May There Always Be a Dialog

Excerpts from a letter to a friend:

Our best minds have pondered the question of individual responsibility and group accountability for millennia.

The Buddhist approach is partly to remove one’s self, metaphorically or physically, from the artifice of the daily stress cycle to contemplate what is really important and what can be done to achieve it. Happiness or contentedness is part of that equation …

The socio-political approach is to categorize and classify everything and all the players into neat little artificial groups, and assign goals to each. This has the advantage of presupposing the experiment-designers have some knowledge of which values can properly give rise to those goals, and the safety of insulating us from having to account for the pesky, unpredictable individual. As I once wrote in an essay I called “Black Elk Speaks” (yes, concerning Niehardt’s book):

“The thought occurs that it would be a bad thing to try to needlessly integrate the vision of Black Elk with my own, or into our present circumstances in the United States. There is a certain value and dignity in keeping these things separate from each other in understanding, for they are different experiences and have their meaning in different worlds. The Western rush to explain everything in terms of other things which are also not truly grasped leaves a vacuum, the filling of which is only approximated by art.”

Tribalism and elitism seem to go hand in hand with each other, and with the racial, ethnic, economic and other minority divides you observe. We have done a better job of breaking down elitism, in an average decade, than most other countries did over their centuries. We all just have a long way to go.

The answer will never come from one individual like you or me, nor even from some great future prophet. Humanity needs to evolve, and our particular “in” with evolution is education, as it has been for 100,000 years, and I don’t just mean science and math, either. 🙂 That will make us or break us, particularly the 🙂 part. It is not the sound of just the one right butterfly, it is the sound of them all taking off by the hundreds of thousands into the wind.

If you remember the TV commercial about cowboys driving huge herds of cats, ponder for a moment how one herds a cloud of butterflies, and you’ll have our answer.

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Khan Academy

Education as entertainment? I think so – I think this might be the next Wikipedia. Each segment is explained much in the manner you’d explain it yourself to, say, your own kids or younger relatives. I hope you’ll check out and bookmark Khan Academy.
Alex Forbes

Sal Khan of Khan Academy was a guest on the Charlie Rose Show today. I found Sal to be an articulate and captivating speaker with a contagious enthusiasm for whatever he’s talking about. Listening to Sal talk about what turns him on is like stepping out of a dodge-em car and into a Tesla. What does Sal like to talk about? Everything.

Khan quit his day job as manager of a hedge fund to create free online course content for students, teachers, professionals and those of us just interested or curious about a topic. He offers over 2100 short bite-sized videos on topics as diverse as finance, astrophysics, math and biology.

If you sign up and log in, you can actually take the coursework and save your work. Courses are staged in linear progression so, in Algebra for example, you “get” graphing of lines first, before learning the dependent concept of the slope of a line.

Each segment is a video “chalkboard” of about 10 minutes duration. There are about 45 segments to Cosmology and Astronomy, or about 150 segments and examples for Calculus. It’s an actual “course” for those who step through the entire progression of segments.

With no particular itinerary in mind, I thought I already knew Arithmetic, so I watched the videos for Lattice Multiplication and Least Common Multiple, learning something in both cases.

Since I majored in business and finance back in the previous century, I then monitored Banking 17: the gold standard – “what happened to the gold?” I learned that even when we were on the gold standard, we were on a fractional reserve system: only a fraction of US bank notes were ever actually backed by hard gold.

Being an astronomy buff, I monitored Radius of Observable Universe, Supermassive Black Holes and How we know about the Earth’s core. I understood that run-of-the-mill, garden-variety black holes result from core collapse of stars in the 30-solar-mass range, but I didn’t realize “supermassive” black holes, such as the one lurking right in the heart of our own Milky Way, may have been “primordial” – formed by an entirely different process shortly after the Big Bang.

Course content is staged logically and progressively so that you “get” each concept before moving on to the more advanced concepts that depend on them. This works for me, since I seem to be fundamentally incapable of learning a topic until I grasp its constituent and underlying concepts. Khan never talks down to his audience and never assumes “you should know this.”

Education as entertainment? I think so – I think this might be the next Wikipedia. Each segment is explained much in the manner you’d explain it yourself to, say, your own kids or younger relatives. I hope you’ll check out and bookmark Khan Academy.

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