Alan Alda

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Alan Alda

Postby anon » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:04 am

Your center has initiated a project called “The Flame Challenge.” What is it?

It’s something from my childhood. When I was about 11, I got obsessed with what was happening in a flame. I tried to figure out why they were so different from anything else I had ever seen. It gave off heat and light and you could put your finger through it — it didn’t have substance, apparently. There was nothing like it. So I asked a teacher. “It’s oxidation!” she said, flatly. No elaboration. It shut me down.

So we started a contest for scientists: Tell us what a flame is in a way that an 11-year-old can understand. The point was to challenge scientists to explain something difficult in words that were both easy to understand and accurate. The first year we had 6,000 entries — kids and scientists. Now we have 20,000. This year, the question is “What is color?” I invite your readers to participate. The deadline is March 1.

Does it thrill you that you’re bringing C. P. Snow’s two cultures closer together?

You bet it does. Science and art are two long-lost lovers, yearning to be reunited. And now I get to be a matchmaker.

Source

Worst case scenario: more marketing of science. Science marketing is a nasty thing.

Best case scenario: a revolution in the understanding of what science is, and why it matters.

I'm hoping his comments in this interview and the direction the scientific community takes in the future have more to do with the latter.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby James S Saint » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:29 am

Since Science is NOT an "art", the first is the only realistic option. I would have no objection to scientists getting a grip on reality and society, but as far as making science even more artsy-fartsy than it has become, naaaaaa.. too much of that already.
Clarify, Verify, Instill, and Reinforce the Perception of Hopes and Threats unto Anentropic Harmony :)
Else
From THIS age of sleep, Homo-sapien shall never awake.

The Wise gather together to help one another in EVERY aspect of living.

You are always more insecure than you think, just not by what you think.
The only absolute certainty is formed by the absolute lack of alternatives.
It is not merely "do what works", but "to accomplish what purpose in what time frame at what cost".
As long as the authority is secretive, the population will be subjugated.

Amid the lack of certainty, put faith in the wiser to believe.
Devil's Motto: Make it look good, safe, innocent, and wise.. until it is too late to choose otherwise.

The Real God ≡ The reason/cause for the Universe being what it is = "The situation cannot be what it is and also remain as it is".
.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby anon » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:36 am

James S Saint wrote:Since Science is NOT an "art", the first is the only realistic option. I would have no objection to scientists getting a grip on reality and society, but as far as making science even more artsy-fartsy than it has become, naaaaaa.. too much of that already.

I think you don't understand what art is. Hardly your fault though - it's a societal problem.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby James S Saint » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:45 am

anon wrote:
James S Saint wrote:Since Science is NOT an "art", the first is the only realistic option. I would have no objection to scientists getting a grip on reality and society, but as far as making science even more artsy-fartsy than it has become, naaaaaa.. too much of that already.

I think you don't understand what art is. Hardly your fault though - it's a societal problem.

And what gives you even the tiniest confidence that you would know anything about what I know of art?
Clarify, Verify, Instill, and Reinforce the Perception of Hopes and Threats unto Anentropic Harmony :)
Else
From THIS age of sleep, Homo-sapien shall never awake.

The Wise gather together to help one another in EVERY aspect of living.

You are always more insecure than you think, just not by what you think.
The only absolute certainty is formed by the absolute lack of alternatives.
It is not merely "do what works", but "to accomplish what purpose in what time frame at what cost".
As long as the authority is secretive, the population will be subjugated.

Amid the lack of certainty, put faith in the wiser to believe.
Devil's Motto: Make it look good, safe, innocent, and wise.. until it is too late to choose otherwise.

The Real God ≡ The reason/cause for the Universe being what it is = "The situation cannot be what it is and also remain as it is".
.
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Posts: 25976
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby anon » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:47 am

Because you said science isn't an art, for one thing.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby James S Saint » Tue Feb 25, 2014 1:52 am

anon wrote:Because you said science isn't an art, for one thing.

Well, being very familiar with both, I would have to guess that you must know too little of science. But perhaps I'm wrong. Maybe it's art you know too little about. Perhaps both.
Clarify, Verify, Instill, and Reinforce the Perception of Hopes and Threats unto Anentropic Harmony :)
Else
From THIS age of sleep, Homo-sapien shall never awake.

The Wise gather together to help one another in EVERY aspect of living.

You are always more insecure than you think, just not by what you think.
The only absolute certainty is formed by the absolute lack of alternatives.
It is not merely "do what works", but "to accomplish what purpose in what time frame at what cost".
As long as the authority is secretive, the population will be subjugated.

Amid the lack of certainty, put faith in the wiser to believe.
Devil's Motto: Make it look good, safe, innocent, and wise.. until it is too late to choose otherwise.

