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The Agora Laboratory and Class - a new type of class in the University

Part II
A persuasive speech for a public speaking class - Instructor Patton Chiles
Corneliu I. Costescu

Specific purpose
To convince the audience of the necessity of introducing the Agora Laboratory and Class in the university, for teaching advanced understanding and the renewal of the fundamental concepts in physics and other majors.

The underlying idea
The Agora Laboratory and Class is a semester-class on a single basic concept. The class would combine the current scientific method with the old debating method (most adequate) for the basic concept development, and with the method of how-can-it-be-like-that to complement current mystery views with prosaic views. The concept of the structure of light beam that we propose would provide a case of study in comparison with the existing view on the structure of light, and would make the Agora Lab and Class an efficient tool from the beginning. A less controversial case of study would be the kinetic theory of heat-statistical mechanics, versus the thermodynamic view of heat.

(X = C = start from the stage center) Dear Friends, (2L = move two steps to the left) Would you take a class to study a single word for the whole semester? (2L) Would any serious person take it? (2L) Would any University accept a class that studies the significance of a single word for the whole semester? Well, I will show you that the answer to these questions depends on what kind of word we are talking about. Moreover, I would like to convince you that such a class should be included in the University as a standard class.

(Transition) (2R = move 2 steps to the right) In attempting to convince you, I will first introduce the idea of mystery concepts and prosaic concepts. Then I will shortly describe the class that I propose for studying mystery concepts. And finally, I will suggest to you that I am facing a very though opposing point of view.

1. Let me begin with Mystery and prosaic views. What kind of word needs to be studied for a semester and why? If the word is needle or nail then arguably it is not worth to study its significance for more than an hour. If the word is more complex, like the word engine which I call a prosaic word, then the study of its significance is already done in specialized classes in school.

But lets think about basic concepts from every major field of study, like Light, Love, Electric charge, Belief. We do understand quite well what an engine is, but do we understand in detail what Love and Light are? The answer is NO for sure. In each of these words or concepts there is something unknown, mysterious and challenging regarding our lives. I call these concepts mystery concepts.

In this visual (visual 1) I suggest a mystery concept by this mystery playing character. Light, Love, Electric charge are examples of mystery concepts. As I already said, I call them mystery concepts because we know very few details about the reality behind them.

In this visual I also suggest a prosaic concept by this character who works with nuts and bolts. In contrast here we know a lot of details, the nuts and bolts of the reality behind the concept. Engine, house, human body to a large extent, are example of Prosaic concepts.

So, what is your preference, mystery concepts or prosaic concepts? Well, we often prefer mystery concepts since mystery is often a very useful and practical approach. Indeed, mystery concepts are very handy for quick solutions since, due to their simplicity, they can be built easier than the prosaic concepts. Even scientists build, and combine mystery concepts with mathematics as I suggested in my Informative speech, and by a quote from Einstein. Moreover, we all know that there is a powerful attraction toward mystery and romanticism for all of us, with strong influence on our behavior.

But as you know, there is a general and permanent tendency to remove mystery, by complementing it with more exact and detailed concepts However, escaping from the power of mystery concepts is a very difficult enterprise, because there is no systematic method for doing it, yet. Escaping from the mystery of basic concepts is especially difficult, and it is rather left as a gamble of rare individual enterprise and success.

Here are my big claims on the mystery of basic concepts, related to my project. I claim that we lack a method for escaping from the mystery of basic concepts, a lack that has a major impact on our lives. I claim that we must recognize the mystery in science as being in opposition to a prosaic view that can be found, if we want methods for experimenting and changing this mystery. Finally, as you know already from my previous speeches, I claim that the mechanism and psychology of mystery from science can be understood by comparison with the mechanism and psychology of the mystery from childrens play.

So, can we practically dig into a mystery basic concept to find the "nuts and bolts" behind it, or to find how can it be like that?

2. (2R) In response, I propose here the Agora Laboratory and Class, a class in the University, which would study systematically a mystery basic concept like the structure of light and complement it with a prosaic view. (2L) For a chosen mystery concept, the student would act, for the whole semester (one time in four years of study), as in this visual (visual 2). Here a student looks into a mystery concept, hypothesizing and experimenting (applying the scientific method), and debating again and again, until he/ she finds details that could answer the how-can-it-be-like-that question, as in my fable about children playing mystery, if you remember. Notice that the student combines the systematic search for details (the scientific method), with the effort to answer the how-can-it-be-like-that questions, and with the effort of a systematic debating - the old Greek method that is most adequate for basic concept development.

