Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Experience *alone* is a poor teacher

Stephen Downes left a thoughtful comment to my last post pointing out the poor example given by Halpern & Hakel, 2003:

In fact, experience is a very good teacher - if we listen to it consistently and with rigour. And indeed, it is the only teacher we have.


I agree. The emphasis should be on the word *alone*.

Let me try to give examples:
If we push an object along a horizontal surface, our experience will tell us that when we stop pushing, the object will eventually stop moving. No matter how many times you repeat this experiment, it will have the same answer.

For all practical purposes, including building high-rise building, we can treat the sruface of Earth as flat.

Science now tells us that both of these experiences are wrong. We now know that these experiences are wrong*. In the first case, our experience is masked by 'friction'. In an ideal situation where is no friction between the object and the surface and when there is no other external force acting on the object, the object will move at constant velocity forever - inertia! In the second case, the Earth being spherical can be noticed when we are watching a ship sailing towards the land. The highest point of the ship will come in sight first because the Earth is NOT flat!

We have millions of experience daily. Among those, a large amount do not attract our attention any more. For instance, our excitement of being able to brush our own teeth has long fainted away. Yet a lot has been repeated so many times that they have become "truth".

The key to use experience as a teacher is to "triangulate" and seek coherent explanation beyond just the experience itself. The additional effort beyond experiencing the experience is where the real learning occurs.

*In light of the comment by Stephen Downes, I have changed this sentence. See today's post.

1 comment:

Downes said...

> Science now tells us that both of these experiences are wrong.

How - magic?

Of course not.

Science has obtained *experiences* - empirical evidence - that showed that these were wrong.

Once again, you are taking examples of poor inferences from limited experience, and representing it as though it were 'from experience'.