The Real God ≡ The reason/cause for the Universe being what it is = "The situation cannot be what it is and also remain as it is".
.
James S Saint
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Posts: 25976
Joined: Sun Apr 18, 2010 8:05 pm

Re: Alan Alda

Postby Moreno » Tue Feb 25, 2014 6:23 am

anon wrote:Because you said science isn't an art, for one thing.
One could say that the person who answered his question About flame failed as a Communicator and Communication is partly art and science is partly Communication. In this instance it was Communication between an expert and a lay person. I would Think, also, that scientists could use some brushing up on philosophy, like the philosophy of language. Too often, it seems to me, they Think that Words contain truths, hence 'oxidation', here, being the best Word, the scientist has given the best/only answer. Which is a conclusion based on a lot of assumptions about what language is and what Communication is that are problematic.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Kriswest » Tue Feb 25, 2014 11:36 am

I think the situation is to not be artistic in language but, to increase understanding and interest in science.
Try describing flame in words that a 5th grade student can grasp,, an average child. I can't.
I will be bitchy, cranky, sweet, happy, kind, pain in the ass all at random times from now on. I am embracing my mentalpause until further notice. Viva lack of total control!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is not a test,,, this is my life right now. Have a good day and please buckle up for safety reasons,, All those in high chairs, go in the back of the room.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby James S Saint » Tue Feb 25, 2014 8:32 pm

The US Army during the 70's required that all manuals be written for a 3rd grader.
I think they were onto something.
Clarify, Verify, Instill, and Reinforce the Perception of Hopes and Threats unto Anentropic Harmony :)
Else
From THIS age of sleep, Homo-sapien shall never awake.

The Wise gather together to help one another in EVERY aspect of living.

You are always more insecure than you think, just not by what you think.
The only absolute certainty is formed by the absolute lack of alternatives.
It is not merely "do what works", but "to accomplish what purpose in what time frame at what cost".
As long as the authority is secretive, the population will be subjugated.

Amid the lack of certainty, put faith in the wiser to believe.
Devil's Motto: Make it look good, safe, innocent, and wise.. until it is too late to choose otherwise.

The Real God ≡ The reason/cause for the Universe being what it is = "The situation cannot be what it is and also remain as it is".
.
James S Saint
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Posts: 25976
Joined: Sun Apr 18, 2010 8:05 pm

Re: Alan Alda

Postby anon » Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:07 pm

Moreno wrote:
anon wrote:Because you said science isn't an art, for one thing.
One could say that the person who answered his question About flame failed as a Communicator and Communication is partly art and science is partly Communication. In this instance it was Communication between an expert and a lay person. I would Think, also, that scientists could use some brushing up on philosophy, like the philosophy of language. Too often, it seems to me, they Think that Words contain truths, hence 'oxidation', here, being the best Word, the scientist has given the best/only answer. Which is a conclusion based on a lot of assumptions about what language is and what Communication is that are problematic.

Many people don't seem to understand what you're saying about language. There are many correct scientific (and non-scientific of course, but that goes without saying) answers to "what is a flame?". If "oxidation" is the only answer a scientist can muster, then his or her understanding is demonstrably very weak. Science involves the understanding and imparting of meaningful, useful, and correct information about our shared, physical world. The failure to do that well is a sign of decadent science - just as so much art these days is also decadent.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby anon » Tue Feb 25, 2014 9:14 pm

Kriswest wrote:I think the situation is to not be artistic in language but, to increase understanding and interest in science.
Try describing flame in words that a 5th grade student can grasp,, an average child. I can't.

Yes, it's actually to be clear in language. And not only is increased understanding for the lay person important for us as a society, but an inability to speak about something like a flame in more than one way demonstrates a lack of understanding in the first place. It's called "rote knowledge". Simple robots are capable of that.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Moreno » Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:20 am

Kriswest wrote:I think the situation is to not be artistic in language but, to increase understanding and interest in science.
Try describing flame in words that a 5th grade student can grasp,, an average child. I can't.
That's an art. Using language in general is an art. Some people can draw stick figures with Words. Some can make huge fascinating paintings. Some can speak or write in ways that most people can understand because they are creative with Words.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Wenren » Wed Feb 26, 2014 1:32 am

In the case of a candle, you are burning wax. Wax is made out of carbon. Oxygen in the air interacts with carbon to form CO2. The same CO2 in your soda. Carbon plus Oxygen equal carbon dioxide, CO2. Heat and light are "waste" products of this reaction. Like when you sweat if you are moving heavy objects.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Moreno » Wed Feb 26, 2014 2:10 am

Wenren wrote:In the case of a candle, you are burning wax. Wax is made out of carbon. Oxygen in the air interacts with carbon to form CO2. The same CO2 in your soda. Carbon plus Oxygen equal carbon dioxide, CO2. Heat and light are "waste" products of this reaction. Like when you sweat if you are moving heavy objects.
IN the sweat example, the use of the muscles raises your body temperature which the body then tries to compensate for by sweating hopefully lowering the tempurature again. In the Candle example the causal line seems a bit different. (note, I understand you were giving a short answer. I am not demonstrating you are wrong or even a poor artist with Words, just pressing for clarification)
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Wenren » Wed Feb 26, 2014 3:06 am

