:Agora Laboratory and Class:       

The idea of Agora Lab and Class made simple
Corneliu I. Costescu

The Agora Laboratory for Class/Community (ALC) is a method and a school that focus for years on a single and well-chosen fundamental experiment or issue, and that produce a wise and powerful synthesis and new concepts. The ALC involves three main elements: An Intense Debating (similar to the debating employed by the Old Greeks) and Speech Development, the Individual Scientific Method, and a Focus for Years on a fundamental problem. Defining the above "well-chosen fundamental experiment or issue to focus on" is necessarily the first stage in applying the ALC to a fundamental problem. The term "Agora" is based on its original meaning of "market" (i.e. "marketplace of ideas"), indicating a method of knowledge production that relies on debating that is as open as possible to a variety of viewpoints and ideas, where people meet as unconstrained by dogma and authority as possible, giving rise to a synthesis that is broad and useful.

In today's standard education, most courses pursue a voluminous yet speedy instruction of students. While it is easy to recognize the significant benefits of this kind of education, it is not a simple matter to discuss its weaknesses. For the sake of efficiency and economy, in a standard course the students have little time and stimulation to go beyond the class routine and to be active participants in the education process. Hence, many fundamental aspects remain unidentified and/or unexplored by conventional education, and correspondingly, the synthesis used in scientific analysis is far from being as wise and powerful as it can be. How does a method like ALC improve education and research in this respect? As compared with the standard course, our ALC is a method and instrument designed to lead to a deeper understanding of the field under the focus, based on a wise and powerful synthesis of the aspects involved. It does this by focusing a strong debate on a well defined fundamental experiment or issue for several years. As a result, the ALC would constitute a tool in the University for the systematic and wise renewal and redevelopment of the basic concepts around most of the important experiments or issues in science and society, and therefore would provide a missing essential element in our science and society. Also, the Agora Laboratory for Community could open the possibility for an efficient education and research application beside the university, i.e. a major extension of science and technology in society.

For the Old Greeks, debating on a crucial problem for a long time led to defining big fundamental ideas (in democracy, ethics, atomism, etc.). Although they were relatively few and their civilization was short, they were able to define basic concepts and develop solutions, also creating a great body of literature. The extensive synthesizing power of debating is the main reason for their success.

The ALC is intrinsically interdisciplinary because both the significance and the interpretations of a fundamental concept within the Agora context will belong to different disciplines: the relevance of each problem investigated being, by definition, wider than just one concentrated field. Also, as dialog and debate between different points of view are the basis of the method, the participation of people from different fields is encouraged and this diversity of backgrounds leads to interdisciplinarity as a main feature and advantage.

In Depth About Debating

The Agora laboratory and class consists in a semester class in which the students experiment on a single simple (basic) phenomenon or concept (light diffraction/structure for instance), look for and persistently oppose (debate) the main points of view (from history or from their own experience) on that basic phenomenon/concept. The purpose is to EDUCATE and RESEARCH systematically the reviewing and renewing of a basic unerstanding. It is not a lecture class but rathera class of experimenting - hypotheses inventorying and analysing - debating on a single basic concept/phenomenon.

The old Greek method of Debating consists of looking for, opposing and analyzing different points of view on a concept/phenomenon, again and again, for years, by a group of individuals, for the purpose of developing a hypothesis, an understanding or a concept, or for the purpose of educating people for the development of basic concepts. The method starts from recognizing that finding simple explanations to intricate problems is usually not a "quick-shot" individual task, but rather a long process that needs to be taught and institutionalized.

This method gave birth to many wonderful concepts in philosophy, ethics, politics, logic, geometry, physics, used with great benefits today. This is true even for the physics of the microscopic world. "De Rerum Naturae", a book by Lucretius, gives a close account of an atomistic view developed before him, which is very close to the current kinetic theory of heat.

In the ancient times, the Greeks did not have the experimental method/ scientific method to combine with Debating. In our times, Debating can be used in conjunction with the scientific method, for instance in the process of the formation of the hypothesis, one of the steps of the scientific method. In fact Debating is applied in a limited extent during the work of any individual or group doing research in our times. This very limited Debating takes place during the periods of communication with the research group, in the writing of reports, and in formal public presentations. This limited Debating insures mainly a compliance of the research results with existing concepts, methods and theories. The depth of this application of the Debating method is very limited because of the timing imposed on any research activity.

While it is not possible to apply the Debate fully in all research, we suggest that an extremely serious profit can be obtained when Debating is used to review and improve our views on the very basic phenomena/concepts. For instance we can apply the Debating method to answer the how-can-it-be-like-that questions for the current view on light diffraction and light beam structure. This application could be simply done and taught if we institutionalize in the University a laboratory and class for this purpose. We call this class Agora Laboratory and Class. The structure of this class is defined on this page.

Debating can be applied in quite an extensive way even by individual scientists, and outside of a research group. Indeed, there are scientists who would talk to anybody willing to listen. In such cases, the effort to answer the how-can-it-be-like-that questions is more pronounced, and considering the different points of view is more advanced. L. Boltzmann is probably a good example of this kind of scientist. It is a matter of personal style when a scientist does so. One of us (C. Costescu) followed this individual Debating style during a personal attempt for a revision of the light diffraction and of the light beam structure. The idea of mixing systematically the old Debating method with the scientific method for the renewal and for teaching the renewal of a basic concept, is a result of observations during his personal experience.

Three possible great benefits from Agora Laboratory and Class:
- The growth of complementary and more physical approaches to the current basics in physics.
- The education of many graduate students for the basic concept renewal.
- A more logical evolution of the scientific theories (T.S. Kuhn's problem)
Other extremely important benefits, such as better education for tolerance and finer solutions for justice in a broader sense, could be obtained if the Agora Laboratory and Class are applied to the basic concepts in social phenomena.

 

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