GIFTED EDUCATION NEWS-PAGE
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The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality (2004) by Brian Greene. Knopf, New York. In 1905 Albert Einstein wrote a theoretical paper on special relativity based on the idea that the speed of light is constant at 670 million miles per hour in relation to moving objects. Newtonian physics would be completely revolutionized as the result of his new conception of the relationship between space, time (spacetime) and light with objects moving at constant velocity. Then, ten years later in 1915 Einstein published his general theory of relativity which took into account the effects of gravity (curved space) on accelerating objects. As Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia University, has said regarding the profound concepts of relativity theory: "The relativity of space and of time is a startling conclusion. I have known about it for more than twenty-five years, but even so, whenever I quietly sit and think it through, I am amazed. From the well-worn statement that the speed of light is constant, we conclude that space and time are in the eye of the beholder. Each of us carries our own clock, our own monitor of the passage of time. Each clock is equally precise, yet when we move relative to one another, these clocks do not agree. . . ." (The Fabric of the Cosmos, 2004, p. 47). In recognition of a great genius and humanitarian, gifted students and their teachers should study Einstein's work and life throughout this 100th anniversary year. Greene's book is an exemplary resource for discussions of Newton's laws of motion, Einstein's relativity theory, quantum mechanics, conflicts between Einstein and the quantum theorists (e.g., Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg), entropy, the big bang, symmetry, inflationary cosmology, superstring theory, branes and other fascinating concepts such as time travel. His discussions of these difficult topics are clear, logical and non-mathematical. They should spur the gifted student to engage in further investigations of the scientific and mathematical foundations of modern physics. An excellent book that provides interesting information about Einstein's life and debates with colleagues is Einstein Defiant: Genius versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution (2004, Joseph Henry Press, Washington, D.C. ) by Edmund Blair Bolles. This book was discussed in October-November 2004 issue of Gifted Education News-Page. Here are some quotations from Greene's book which give the flavor of his presentation.
"Space and time capture the imagination like no other scientific subject. For good reason. They form the arena of reality, the very fabric of the cosmos. Our entire existence-everything we do, think, and experience-takes place in some region of space during some interval of time. Yet science is still struggling to understand what space and time actually are. Are they real physical entities or simply useful ideas? If they're real, are they fundamental, or do they emerge from more basic constituents? What does it mean for space to be empty? Does time have a beginning? Does it have an arrow, flowing inexorably from past to future, as common experience would indicate? Can we manipulate space and time? In this book, we follow three hundred years of passionate scientific investigation seeking answers, or at least glimpses of answers, to such basic but deep questions about the nature of the universe." (Preface, p. ix)
"During the first decades of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein made two deep discoveries. Each caused a radical upheaval in our understanding of space and time. Einstein dismantled the rigid, absolute structures that Newton had erected, and built his own tower, synthesizing space and time in a manner that was completely unanticipated. When he was done, time had become so enmeshed with space that the reality of one could no longer be pondered separately from the other. And so, by the third decade of the twentieth century the question of the corporeality of space was outmoded; its Einsteinian reframing, as we'll talk about shortly, became: Is spacetime a something? With that seemingly slight modification, our understanding of reality's arena was completely transformed." (p. 39)
"Richard Feynman once said that if he had to summarize the most important finding of modern science in one sentence he would choose 'The world is made of atoms.'. . . Many of today's leading scientists agree that if they were offered a second sentence, they'd choose 'Symmetry underlies the laws of the universe.' During the last few hundred years there have been many upheavals in science, but the most lasting discoveries have a common characteristic: they've identified features of the natural world that remain unchanged even when subjected to a wide range of manipulations. These unchanging attributes reflect what physicists call symmetries, and they have played an increasingly vital role in many major advances. This has provided ample evidence that symmetry-in all its mysterious and subtle guises-shines a powerful light into the darkness where truth awaits discovery." (p. 219)
The Science Book: 250 Milestones in the History of Science (2003) by Peter Tallack (Editor). Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London. This book provides concise 1 to 2 page summaries of important scientific and mathematical concepts, and also includes stunning pictures and diagrams related to each topic. Examples of topics are algebra, microscopic life, benzene ring, viruses, chaos theory, the computer, language instinct, black-hole evaporation, memory molecules, and directed mutation. Key individuals who made these discoveries are listed at the beginning of each summary. A special treat is that world-renowned scientists such as Richard Leakey and Seven Pinker have written essays for The Science Book.
"Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was one of the great amateur scientists. His single-lens microscope with a magnification of up to 250 times, allowed him to see what no one had seen before. The draper from Delft in the Netherlands did not read Latin, the seventeenth-century language of science; and when he forwarded his findings to the Royal Society in London, he had to provide character references. Beginning in 1673 he wrote more than 400 communications to the Royal Society and the French Academy of Science. He described 'infusoria' (protozoa) teeming in water; human spermatozoa; the flow of blood through capillary vessels; the detailed organization of muscles, nerves, bone, teeth and hair; red blood cells and plant cells; and the fine structure of 67 species of insect (including tiny creatures parasitic on fleas). His most remarkable discovery was made in 1683 - bacteria from his mouth. Bacteria were not to be seen by other scientists for more than a century." (p. 76)
"A home laboratory in Italy during the Second World War seems an unpromising environment for a brilliant female scientist living in fear of anti-Semitic persecution - and hardly an ideal one for pursuing research that would ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize. So it was for Rita Levi-Montalcini, a medical graduate. . . .now famed for her work on the growth of nerve cells." (p. 368)
Extraordinary Women from U.S. History: Readers Theatre for Grades 4-8 (2003) by Chari R. Smith. Teacher Ideas Press, Portsmouth, NH. This clever book provides students with information for studying the lives of nine great American women from different areas of accomplishment. Smith has many useful acting suggestions in Chapter One (Warm-up Theatre Activities) related to voice, facial expression and walk. Each subsequent chapter covers drama activities related to the lives of these individuals - Sacagawea - exploration, Susan B. Anthony - women's rights, Harriet Tubman - emancipation, Elizabeth Blackwell - medicine, Nellie Bly - newspaper reporting, Amelia Earhart - aviation, Laura Ingalls Wilder - fiction writing, Eleanor Roosevelt - human rights, and Babe Didrikson Zaharias - sports. The author has thoroughly studied their lives and has written about key incidents that capture their importance. A chapter begins with a background description of the person followed by presentation suggestions, props and a list of characters. The remainder of the chapter contains a detailed and interesting script that students can use to dramatize important events in the person's life.
Nikos Kazantzakis (1885-1957): Gifted Mentor for the Twenty-First Century
By Michael E. Walters
Center for the Study of the Humanities in the Schools
"But gradually, as I kept deepening my responsibility as a writer, the human problem came to overshadow political and social questions." (from Nikos Kazantzakis by Helen Kazantzakis, 1968)
The Greek writer, Nikos Zanatantkas, is an excellent exemplar of the gifted sensibility. This is the trait where an individual functions in (what appear to be) contradictory directions. In his case, he was both sensitive and thoughtful concerning the two dimensions of cosmopolitanism and nationalism. He studied law at the University of Athens and then went to the Collège de France in Paris to be a student of the French-Jewish philosopher and writer, Henri Bergson. He continued his pursuit of the humanities by studying in Germany and Italy. Traveling was a lifetime activity including trips to Russia, Japan, China, Spain and Italy. His travel books enable gifted students to understand how different cultures possess similar understanding of the human condition despite their unique aesthetic components, e.g., haiku poetry in Japan and Don Quxiote in Spain.
Kazantzakis was deeply emotionally involved with the Hellenic and Greek Orthodox traditions. One of his masterpieces, Zorba the Greek (1946), described the ability to be both cosmopolitan and Greek. The main character of the book is Zorba who becomes a metaphorical Greek living in the early twentieth century. The narrator, Basil, who is speaking for Kazantzakis, expresses how his literary, aesthetic and philosophical mentors can show the reader that besides liking one's geographical home (in this case it was the island of Crete, a part of the Greek nation), a person can also have a wide-ranging intellectual palette. Kazantzakis evokes in Zorba such intellectual diversity as Nietzsche, Buddha, Dante, Shakespeare and Chaucer.
Zorba also shows another trait of the gifted sensibility. This is the synthesis of the sensate with intellectual capacities, and results in a holistic temperament which unites the Apollonarian intellect with Dionysian emotions. The gifted perceive this contradiction as a vehicle for expressing a unity of thought that some might think is a paradox.
Kazantzakis spent many years living on a Greek Island. He translated some of the world's great literary masterpieces into Greek, e.g., Dante's Divine Commedia and Goethe's Faust. There were periods of governmental service such as a minister in the Greek government after World War Two. He was also one of the great modern poets of the twentieth century (see The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, 1938) and he wrote a novel, The Fraticides (1964), about the Greek Civil War that occurred in the late 1940s. His memoir, Report to Greco (1961), is an important testimony for the twentieth century. In 1957 he lost the Nobel Prize for literature by one vote. The winner was the French writer and his admirer, Albert Camus. Indeed, he is one of the great mentors of the gifted sensibility.
"How simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea." (from Zorba the Greek, 1946)
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, April-May 2005