You are 11. Don't overthink it. When you do work, it can have byproducts. When you are moving something heavy you move the heavy thing (which is the point) and you also produce sweat. You don't actively set out to produce sweat. There are reasons why you sweat, but going into that is way above what an 11 year old needs to know about. I could go into a simplified version of electron orbitals without too much difficulty (just use the Bohr model) but that's way beyond an explanation of "fire". You know?
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Moreno » Wed Feb 26, 2014 5:26 am

Wenren wrote:You are 11. Don't overthink it. When you do work, it can have byproducts. When you are moving something heavy you move the heavy thing (which is the point) and you also produce sweat. You don't actively set out to produce sweat. There are reasons why you sweat, but going into that is way above what an 11 year old needs to know about. I could go into a simplified version of electron orbitals without too much difficulty (just use the Bohr model) but that's way beyond an explanation of "fire". You know?
I see the difference as having bothered me as an 11 year old. With a candle you need what you are calling a waste product to get the candle going. YOu need a flame to get a flame [regarding the flame on the Candle]. With me lifting heavy stuff, you do not have to sprinkle a little sweat on me to get me sweating. Some kids are going to notice that difference, that's all. As I said my response was not a critique, I just wanted to clarify in an area I think one would likely be asked to clarify.
Last edited by Moreno on Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Kriswest » Wed Feb 26, 2014 12:05 pm

Moreno wrote:
Kriswest wrote:I think the situation is to not be artistic in language but, to increase understanding and interest in science.
Try describing flame in words that a 5th grade student can grasp,, an average child. I can't.
That's an art. Using language in general is an art. Some people can draw stick figures with Words. Some can make huge fascinating paintings. Some can speak or write in ways that most people can understand because they are creative with Words.

Yes you are right.
I do think though anon has a valid point about rote knowledge.
I will be bitchy, cranky, sweet, happy, kind, pain in the ass all at random times from now on. I am embracing my mentalpause until further notice. Viva lack of total control!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is not a test,,, this is my life right now. Have a good day and please buckle up for safety reasons,, All those in high chairs, go in the back of the room.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby anon » Fri Feb 28, 2014 12:10 am

Wenren stepping up to the plate. Awesome.
"Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries." - Blaise Pascal

"The bombs we plant in each other are ticking away." - Edward Yang

"To a fly that likes the smell of putrid / Meat the fragrance of sandalwood is foul. / Beings who discard Nirvana / Covet coarse Samsara's realm." - Saraha
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby Wenren » Wed Mar 05, 2014 4:16 am

Moreno wrote:
Wenren wrote:You are 11. Don't overthink it. When you do work, it can have byproducts. When you are moving something heavy you move the heavy thing (which is the point) and you also produce sweat. You don't actively set out to produce sweat. There are reasons why you sweat, but going into that is way above what an 11 year old needs to know about. I could go into a simplified version of electron orbitals without too much difficulty (just use the Bohr model) but that's way beyond an explanation of "fire". You know?
I see the difference as having bothered me as an 11 year old. With a candle you need what you are calling a waste product to get the candle going. YOu need a flame to get a flame [regarding the flame on the Candle]. With me lifting heavy stuff, you do not have to sprinkle a little sweat on me to get me sweating. Some kids are going to notice that difference, that's all. As I said my response was not a critique, I just wanted to clarify in an area I think one would likely be asked to clarify.


Sure, and in the case of that line of questioning I think the Bohr model works great. In that case images work better than speech (or writing). Still effective communication, just of a different type. Draw a few extra orbitals and show what is going on. As to the self-sustaining nature of it, I think most 11 year olds have played games descended from Tetris (like CandyCrush!) which can be a useful examples of "chain reactions" that the modern generation will understand far better than any other.
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Re: Alan Alda

Postby lizbethrose » Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:07 pm

Please, please--my 11yr. old mind can't keep up with the changes going on in this thread. Please tell me what you're talking about. Are you talking about Alan Alda's former science teacher who didn't have any way of giving him an answer to his question, "What is flame?" because she really didn't know, herself; is it about the need for scientists (and teachers) to be able to communicate clearly with non-scientists--to teach rather than to lecture; is it about whether the effective use of language is an art or a science? I can't figure out where the thread is going!

Alan Alda is a well trained actor with a far-reaching mind. He uses language as an art in both his work as an actor and his work as a writer. He's very skilled in what he does. He communicates well. He improvises well. He seems to want everyone to be able to do the same, so he started a center for teaching effective communication. He's directed the teaching toward 'scientists' because of his elementary school experiences with, and his interest in, science. So, okay.

Is that an attempt to make science 'artsy fartsy' or is it an attempt to make science understandable to the people who, as adults, give grant money to underwrite scientific research? Isn't the basic question this: "Is the effective use of language an art, a science, or both?"

Once that question is answered, we can go on to ask, "Is the effective use of language dependent on effective listening?" (Am I trying to railroad the thread?)

Enjoy! :D
"Be what you would seem to be - or, if you'd like it put more simply - never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise."
— Lewis Carroll
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