:Agora Laboratory and Class:       

The Agora Laboratory and Class -- a new type of class in the University
July 1, 2003

Part I
An introduction
Corneliu I. Costescu, Doina M. Costescu

Main ideas:
1. The scientific method can be simply and substantially improved when we apply it to the basic concepts.
2. The basic concepts have changed in the past, they will inevitably change again.
3. A graduate student should have the opportunity to practice how to renew a basic concept, by a semester class fully devoted to a single basic concept change from the past.

In this text we suggest that when it comes to the basic concepts of physics, the scientific method, with its great and quick analytic capability, needs to be enhanced with the virtues of the old debating method, the most synthetic and systematic (but slow) analysis of the facts. We support that this enhancement has not yet been really implemented yet, on a systematic basis, a situation that has very important consequences. We propose that the systematic implementation of this enhancement requires the institutionalization of a special experimental laboratory and class in the University, the Agora Laboratory and Class. It is likely that this process will lead to substantial changes in some basic concepts. At the same time, the idea that this implementation has not yet taken place, soundly and simply justifies the need for submitting the basic concepts of physics to a new, systematic, long-time and feasible process of reviewing and renewing. Without considering the obvious need for the implementation of this enhancement of the application of the scientific method to the basic concepts, it is extremely difficult and complex to justify the need for a revision of a particular basic concept. Indeed, looking from inside of the current view it is extremely hard to recognize an experimental or theoretical result, as indicating the need for a fundamental revision of a basic concept like the light diffraction/ the structure of a light beam. Looking from inside of the current view for support for a systematic revision of a basic concept we can only attempt to analyze intricate details related to the content of that basic concept. Such an analysis is rather a Gordian node i.e., a problem that cannot be solved clearly without the right prerequisite and without a drastic approach (see Part III)

The classical Greek method of debating consists of looking for, opposing and analyzing different points of view on a concept/phenomenon, again and again, for many years. This method would be undertaken by a group of individuals, for the purpose of developing a hypothesis, an understanding or a concept. It was also an education method for the process of developing basic concepts. The method starts from recognizing the fact that developing a basic concept is usually not a task for a quick shot at it, by a single or a few individuals, but rather a long process that needs to be educated and institutionalized. Debating has the virtue to be the most synthetic and systematic way to consider the facts and hence, debating systematically on a regular and institutional basis is the most adequate method for basic concept development. The drawback of this method is that it is very slow. This method gave birth to many solid concepts in philosophy, ethics, politics, logic, geometry, physics, concepts used with great benefits in our days. One of these concepts, for example, the atomistic view of the microscopic world, described by Lucretius in his book "De Rerum Naturae", is very close to the basics of Boltzmann's current kinetic theory of heat. "Since the atoms are moving freely through the void, they must all be kept in motion either by their own mass or on occasion by the impact of another atom. For this must often happen that two of them in their course knock together and immediately bounce apart in opposite directions, a natural consequence of their hardness and solidity ..." (E.J. Wenham et al., Physics, Addison-Wesley Publishers Limited, London (1972) p. 473)

The scientific method was invented and introduced in the University about 2000 years after debating had produced marvelous results in the ancient Greece. The scientific method consists in repeatedly applying individually or in group, the following four steps: 1) Observe aspects of the nature. 2) Invent a hypothesis/ theory that is consistent with what is observed. In physics, the hypothesis implies a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation. 3) Use the hypothesis to predict other results. 4) Perform experimental tests for the predicted results. In this way we can split complex problems into elementary problems that can be solved one by one. Hence, the main virtue of the scientific method is the quick analytical capability splitting a complex problem in smaller and solvable problems. This is in contrast with the main virtue of debating the slow but extremely powerful synthetic capability

Today, one would expect that debating, with its synthetic capability, be applied in a considerable extent in conjunction with the scientific method. We could think that this is the case since we often hear about the debate between great physicists. In fact debating is used only in a limited extent in conjunction with the scientific method in the work of an individual or of a group doing research in our times. This very limited debating takes placeduring 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, insures finding errors, and it helps in the process of the formation of the hypothesis one of the steps of the scientific method. However, 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 extensive debating in every research, we suggest that an extremely serious profit can be obtained when the old debating method is used to review and improve our views on the very basic phenomena/concepts. For instance we can apply the debating method together with the scientific method to identify and oppose different points of view, to identify and build new approaches that answer the how-can-it-be-like-that questions on light diffraction and light beam structure. This application could be simply done and educated 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 elsewhere on this web 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. He was engaged in sustained debates (with his ideas of connecting the properties and behavior of atoms and molecules, as the building units of the matter, with the large scale properties and behavior of the substances second law of thermodynamics for instance). It is a matter of personal style when a scientist does so. One of us 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 developing a laboratory and class for 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.

Five great benefits from Agora Laboratory and Class greatly justify the attempt of implementing it.

      1) Agora would spawn complementary and more physical approaches to the current basics in physics. The Ockam razor (elimination of the approaches that seem more complicated) should not be applied when it comes to the development of different views on the basic concepts.

      2) Agora would educate generations of graduate students for the basic concept renewal. The main idea is that a Ph.D. (and M.S.) recipient should have performed the exercise (should have the education) of a basic concept renewal. Agora Laboratory and Class would be at least an opportunity for the graduate to attempt answering in the most honest way his/ her question regarding the basics

      3) Agora would probably solve in a certain extent the problem identified by T.S. Kuhn. In 1962, Kuhn proposed that sciences do not progress strictly by the scientific method and by logical reasoning. produce a more logical evolution of the scientific theories. Kuhns proposal was a considerable shock for most of the science community under the influence of the great power of the scientific method. By combining the virtues of the old debating method and of the scientific method, through the Agora Laboratory and Class, for reviewing and renewing the basic concepts of physics (and other sciences) the non-logical character of the physics evolution would probably diminish considerable.

      4) We believe that the Agora procedure can generate great ideas, wisdom and tolerance on a large scale, since it deals with fine aspects from our background. We believe that any science or philosophy should be designed to include a scheme for the renewal of its own basic concepts.

      5) Agora Laboratory and Class will likely generate new applications toward a more advanced technological development.

Different facets related to the issue of introducing the Agora Laboratory and Class are discussed in the following texts.

Part II. (A simple and funny text) The Agora Laboratory and Class - a new type of class in the University, a persuasive speech for a public speaking class.

Part III. (A technical and more complex text) The Agora Laboratory and Class Towards a systematic reapplication in the University of the Scientific Method to the basic concepts.

Part IV. The structure of the Agora lab and class.


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