mathematicians to only one correct (exact) solution. By doing maths, students develop skills in problem solving, reasoning, connections and communications. The skill developed by doing maths makes students efficient, accurate and confident decision makers. However, it is possible only when they appreciate its intensity and work hard. It requires regular practice and more concentration on the topic. Not only can this broaden our horizons, but also provide an opportunity to apply our knowledge and skills in the applications of mathematical sciences to other fields. Also, modern mathematics education emphasizes the development of understanding among students. Maths continues to flourish through the growing power of its applications and much of its utility is enhanced through the computer. Indian and Chinese mathematical systems have been highly appreciated by the world mathematicians and due to their remarkable achievements and significant contributions, they have been able to establish themselves as top in software technology. Today, the mathematician works in a world of intense scientific investigation aided by a revolution in methods of computation and means of communication. His thinking is a part of the whole climate of intellectual thought in which distinction between the pure and applied, abstract and practical is too subtle to be of much use.
Maths is a fascinating world – a world full of mysteries and wonders, a world full of joy and excitement, of divine beauty and grace. No other area of human activity is ever as glamorous as maths and yet is depressing. It should be kept in mind that the study of maths is never complete unless one can apply what one has learned in solving problems of real life and in intellectual gymnastics.
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Science