This combined method is capable of complementing the mystery views from science with prosaic views. In addition to the activity in this visual, the student would study an example of passing from a mystery view to a prosaic view, and would produce a term paper.

Well, does this Agora class sound feasible and fun to you? I tried myself the fun of this procedure for the concept of Light, for many years, and I know that it works and that it is fun. The hardest part of it is to escape from an existing point of view, and find a different one worse at the beginning and better in the end, In doing this, I talked to, and debated with anybody willing to listen , I even took this class to have a captive audience I am joking In fact I took this class to learn doing speeches on my projects ... From this experience, I got the reputation of the man with an obsession 7

It is also fun to compare this way of study (visual 2) with the regular class, let us call it the Educational Assembly Line. Here I suggest that, as you know, the student learns in few lectures the basic concepts, generally both mystery and prosaic concepts, and then, for the rest of the semester he or she goes into many applications. We know that this method is very useful and productive, and we do not wish to discredit it in any way just a comparison. But it has an essential weakness that needs to be corrected Indeed, never in his/her career does the student find the necessary time to convince himself or herself of the details of some basic concepts. As a result, mysteries lurk around, which considerably limits the applications Never after the college does a person find the necessary education and time to convince himself/ herself of the details of some basic concepts. As a result, the basic concepts become frozen for hundreds of years leading to crises of meaning in science and society.

I 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. I believe that any science or philosophy should be designed to include a scheme for the renewal of its own basic concepts.

3. Now, let me suggest to you The opposing point of view . It seems to me that truly liberal people would approve introducing the Agora Lab and Class in the University. But less liberal and conservative people would likely not approve of it. The reasons for opposing Agora would be different for different kinds of people. Remember what Einstein said? : "The most beautiful experience we can have is the Mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science." For many conservative people, asking in the University what is Electrical charge or Light structure, is like asking in church "What is God?," a question that it is neither possible, nor allowed, to answer.

Hence, even in our modern days, it will be an act of courage to approve introducing in the University a class for studying basics concepts. The story boils down to these challenging questions for the University: Dare the University allow time to really think on basics? Dare the University educate real analysis of basics? Dare the University adopt Agora Lab and Class? The answer to these questions will probably be no at the beginning, and we dont know for how long! But I wont give up and, if it will take longer than I can. I have a daughter who will continue to press for it. Or, somebody from my young audience here will become interested in doing it The Agora can be applied in all majors of study , and it leads to wonderful results and consequences.

Summary In conclusion, I provided you with the evidence that the Agora Lab and Class can educate people towards building more detailed basic concepts. I believe that the Agora Lab and Class in the University can generate great ideas, wisdom and tolerance on a large scale. In other words, the Agora Lab and Class can produce a new renaissance for generous ideas and dreams in individuals.

Here are two possible great consequences of Agora.

a) Our world is densely populated with age-old conflicts of religious, cultural and political nature. A student who did analyze a basic concept from his/her own deep background will be naturally driven to understand and develop better relations with a person whose background (religious, cultural, etc) is very different, since this process deals with fine aspects from his/her background. This might provide the ground and the practical tool for a long term solution for tolerance and reconciliation in the age-old conflicts in the world.

b) In 1962, Thomas S. Kuhn (1922 1996), an America historian and philosopher of science, published Ths Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Kuhn believes that the scientific progress throughout the centuries, from one basic view to another, has no logical reasoning. Indeed, there were times of normal developments in science and times of drastic changes.

These drastic changes were accompanied by enormous battles of ideas, with losers and winners. And the winners did not win by logical means. Kuhn's theory has triggered widespread, controversial discussion across many scientific disciplines. Some recognize the non-logical character, and some do not.

I believe that Kuhn is right in his observations. I believe that the mechanism and psychology of the antagonism of mystery and prosaic in physics, can be understood much better by comparison with the antagonism of mystery-prosaic in the childrens play whose mechanism and psychology we understand much better. I believe that applying Agora type of analysis to the basic mystery concepts from physics would lead to a much smoother evolution of science.


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