Chapter 0: General Notes

Section 0: General Notes

Educational issues

The new kind of science in this book represents a unique educational opportunity. For it touches an immense range of important and compelling everyday phenomena and issues in science, yet to understand its key ideas requires no prior scientific or technical education. So this means that it is potentially realistic to use as the basis for an overall introduction to the ideas of science. And indeed having understood its basic elements, it becomes vastly easier to understand many aspects of traditional science, and to see how they fit into the whole framework of knowledge.

No doubt there will at first be a tendency to follow the progression of scientific history and to present the ideas of this book only at an advanced stage in the educational process, after teaching many aspects of traditional science. But it is fairly clear that it is vastly easier to explain much of what is in this book than to explain many ideas in traditional science. For among other things the new kind of science in this book does not rely on elaborate abstract concepts from traditional mathematics; instead it is based mostly just on pictures, and on ideas that have become increasingly familiar from practical use of computers. And in fact, in my experience, with good presentation, surprisingly young children are able to grasp many key ideas in this book—even if their knowledge of mathematics does not go beyond the simplest operations on numbers.

Over the past fifty or so years traditional mathematics has become a core part of education. And while its more elementary aspects are certainly crucial for everyday modern life, beyond basic algebra its central place in education must presumably be justified more on the basis of promoting overall patterns of thinking than in supplying specific factual knowledge of everyday relevance. But in fact I believe that the basic aspects of the new kind of science in this book in many ways provide more suitable material for general education than traditional mathematics. They involve some of the same kinds of precise thinking, but do not rely on abstract concepts that are potentially very difficult to communicate. And insofar as they involve the development of technical expertise, it is in the direction of computing—which is vastly more relevant to modern life than advanced mathematics.

The new kind of science in this book connects in all sorts of ways with mathematics and the existing sciences—and it can be used at an educational level to place some of the fundamental ideas in these areas in a clearer context. In computer science it can also be used as a rich source of basic examples—much as physics is used as a source of basic examples in traditional mathematics education.

A remarkable feature of the new kind of science in this book is that it makes genuine research accessible to people with almost no specific technical knowledge. For it is almost certain that experiments on, say, some specific cellular automaton whose rule has been picked at random from a large set will never have been done before. To conclude anything interesting from such experiments nevertheless requires certain scientific methodology and judgement—but from an educational point of view this represents a uniquely accessible environment in which to develop such skills.

In many fields, advanced education seems useful only if one intends to pursue those specific fields. But a few fields such as physics are notable for being sources of individuals with broadly applicable skills. I believe that the new kind of science in this book will in time serve a similar role.

Image Source Notebooks:

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]