It is not because I have conclusive evidence of it, but because I enjoy teaching new things to my daughter Miru, that I believe we should introduce the most basic concepts of science to our children as early as possible. When Miru and I were wondering if the sea could freeze over, I suggested that we could do a little experiment with two cups of freezing water, one with and the other without salt. She is only five, so I decided a binary setup was enough: “does contain salt” versus “does not contain salt”. I explained her what a hypothesis is and that ours was that the water in the salty cup would not freeze. We filled two small cups with tap water and placed them in the freezer.
The next morning I reminded her of our experiment.
“Oh yes yes yes the experiment!” my little girl shrieked, rushing to the freezer to open the door. I took out the two cups. When she found out that the pure water had turned into a block of ice, while the salty water only had a layer of frost on the top, she smiled victoriously and we high-fived.
the scientific attitude at its most fundamental defies any authority that doesn’t try to defy itself
What did she actually learn from this experiment? Can she design experiments now in order to answer questions about the structure of the world around her? Can she judge a good experiment? Does she know the difference between a hypothesis and a wild guess? Perhaps not. But she has been primed and prepared for more experiments. She has been introduced to the scientific attitude, that at its most fundamental defies any authority that doesn’t try to defy itself (I just came up with that definition, let me know what you think). Eppur si muove.
Soon, she will learn that the theory generating our hypotheses should be falsifiable, and that the experiment should be repeatable. I don’t plan to replace her bedtime reading of Tolkien and Roald Dahl with Karl Popper or Thomas Kuhn, but to do more experiments with her. Don’t take daddy’s word for it – trust only that what you can most readily question – your own senses and mind.
Experiment was originally published on Meandering home
The Indian poet A. K. Ramanujan (1929-1993) wrote in English and Kannada, a rich language of South India. He considered himself to be the hyphen in “Indo-American” and was a respected teacher and a wonderful poet. As you can see here, in my imagination this poem has a specific Indian ring to it:
Specially for me, she had some breaded
fish; even thrust a blunt-headed
smelt into my mouth;
and looked hurt when I could
neither sit nor eat, as a hood
of memory like a coil on a heath
opened in my eyes: a dark half-naked
length of woman, dead
on the beach in a yard of cloth,
dry, rolled by the ebb, breaded
by the grained indifference of sand. I headed
for the shore, my heart beating in my mouth.
A smelt is a small cold-water silvery fish; migrate between salt and fresh water (do you think that is significant?) When I hear fish ‘n chips I think of Britain, the former empire that colonized Ramanujan’s India. Who was making the breaded fish for him, I wonder? It could be a fishmonger, it could be Ramanujan’s mother.
And which memory distracts him from eating? The dead woman (length of woman is poetically interesting) on the beach, looking like a breaded mermaid. What is gained by the crude analogy between the breaded fish and the dead woman? Was she molested and left on the beach (I am aware of India’s rape problems)? And when the I in the poem remembers, why hasn’t he notified the police? Why was the I at the fish restaurant? Or perhaps the memory is years old and brought up by the appearance of breaded fish, just like a face and a song brought up the memory of terrible events in Netflix‘ recent series Sinner.
What do you think Ramanujan is trying to say: Is the lyrical I the perpetrator, or a witness?
Reading: Breaded Fish by A.K. Ramanujan was originally published on Meandering home
Chinese poet Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) was assassinated by the Kuomintang. According to many, he was an important figure in Chinese intellectual life. He “Wen never resolved the conflicts that existed within him: The elitist and the proletarian, the scholar and the activist, the traditionalist and the innovator, the personal man and the public man, fought for ascendancy. Yet it was these contradictions that proved so fruitful and give his poetry its singular power.” (Bright City Books)
I couldn’t resist this brilliant translation of a piece called 死水 (‘stagnant water’) by A.Z. Foreman:
Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water,
Fresh breezes can’t breathe half a ripple from its skin.
Better just junk your copper scrap metal here
Or dump the leftovers from dinner in.
Perhaps the copper will turn emerald green
And in rusting cans peach blossom petals will bloom.
Then let grease weave out a film of silken gauze
And microbes brew up clouds of colorful brume.
Oh let the dead water ferment into green liquor
Abrim with floating pearls in its white foam
Sweet little pearls that, laughing, turn into large pearls
And burst when the liquor-raiding mosquitos come
Thus may a ditch of hopelessly dead water
Still boast some lively brightness where it lies
If the frogs cannot tolerate the desolation
Hear croaking song from stagnant water rise!
Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water.
It’s really no place for Beauty to keep state.
Better let Hellion Ugliness cultivate it
And see what kind of world it will create.
The translator says his specialty is ancient Chinese and he puzzled a bit on this one.
Reading: Stagnant water by Wen Yiduo was originally published on Meandering home